You can’t please all of the people all of the time, and the employment reviews on sites like Glassdoor are proof. Even companies listed as being the best to work for have their share of negative comments. While you might be concerned about complaints about a prospective employer, it’s important to remember that there are happy people at badly reviewed companies, says Lisa Rangel, founder and managing director of Chameleon Resumes, an executive resume-writing and job-landing consulting company.
“When you read reviews, look for the tone and topics,” says Rangel. “If the complaint is within the employee’s control and they’re blaming the employer, for example, it should carry less weight–especially if you’re a person who won’t blame others for your problems.”
Also look for themes and consistency, adds Greg Besner, founder and CEO of the employee engagement platform CultureIQ. “A single comment about a particular issue may just represent a single person with an axe to grind, or it may represent someone with a legitimate but aberrant complaint,” he says. “A bunch of negative feedback may represent disgruntled employees, but now you have reason to suspect something is going on, particularly if it is not countered by a greater amount of positive feedback.”
Digging deeper, you may be able to identify that certain themes recur in certain areas of the company, such as salespeople who are given unreasonable quotas or support staff that are underresourced. “Consider whether those issues are relevant to the job you are seeking, and also consider what they may say about the company as a whole,” says Besner. “For example, that not all people are valued equally.”
Negatives can be positives
Some negative reviews could actually be a positive for you, says Rangel. For example, employees often leave negative comments about being worked to the bone. “For a person who knows how to manage up, setting boundaries and working smart might do well,” she says. “Someone else who doesn’t know how to manage up will suffer.”
Another common complaint is that an organization is too political, giving promotions and raises to people they like. “Maybe the person who left the review wasn’t good at navigating relationships–a more positive way of saying ‘playing politics,'” says Rangel. “If you know you’ve been a person that has always played politics well, you may flourish.”
An employee might complain about the need to travel or work long hours. If you’re a road warrior and a workaholic who loves what you do, it might be a great environment for you.
“The person who left the review might not have been pulling their weight, but that environment might give you a charge and excite you,” says Rangel.
One comment that could be a positive or negative is when someone mentions great pay. “It could be battle pay,” says Rangel. “Some companies pay a lot because it’s a tough place to work. You have to be wiling to do that; don’t take the job for higher money. It could be golden handcuffs if you get used to the money and can’t leave without hardship.”
How to address bad reviews
Job candidates can use information found on Glassdoor to formulate questions to pose during an interview, says Besner. “They wouldn’t even have to frame it as having heard something negative,” he says. “For example, if they heard there were no development opportunities, they could simply ask what types of stretch assignments people on the team had been given recently, or if there is money available to attend training programs and conferences.”
You can also check negative reviews by doing research on LinkedIn, suggests Rangel. “If a complaint is that a company doesn’t promote from within, research where leaders came from,” she says. “Were they internally promoted? Do they have the same background or graduated from the same college? It takes some forensic research, but you can often piece things together.”
Like Yelp or movie reviews, people who have something negative to say are often more inclined to talk, says Rangel. “Trying to network and find people who work there or used to work there is a better way to get reviews,” she says. “I suggest using LinkedIn. Send 10 InMails, and ask why they left. If you send 10, you’ll get one or two responses. You still need to filter that. Negative people tend to want to talk more than positive people. Take everything with a grain of salt and do your due diligence. Just looking at third-party review sites doesn’t provide the full picture you need to evaluate a potential employer.”