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Seven Ways to Take the Sting Out of Negative Online Employee Reviews

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By Kim Shepherd, Chairwoman; Jay Barnett, Founder & CTO; Nicole Cox, CRO
With Tom Brennan, Master Writer

Company review websites, like Glassdoor, Vault and Kununu, have grown both in number and in influence. All promise to provide insights into companies from actual employees, valuable information for job seekers. These sites also can enhance a company’s employment brand, assuming that the reviews are mostly positive.

But even one or two bad reviews can overshadow dozens of good ones. More and more, recruiters have to address comments and questions from candidates about negative reviews, and below we provide seven tips for responding constructively.

Don’t dismiss the dis

First, however, it’s important to acknowledge negative reviews may have value.

“Positive reviews are great, but negative ones can be gold,” advises Kathy Marshall, DT’s Director of Recruitment Quality and Training. They can provide insights for driving improvements. Companies should evaluate ALL reviews carefully — treat them the same way your product management people treat the voice of the customer.

Assuming you are recruiting for an organization that has plenty of well-deserved positive reviews, here are ways to respond when a candidate brings up a negative one.

The good, the bad and the disgruntled

Point out that unhappy people are more likely to post than those who are happy. For every unhappy reviewer there are many more happy employees. By the way, now is a good time to encourage some of those happy employees to post reviews.

Counter the kvetch

While reviews are anonymous, you may be able to deduce who wrote a negative one. In our experience, negative reviews often come from employees who aren’t star performers. When great employees have a concern, they act internally and constructively. Offset the negative by telling the candidate about an employee who drove a positive solution.

Network check

Encourage candidates to leverage their social network to connect directly with a company employee. That way they can get genuine insights from a named, accountable source rather than just from anonymous complaints.

Fact or fuss?

Whenever a negative review is posted, pay attention to the content. Is it emotionally driven or based on fact? An emotionally-driven review loses credibility by being subjective. If it claims to be factual, check to see if the facts are accurate. If so, you may have an issue to address, but if not, the whole review is suspect.

Take it in context

Remind candidates that reviews are just one part of the overall picture. They should consider other factors as well, such as employee tenure. High turnover definitely is a red flag. But if a negative review is about a company with loyal, long-term employees, it’s likely that the issue is with the reviewer, not the company.

Goodness of fit

At DT we believe there is a right job for every person and a right person for every job. Big or small, companies are bound to have some unhappy people. It’s like your favorite restaurant: You love it, but others may not care for it at all. Just because a company isn’t a good fit for some doesn’t mean it won’t be a good fit for your candidate.

The best defense is a good offense — and a grain of salt

Encourage your candidates to seek out and read reviews . . . yes, even if you know there are negative ones out there. For one thing, it should help establish your credibility and genuineness. Explain that you want them to have as much information as possible to make an informed decision. At the same time, remind them that online reviews aren’t factual, but rather just one person’s opinion. Second, it can provide the candidate with topics to ask about in interviews.  

Negative reviews are becoming a fact of life, but with the right approach you can minimize their impact, and maybe even turn them into a positive.

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