How to Stop Bad Employee Reviews From Cooling Off Your Candidates

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In early February, The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a motion to block a subpoena for the identity of 10 individual Glassdoor posters, who were accused by their former employer, Kraken, of violating a non-disparagement agreement by posting reviews on the site.

The case, which could be a watershed moment in the history of digital data privacy, illustrates how far employers will go to protect their reputations on review-based employment sites like Glassdoor. Considering that 86 percent of employees would not continue to work at or seek employment with a company that has a negative reputation, it’s understandable that organizations would feel compelled to act on even a single negative review.

Even though these review sites can act as make-or-break factors in determining a candidate’s first impressions of an employer, the vast majority of businesses don’t have  squeaky-clean online reputations. Glassdoor pinpoints the average business’s rating at a 3.3 out of 5 stars.

Having sourced more than 10,000 candidates in my career, I’ve seen a direct correlation between bad reviews and candidates completely ghosting me. Case in point: A small faction of disgruntled employees recently left one of the businesses I work with, and they chose to take their frustrations out by hitting the company’s Glassdoor page with a barrage of bad reviews.

The result? An immediate shift in the tone of the initial interactions I was having with candidates. My outreach for this company has historically been met with speedy and enthusiastic responses, but I began getting a lot of “Let me do some research” or “I’m pretty happy where I’m at, but I’ll let you know if anything changes.” The majority of the candidates I source for this company have been talented, experienced people who are currently employed. After the reviews showed up, most of the interest I received came from mid-level unemployed or college students without experience.

Knowing that my client wasn’t going to be satisfied with those types of options, I had to change my approach to be more direct with candidates and cognizant of the information that’s out there. If you’re a recruiter dealing with a client or company that has a less-than-stellar online reputation, here are a couple of things that have helped me keep my pipeline full of stellar candidates regardless:

Lean In to Your Strengths

Nobody is perfect. You don’t have to bill your company or client as a place that checks every single box on every candidate’s wishlist. Some companies have shortcomings in some areas in terms of employee satisfaction, and that’s fine.

For instance, one of my clients is an advertising technology company that has a really valuable and nascent product, a lively culture, and strong compensation packages. The company has a lot of great reviews, but it also has 10 or so negative ones that all pretty much share the same grievances: lack of work/life balance, extremely high expectations, and a lack of consistent recognition.

How do you make it clear to prospective employees that those bad reviews aren’t indicative of the common employee experience? Own them. They could be a positive for the right candidate. As Chameleon Resumes founder Lisa Rangel says, “The person who left the [negative] review might not have been pulling their weight, but that environment might give [a different employee] a charge and excite [them].”

Now, instead of saying, “Hey Tommy, I have an opening for a data analyst at Acme Widgets and I’d like to talk to you about it,” I begin with something like:

“Hey Tommy,

I work with Acme Widgets, and we’re looking for a data analyst who has high career ambitions, loves to solve difficult problems, and is energized by delivering data-driven results to their clients. I came across your profile, and it seems like you’d be a great fit. Any interest in chatting with me for 30 minutes about the position?”

Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes. If they get this kind of message, they’ll see those negative reviews on Glassdoor in a new light. They know off the bat that the company doesn’t tout great work/life balance or the fact that you can work remotely and leave at 3:30. If your candidate is still turned off at that point, it’s cool — you probably didn’t want them anyway.

Encourage Recognition Reciprocity

We’ve all heard the adage that the best defense is a good offense. Glassdoor is no different. If one or even a handful of negative reviews stick out like a sore thumb or are being referenced in interview settings, turning up the sheer volume of positivity can help negate any preconceived notions about a company.

However, you can’t just offer your employees a $50 gift card, a day off of work, or company swag in exchange for a good review. Glassdoor has a pretty clear policy on this. Plus, most sophisticated job seekers will be able to smell BS when they see that your company had 27 new 5-star reviews over the course of a 3-day period. Even large companies like Slack, LinkedIn, and Clorox have attempted this in the past and gotten publicly called out for it.

But you can go about getting that boost the right way. I encourage my partners to institute a cycle of what I call “recognition reciprocity.” Whenever someone is promoted, gets a raise, or has a big win with a client or project, the company should shout it from the rooftops to the whole team. Send a company-wide email letting everyone know that Suzy was just promoted to director of her department for the amazing work she did over the last three years. Then follow that up by calling Suzy directly: “Hey Suzy! Congrats again on your promotion. We can’t wait to see all the things you’re going to do (and the new car you’re going to get with your raise)! Feel free to leave a review on Glassdoor about how much you enjoy it here and how much you’ve grown so we can recruit a bunch more Suzy Smiths to Acme Widgets.”

People love to be recognized, and we have a tendency to feel the need to reciprocate that recognition in some way. You can capitalize on that tendency to get a reputation boost without violating Glassdoor’s guidelines or flooding the platform with a bunch of disingenuous reviews.

Bad reviews aren’t fun, but they don’t have to deal a death blow to your ability to acquire top talent. Champion the best aspects of your culture, don’t be apologetic about your shortcomings, and implement a system that drives a consistent pipeline of positivity.

Matt Kresko is the founder of Talent Acquisition Partners and the cohost of The Internship Podcast.

By Matt Kresko