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I have been looking at anonymous online reviews of companies (such as on Glassdoor.com) when I see an open position for them. There have been a couple of cases where the job description might be a good fit for me but the company was poorly rated and got bad reviews.

My first question is: Should I let this information prevent me from applying to the company? There is a question of accuracy when it comes to online reviews (some can be accurate, some can be way off, there are department differences,etc.). Should I just take what's written with a grain of salt, apply anyway, and see for myself?

Secondly: Is it a bad idea bring up concerns I saw from an online review in the interview? If it's not, what is a tactful way to do so?

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I've been in this situation too when I looked for jobs a while ago. Seeing bad reviews online should be taken with a grain of salt, but also given some consideration. If there are repeated patterns in the reviews, that might be cause for alarm. In one situation, a company I researched company actually laid off a large group of workers so there were many bad reviews; however, that particular department was moved elsewhere and expanded. Many people were not happy about it, and their reviews were written in angry reaction without much thought or composure behind them.

Given that, I have never let that deter me from interviewing or applying for a position at one of the companies I was interested in. No company is perfect, and every individual has different perspectives and backgrounds that influence their opinion. A few reviews online do not give you a full picture of the company. I would also consider what press a company has, its funding, workforce size and demographics, locations, and such. You might end up shortchanging yourself if you make a decision solely based on a few short reviews online, which may be outdated and inaccurate. Sometimes those reviews can be very superficial.

What I found to be a more effective way of figuring out how to gauge a company beforehand is to actually go physically network with people (i.e. meet them for coffee) who are either current or former employees that are either in the same or similar role as you. In a way, it's an informal interview; don't ask for a job outright, but say that you're exploring new opportunities and would like to know what a particular role entails, how the company works, etc. In my experience, people were often very receptive and open to meeting me (nearly 100% response rate vs 0% in online resume submissions) and sharing our experiences and perspectives with each other. It also gives you a better "in" if you do choose to apply for said company. Even better, they may also open you up to more opportunities that they think might suit you.

Regardless, when you do have an interview with a company, that is your opportunity to make sure that you ask them good questions. It's just as much as an interview of them as it is of you. Don't be combative or outright about what you want to ask. Phrase it in a way that is abstracted from any particular reviews, people, or sites.

  • How is x at this company?
  • What do you (the company) do in situation y?
  • How does the company handle z?
  • Ask questions about the why behind decisions, direction, strategy, etc.

These are very general and can vary depending on what it is you're applying for. I suggest tailoring them specifically to the company or role. You can also ask your other interviewers the same questions or variations on them to get a more complete picture and see what the company's strengths and weaknesses are. In the end, you should be asking questions and making decisions based on what is best for yourself. It is your job search and life, not someone else's, and you should do what makes you happy.

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I believe that people who are angry or otherwise dissatisfied with their employment experience are much more likely to put a review on a site like Glassdoor than those who are quite happy with their employment. So, I would take this information with a grain of salt and only let it dissuade you if there is a proliferation of it. For example, if there were only one negative review, I'd likely not care. But, if there are more than that, especially if they're discussing similar issues, I'd proceed more cautiously.

You should not explicitly state, in an interview, "I saw someone on Glassdoor complain about this, please respond." Rather, you should approach it a little more delicately by more generically bringing up the scenario that gives you pause. For example, if the complaint is "This place sucks because I have to clock in and out to go to the bathroom." You can get your concerns addressed by asking about the day to day comings and goings for the average employee or how they track hours in the office, etc...

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I'll say that from what I've seen in the Glassdoor reviews for companies I've worked or contracted at is often quite accurate. I've used it a couple of times to not move any further with some jobs because it confirmed my gut feeling from the interview. The time I ignored what was said, I ended up regretting working there quickly.

Make sure you're looking at current reviews, within the past year or so. For example, the company I work for now had some lousy reviews from a few years ago when the economy forced a lot of layoffs. There have been considerable improvements since.

For the not-so-good places, you'll tend to see the same faults mentioned again and again. It's not uncommon for a disgruntled employee to leave a negative review. But when you see the same negative behaviors mentioned again and again, there's probably some truth there.

So, to get to your first question, you shouldn't necessarily not apply or refuse an interview just because of a bad review. However, you should use that information to look for warning signs that there might be a problem. For example, if the reviews indicate that cliques and office politics are a problem, you'll probably see this in the interview.

To get to the truth, try to ask good, but non-confrontational, questions in the interview to probe these aspects. For example, you could ask about how projects are assigned or how teams are put together rather than saying, "Glassdoor.com said you had an office politics problem."

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1) Take it with a grain of salt. Remember that the people writing the negative reviews might have a bias, they may have been disgruntled, they may have had personal conflicts with their manager. Your circumstances might not be the same. You might get along great with the same manager, you might like the work they assign, etc... If a negative review is written in a balanced and objective tone, you might give it more weight than a rant, but still remember that two people working for the same company might have very different opinions of the same circumstances. Similarly, if there are many reviews all saying similar things, that might also gain more weight since it indicates there might be a repeated, systematic problem

2) Not sure. I've never done this, but a good interview should be a two-way street. If the issues on Glassdoor (or others) are big enough to have been reported in the popular media (news shows, newspapers, etc...) it's public knowledge and probably fair game. Just try to phrase it tactfully and carefully. If the issue appears to be little more than a rant from one angry emplopyee then I wouldn't bother to bring it up. If it's an issue that is in many reviews, you could try to phrase it as "the word on the street is that [issue]". Or maybe don't even mention the issue at all, but try to come up with a question that might open the discussion to it and see if they mention the issue or not. If they don't I'm not sure I'd press the matter, but it mightt depend on the specific issue and whether it not it seems like they are deliberately being evasive.

And finally, the data on sites like Glassdoor is sometimes very incomplete. I looked up my own company once, and found only a couple of reviews, both of which were quite short and neither of which really reflected what it's like to work in my company at this time. One seemed outdated, one said very little and seemed to be written by someone who didn't last more than a year in a very quiet department and saw very little of what else (good and bad) that goes on elsewhere. These reviews would be useless for making a decision on whether to work here. Talking to someone who works here would be much better.

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