I’ve had candidates turn down job interviews because they read something negative about the companies on job sites like Glassdoor and Vault.

What Can You Believe About Online Company Reviews

These job sites are invaluable tools for job seekers, allowing candidates to be more informed about industries and employers than ever before. But I would caution job hunters against giving too much weight to online company reviews, either positive or negative. Here are a few reasons why:

Online reviews are susceptible to systematic bias

Studies have shown that online ratings suffer from a phenomenon called “social influence bias”. People’s natural herd instincts cause them to rate things more highly or poorly when they see that others have done so. This effect can skew the resulting ratings by as much as 30%! Then there’s the well documented “negativity bias” in consumer reviews – people who have negative experiences are likely to share them more widely than people who’ve had positive experiences. In other words, someone with an axe to grind is far more motivated to write an online review. Finally, keep in mind the age of the person writing the review: Millennials are more likely to write negative reviews than Gen Xers or Boomers.

Reviews can be easily manipulated

Anyone can post a review on Glassdoor and Vault. There are no verifications to ensure that reviewers have actually worked at the company in question, and there’s nothing to stop someone from creating multiple accounts. This means that it’s very easy to create false or misleading reviews that make a company appear better or worse than it really is. Even if the reviews come from real employees, it’s not unheard of for bosses to force employees to write positive reviews.

The sample set isn’t reliable

In any scientific study, a large sample size is needed for the results to be considered reliable. When it comes to online job reviews, only a tiny fraction of employees at a company write reviews. For example Microsoft, which currently has over 120,000 employees globally, only has 18,000 reviews on Glassdoor. That’s only 15% of the workforce, and the percentage would be even smaller if you calculated the total number of employees who have worked at Microsoft over the last ten years, since Glassdoor was launched. A statistician would tell you that just isn’t enough reviews to be an accurate representation of what it’s like for the average employee working there.

Another thing to consider is that the most natural time for employees to write reviews is when they are about to leave or have just left. So reviews tend to reflect the views of employees who didn’t fit with the company, for whatever reason. The experiences of long-term employees who like their job are less likely to be reflected.

The review might not be relevant for your situation

Even if the review you are reading is real and unbiased, it still might not be relevant to you for a couple of reasons. The first is that job satisfaction is actually very dependent on your team, and working conditions vary from team to team. The working conditions described in an online review might only apply to one team and not to the company overall. Another possibility is that a work environment that one person hates might be perfect for someone with a different temperament. A reviewer might complain that a job is grueling, but you might find that you love the company’s work-hard, play-hard mentality.

Online reviews can be a useful resource, but they’re just one tool in your kit when it comes to evaluating a potential employer. And certainly you should never turn down an interview because of something you read on Glassdoor or Vault. As you advance in the interview process, you may even wish to bring up negative reviews during the interview to give the company a chance to respond. Ultimately, there’s no substitute for going into an office and meeting with people face-to-face to get a real feel for the company.

 

Have you considered online company reviews as part of your decision making process during a job hunt? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below