fault-in-our-stars-shailene-woodleyThere are few companies able to generate more mainstream media coverage than Glassdoor, who has a long track record of using the massive amounts of proprietary data across their site to generate some analytics and insights into what’s really going on in the world of work.

While employers may bitch about the negative reviews (and their lack of ability to respond without paying a premium for the privilege), Glassdoor’s anecdotal evidence is far less interesting – or actionable – than the data the site collects in aggregate.

One of the most common adjectives I hear practitioners use to describe Glassdoor is “The Mafia,” and they’re widely accused of using strong arm tactics to hold employers “hostage” so that they’ll shell out for Glassdoor’s paid employer solutions.

The ubiquity and importance of one’s Glassdoor score in recruiters’ collective consciousness, of course, and the fixation (or fetishizing) of the site’s anonymous reviews and their perceived impact on hiring efficacy of course undermine their indignation over (perceived) false or misleading reviews.

Why Fake Reviews Are Not The Real Problem.

If they were complete lies and weren’t somewhat representative of recruiting reality, then they’d be as irrelevant as, say, similar employer review sites like CareerBliss, Vault or whatever the hell a Kununu actually is. The reason they’ve become synonymous with what’s a fairly crowded category is simple – credibility with the candidates who have come to trust this site as their primary portal for researching potential employers.

Because as we all know, the one thing that job seekers don’t trust for transparency and authenticity are recruitment marketing collateral or copy created by employers (e.g. career sites) – and, by extension, the recruiters reiterating the same tired tag lines and hackneyed, hollow mission (or vision statement or some shit about shared values, which tend to be almost exclusively aspirational and not representative in any way of what the reality of the company really is today instead of what senior leadership hope it turns into tomorrow.

I put that lengthy disclaimer on there knowing many of you in the recruiting business don’t particularly care for Glassdoor, and this longstanding bias is almost exclusively predicated on the premise that these reviews negatively impact the candidate conversion and hiring process and have an undue amount of influence as a decision driver for job seekers.

Don’t Shoot The Messenger.

2016-12-08_07-08-18This is absurd, of course – accusing “disgruntled employees” and “fake reviews” full of “outright lies” (to quote an email from the head of TA at a notoriously crappy company to work for, as most ex-employees I contacted in reporting this post confirmed for me first hand.

“Yeah, the thing that freaks us out is that we can’t hide this shit anymore,” said one recruiter I contacted off the record, “and there’s not a thing we can do about it. It’s like we’re being held hostage by the few employees who don’t love working here.”

He admitted in a follow up question that he, in fact, was one of those disengaged workers who wanted out, but that wasn’t the point of the conversation. Then he hung up on me with a perfunctory excuse about a candidate on the other line. This, of course, is absurd, as he is a corporate recruiter and therefore would under no conceivable circumstance intentionally answer a call from a candidate.

For many companies, though, Glassdoor’s ubiquity is nothing but good news when it comes to talent attraction – those companies who might not spend boucoup bucks on a dedicated employer brand function or have one of those big consumer brand names (like Google) that sell themselves to candidates without having to do a hell of a lot as far as sourcing or recruitment marketing are concerned.

To these employers, Glassdoor isn’t detrimental to their messaging, but rather, amplifies the fact that it’s the kind of employer of choice the choosiest employees want to choose as a career destination. While many see Glassdoor (and similar employee review sites) as an existential threat, an equal number see it as one of the most effective tools in their recruiting arsenal.

This bifurcation, obviously, seems pretty clearly delineated: the worse your reviews and ratings are, the more likely you are to hate Glassdoor (or believe it to be negatively biased). Most recruiters whose scores are less than stellar immediately blame the site for the fundamental problems with their company culture, employee engagement and talent management challenges instead of accepting accountability for the fact that working there objectively sucks major ass. Of course, most would know that if they ever actually asked their employees for input, feedback or any more meaningful than a pull quote for some crappy career site copy.

Glassdoor Best Places To Work 2016: 3 Real Takeaways Real Recruiters Really Need to Know.

This recruiting reality was underscored as Glassdoor just released their 2016 edition of their annual rundown of the 50 Best Places To Work in North America this week, a report whose findings (like always) have already been extensively covered in the mainstream press, within the past 24 hours, so I won’t bore you by rewriting their release while sprinkling in in some pre-prepared PR quotes, which is the “breaking news” formula for most online publishers.(If you like that generic bullshit, click here for more of that from Mashable – you’re welcome).

The talent acquisition takeaways revealed in this data are a great way to figure out what you need to do to transform Glassdoor from a recruiting liability into an asset – without having to pay a dime, since any company meeting the baselines for employee population and number of reviews was automatically eligible, even if they weren’t paying Glassdoor a penny.

Juxtapose this with the LinkedIn Most In Demand Employers Index, which is basically recognizing how effectively the “honorees” spend money with LinkedIn, or a traditional “Best Places to Work List” from a publication like Fortune or a local business journal, which recognizes excellence in PR, not HR.

I’m not even getting into Indeed’s attempt at this sort of ranking, as the Walt Disney Company ranks as their Best Place To Work. Unless the competition is a 19th century Welsh coal mine, a Bengali sewage plant and that meat rendering plant in The Jungle, I can assure you there is no way that is accurate – it is the happiest place in the world, unless you happen to work there, from experience. But let’s ignore Indeed for now like Google after their Q1 2017 search update.

You see a company touting its many inclusions on these sorts of lists on every job description or piece of career collateral out there, you can bet that they’re paying a shitload of money for the honor of being able to use the name of a legitimate publication to gain credibility for the biggest payola scheme this side of Charles Van Doren, Alan Fried or Oracle’s Preferred Partner Program.

A deep dive into the methodology behind these awards and even a superficial glance at the list of winners, however, reveal some extremely interesting stuff that every employer who cares about making these sorts of lists (spoiler: that’s pretty much all of them) needs to know.

1. Beating Confirmation Bias.

cbThe “Top Large Employers” list in particular (defined by Glassdoor as any company with at least 1,000 employees) is predominantly made up of well established, well respected consumer companies who represent not only the world’s biggest brands, but the usual suspects – namely, companies that also achieve perennially high marks on the many “most desirable” or “most respected” employers lists out there.

With a Top 10 List that includes some of the world’s choosiest employers of choice – Facebook, Google, Bain and BCG all made the top 10 – it’s clear that there’s a direct correlation between selectivity and positive employee sentiment. This makes sense, since these companies often have notoriously difficult hiring processes and prerequisites which preempt all but a small fraction of candidates from being minimally qualified.

Google and Facebook are, of course, destinations for the world’s best engineering and tech talent, but their propensity to hire computer science grads from top 10 schools like Stanford or MIT coupled with their targeting top talent at direct competitors as a primary part of their talent strategy.

Similarly, top tier consulting firms like Bain and Boston Consulting Group (and McKinsey, just out of the top 10 at #11) have a targeted recruiting strategy (albeit one that’s largely cultural, not codified) in which most associate positions are filled through campus recruiting events at the same top 20 MBA and undergraduate business programs that count a predominant proportion of these firms’ partners as alumni (and donors).

Experienced hires are almost always either filled through internal mobility or someone making a lateral move from a direct competitor for more cash and an inflated title (Big 4 firms operate in very much the same way).

GEM Recruiting AI

Takeaway: if every one of your employees has a blue chip background, first class education and a Skull & Bones style network to tap into, your employees are probably going to love it, since we work with people, and have a bias towards those who are the most like us.

These companies are notoriously bad at diversity as a rule, but that same homogeny is probably why each firm has such alignment around shared values (like abolishing the capital gains and estate taxes), culture (like yachting, summering in the Hamptons or loving the Eagles) and business vision (CREAM, grab the money).

2. HR Tech May Not Be As Dumb As It Looks.

2ea653883821ad82fbabbbf90e4fb2e4When I saw that two of the top five winners in the small business category (defined as companies with over 25 Glassdoor reviews in the last year, but with under 1,000 employees) were HR Technology Companies, I instantly suspected chicanery.

After all, #1 on the list was Greenhouse, which not only sponsored the Glassdoor Employer Branding Summit and is an integration and marketing partner of the company publishing the list – which raises a ton of red flags as to the methodology and integrity of the final (heavily publicized) list.

So much so, in fact, that I called Glassdoor and asked them what the hell happened (in as many words) to have them rank so highly – Entelo was also on that list, but I know CEO Jon Bischke well enough to know that he’s either long ago figured out how to game Glassdoor (unlikely, but possible) or cracked the code on building a killer startup culture people actually like working for (likely, and probable).

Their PR team seemed to have actually preempted this potentially problematic outcome – which a Glassdoor spokesperson conceded only as an “interesting result”- by pointing out that SAP and BambooHR also made this year’s lists, as did Paylocity, Adobe (which has a full HR oriented set of solutions and a brilliant HR expert on their global product advisory board, as a personal disclaimer) and some other boring enterprise technologies:  think Intuit, Microsoft, Concur (also an SAP company, which means that at least they’re doing one thing right).

From a statistical standpoint, this in fact means that companies in this niche industry (and more broadly, enterprise technology) were far more likely than any similar subset to be represented on Glassdoor’s list. By extension, this should suggest that HR Technology is the best industry to work for, but we all know that’s a giant f-ing lie.

The truth of the matter is, these companies spend a lot of time focusing on Glassdoor as both a direct competitor and increasingly influential player in an increasingly lucrative industry. They know how to use the site – and how to “hack” it, if we’re being honest – far better than those companies in other industries, or even within other tech verticals.

Given the focus of so many of these companies on HR and recruiting as part of their core business, it makes sense that they probably are far more aware about their presence on the site and far more likely to have some sort of formal or informal programs explicitly designed to incentivize current employees to contribute reviews, which tend to be glowing when it’s your HR team prompting you to complete the one annual review every employee is allowed.

Glassdoor does a very stringent job monitoring for fraudulent reviews or any sort of irregularities in reviews from users or companies, while they can enforce the letter of the law, they can’t arbitrate intent. And with HR Tech vendors, that intent is pretty much always driven not by altruistic motives, but by ulterior ones. Like cash money, homey.

3. We Can See Right Through You: Getting Authentic About Transparency (Barf).

transparency-1Great Places to Work Institute or the Candidate Experience Awards, for example) are based on self-selected submissions.

This means that only the companies either confident they’ll be competitive or ones who can afford professional PR firms to polish their submissions and perfect their pitches often get considered for these “awards,” which are thinly veiled cash grabs designed as thought leadership or industry stewardship – kind of like this here post.

But companies don’t choose whether or not they’re going to be considered for the Glassdoor list – if they meet the minimum criteria, then they’re automatically put under algorithmic consideration using a methodology which considers not only the company and CEO approval rating and the NPS from Glassdoor, but also workplace perks, a consistent, clearly defined company culture and work-life balance.

The problem with this is that while the formula is objective and fair – or at least biased the same for every company – Glassdoor (as shown by the disproportionate amount of HR Technology companies making the list) can’t intervene or manipulate the results.

This must have been particularly painful for the longer tenured members of Glassdoor, particularly those on their executive, PR and marketing teams, who were forced to include LinkedIn as the #8 company on their large employers list.

Now, featuring a direct competitor in your biggest press push of the year probably stings a little bit, particularly since, well, we all know what a bunch of giant douchebags those guys are – and how Glassdoor and LinkedIn have a deep and long-seeded rivalry, given their proximity and focus.

Glassdoor having to include LinkedIn in their top 10 is proof that maybe self-selection isn’t such a bad thing, but the downside to transparency and authenticity is that you cede control and influence over potential outcomes.

Another lesson: an objective agnostic approach to analytics using consistent, standardized baselines is the often the only way to make metrics meaningful and analytics actually actionable – you just might not like what the numbers tell you, but without them, you can’t actually take any action, either. Like figuring out InMails don’t work and you’re getting ripped off for that Recruiter license that’s not helping you make any hires.

Yeah, everyone hates LinkedIn. Except, for it turns out, their employees. So the next time you say Glassdoor data is rigged, I’d suggest this is as good a refutation as any.

If credibility is an issue, then you should honestly hold what’s often stuck in a “Special Advertising Section” of print publications to the same standard as user generated review sites, because those users (unlike the employers paying retainers to Omnicom subsidiaries simply to rank on these vanity advertorials) have no ulterior motive in most cases other than to give their perspective on their experience with an employer – and their views, as they say, are their own. Even if recruiting doesn’t necessarily agree with them, they are inherently opinions, and not treating them as such diminishes their value.

The first step is admitting you have a problem, and when you’re ready to surrender yourself to a higher power, then stop blaming Glassdoor for your shitty culture, crappy candidate experience or disengaged employees.

The Legal Stuff: Glassdoor is a paid client of Recruiting Daily, but Recruiting Daily was in no way compensated for this post, and the opinions expressed in this post are exclusively those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Recruiting Daily, its publishers and its partners. You’re welcome, lawyers.

About the Author: Matt Charney thinks that bios at the bottom of B2B blog posts are kind of awkward. But if you read it this far, hit him up @MattCharney on Twitter and let him know how much you hate him. You can also troll him on LinkedIn.

By Matt Charney

Matt serves as Chief Content Officer and Global Thought Leadership Head for Allegis Global Solutions and is a partner for RecruitingDaily the industry leading online publication for Recruiting and HR Tech. With a unique background that includes HR, blogging and social media, Matt Charney is a key influencer in recruiting and a self-described “kick-butt marketing and communications professional.”