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COMPANY CULTURE / AUG. 08, 2016
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The 3 Step Guide to Interpreting Anonymous Online Company Reviews

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Company reviews are great for job seekers because they will help you learn lots about your potential new employer. Do you know how to interpret them?

If you’re new to job hunting, or if it’s been a while since the last time you were a job seeker, you may feel overwhelmed with the whole process. You might have thought that all it took to get a great job was to prepare a kick-ass resume, but the reality is that the resume is just one of many things you need to ensure your professional future.

The resume is a big part of your job search as it can get your foot in the door. But for that to happen, you first need to decide which companies you should be applying to.

As important as it is to get a job when you’re unemployed, it’s just as important to get a job with a great company that’s going to help you grow professionally and also not make you miserable. And that’s why you should take the time to research the companies in the industry you’re interested in.

You don’t want to apply for a job at a company that never pays on time or requires its employees to work unpaid overtime every day. And it’s not just the pay and the hours you should be considering. It’s just as important to understand what the company culture is like and if it would suit you. You also don’t want to waste your time applying for companies that would never hire you because they traditionally hire graduates from x college etc. Online company reviews help you learn all that and more, and although it can be time-consuming to go through everything that every random person on the internet has to say, it’s important that you do as it will help you push your job search forward.

But, the problem with anonymous online reviews is that you can’t always be certain if you should trust them. What if, for example, someone was fired for being perpetually late, got pissed off and wrote a bad review about the company? How can you trust that the person who wrote the review is not someone who was just plain angry with the company that fired him or her and how can you trust that the company review is real and that it’s not been written by an HR officer who’s seeking ways to attract the best talent?

Luckily, we’ve decided to address this issue and help you understand how to correctly interpret company reviews in this handy three-step guide.

#1 How Company Reviews Work

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The reality is that you should always be wary of things you read online, whether it’s someone’s dating profile, movie review or a company review and that’s because the internet makes lying very easy. But, that does not mean that the web cannot be a valuable resource.

If you’re a job seeker, the internet can make your job search much easier. Not only will it enable you to find advice on how to write the perfect resume and information about the company you’re applying for to help you with the interview process, but it will also allow you to read what past and current employees of the company have to say.

Although you shouldn’t trust everything you read, if you’re looking for reviews on any of the big job sites like Indeed and Glassdoor and even other big companies that primarily focus on providing salary information like, Salary.com, Payscale, Vault and Paysa you can rest assured that their reviews will be more trustworthy.

Some of these companies - like Glassdoor and Indeed- moderate reviews so you can put your trust with them without much hesitation, but even without moderation, some of these websites have such large communities that the sheer number of reviews available makes them credible.

Indeed not only moderates the reviews submitted to the website with a combination of machine-learning algorithms and human moderators, but it also has more than 10 million reviews posted on the site. So it makes it easier for you to use your good judgment and decide whether a negative or a positive review can be trusted. If for example, you see that overwhelmingly most reviews agree one some things and a couple of reviews defy those things then go with the majority.

Glassdoor also has a community guidelines section that outlines the process of submitting and posting reviews online. It follows a two-step process to moderate its comments and reviews. The first step of the review is technological, where an algorithm reviews each and every comment or review posted, if a comment or review does not pass this step, then a team of human moderators review the content as well.

Moderation is important but what also matters is that all of these websites swear to never edit or alter the comments or reviews submitted to their website. This is important because it means that no one messes with the content of what people are writing about companies.

It's important to note that these websites will allow you to flag comments. For example, if you’re reading a thoroughly negative review and you see that it’s been flagged by the employer then you can second guess the review as it might have been the result of a pissed off employee.

#2 How to Read Reviews

reading on computer

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The key to reading anonymous online company reviews is to use your good judgement. Remember that as a job seeker you should be a confident young professional so trust yourself and make the most of each review you read.

There’s a good chance that you’ll get discouraged when reading a company review online, but you shouldn’t allow yourself to despair. Understand that this is a process that will help you be on top of the job search game and that it will help you understand things about the company you’re applying to that their website would have never told you.

One thing that you should always keep in mind when going through anonymous online company reviews is that people will often only submit reviews if they have something negative to say. For example, you may have stayed at a great hotel and feel like submitting a glowing review about it, but if we're honest, you’ll only do that if you have the time. If on the other hand, you went to a restaurant where the service was exceptionally bad, and you’re furious you’re going to make sure that you find the time and submit a bad review. So just remember that there’s a good chance more than half of the reviews you’ll read are negative specifically because the people who took the time to submit a review were angry enough to find the time to do so.

Also, think of things like the sample size. Are there enough reviews of the company? You can’t really trust the 5-10 people who bothered to leave a review. Similarly, if most comments are negative or positive, and there’s just 20 percent that says otherwise be careful about putting your trust in that 20 percent.

Another thing that you should keep in mind when reading reviews is whether or not the reviews are dated. If there are comments that date back to 5 years ago you may want to ignore them as they won’t necessarily reflect the company culture at the moment. So look for comments that are recent and see what they have to say. If you find that all reviews were negative back in the day but the more recent comments are overwhelmingly positive assume that something within the company changed and that things are looking up.

Moreover, make sure that you don’t just read each review individually. Search for themes within the reviews. For example, are there many reviews with people warning you to steer clear of the company? If yes, you might want to heed their warning. Are there a lot of people complaining about the CEO? Try to identify what the issue with the CEO is and if there are lots of people complaining about the lack of perks try to identify what those perks are. You may find that you’re not interested in any of those perks so consider what the people are saying and how that applies to you.

Let’s have a look at two examples:

GlassDoor

It’s obvious that the person writing this review is very excited about the company culture. Not only do they mention that this is a progressive company, but the author of the review also mentions the perks that he or she considers important.

Although a 9 to 6 workday sounds pretty standard, the author does say that the department in which he or she works is understaffed which could mean that there will be a lot of pressure. So it’s up to you to read the rest of the reviews in the company to decide how to proceed but bear in mind that if a work-life balance is more important to you than a strong company culture this company might not suit you.

GlassDoor

It’s obvious that this person is pretty pissed off, and that his or her anger is the result of something that recently happened in the company. He or she has nothing good to say about the company, but they do mention that the work is rewarding which could mean that the work is interesting, and you may receive valuable experience should you work there.

As far as his or her opinion on company culture goes, you may not want to trust the review as it’s obviously caught up in some company drama and the same might not apply to you or anyone else in the company.

#3 How to Use Reviews in Interviews

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Online company reviews are great as they can provide you with a lot of information that you wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise. Having all this knowledge gives you greater leverage in interviews as it enables you to ask more targeted questions.

For example, if you found that a lot of people had negative things to say about the company culture then you can ask about it during your interview. So rather than asking the more generic ‘What’s the company culture like?’ to which they can answer with an equally generic ‘It’s great’, you can ask ‘What does the company do to promote company culture?’ and this will force your interview to provide you with a more focused answer.

And although being subtle when asking about things you read about in reviews is advisable, if you’re particularly worried about a certain issue you can also ask about it. For example, if you’ve read bad things about the management and you’re worried about it you can say ‘I read in reviews online that the management does not get involved with important decisions, would you say that’s true?’ Of course, be aware that questions that are so blatant can come off as aggressive so evaluate your interviewer and maintain a similar tone.

But, even if the reviews you read online don’t help you eliminate companies from your wishlist, they can help you be better prepared for interviews, so don’t skip this step of the job search process.

Remember that company reviews can be overwhelming for most job seekers as they are sometimes too much for a stressed, unemployed person to handle, but you shouldn’t let them get to you too much. Remember that they can only help you become a more attractive candidate so make the most out of them by remaining wary and not believing everything you read.

Have you ever used online reviews to help you in your job search? How effective did you find them? We love to hear your thoughts...

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