When you need help picking out a new book, gadget, hairstylist, or even doctor, what do you do?
Turn to online reviews, of course! Almost all online retailers, from Amazon to individual retail e-boutiques, provide a way for customers to review their products and services. And we, as consumers, scour these reviews to guarantee we’re making the perfect choice.
So it should be no surprise that there are company review sites, like Glassdoor.com and Jobitorial.com, that provide a window-shopping experience for the modern jobseeker. You can see reviews and information (like average salaries) from current and former employees—all designed to help you gauge the overall company experience.
But how do these sites fit in to your job hunt? Should you take them as absolute truth, or with a grain of salt? Before you go down the rabbit hole of online reviews, here are some guidelines for effectively incorporating them into your job search—and your ultimate employment decisions.
Don’t Peek Just Yet
When you’re searching for a job, it’s tempting to look at online reviews right away—or even use them as a way to find the best places to work. And yeah, while glowing reviews may encourage you to look closer at a company, bad ones can seriously hinder your motivation to submit an application—even if you would otherwise be very interested in the job (and even if said reviews turn out to be off the mark).
To avoid that bias, hold off on reading reviews until you snag an interview. Check out companies’ websites, job descriptions, social media platforms, and current news-based research. (Did they just release a new app? Make an appearance on The Today Show?) You should be excited about what the company does at its core—not just how cool its office is or how much (or little) its employees get paid.
Then, once your resume and cover letter are sent, and you’ve (hopefully!) booked an interview, browse away.
On average, a happy customer will tell three people about her great experience, while an unhappy one will tell more than three times that.
OK, so you’re not looking up product reviews or restaurant recommendations, but the same logic can be applied here. Keep in mind that an unsatisfied employee (or ex-employee), is more likely to actively look for a place to vent his frustrations about his company than a happy employee looking to sing its praises, and for that reason, many online review sites skew negatively.
Now, I’m not saying to discredit all the reviews; in fact, a series of bad reviews that bring up the same general themes can certainly be a reflection of an undesirable company. But realize that every company has a few dissatisfied employees—even consistently top-rated places to work, like Google—so consider everything you’re reading with a critical eye.
Also, put yourself in the company’s position. Do the reviews complain about layoffs, cuts in PTO, or recent changes in management? On one hand, that could be a red flag to indicate a company’s downward spiral. But if you investigate further, you may find out that the business is restructuring or has been recently acquired—and these changes may be a normal and healthy part of revitalizing a once-struggling company or resetting its course.
Or, as you dig deeper, you might learn that employees’ grumbling about “cuts to vacation” are due to the former “unlimited vacation” policy being switched to three weeks—which is hardly the same as the company scrimping on vacation days. Don’t just take what you read at face value—if you’re concerned about something, do additional research to get the facts.
Ask Directly—But Tactfully
OK, so you’ve combed through all 74 reviews about your company of choice, and you’ve noticed a few key issues that come up again and again. Now what?
The best thing to do with this information is to pinpoint things you want to address during the interview process—whether by observing what’s going on around you or by directly asking your interviewer.
First, determine the things that you might be able to get a straightforward, factual answer to. For example, if a review stated, “Everyone here is worked to the bone,” you could easily ask a question about the length of a typical workday. On the other hand, if a review that insisted, “All of my managers have terrible leadership skills,” that’s admittedly a bit trickier—unfortunately, there’s no truly objective way to verify this information, and you’ll have to keep an eye out for other signs that will help you discern whether or not you should be concerned.
Now, when you do ask for information, make sure your tone is purely inquisitive, and never accusatory. Even if you read about a company’s flat management structure and infrequent promotions, it won’t translate well if you hit your interviewer with, “So, would I really be in the same position for at least five years?” Instead, stick with a simple, “Can you tell me about the path to move up to a management position, and the typical time frame for that?” The hiring manager can easily provide a factual answer to this, without feeling attacked.
Weigh Its Worth
OK—all is said and done, and your interviewer verified what all the reviews mentioned: Long hours and no overtime. But, after a few short years, you’ll be in a great position to land your dream job. Could the long hours be worth it? Or, maybe you’re in the opposite scenario—while all the reviews say that the company culture makes up for the lack of promotions, you’ve been dead set on climbing the ladder quickly, and the situation you’ve uncovered has given you pause.
Remember that the issues that are complaint-worthy (or praise-worthy) to one employee may not affect you in the same way. Instead of grouping the reviews you read into “good” versus “bad,” evaluate the issues individually and decide what they mean to you.
Also, while it’s easy to get caught up in online reviews, your overall opinion of the company should come from a much wider array of sources. For one, go offline, and see if you can get more personal information from a current or former employee. And beyond research, the things you observe within the company (are employees smiling? Is everyone hiding in their cubicle?), your interaction with the hiring manager, and your enthusiasm for the company’s core purpose should all influence your ultimate decision. Don’t be afraid to trust your (well-informed) gut. It’s usually right!
After beginning a career in management, Katie realized she wasn’t doing what she loved and determined it was time for a major career transition. Now, as a staff writer/editor for The Muse and a content marketing writer for a healthcare IT company, she gets to do what she loves every day—write and edit content ranging from demand generation campaigns to career advice. Her career and management content has been published on Forbes, Mashable, Business Insider, Inc., and Newsweek. Find her on Twitter @kgwolfie.More from this Author