Should I Believe What I Read About an Employer?

By Joe Stein

It seems like everywhere you go nowadays; someone has an opinion and is not afraid to share it. It was not that long ago your ability to obtain an opinion mainly resided with your family and friends. On some occasions, a TV or radio personality would express what they actually thought.
 
In today’s world, opinions are everywhere. Commentary bombards you on TV and radio on virtually every channel. Celebrities everywhere tell us what we should think and believe. Websites are devoted to providing opinion about hotels, tourist attractions, retailers, etc. Searching for a job and (the subject of today’s column) finding out more about a potential employer, has also followed that pattern.
 
Previously, you primarily found out about a potential employer from listening to a Recruiter or the Hiring Manager.  What they told you is what you knew. You had an advantage if you knew someone who worked at the company, not only in terms of the referral but also by picking their brain about the employer. Today, things potentially are much easier for a job seeker. There are many websites where a person can obtain opinions from others about a company. Probably the most widely known of these sites is called Glassdoor.com, but there are others out there for you.
 
If you are using these types of sites as a guide, probably the first item you will note is the negativity. It is not surprising that many of the ex (or some current) employees that have posted a review are negative. If you think about it, how likely is someone who has great things to say going to spend the time necessary to leave a positive review. So, you may be wondering then if there is any value in reading these online employer reviews. I do believe there is, if you evaluate them with a critical reading eye. Below are some suggestions to consider if you do decide to research a company using these review sites.
 
·         Look for Trends – You are always going to have a “one off” comment about any subject. Heck…if you had a comment board on “world peace”, you probably would have at least one person post against it. Read each review and try to pull out the common themes of them to determine if there is a trend. A suggestion is to read them with a pad and pen. Each time you read a comment, write the topic down and place a checkmark by it. When you are done reviewing the posts, you can examine your pad to determine which items had the most checkmarks and if those warrant consideration as a theme.
 
·         Determine If It Matters to You – In general, people value different things in their life. What is important to some is irrelevant to others. When you read the reviews, examine each comment (both positive and negative) and determine if you hold it important. For example, if people are posting with complaints about the lack of career progression and you are not looking to advance any further in your career, this particular issue would not be important.
 
·         Is It Better Than What You Have? – The most basic example would be unemployment. In most circumstances, an imperfect job is better than not having one and being unemployed.   Another example would be negative posts about an increase in medical benefit costs. If you are in a situation where you do not have medical benefits this may read like a very hollow complaint.
 
·         Look for a Balanced Report – In my opinion, the posts I would weigh the heaviest are ones that provide a more balanced point-of-view. The person may go out of their way to offer both positive comments and constructive criticism. This is an indication to me that the person probably has good intentions in posting their comments.
 
·         Throw Out the High and Low – It is not uncommon, when evaluating data, to throw out the highest and lowest number. This methodology may work well for you when reviewing this information. Don’t place a ton of stock in the post that gushes positive comments about the company (for all you know a company representative posted that one). In the same vein, if you are reading an ex-employee who has nothing positive to say, it may be safe to assume there is more to the story and they have an ax to grind. This is especially true if there are a number of other comments, on the website, that are positive.
 
·         Can It Be Verified? – Once you have gone on some of these sites and read the material it would be very beneficial to try to verify what you have learned. If you do know someone who works at the company, these sites can provide you with a great starting point to ask questions specifically tied to the themes you have gathered. It can lead to you having a much better conversation than you might have had otherwise. An area you can also utilize to verify is with the Recruiter or Hiring Manager. If there is something you are wondering about from these reviews, ask about it. You can be generic about it and not reference you read reviews, if you fear they will be offended if they knew where you generated the question.
 
There is so much information available at the fingertips of a job seeker. It is sometimes difficult to determine how best to sort out all of this data to draw your own conclusions. When it comes to employer comments, an overall good rule of thumb is to read with a critical eye and verify whenever possible what you have learned.
 
As always, best of luck in your job search!