What Should I Believe About Online Employer Reviews?


Online reviews are all the rage. Consumers review their product purchases on Amazon. Diners review their experiences eating out on Yelp. Why should employment be any different? There are sites online which enable individuals to do the following:

  • Employees, both current and former, can rate factors surrounding their experiences working in a company, and provide a detailed description. They may also leave information about their salary.
  • Interviewees can rate and leave a detailed description about the interview experience.

The exposure companies receive due to online employer reviews can often lead to positive change. Make no mistake - employers pay attention to what is said about them on the open market. In the war for talent, it all matters. Companies may use the data gleaned to get a pulse of employee engagement, and work to drive positive change.

And yet, there are several aspects of these online employer reviews which must be considered with a critical eye.

  • Self-nomination of reviewers: Nobody is required to leave a review on online of their experience. In many companies, engagement surveys and exit interviews are conducted with the majority of current and exiting employees to get a sense of trending sentiments and specific issues. Who is more likely to feel compelled to leave a review: The individual who is satisfied with their work experience (i.e., promoted in the last year), or the individual with a negative work experience (i.e., passed over repeatedly for promotion)? For example, I love my camera - it works consistently and without issue, so the manufacturer never hears from me; but if I have a problem and it gets wonky, do you think I'll hesitate to make a fuss?
  • Sample size: Individual experiences are valuable in terms of learning about some specific issues individuals have encountered, but unless there is a large enough sample of individuals surveyed, it's extremely difficult to draw general conclusions. I refer back to my example of engagement surveys and exit interviews.
  • Comparisons across companies: This also makes it difficult to compare experiences between companies of different sizes. Let's assume for the sake of argument that one percent (1%) of employees leave a review online. For a 100-person company, such your local marketing firm, that would equal one review per year, which is hardly a large sample size. For a mammoth organization such as Walmart, which has approximately 2.2 million employees, one percent of this population leaving online reviews would equal 22,000 reviews per year.
  • Anonymity of reviewers: Ex-employees can and usually do opt for the veil of an anonymous review. This puts the company at a disadvantage, because while the company may have the opportunity to respond online, they cannot know of the specific circumstances of the reviewer.

How do you decide what to believe about working for a company?

  • Evaluate the validity of the online reviews. Look at the sample size of the online reviews to see if you can identify meaningful trends. Do the reviews strike you as reflecting structural issues, or do the complaints lodged appear individual in nature?
  • Do your own research. Speak with individuals in your network who have worked at the company. Ask other people you know who may know folks who work there. If you have an acquaintance at a staffing firm who has tried to provide employees for the company in question, they may be able to provide you valuable insight. Check online news sites to see what they say about the company - positive and negative.
  • Use data from online reviews to prepare. Make notes about what you see people say online. As you speak with acquaintances, ask them about the validity of what you've read. Use the data you find to build targeted questions to ask during your interviews with the company.
  • Who is your boss? Sometimes, the department or manager you work under can matter far more than the overall corporate structure.

Bottom line: It's your decision, get all the facts before making any move. Just like with any major decision in your life.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. He is a Human Resources professional and staffing expert with almost two decades of in-house corporate HR and staffing firm experience, and is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Certified Professional Career Coach (CPCC).

Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercs.com.