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Ask HN: Are Glassdoor reviews a reliable indicator of a company's culture?
172 points by startupfreak on Oct 13, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 153 comments
A particularly negative review of a London startup[0] by a former employee has been doing the rounds on social media recently. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a couple of extremely positive reviews by current employees have suddenly cropped up for that company as well. So positive they feel a bit like HR plants. But then again, the original feels like a gleeful hatchet-job and is maybe a bit extreme going the other way.

Is Glassdoor reliable, and if not, are there any reliable alternatives?

[0] https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/Reviews/Employee-Review-ROLI-RVW17219691.htm

In my experience, the negative ones are usually absolutely reliable! When I have left a place happy, I usually forget to write a good review. When I leave a place that was a nightmare to work at, I don't forget to spill the beans to warn people away.

It's not uncommon for a company to have some sort of management shuffle, a new (worse) culture is imposed, and people start to leave and write negative reviews. Then the company will hire a firm to write them positive reviews and disparage those who have left bad reviews, and not realise that prospective employees can completely tell the difference between the level of detail in the negative reviews 'eg, there was a pm who used to try to physically intimidate the female members of the team by leaning over them when he talked, I saw this on a weekly basis for 6 months until he was promoted to the programme manager and stopped working in our office', and the BS positive ones like 'it's a challenging place to work, the people posting negative reviews are used to workplaces where they need less initiative blah blah blah.

You'll see what I mean as you read them.

Sites like glassdoor are the only safety net we have to protect ourselves from those kinds of situations.

> Then the company will hire a firm to write them positive reviews

One company (Series D, 300+ employees) that I worked at did this, sort of. It was less a hired firm, and more the CEO posting.

> and the BS positive ones like 'it's a challenging place to work, the people posting negative reviews are used to workplaces where they need less initiative blah blah blah.

Absolutely. There are a few key phrases that are huge red flags for me. Consistent "themes" showing up on Glassdoor along the lines of "people who can't stand the heat need to get out of the kitchen" or "people are used to the old ways and need to grow up" or "this is a fast paced work environment and not everybody can handle it" are red flags that the company is trying to influence their Glassdoor rankings. It's like the opposite of sandbagging... if they make enough of the same comments, then Glassdoor will pick up a theme that provides an "excuse" for the company's legitimate bad reviews.

There are bs reviews HR has added for our company, but there are also 3-4 star entries for current employees whose identifies I can guess based on their phrasing (I'm calling bs on any 5 star I see). There are also a few ridiculously negative ones left by people right after they were fired.

Seems like the CEO has too much time on his hands. Which makes me wonder - isn't it easier to do the right thing and treat your employees right than it is to constantly come up with fabled stories to counter the negative reviews.

From the CEO level? Which would require replacing or reforming a number of managers enabling the current situation and possibly delaying any current progress? I don't think there's any overlap between people who run on funding and who would attempt this for greater good.

"In my experience, the negative ones are usually absolutely reliable!"

Yes. In my experience: Only people extremely pissed off take the time to open their macbook and write a truthful rage at 2am. There are good reviews, but they just don't have the same soul crushing honest factor. Comically, people think they are being anonymous -- but you can't soul crush without knowing -- and people (engineers) quickly put things together.

That doesn't make any sense. I've come across colleagues who wrote scathing reviews...typically consistent with their work ethic. Hard to work with, quick to blame others..then it's no surprise when they go to Glassdoor and say 'the people here are morons!' when they get let go for performance reasons.

I understand what you are saying: You hired psychopaths on accident -- but your office is still a great place to work!

Fun fact though: Actual legit psychopaths are very charming. The biggest symptom is that they have a history of failures and bad referrals. But they are good at convincing you that they were victimized, and that they trust you to bring them to the next level.

Usually at the end of an interview, the interviewer ends up feeling like this person is a great guy, just unlucky. They might have failed a lot, but failure is good in Silicon Valley.

You end up with a person who becomes a core team member because they care the most. But they end up being manipulative assholes who are well connected.

The thing about those people (not sure psychopath is the exact term) is that they can pass for decent people for long enough to get hired and entrenched. Hiring a few of them is inevitable at scale. So as long as they actually do get fired (as in GP's case), yes, it can still be a good place to work.

Ah yes. The "we hire a few psychopaths now and then" excuse.

Ah, yes. The "throw out snarky comments and hope nobody notices I don't have a real argument" tactic.

Just a bad apple, you see.

With NLP and ML any company can know who wrote what review if they wanted to. They have all your emails and thus writing style is easily ascertained.

> With NLP and ML any company can know who wrote what review if they wanted to

And the motivation to dedicate resources to this is...? You already fired the person, what does it matter if you find out who they are?

Current employess sometimes write scathing reviews as well, so there's clearly a potential for retaliation there.

If they signed a non-disparage clause, it could be worth quite a lot.

Streisand effect is a beautiful thing.

That this is even a thing is extremely concerning.

Wouldn't that be easy to foil? I can, and do, write with different styles that depend on the audience I'm trying to reach. I'm reasonably sure I could write entirely unlike my normal writing and appear to be a completely different person. I've done a lot of writing for very different audiences.

Am I, perhaps, over-estimating my ability? Are they really that good at determining origin?

Even if you're overestimating your ability, it does not really matter for the case at hand. You can have someone you trust write the review for you.

Agree with this completely. Spent over a year job-hunting and found Glassdoor reviews to be a useful tool.

I'd often remember to look up a company on Glassdoor after an iffy interview. It sent me running away from a couple places I was on the fence about.

And it's just as llaith says. I'd usually have to wade through the sockpuppet froth at the top to find the detailed reviews from developers 3-6 months ago describing the dysfunctional culture or 60+ hour workweeks.

Does anyone know how GD is funded? Is it ads or do companies pay somehow to be listed?

I ask, as the payment method is critical to understand it's reliability.

If it is ads, then yes, I think it should be reliable. 'You' are the 'product' in that case. More negative press will likely keep you clicking and searching about, therefore more money.

If it is the companies, then it it not likely reliable. Why would you pay a company to essentially bad-mouth you? You pay them for good press (the pizzeria in NY on Yelp being an egregious exception). I'd say this holds if the companies can pay in any way at all. If they can influence for dollar, even rarely, then the whole thing is suspect.

Anyone know the real answer?

So far, it looks like they are supported by VC funds. I can't find any info on how they intend to become profitable but a few comments, drawn from memory, suggest they are expecting to fund with ads and a couple of people have suggested they will have a subscription service.

However, I can't find anything official about either and Wikipedia isn't very helpful. They do have some information about their existing funding:


A part of me thinks this type of thing would make a good not-for-profit enterprise. I'd even consider some sort of government backing. I'd say a service like that has good social potentials and can help society to make nformed choices.

I'd think so as well! But as we have seen in healthcare and other sectors, regulatory capture is possible, if not probable. Though, to be fair, the credit bureaus are in a similar niche and they are frankly a catastrophe. It seems that any 'word of mouth' type business or board that is of any use will eventually become useless as they try to squeeze blood from turnips. Subscriptions/payment may be better, like The Negro Motorist's Guidebook of the 1950's.

Yeah, I'd think it'd have to be a not-for-profit enterprise with some sort of forced independence and verification. I keep mulling it over and thinking that it's be simple to do, but each idea I come up with finds me also finding ways it can be abused. So, it's not really that easy, I suppose.

They have a sales team for working with employers. In the pitches I've received it was focused on recruiting and there wasn't a whiff of any sleazy reputation management stuff.

Good to know, thank you!

You can pay Glassdoor to become an "Engaged Employer": http://resources.glassdoor.com/contact.html?channel=homepage...

So yes, Glassdoor's intensive structure is aligned to make employers happy. They don't take any income from individual review contributors or readers.

Hmm, though this is cause to doubt, it is still only one cause.

However, it seems that their business model is then catered, at this time, to employers and they have made themselves a niche area in the reputation management sector. Though not alarming at this time, I can see this going south quickly and without warning (Equihax for example)

They are funded by Venture Capital, but their revenue comes from companies paying for "branding" on their company profiles and advertising jobs. If you choose not to pay to brand your company profile, other companies can advertise their jobs on your profile.

That made me think about the reviews in app stores these days. There will be a valid complaint and rating, followed by a response from the company that might be something like, "this has been addressed in the next version. we're sorry you had a bad experience." Something like that turns a 1 star rating into a positive signal to me.

Maybe Glassdoor reviews need the opportunity for a company representative to say, "this is valid criticism and we are addressing it."

It actually is possible to reply to Glassdoor reviews if you claim your company page.

I often struggle with app store reviews, because people that are satisfied won't go and rate the app out of the blue. Non-technical users that can't follow an industry standard sign up flow will go completely nuts and give one star with completely insane comments.

I used to believe that the "please rate my app"-popup was bad ux. Now I know why it's used.

I'd think the same pattern applies to GD. Why would I write a review when satisfied with my work? I'd have no reason to even visit GD.

> I used to believe that the "please rate my app"-popup was bad ux. Now I know why it's used.

It doesn't make it any better ux though. FYI, the way to make them stop is to say 'yes i'll write a review', wait for the app store to load, and then close it. They usually won't prompt you again.

> I'd think the same pattern applies to GD. Why would I write a review when satisfied with my work? I'd have no reason to even visit GD.

If you're highly engaged with your company and have positive feelings, you may want it to look better to people considering working with you.

> It doesn't make it any better ux though. FYI, the way to make them stop is to say 'yes i'll write a review', wait for the app store to load, and then close it. They usually won't prompt you again.

No, I didn't mean that it somehow turned into great ux. I meant that I understand the rationale behind it nowadays.

This is purely speculation, but I've often wondered if some of the inexplicable positive reviews at bad places I've worked are the product of the company HR team - I wouldn't be surprised at all if some companies try to game their glass door rating if it gets too bad. I've certainly worked some places where there were a bunch of positive reviews that looked suspiciously like the work of a single person.

This is absolutely, with no exaggeration or guesswork required, true. I had friends in HR at a former employer who were asked to do this. It was hardly a secret within the company.

Yes this is true for nearly any meaningful online ratings: Amazon, Imdb, Yelp. Negative reviews are the more reliable indicator.

"and the BS positive ones like 'it's a challenging place to work, the people posting negative reviews are used to workplaces where they need less initiative blah blah blah."

Nothing gets my goat more than this kind of thing. Suddenly, if I don't want to be harassed every day, I "can't hack it"?

Sometimes you can catch this in an interview, too, when you ask what happened to the previous person in the position (I always ask this question).

Usually it's simple like "they moved on" or "they were promoted". One time I got an angry, "Well they just couldn't handle it here!" Huge red flag

You can see the time series of ratings for a company under "Rating Trends". If it ticks up spontaneously, I don't think it's unreasonable to speculate that HR stepped in.

For the most part they can be reliable. However, there are bitter, cynical people out there who are let go for performance reasons and will speak negatively about their former employer and take no thought to point out the good parts. In other words, take reviews with a grain of salt.

I don't really trust any Glassdoor reviews. I've always figured many positive reviews are fake, and the problem with negative reviews is that they're often written by disgruntled employees who are unable to reliably assess their own contributions to problematic situations.

The company I'm at -- the best company I've ever worked for, hands down -- has a few negative reviews from over the years that were written by employees who were fired for basically being awful, hostile, aggressive people who fought with everyone and refused to do work. These are the folks who are technically competent and think that gives them a pass for generally being an awful human being to work with. Being willing to fire people like this has resulted in this company having the happiest and most productive culture I've ever personally worked in, but it does lead to some pretty harsh reviews on Glassdoor. You're not going to get any of this context from the reviews.

The most informative reviews are the negative ones written by folks who left voluntarily and were not fired. In fact, these reviews, if they exist, can be a gold mine of valuable information. But it can sometimes be hard to pick these out, as folks who were fired sometimes lie about it and make it seem as if they chose to leave.

A generic tip when reading negative reviews is to look for specific details and concrete examples. The more details -- and the more specific they are -- the more likely the review is to have some basis in fact. This tip alone can filter out a lot of noise in both positive and negative reviews.

If you ever want to write a negative review, the corollary is that you should include specific, concrete examples to convince the reader that you're not just disgruntled. Avoid emotional language.

A negative review written with a calm, collected tone is also a sign that there might be something there.

It's also worth looking for themes that seem to be consistent across multiple negative reviews. As with Amazon reviews, it's often best to look at distributional properties of Glassdoor reviews rather than focus on specific reviews too much.

The company I'm at -- the best company I've ever worked for, hands down -- has a few negative reviews from over the years that were written by employees who were fired for basically being awful, hostile, aggressive people who fought with everyone and refused to do work. These are the folks who are technically competent and think that gives them a pass for generally being an awful human being to work with.

If this happens consistently over a longer period of time, I'd say there's a problem with conflict management in that company. Technically competent people usually start pushing back if they see a better/simpler way of solving the problem they are given, but instead of taking their feedback or giving constructive criticism, the management just tries to shut them up.

It's just a few cases in 10 years. I don't think there's much of a pattern there. It's certainly not a perfect company, and conflict management is one of the hardest parts of being a manager. But overall the situation you describe was not the issue in these cases.

Agreed. There was one company I worked for that made all the employees write reviews for the company, but the boss asked each person one after the other so that he knew who wrote each review. So of course everyone wrote a good review.

I tried to make mine so over the top that it would obviously be spotted as fake but still within the "compliment" range that I thought my boss would accept it as genuine. Then when I left I wrote a proper review and indicated that most of the other reviews were probably untrustworthy since everyone was asked to write a review.

'Disgruntled' just means 'unhappy,' so a negative review is understandable.

Any chance you can share the name of the company where you work now? Would love to know.

I've looked at a few companies only, and from what I've seen, in my limited experience, is that the only people motivated to leave reviews were those who were fired/layedoff/let go. So we're left with 100% negative reviews. These are not tech companies, so no one working there has any idea that glassdoor even exists. The place I work now has TERRIBLE reviews, and it's pretty obvious who left the reviews, and it's obvious to me why they left those reviews, but it does not reflect the reality of working here at all.

I guess I should go leave a positive review, but the motivation of an angry/hurt person is WAY higher than those of us who are happy.

My company has two departments, a lot of amazon turk like manual labor for things that haven't been automated yet, and a dev team automating the crap out of everything. Dev is pretty good to work, most of the time. Manual labor department is hell on earth. Reading glassdoor, the reviews are 95% negative from the manual labor department, mixed with reviews from people we turned down during interviews (our interview process used to be horrible), and about two bad reviews from previous devs. One who was let go for basically being as asshole (bad hire, not really his fault, life just got hard and he was young), and one that had some legitimate complaints.


My experience was such that I was fired for performance but was genuinely already looking for employment elsewhere due to a culmination of problems in the department. I went to Glassdoor after some time to see the reviews for the company and whether or the experiences of others would comport with mine. I didn't go there to write a review, but Glassdoor will conceal the majority of reviews until you've contributed one. So I wrote a fairly balanced (not just negative) but notably negative and specific review. I was satisfied to see that there were others that felt the same way.

Negative reviews seem to be pretty reliable, you have to have a motivation to post them, even if the content may not be objectively accurate. I worked for a company with terrible management and every time an employee would leave they would leave a negative review.

However, glassdoor is not completely objective-- companies can get negative reviews removed simply by complaining about them, and the quality control on this is not good. So that means that over time the HR department can just keep making accounts and complaining about the negative reviews and they disappear.

Thus if you leave a negative review you have to be a watchdog... and if it gets removed, even without cause, glassdoor won't let you leave another one.

However they can't hold back the tide, here's a comment from a recent review (redacted for privacy): " Forced "culture". It's explicitly stated that culture fit is a huge part of this backwards company. If you are too tired to go to a happy hour when the XXXX crew comes to town prepare for awkward questions why and being told you're not supporting the culture if you don't attend - by the CTO."

Reading the reviews of this company (that I worked at and know first hand) I see a lot of negative recent reviews, but the overall score is 2.4... way too high to be accurate.

HR is still grooming the reviews and leaving fake positives, to keep that overall rating up, and the negatives are all relatively recent (though they describe problems that have existed for 5 years.)

There are all kinds of motivations to post a negative review, and not all of those motivations map "reliably" to accuracy. Leaving a job can be traumatic for employees for reasons that have nothing to do with the company's culture or behavior--a disgruntled employee fired for cause has a strong motivation to leave a bad review, but that doesn't mean it is reliable.

Glassdoor has the same pros and cons of any review aggregator. It is susceptible to gaming (perhaps uniquely so, like Yelp, because the companies being reviewed are also Glassdoor's advertisers). But it provides a directionally accurate view of a corporate environment given a large enough sample size of reviews--and as with any review, more credence should be given to examples that are clear, detailed and well-written.

The conflict of interest (companies are also advertisers) is powerful, and it appears to be exerting a significant effect on the directional reliability of aggregate reviews for any company large enough to be a major advertiser. Companies can badger Glassdoor into removing negative reviews, and Glassdoor will ask few to no questions before taking summary and unappealable action in the company's favor.

The negative reviews are pretty much the only interesting data points on the site. Take them with a grain of salt, sure. But you have to take the positives (especially large cohorts of positives over short time intervals) with the whole freaking salt shaker. The aggregate scores offer some directional guidance, but bear in mind that you are not looking at the total sample size of reviews; you are looking at the sample size after the company has culled and gamed what it can, which is often quite a lot of the original pool.

This is sort of like the directional reliability of eBay scores, now that there is a short decay on past reviews, and pretty much anyone with 10 minutes on their hands can get negative reviews expunged.

> perhaps uniquely so, like Yelp

> Negative reviews seem to be pretty reliable, you have to have a motivation to post them, even if the content may not be objectively accurate.

I agree with this. I'm usually more suspect of the glowing, very positive reviews, particularly a bunch in a row within a certain time period. I've read at least once that I can remember where employers were essentially providing incentives for employees to go out and write positive things on Glassdoor, in an effort to clean up its image on that site.

I'd say look for themes. I'm interviewing with a company right now where the reviews are overwhelmingly positive, but I've turned the mental alarms off for now because it's totally backed up by all of my interaction with anyone associated with the place. Genuinely great culture in play. I only say this to balance out any message I might be giving to not trust any positive reviews.

You really are best off reading through and looking for themes, rather than relying on the aggregate ratings, or categorical statements of "good" and "bad" in any particular review. Culture is totally subjective, so look for a description of what that culture is, versus whether the reviewer thinks its good or bad.

Hmm... I generally only leave positive reviews for goods and services. My thinking has been that satisfied people don't generally take the time to write reviews, while unhappy people will invest the time and energy.

I figure that adding a negative review is only going to add to the noise. So, I usually avoid doing so unless it is particularly egregious.

This means that I also weigh the good reviews heavier than I do the negative reviews. I do try to keep an eye out for fluff reviews and try to ignore those. No, this product didn't 'literally save your life' and things like that. Many of the negative reviews read like they didn't understand the product or service and are displeased that it didn't meet their goals, which would be expected because it didn't claim to meet those goals.

It does make me wonder if there's a way to ensure honest and objective reviews. I doubt there is, but we may be able to make the system better.

2.4 is pretty low in my experience. My first check when looking into a company is usually Glassdoor and anything below mid 3's is a pretty strong negative signal, at the very least that satisfaction is largely dependent on team. Mid 3's and higher and generally people are satisfied regardless of what team they're on or how high on the ladder they are.

I wouldn't take everything on Glassdoor at face value, but if there are recurring negative themes in the reviews then that can be a red flag. I read them the same way I read reviews on Amazon, I look at the distribution of scores and then read a handful of each rating.

If there is a low distribution of 1 star ratings, then either the 1 star people are outliers or there is some sort of incentive for the higher ratings (either pressure from management to give positive reviews, or the company could just pay for fake reviews). Sometimes this is obvious, like a bunch of positive reviews that sound the same posted in a short timeframe, and sometimes it isn't. At the end of the day it is going to be a gut feeling.

I'm 100% in agreement. I disagree with those who say that negative reviews are more pure, and the 5-stars are HR / corporate drone-types. However, 'themes' and patterns are what I look for. Several times I've validated the experience of these negative themes, joining a place anyway or leaving a place and seeing confirmation. And just the same, if the positive ones say eye-rolling things like, "This place rewards the best, but they expect a lot from you. This is not for 9-5 whimps. Grrr." then I also see that as a pattern.

Before I was a contractor [ where reviews mean much less as you're not marrying your employer ], I'd take more of a Goldilocks approach to the reviews. The outliers (like a product review on Amazon) have to be smoothed out somewhat mentally.

This is not a direct answer to the question of GlassDoor reliability, but I have found negative GlassDoor reviews something interesting to bring up in interviews.

For example, I interviewed at a company that had a fair amount of negative reviews on GlassDoor, as well as some positive ones that came across (in my opinion) as astro-turfing. I brought this up with the guy doing my interview, and it lead to an interesting discussion about the internal dynamics of the company and what the real pros and cons are. His answer was basically that Division X had some real issues but they were working on it, but this position was going to be in Division Y which functioned in a different way. I ultimately decided against this offer for different reasons, but I appreciated the candor of the interviewer when I brought it up.

The usefulness of GlassDoor probably decreases as the company gets larger. I doubt the reviews of, say, Google or IBM have any bearing on reality because they're so massive and the experience inside the company is certainly not universal. Likewise, it's probably not that accurate for tiny companies.

I'll close with a (guarded) anecdote. I happened to know from insiders that a particular startup (~100 employees) was very dysfunctional and the leadership had severe issues. The GlassDoor reviews had detailed scathing review after detailed scathing review for a little while, then switched to entirely things along the lines of "[ThisCompany] is great! It's sooo great! And I love the leadership, especially [CTO who is a known jerk and known to be driving the company into the ground]. He/She is tough but fair and sooo smart!" So, take that anecdote for what it's worth.

Yeah this is a very tricky thing to do well as it will always be abused. Glassdoor has been struggling (they've raised a bunch of flat rounds) and there are so many cases i've seen of bad reviews, followed by HR getting wind of it and burying them in a ton of fake positive reviews.

I run a site called TransparentCareer (https://www.transparentcareer.com) and we've tried to make all of this data quantitative and verify that the person actually worked at the organization and what role they were in. We are getting ready to release a qualitative type review/question answering system using the same verification method and you will be able to see what department within the company the review is in reference to.

I would love to hear how people think this could be done better as we are currently developing the product and would love if it could solve this need in the best way possible. Is employee verification the biggest problem or is it something else?

> followed by HR getting wind of it and burying them in a ton of fake positive reviews.

Or even worse, from https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/Reviews/Lab49-Reviews-E257101.ht...

> * Requiring new joiners to write a Glass Door review as part of their on-boarding process, presumably in an attempt to improve their rating.

The company I left a few years ago did this in order to obfuscate the rampant issues that were being unaddressed.

The recipe was to hire in a bunch of college grads, and while they're still nervous about their first corporate gig, have the VP of Human Resources email a demand that they post a glowing review.

And, when the rating inevitably continues to be hammered by negatives, instead of addressing the patterns within the negative reviews, HR would send that review demand to the overseas team(s) where the jobs were even more tenuously-held.

While HR made glaringly obvious positive reviews, themselves, of course. Pretty insidious.

My last company was like this. Desperate to get people to write reviews their first week.

Interesting, sounds like it would be useful to understand how long the person has been at the company when the review was written.

The site looks neat, but a few things off the top of my head - I have to sign in with LinkedIn, but it doesn't import any of my profile. And when adding a role, "Nearest City" has predefined values, none of which are even within a 3 hour drive. When I enter the city I'm actually in, I'm told it can't be empty.

One of the worst thing Glassdoor did was to make it mandatory for people to give reviews before reading reviews. You can see the low quality reviews people leave as a result of this.

It doesn't have to be a review. It can be a salary or something else.

Coercing people to provide it drops the signal to noise ratio imo - especially since there is no verification step.

It can be a red flag, but it is often not 100% of the truth.

The larger the company gets, the less useful glassdoor is. The same company could have very awful very political teams, and very awesome and great teams.

More useful.. go out to the bar with your future team. If you didn't enjoy it, then pass. If you enjoyed it, then think about working there.

Glassdoor is an interesting data point, but not "reliable" as a standalone rating system for multiple reasons:

1. It tends to attract complaints and unhappy (ex) employees more than anything else. The ratings tend to skew low as a result. Look for common themes, and take them with a grain of salt.

2. Complaints can be specific to a department or role. Complaints about Amazon, e.g., may be related to working in one of their distribution centers, not in HQ/IT.

3. Current employees don't tend to leave reviews. Unlike an annual employee survey—which would be a better indicator if companies chose to publish them—Glassdoor tends to ignore current employees.

A counter to your point #1, a few companies ago where I worked we were asked on mass to provide positive reviews on Glassdoor to attract new candidates.

I think overall it's good for a quick check on morale if there are >20 reviews. The salary data is worthless, high earners within companies do not advertise what they earn.

True enough but the way a company treats its peons is a good insight into how it will treat you and its culture.

Every now I'll be contacted by a recruiter and look up their company on glassdoor and see like a flood of 1 star reviews on it (both from applicants and employees)... like you can tell that there was a mass exodus of employees and that it's falling apart, so they're trying to rehire for those spots. You inevitably also see a ton of recent five star reviews that say something like:

"Wow I don't understand these five star reviews, I'm totally a real person who works here! Positives: <everything is amazing>; Negatives: <something inconsequential>"

Anyways, that's when you politely decline to interview.

(one that contacted me years ago and apparently still exists is kind of amazing to read: https://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Tobi-Reviews-E315372.htm)

"You can bring your dog, I think"

This kind of thing is generally a yes/no type of thing.

"There's a parking lot"

Wow, this company is reaching for the stars there!

(Note: I don't know where the company is located, but generally having a parking lot isn't a bragging point.)

Actually, if the company is located in an area where the housing is unaffordable, then having a parking lot is indeed a bragging point. It means you can live in your van super close to work.

Positive reviews can sometimes be just as valuable as negative reviews.

For example: I came across a company with many glowing 5-star reviews, and one of those reviews was from a software developer who very matter-of-factly stated that it was not a place for people who take issue with working overtime on a regular basis, as if doing so was somehow a point of pride within that company's culture.

Yeah, no thanks.

Personally, I've worked at companies far worse than described in this letter, and if you think places like this don't exist you're young or foolish, or both. I've seen real emotional, and psychological violence at companies treated as everyday business. As an employee I was threatened for almost any reason whereas managers sexual/racial harassment, rape, yes rape, were dismissed as "he's just like that."

This is painfully accurate. With the recent barrage of sexual molestation cases against employees at Uber, Akamai and the ilk, it is all the more important to develop a transparent platform which rates companies.

You know what bothers me the most about this? There are no laws (in the US) against abuse unless it is motivated by being a member of a protected class (impossible to prove).

What does this say about us? "It's ok to abuse people, just do it equally."

A few years ago I was at a failing company. The quick influx of detailed negative reviews (from people who were both still there and who had recently left) was perhaps the only public indicator that things were going poorly. I felt so terrible for all the people who were joining based on rosy promises while glassdoor reviews laid it all out.

So yeah, in many cases glassdoor is a strong signal. Don't just look at the average rating, read the reviews from the past few months and look for trends and red flags.

>Perhaps unsurprisingly, a couple of extremely positive reviews by current employees have suddenly cropped up for that company as well. So positive they feel a bit like HR plants.

Most of the responses here are spot on but I want to address that one specific point. It's highly unlikely those new reviews are HR plants. Instead, the company is clearly aware of the negative review and the fact that it's getting publicity and has asked/encouraged their current staff to post their own reviews.

This is the way I’ve seen it happen as well. I even had a past employer reach out to me and straight up say that someone had left a nasty review and asked if I would mind sharing my opinion of my time at th company on there. I did so happily, and he obviously reached out knowing that I left on good terms and would likely leave a positive review, but it was far from an HR plant.

Looking at Glassdoor for every company I have ever worked at: it's a mixed bag. There are truthful reviews and then there are the really unhappy individuals who can be overdramatic. Unhappy folks are usually not reviewing the company from an impartial position and the stories can be misleading.

For instance: looking at a recent review of my company from a few days ago, it saddens me to read something written so well that is so inaccurate. The content opines that people of color would not be welcome at our organization. I cannot tell you how completely FAR off that is from the truth. Diversity is something we value tremendously. That being said, we are a tech company in the agricultural space that is located in the midwest. The fact of the matter is: our pool of candidates is simply not that diverse to begin with.

Because we are a small startup focusing on survival, we hire the right person for the job, regardless of their background! Ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, etc... is never part of the decision! When this sentiment was shared with the organization, the reviewer interpreted it as "we do not care about diversity and people of color". Not making a specific point to hire diverse folks is NOT the same as not appreciating a diverse team!

Now this is almost a self fulfilling prophecy: a person of color might read that post and be completely turned off from even giving our company a shot. It hurts to imagine this scenario.

Long story short: the unhappy folks are usually the loudest and so I think you'll tend to get the 'jade colored' glasses.

Another anecdote: my fiancee was warned by a friend who previously worked at a company she was interviewing at. This person warned her that her manager was mean and grumpy and she'd be unhappy there. My fiancee has been there for months now without any problems whatsoever, and this manager tends to confide in her more than others on the team.

So I think you need to use every available resource you can to gather data points that can feed into your decision... but a lot of it needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

Your comments contain a lot of red flags for me. Appreciating diversity is not the same as implementing a diverse team. Many dysfunctional organizations hide behind hiring practices of color blind meritocracy.

> The content opines that people of color would not be welcome at our organization. I cannot tell you how completely FAR off that is from the truth. Diversity is something we value tremendously (and not just when it comes to the amount of melanin in your skin)

Get ready for people telling you how you're wrong.

But I am going to tell you that you're doing the whole racial diversity thing 'wrong'. Either don't give a crap about this stuff and let your company be a meritocracy, or if you're going to appease that kind of crowd, then do it their way.

Which essentially is,

- Make everyone inclusive, at the same time make that effort seem easy and not forced. Like "tonight we're celebrating Diwali night" rather than "In the honor of victory of light over Darkness from the land of Indian people and to honor Sajeet, we are celebrating Diwali night". - Never say that you're trying so hard to make things inclusive, that violates the earlier point in a literal sense. The whole point is to make things inclusive but not making it obvious to anyone. - Don't claim you hire people regardless of their background (this is a signaling problem, it's like saying "All Lives Matter" it has nothing to do whether you're logically arguing over the point, but rather to let other people know what your opinions are), don't claim that you're a meritocracy, but don't ever claim that you hire minorities first (because this breaks the earlier rule of making your effort look hard).

At the end of the day, understand that you are either hiring the best person for the job or you're "promoting racial diversity" in your company, don't say both the things.

> (and not just when it comes to the amount of melanin in your skin).

Hopefully this is just by accident, but this comment has the air of downplaying the value of racial diversity. Imagine someone saying "we value diversity of all kinds, not just how much estrogen you have", or "we value diversity of all kinds, not just which invisible being you pray to".

Definitely not trying to downplay anything, quite the opposite. I was trying to suggest that diversity involves more than just the color of your skin.

I take Glassdoor reviews in the same way I take Yelp Reviews. If there are 9 positive reviews, and a single negative review, that's probably not a problem. If it's 50/50 and the majority of the positive reviews seem like slightly changed variants on the same review, then I'm very suspicious.

glassdoor seems like a great opportunity for fakespot.com to take a crack. They don't have the same types of things they can reference though, since most people probably don't have > 1 reviews on the site for cross-referencing.

I worked for about six months at one of the worst places of my 28-year software engineering career. I left a negative review on Glassdoor when I left, but Glassdoor removed the review after the company's HR department hit them with a mountain of whinging.

I also interviewed with a well-known company two weeks ago and they told me, during the interview, that they've had to have Glassdoor remove comments about their idiotic interview quizzes. I still look at Glassdoor, but I don't take it as seriously as I do reviews on Amazon or Yelp.

Glassdoor reviews are useful only if you manually read them individually and critically judge each one for what it's worth.

A lot of negative reviews for my current employer are incredibly spot-on.

I had a very negative experience with my former employer, which currently has 11 reviews with a 4.9 star average, which led them to be rated the #10 best employer in a very large tech market.

They were constantly explicitly threatened to fire people. Ran off 2 out of their 3 founders, some of them very abruptly, jeopardizing the staff's pay and benefits (and this was just a couple of months before winning that "best in town" award). They either cynically produced horrible quality code for their clients, or farmed you out as a body shop to local software teams that couldn't attract their own talent directly, and for good reason.

Exactly 1 year later I now recognize exactly 1/3 of the bio/profiles listed on their website, the other 2/3 being totally unrecognized and new.

When I left the place I had a negative sick time balance, which they offered to write off, and also kept my health care running for an extra month after the month that I departed. And during the same conversation they offered that "we should not talk bad about each other," and of course they had the one really nice guy have this conversation with me.

So now, I look for individual negative reviews which seem reasonably articulate and unemotional, and if a place looks interesting enough, try to queue these issues up for questions during a prospective interview.

Companies definitely try to inflate their rankings with fake or forced reviews. But these are usually pretty easy to spot. They are often short vague 5-star reviews.

Read longer reviews and judge for yourself. Don’t trust the star ratings.

In my experience, the data points most accurate in Glassdoor are those related to tone from the top and the CEO or owner. I've not seen one that didn't match my experience either as an employee or as a customer.

But it's important to remember that these are static data points in time, so there are certainly factors you should weigh based on other available data. For public companies, it can be important to assess changes in organization structure including and around the CEO. For private companies, sale of company is worth considering, though that top leader may still be in place post-sale.

Depending on the role you intend to enter, a negative tone may be what you're looking for -- lots of managers enter roles to help turn around a company. That the problems have been called out directly provides an important starting point in understanding whether you will actually be in a position to fix the problem. And public disclosure of the problems also provides a clear target for response through subsequent Marketing/PR and corporate improvements.

This prompted me to log in and check out reviews for the company where I work.

Some observations:

- Reviews are more or less accurate, but in the context that it's a big company and most of the reviews apply to their immediate team

- Most reviews don't seem to be aware that they are actually reviewing their team/their manager/their org

- Viewed with that lense/context, reviews are accurate but not representative of the company as a whole

All in all, if you look at the reviews holistically, they paint a good enough picture. Most reviews for the company in this case were positive, a few bad teams, but for the most part the company at least makes an effort to provide a good environment for employees. After reading enough reviews, that theme did come across and I would agree with it

I imagine the site is great for assessing the area you're going into, but only really paints a good picture of the entire organization when the company is pretty small.

I wouldn't trust one bad review. There are a lot of "haters" out there that like to unfairly review some companies.

I would trust the ensemble and the overall tone of reviews

No. Somehow, someone wrote a review for my company that has never had any employees other than myself. Unless I have multiple personalities, then it was me.

The companies with the best glassdoor reviews are most likely the companies that know how to "hack" the system. For instance, a former consulting company I worked for made leaving a "glassdoor review" semi mandantory as part of the onboarding process. So right after you onboard with all the rah rah rah about "unique culture" and "fun environment" you tend to leave a review to that effect. This particular company tended to have a 5:1 ratio of "this place is awesome" to "This place is awful" comments. I also think that if you see a lot of responses from the CEO for negative reviews that lean toward defensive then you need to view that as a red flag. I personally would see GD as one of several indicators not a final word on where to work. If you can spot a trend such as "So much unpaid overtime" or similar negative post, you can probably trust it as being at least semi accurate. However, one persons great company is anothers personal hell, so you need to decide if the place is a fit for YOU.

That said, I am a big fan of ROLIs products, and the JUCE framework is a great audio/plugin framework used by tons of companies in that arena. Seeing the 2/3 reviews makes me sorta sad, but I can see how they would have to be a lean, long hour hard work wearing many hats kinda place. Building semi pricey gear for musicians is a hard sell, as musicians are usually a lower income segment of the population...

I wouldn't take Glassdoor reviews as absolute truth but when I read the reviews for my current company they generally are pretty accurate at giving you a general sense of the place.

Every single online review platform can be gamed by just soliciting reviews from people who have just had a positive experience and shunting people who have just had a negative experience to some kind of alternative channel where their complaints can be hidden from the public and/or resolved.

The more aggressive the company is in managing public perception through online review platforms, the more challenging it will be for anything negative to get out there.

Companies have a strong incentive to systematically manipulate online review systems. The people leaving the reviews 'organically' just have some intrinsic motivation to write them. Over time the shills will win no matter what kind of rules you set up to prevent it. To some extent also the capacity to run a good shill program is a signal of the health of the business doing the shilling, so it doesn't completely destroy the value of them.

The main way to counteract this kind of shilling is for objective and trusted third parties to compare companies, products, etc. with tests that cannot be faked and perhaps combined with some subjective evaluation. If the user is not paying to maintain the accuracy and objectivity of the reviews that they're using to inform their decision, then why should they expect it to be anything other than some combination of shill-spam, the odd lunatic, and the increasingly rare fair-minded and well-informed reviewer? The aggregate of all those things is not necessarily the ideal wisdom-of-crowds outcome because all of the inputs can be defrauded or otherwise manipulated in various directions.

You can generally recognize a few broad themes pretty reliably. How strictly or loosely things are structured, the power distance between management and employees, etc. There are sometimes things too weird to make up that come through (One I saw had a bunch of reviews like "great place except there are too many dogs", "didn't get a promotion, hated it, tons of dogs", "great benefits, love dogs in the office", "woof, terrible job")

I look at trends by job titles and I look for consistent incidental remarks, not negativeness or positiveness.

Example of the first: when evaluating one employer there were many negative reviews, but mostly from a particular high-churn part of the company; the experience of easy-come easy-go customer-facing support may not tell you much about the experience of someone even one level removed from that position. The odd positive review was usually a higher-level tech, and even if they had a negative outlook on the company or its future, such reviews would still add "but don't listen to these guys--they just couldn't hack it."

Example of the second, same company: it's very easy to get hired by this company but training is limited and you could just as easily get fired for poor performance -- i.e., the company's hiring requirements were significantly less than their actual on-the-job skill requirements.

So I applied to this company based on mostly negative reviews. I was aiming for a higher position, and I was confident in my ability while having very little evidence of it: if their hiring requirements had actually matched the job I got, I would never have gotten it.

Yes, I think they are very reliable. I worked for a London Startup that currently has 100% negative reviews and I regret not looking at them before I joined.

From what I've seen, a lot of good or decent places tend to have a general positive rating, and the really bad ones are going to have multiple negative reviews.

Take individual reviews with a grain of salt, but as a group I think it's fairly accurate.

The positive ones are not.

I worked for a ecommerce company and the CEO gave anyone who wrote a positive glassdoor review a $50 credit on the site.

When I've looked at the reviews of places I've worked, I've found them to be reasonable, but often painting an incomplete picture. Most of them seem to be from people who never really understood the work or the culture of the place, and therefore didn't perform well.

Also, it will bias towards bad reviews. I've never posted a review of a place I loved working at (and therefore never posted a review). I guess I should, but it would probably just be assumed to be astroturfing.

One other issue is when there are multiple classes of workers. For example Netflix has a lot of negative reviews from the folks who work in the DVD warehouses. But their work environment has nothing to do with the software engineering part of the company, which is the majority of the company, so it skews negative. Amazon has a similar problem, where a lot of the reviews come from the warehouse workers, who, for better or worse, get treated differently.

This is a textbook case of something every first-year statistics student studies: voluntary response bias.


If I remember, things like these tend to draw out extremes, but the missing middle tends to be more moderate.

IMO, finding a job you like is so much about finding a place where you'll be able to tolerate the bad sides. Negative reviews are the best places to find that.

It's a fact of life that there are no perfect jobs, and the difference between happiness and soul crushing is often about how you can deal with the negative sides of your job.

Any anonymous system is open to abuse, or at the very least to distortion of the truth. People who didn't like a company who left can say whatever they like and are free to stretch the truth, and likewise companies can write their own exaggeratedly positive reviews.

If you want to know what a company is like... go look for yourself?

Companies are generally pretty good at not letting people who aren't company cheerleaders do interviews.

I have two counter-examples to this from my own experience.

The first is when I was asked to do interviews for my replacement after I handed my notice in at one company. Everyone knew that I was leaving because I hated it, I didn't even have another job lined up. But I was the person on my team _least_ likely to give a bad impression of the company.

The second is when I was interviewing for a startup tech lead role. One of the engineers gave me a tech test, then we had a chat, and I asked, "What's the worst thing about the company?" She told me: "Basically the CEO has no idea how software development works, or agile development, and we have loads of arguments and it's really frustrating. We're trying to hire a tech lead to shield us from that." Needless to say, I didn't take the job...

Negative reviews can be removed from Glassdoor if the company works hard enough. I know of a local employer who has tons of terrible feedback on Glassdoor and devoted someone full time for several weeks to comb through the reviews and get the most inflammatory removed.

I would take Glassdoor with a few grains of salt.

No. I know of companies who have management post good reviews to minimize the impact of a real negative reviews. One bad review from a real former employee? Post five good reviews!

Also, I've seen evidence of one employee posting multiple bad reviews. It's a bad system all around.

> are there any reliable alternatives?

The Old School method was to ask around, find actual company insiders or former employees.

These days it's relatively easy to find these individuals via a quick sort on Linkedin. Simply, reach out and talk to these people direct.

How reliable is that? I mean, how honestly would you answer such a thing?

Can you gauge sincerity in a live 1:1 conversation?

If someone pinged you with a transparent motive-- We share a mutual connection in 'Mike D', I'm interested in learning more about your experience in (company/ex-employer) because they a have a job opening I want to explore. Would you be open to a brief 10 minute call/Skype?

Wouldn't you tell that person the straight deal?

I'd be concerned that anyone asking me for a 10 minute call or Skype was trying to scam me or say something they would try to use against me. If I got this kind of email and was inclined to reply, I'd advise them to check Glassdoor.

Negative reviews are accurate I believe. Obviously you have to take them with a grain of salt but the positive ones seem to generally be written either by HR or through exhortation of the employee base to paint the company in a great light.

My employer is consistently ranked as one of Glassdoor's 'Best Places to Work', and also regularly encourages staff to write reviews on the site (though without any actual or implicit incentivizing, as far as I know). Make of that what you will.

In my view, encouraging staff to speak honestly of their positive experiences with the company is a reasonable objective from a PR perspective (this is really a PR issue, not HR). Coercing such feedback of course would be unethical, but I think it's awfully presumptuous to assume any company was doing such just because some good reviews showed up with auspicious timing.

Just my 2c, I tend to give more weight to longer reviews unless they get rambling or show some other obvious personal distortion. I also totally discount short ones at either end of rating spectrum, for reasons.

A with most systems like CSATs and NPS Glassdoor ratings reflect the extremes, those who have an axe to grind and those with an investment to protect the brand of the company reviewed. Could be competing company shills, disgruntled employees, those with emotional investments related their self-worth and such. The truth always lie somewhere in between. The best thing to do is to talk to employees and use your gut in the interview process or during your decision to support the company as a customer as you interact with people there.

Reliable, no. Useful, yes, but mainly in the aggregate.

If there are only a few reviews for a company and those reviews are all over the map, I'm not going to put a lot of stock in any of them.

However, if there are a dozen or more reviews, most of which come across as fair and nuanced regardless of the score they assign, then I feel comfortable drawing some hypotheses based on the points they raise.

Also, companies can respond to reviews on Glassdoor. In more than one case the content of the (defensive) response has been more valuable to me than the original review.

I left both good and bad reviews for bad employers but I do think negative reviews are usually more reliable since employees who hate a company are more likely to be bothered to write a review.

Absolutely. I once made the mistake of ignoring a Glassdoor review and it caused me no end of trouble. What a stinker of a company. The reviews were completely accurate.

I generally will give a firm the benefit of the doubt and discount 1 or 2 bad reviews. When there is a consistent negative theme in the reviews then I trust it completely. I have turned down several interviews because of Glassdoor reviews and have bought up bad reviews during interviews. Everytime the HR person has confirmed that the reviews had truth to them and that they were working on the issue or it was already fixed.

No. They tend to skew negative, in my experience.

I once got a bad review because I had the audacity to quiz a candidate that said they'd done work with databases before about SQL. We're talking 'what's the difference between INNER and OUTER JOIN' level of questions. They were interviewing for a position where they'd be expected to write plenty of SQL. At that moment I completely discounted Glassdoor.

Culture is often local, not global (to a company). A single team may have a great culture, and the team sitting right next to them might be horrible.

Culture is also completely different from direction. Some place may have a great culture but a lack of direction, or vice versa.

I would say you should really see if there are reviews from all departments and if the number of reviews correlates to number of employees to paint a realistic picture.

A lot of people talk about how only upset employees leave a review, but the opposite side f the spectrum also leaves reviews. Really happy employees also write reviews. Distribution goes to the 5* and 1* For example, my current company has 100% 5* reviews on glassdoor. I guess part of what incentives us to leave reviews is that we are hiring like crazy, and want smart/good people to work with us.

In years past, I had written two reviews for employers on Glassdoor.

One was positive, and it remains.

The negative review was removed.

I don't bother writing any reviews or using Glassdoor anymore.

At my company the negative ones are all real, but positive ones (which outnumber them) are mostly fake. I imagine a lot of companies are the same.

Reviews often say more about the reviewer than the reviewee. Keeping that in mind however, the reviews of my former employer were accurate.

It would be great if fakespot added GlassDoor reviews to their set. I would love to see how well it could identify real verse paid for

Glassdoor has been reliable in most cases in my experience. Watch out for the warning bells and patterns negative/positive within the reviews, as they are most likely true about that company. There are also companies that have HR fake review their company, these reviews become pretty apparent as other people will call them out on it.

Glassdoor has a huge conflict of interest. Its customers are the companies themselves.

And it is not just a review problem. Even for job interview questions, where I work we were unhappy that someone wrote a detailed and correct answer to a question we usually ask. HR emailed glassdoor and they removed the answer saying it didn't comply with ToS.

You have to read them with a strong grain of salt and make your own judgment. Most people don't like their jobs and aren't capable of writing a fair and balanced review. But sometimes enough obvious red flags pop up, or too much astroturfing, that can be reliable indicators.

Glassdoor is moderately reliable. Not sure of better alternatives - that would be great.

HR often plants or strongly encourages employees directly or through managers to post How Great Things Are Here. Negative reviews can go away mysteriously, are buried. It's disconcerting. A lot like Yelp.

A company I used to work for had a bad review posted (not by me). It was taken down 2 days later.

Like any review site the reviews will always be either super positive or super negative, and with Glassdoor I think this natural effect is heightened because employment can be very emotional for people (versus a review of a burger on Yelp, for example).

Having left a horrible company in the past and later decided to write a negative review, I can tell you that my experience has definitely been that Glassdoor is an awful indicator of a company, unless you're extremely picky about the metrics.

My company changed a lot of stuff and as a result had a turnaround from high engagement and low turnover to the opposite within the last year. But lots of positive reviews still up there reflecting a company that doesn't exist anymore.

For my employer I'd say they are if you manage to link the reviews to the particular organizational unit as the culture and life of these can vary wildly. Unfortunately an outsider is unlikely to be able to do this.

I think that's also a red flag. Do I really want to essentially play roulette with hoping I find the one good team, or don't land on the one bad team?

It's a pretty multidisciplinary company. What I mean is if you're interested in life as a software engineer it's going to be a lot different than life for a bench biologist. There's no roulette involved, but it's not always obvious which is which from the reviews.

Maybe for your company, but like, for Amazon, when all the bad stuff really came out, one thing that people always said was, "It depends on what team you're on." Do I really want to take the chance that I might end up on one of the crappy teams?

I worked for QSuper in Brisbane, Australia. All the negative reviews are accurate.

Generally accurate though it's possible for one person to generate a lot of noise, and companies can talk a Glassdoor into removing reviews. (Generally on the basis of it pinpointing one individual)

Have you ever been asked to provide a positive review for a place that you formerly worked at? I have, I suspect this is common.

It's better than nothing.

Ignore the outliers, look for the general trend.

I do think reviews are reliable source of current situation of a company, I trust negatives ones more than the positives. Its not just for glassdoor but for any reviews that you see on yelp,google or fb. I sift through the negative reviews and try to find a common factor in the reviews, that would be a way to validate the review.

I trust negative reviews more because if I had a good experience, I don't have any incentive at all to login to a webpage, create credentials if its needed and then go through the myriad of steps to post a positive review. But on the other hand, if I had a bad experience, the only way to vent it out is by giving them a bad review. I am willing to go through the hoops of signups and surveys so that I post that one bad review about the service. There is an incentive for me there.

Tailpiece: There are many services that you can purchase to write positive reviews for your company/service. The trend to identify this is that whenever there is a negative review, it gets buried by a bunch of near 5 star positive reviews, mostly with a one liner review text.

No, they're skewed toward disgruntled ex employees.

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