Fake News? Online Company-Rating Services Get Whacked

A new investigation found some firms asked employees to post favorable reviews.

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Many of us are aware of Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews being manipulated to boost ratings of restaurants and services. Now that tactic has come to websites where many job seekers go to get opinions of companies - which, of course, matters more than a bad restaurant meal.

The Wall Street Journal found that many anonymous reviews posted on Glassdoor, a company-ratings review site, had "unusually large single-month increases" that were "disproportionately positive compared with the surrounding months."

The more detailed the online company review, the more likely it is to be genuine.

Glassdoor, for its part, told the newspaper that its reviews can jump for a variety of reasons, such as hiring surges, and that the website rejects 5% to 10% of submitted reviews that violate company policies. The company also uses moderators and technology to try to detect manipulation.

Of course, veteran users of these sites have long suspected this. Nonetheless, with the site reaching some 60 million users per month, it and other company-ratings sites have become crucial tools for job hunters. The investigation found that five-star reviews increased to 28% of total reviews in December, up from 17% in 2013.

The lesson, career experts say, is to use these sites judiciously-and only as a first pass for research. "The one thing that workers need to do is they need to glean their own information," said Lori Shreve Blake, senior director at the University of Southern California Career Center, on a local radio program. "There's nothing like firsthand information versus hearsay."

Beware of sweeping generalities.

One of the first red lights to look for on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed are vague posts. Career experts say the more detailed the review, the more likely it is to be genuine. That's because many organizations-particularly large companies-have a variety of cultures and departments, Shreve Blake noted. It's important to drill down to the department and find out what your potential boss or colleagues could be like.

Keep in mind that you don't know the circumstances in which the review was left. The Wall Street Journal found some bosses directed some current employees to write glowing reviews. Other posts may be left by cynical former employees who were laid off or left on poor terms.

Arrive to the interview early.

One of the best ways to get a sense of a place is to arrive for your interview early. Even in sleek lobbies, you can get a feel for a place. Is it stuffy and uptight? Can you hear people arguing? Do staffers look bored and unengaged or enthusiastic?

If you're past the interview stage and have received an offer, you can also ask to sit in on a meeting with your future colleagues and team. While a job interview rarely reveals the in-depth personality of a manager, you can watch a person's interaction with the team and body language in a meeting.

Reach out to current and former employees.

One of the best ways to understand the culture of a place is to speak with people who work or have worked there. For the latter, you must understand the circumstances in which they left; some former employees could be bitter. But many of them can offer you particular insights that you'll never find on websites.

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