How Reliable are Employer Reviews?

http://mrg.bz/rZ0pIrFrom the beginning of time, people have passed judgement – on their neighbours, on their country and leaders, on their merchants, on their family, and of course, on their employers. It’s never been easier though than it is right now, in this technological age.

Are you upset with how you were treated in a restaurant or store? Post it on Facebook for all your friends to see. But, as Phil Ochs, a folk singer in the 60’s, once wrote “it wouldn’t interest anyone outside of a small circle of friends”.

You may take it to a larger stage with websites like www.tripadvisor.com or www.yelp.com.  For the most part, the reviews on these site are more balanced. People review both positive and negative and where there are negative reviews, companies can reach out and respond to you. It might just be an apology, or it might be an offer to get in touch with them so they can send you a gift certificate or some other means of making amends.

Even the Better Business Bureau has space for you to review a business and allows businesses to add their perspective, so that consumers have a chance to see both sides of any review.

There’s a certain amount of anonymity associated with many online reviews, and people are more likely to speak about their experiences, good or bad, when they don’t have to identify themselves. There are basically three types of people who post reviews:

  • People who are unhappy or upset.
  • People who are friends of the owners of the business and want to do something nice.
  • People who are paid to post positive reviews (or negative reviews of competitors).

There’s another kind of review trend that’s a bit disturbing – where people can rate their doctor, rate their teacher/professor or rate their employer. I find this trend disturbing because the people who post usually have a vendetta or an agenda, and the party being judged is often denied the opportunity of rebuttal. Even in a legal situation an accused is afforded the opportunity to face their accuser. Not so on these sites.

Maybe you are the patient from hell and your doctor won’t give you a prescription for antibiotics for your cold (don’t laugh, I’ve seen it). Let’s face it – not all doctors have a great bedside manner but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not going to give you the best treatment. You can ruin a doctor’s reputation though by going to one of the myriad of sites and telling the world how terrible they are. Maybe your little Mary-Lou is the class bully and the teacher suspended her. You can go online and tell the world what a terrible teacher she is and that is going to last online forever. You can negatively impact someone’s ability to make a living, and there’s nothing they can do about it because you’re anonymous.

The same is true of sites that facilitate employer reviews. How can an employer respond to a disgruntled employee who might have been let go for just cause, who has posted online about what a crappy employer they were? Imagine if a company is going through a restructuring phase and lets a number of people go. That could mean a lot of negative reviews.

In addition to the negative comments, misinformation or outdated information may be posted. Some sites allow you to outline benefits and bonuses. If any of those things change, you can’t tell by reading these inaccurate or outdated reviews.

A recent article in Inc.com mentioned that some of these online rating sites are negatively impacting companies’ ability to attract good talent. Here’s my advice: potential employees need to take any online rating site that is clearly one-sided and biased with a grain of salt. Never, ever let that stop you from interviewing with a company. You can even use LinkedIn to see what contacts you can find in the company and reach out to them for their opinions. Absolutely mention what you have read in the ratings if it causes you concern, and hear what they have to say. That’s called being fair.

If a company has 200 employees, and 2 employees a year give the company a negative review, that’s 1%. Are you really going to made a career decision based on the opinions of that 1%? If you’re going to let unfair and biased reviews affect whether or not to even accept an interview at the company, then the company is better off without you. Only small-minded people make decisions without having all of the information. Intelligent and analytical people know the importance of including all variables and relevant data in their decision-making process.