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Review With Caution

by Gregg Podolski
People love to see things get knocked down. It’s why we gather in large crowds to watch wrecking balls crash into buildings, why we pour over every article and media link of the latest celebrity scandal and why we (generally) skip right to the one-star reviews on sites like Yelp and Amazon. Let’s be honest: There’s more drama in complaints and negativity than there is in accolades and praise. It’s why villains are almost always more interesting characters than the heroes in every story. It’s important to remember, however, that fictional characters often play to extremes, and are not the best representations of the truth. The same holds for online reviews and is key in considering how to best utilize the reviews of any product or business.

In my role at Emerson Group, I speak with multiple job-seekers from all walks of life on a daily basis. When speaking about a client company that has a position they might be interested in, inevitably the subject of—and my client’s reviews on that site—comes up. My advice to them is the same advice I gave above: Ignore the extremes.

I’m making assumptions here, of course, but without knowing the true motivations behind these reviews, assuming is all any of us can do. Or better, consider it an educated guess-based on years of experience and a college career spent studying human communication. That said, I consider both five- and one-star reviews of any company on Glassdoor (or similar sites) to be equally useless. I’ve heard too many stories of companies telling their employees to write five-star, glowing reviews as a way to counteract the negative ones. And I’ve known too many people who leave companies with an axe to grind—or just never fit in well there in the first place—that take the proverbial molehill and build it into a steaming, raging one-star attack on everything their former employer stands for.

Toss both in the trash. Yes, some of those will be honest, reliable opinions, but most of them can be safely ignored. (And if a company only has a handful of reviews and they’re all extreme, that’s really too small a sample size to make any kind of reasonable determination as an outsider, even if they’re all true. Better to just use your own instincts as you go through the interview process.)

Instead, just as in life, search for the truth somewhere in the middle; the three-star and two-star reviews; the ones where the compliments are balanced by some well-thought-out criticisms; where the suggestions for management are actual suggestions rather than simply, “Fire everybody,” or “Nothing, keep up the great work!” With very few exceptions, nothing is perfect and nothing is 100 percent awful. There are positives and negatives to be found in most everything.

Use these reviews as a tool to answer your own questions about the company. Concerned about their apparently high turnover? Comb through to see if there’s been a change in management or business model that hasn’t sat well with some long-time employees. See if new employees leave early for many of the same reasons. Seek out consistencies. Where there’s smoke there’s fire. If you see the same sentiment pop up time and again through multiple reviews across multiple years, there’s a good chance it’s legit. If only one person mentions it—even in bold letters with lots of strong language—you can bet that’s more of a personal opinion than a reflection of reality.

It takes more time to use sites this way, of course, which is why so many erroneous judgments are made by people who look at a handful of reviews and believe they then know everything there is to know about that company.

Resist that urge. For those willing to take the time, Glassdoor can provide a fascinating snapshot into the inner workings of a company, and even its growth over time, depending on how many reviews there are and how far back they go. Like on all sites, the veil of anonymity shields reviewers from fear of retribution—especially for current employees—and fosters more honesty than you’re likely to get from that third interview.

So read Glassdoor, absolutely, but read it the right way. Like any tool, it only works when used properly.

Gregg Podolski is director of the Direct Hire Division at Emerson Group.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 6, Issue 7 (July, 2016).
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