“The Glassdoor Effect” is not real

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Let me take you back to about April 2014. That’s almost five years ago at this point. I am definitely not a big believer in five-year plans, and the beginnings of this story may help you understand why.

In April 2014, I had about two-three months left on this meaningless graduate program I did at University of Minnesota. I didn’t have a job lined up. My (then) wife and I had left NYC, where we had friends and a network, for the frosty outpost of the Upper Midwest, thinking it might be a real professional advancement (and to escape the cost of NYC). Years later, I always think that move to Minnesota was the first brick in the wall that killed us.

In April 2014, I was doing some work with Teach for America and their Memphis training area. I was doing maybe 20 hours/week but also traveling to Memphis periodically for training stuff. My boss on this project fucking despised me, which makes perfect sense because we were extremely different people.

So the third time in six or so weeks that I go to Memphis, a bunch of different shit unravels at once. My boss on the project asks me for some car keys and I toss them to her. She misses catching them and they clang on a table. It becomes a whole thing. People are weird.

That Sunday that I’m supposed to fly back, I get canned from the project. I go get hammered at Memphis Airport, fly back to Minneapolis, and my ex is somewhere else for her work. She comes back the next night, which happened to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Title Game, and we talk through how basically I have no income coming in / I have nothing lined up. We end up going out drinking and get in this massive fight. Years later I told a therapist that was probably the night we should have ended, although in reality we didn’t end for three more years.

At this point you’re probably wondering when I’ll get to Glassdoor. Don’t worry. I’m almost there.

So we have this massive fight and I have no professional shit lined up, even though I’m 33 and will be 34 that November. All my friends have these sterling social media careers and their 2–3 young kids and I’m sitting in snow-bound (in April!) Minneapolis in huge fights with my wife and having no fucking arc whatsoever. It was a tough time for me.

I told some of the story here in this post, but basically I decide to go hard as a mother on getting a job post-graduate school. So I’m all over LinkedIn, I’m all over Indeed, I’m all over whatever I can come across. If you’ve ever been in a long job search, they kind of suck. This is probably the time period I really started becoming the blogger I evolved into.

Around late April 2014, I started getting interviews with different places. Like any good white-collar target-hitter jealous of his friends and their picture-perfect lives, what did I do first?

Check Glassdoor.

And when you check Glassdoor…

… look, people love to bitch, so there’s a ton of negative reviews. There’s also a ton of positive reviews. You need to seek out the nuanced ones and realize the negative ones are people who got shit-canned and the positive ones are people who got gift cards to write those. Find the 3s, in other words. Avoid the 1s and the 5s.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the summer 2014 forum.

When you email with hiring managers about Glassdoor…

… by and large a ton of them have no idea what the fuck it even is. That’s hysterical, because the site got profiled in The New Yorker and was acquired for $1.2 billion, which are both things white-collar white people tend to care about. (Granted both the profile and the acquisition happened in 2018, which is four years after this story, but still.)

I saw some absolutely horrible Glassdoor reviews in my April to June 2014 vetting of companies. In fact, just the other day my man Vadim sent me this Glassdoor gem:

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This is about par for the course. Not only could this description befit virtually any white-collar company, but it’s what most people leave on there. Again: ignore the 1s and 5s. Read deeply into the 3s, ranking-wise.

So why don’t hiring managers know about this thing?

A few reasons:

  • They too busy as is.
  • It feels like a “HR thing,” which is beneath them.
  • Many people in white-collar have an in-group, out-group deal whereby they assume if you left or got fired, you’re to blame for departing the magical unicorn they created at Widgets, Inc. As a result, why would they care what you said after they got you off the bus?
  • It’s easy to dismiss as “spiteful.”
  • Gaming it seems like something you hire an outside agency to do (met a dude in Austin once who does exactly that).

So about that job I actually got in ’14

It had putrid Glassdoor reviews. Probably should have been a red flag, but I mean, read above. I was living in piles of snow in mid-April — there was actually snow at the bus stop on Cinco de Mayo 2014 — and fighting with my wife, and I needed something to show for all this.

So while I’m in an email exchange with the hiring manager on that job, I mention some of the shitty Glassdoor reviews.

And of course, she says “What’s Glassdoor?”

Then she looks and comes up with a reason in a follow-up email. I think the reason was “Two years ago, we had a tech bloodletting. Those techies must be spiteful.”

See above on my reasons for people not understanding/knowing/caring about Glassdoor.

The elephant in the room with Glassdoor

For people to care about what Glassdoor inherently represents, those same managers would need to care about the so-called “employee experience.”

Aside from “hit your numbers” and “get this thing done for me ASAP,” I don’t really see a lot of “employee experience” in companies.

Why would a manager care about what someone thinks after the fact, when they very rarely care what someone thinks during the employment?

That’s kind of the elephant in the Glassdoor room.

Quickly on gaming reviews

Let’s say you offer Starbucks gift cards to people for doing positive reviews, i.e. that picture above. Or let’s say you hire some agency to cook the books and eliminate reviews, or whatever the case may be.

All those are inherently “hacks.” They are workarounds.

What if, instead, you provided a good place to work, with functional managers and relative transparency to a point? And then, when people wanted to leave to get more salary or responsibility elsewhere, they logged onto Glassdoor and reviewed you in a fair, mostly-positive way?

The latter is how the system and site would ideally work. The former is the only way organizations seem to be able to process it.

That’s a chasm.

What else you got on Glassdoor as a concept?

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