Not long ago, most of my clients only had a vague idea what Glassdoor was all about. Now, in my first meetings with hiring executives, it’s rare for them not to bring up their employee reviews on career sites like Indeed and Glassdoor. In a small firm, particularly one where the CEO reports to a board of directors, online reviews get real personal, real fast. And the sudden onset of public accountability can give executives a severe case of Glassdoor Angst.If your employees are safe to share their unvarnished opinions about you anonymously and publicly, then the most credible aspect of your employment brand is being formed outside of your control. This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer shows that people are far more likely to trust anonymous reviewers than company CEOs.
Most employers are decidedly unhappy about the arrival of the Glassdoor tipping point. Some whine about how unfair it is. Some ask HR to “fix it.” A few try to explain it away. But finding someone with a workable action plan to use their bad Glassdoor reviews? Exceedingly rare.
This post is not about how to respond to your critics online. Bad online reviews are not an online problem. They are a real life problem. If you own a restaurant, the solution to your bad restaurant reviews is not found online – you solve it in the kitchen. And the solution to bad employer reviews is to use the information to redesign your hiring process.
The practical effect of bad reviews
One or two bad reviews might be embarrassing, but they are nothing to lose sleep over. Ignore them and move on. Once you have 4 or more credible reviewers that seem to agree on what’s wrong, you will probably start to see a modest impact on your recruiting results. Whether you are running job ads or directly recruiting people, great online reviews will slightly improve candidate responsiveness to your recruiting efforts, and bad reviews will slightly depress candidate responsiveness. But in our experience the overall impact is generally small.
So if recruiting response rates are largely unaffected, what exactly is the real life impact of a mediocre-to-bad online reputation? We’ve looked closely at this question.
Some reputation-sensitive candidates will shy away from firms with poor reputations. They will not answer ads or respond to recruiting efforts. You will not be able to engage them in conversation. Ignore them. Until you improve your reputation, there is nothing you can do to attract them, so focus your attention where you can make a real difference.
The recruiting battle is won or lost with the candidates who can keep an open mind. And with a bad reputation, you are starting your recruiting conversation at a considerable disadvantage.
How candidates evaluate your reputation.
To deal with a bad reputation, you must first understand the mechanics of how people process information. People don’t believe everything they read, but they often seek information that supports their thinking. The more data points someone has to back their opinions, the more certain that opinion becomes—this is your new reality and you need to know how to handle it.
Let’s say you are buying a new car, and have no strong opinion about which car you want. So you make a list of cars in your budget, and go take some test drives, doing your best to ignore the salesman. Eventually, you find a car you like. You have formed an opinion, but that opinion is not yet certain. You are not yet ready to buy. (Nothing the salesman says makes a difference; they just waste your time.)
You go home after the drive and read Car and Driver. Their reviewer loves the car, for all of the reasons you did. Suddenly you feel much more certain of your opinion, and more confident in your buying decision. An objective third party validated your opinion. You feel relieved. Decision made, you are now ready to go negotiate with the salesman.
But what if the Car and Driver reviewer hated the car you drove? In this case, your cognitive dissonance would probably make you less certain about your choice. That bad review might not change your mind, but you might need to go seek additional information before you were convinced to buy the car. In looking for more information, you will probably continue to discount everything the salesman says, because he has an agenda. You will likely go look for other reviews or unbiased sources of information. (See the link to the Edelman Trust Barometer above.)
To limit the damage caused by your bad online reviews, learn more about how certainty transforms persuasion, and apply those lessons to your recruiting process.
How to deal with a bad reputation.
Most candidates arrive at their first interview having already formed an initial impression about you, based on the online reviews. And during their interactions with you, they are gathering data to confirm or disprove their suspicions. Your behavior during the hiring process will either change their initial opinion, or cement it into certainty. You have a one-time opportunity to change the narrative during the hiring process, but until you accept that you are starting from a significant disadvantage, you won’t be effective.
As the hiring manager, you can respond to your bad reviews in one of three ways.
Option 1: Put your head in the sand: You ignore the bad reviews and give your normal interview, where you assume your job is super-attractive and that great people should be lined up around the block to take it.
This scenario forgets that everything you do is being viewed through the lens of the bad review. Your bad reputation will be cemented. The most attractive candidates will mysteriously land other jobs, “decide to stay with their current employer” or find other ways to decline a second interview.
Option 2: Try to talk your way out of trouble: You talk endlessly about all the wonderful aspects of your company, hoping that candidates believe you instead of anonymous reviewers. Maybe you try to trash-talk the reviewers as being dishonest.
This scenario forgets that nobody in their right mind listens to the car salesman. The most attractive candidates will mysteriously land other jobs, “decide to stay with their current employer” or find other ways to decline a second interview.
Option 3: Tackle it head on: You read your harshest Glassdoor reviews and work hard to understand why people felt that way. You ponder why people were so disappointed in their employment experience. You accept and own your role in creating the problems described online, so you can do a better job of setting authentic expectations for your next hire. You demonstrate how you’re working to address the concerns brought up in the Glassdoor reviews.
If online reviews say your organization lacks career advancement, don’t just talk like the car salesman. Invite candidates to meet with 3 people who were promoted. (I once heard this approach described as an “engineered epiphany.”) Candidates may doubt what you tell them, but they will always believe the opinions they form on their own. Engineer the interview experience so that the conclusions candidates form about your organization are favorable.
When you create an interview experience that addresses peoples’ natural concerns, and allows them to gather their own information, they will chalk up your bad reviews to disgruntled former employees or old habits your organization has made efforts to change. You will earn the benefit of the doubt and be well on your way to hiring the right people with properly calibrated expectations. As your happy new hires begin to give you fresh new higher reviews, and as the old reviews begin to look dated, even the most reputation-sensitive candidates will start to give you a second look.
For more on this topic, read How Employer Reputation Affects Senior Executive Careers, or download our Viewpoint Document on The Glassdoor Impact.