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askST Jobs: Should you accept a job offer from an employer with bad reviews online?

In this series, manpower reporter Tay Hong Yi offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career. Get more tips by signing up to The Straits Times’ HeadSTart newsletter.

Q: A company with bad employee reviews online has offered me a job. What should I look out for?

A: Job hunters should treat such reviews with a healthy degree of scepticism as online reviews tend to be anonymous and typically written by aggrieved employees, says Ms Linda Teo, country manager at ManpowerGroup Singapore.

This makes it difficult to separate genuine reviews from made-up ones.

“Some reviews could be personal attacks written by reviewers disgruntled with certain individuals they worked or interacted with, and chose to vent their personal grudges on the organisation instead.”

She advises job seekers to see if there is a common pattern among the negative reviews, rather than fixating on the number of reviews or the company’s score.

It also helps to recognise that online employee reviews tend to be negative as an unhappy employee is more likely to post a review than a happy one, says Mr Lionel Low, senior client solutions principal for Asean at consultancy firm Mercer.

People tend to be more sensitive to negative experiences than to positive ones, so the absolute rating of a company online might not present a fair view as compared with the relative rating between different employers, he adds.

If there are no negative reviews on specific roles or departments the prospective employee has a job offer for, Ms Teo says that candidates can still take into account reviews on other roles in the company, assuming that these were written in good faith. However, such reviews should not be a defining factor in the decision.

She also advises candidates who wish to corroborate the online reviews to ask why the role was made available during their interviews.

“This will provide them with a better understanding of the attrition factors related to the role.”

She adds: “Candidates could ask for an opportunity to meet and talk to their prospective team before signing the contract.”

“Possible questions such as their tenure, what they enjoy about working within the team and how they address the challenges at work would provide some insights into the team dynamics,” she says, noting that current employees are less likely to share fake anecdotes with prospective colleagues.

“Tell-tale signs to look out for are when they are hesitant to share more information.”

As to whether candidates should bring up the bad reviews to interviewers or prospective bosses, Ms Teo suggests that they raise the issues highlighted rather than the number or average score of reviews.

She adds: “Raising the issues by seeking clarification on certain internal policies and practices without having to refer to the exact reviews would help to maintain rapport and is especially useful if the negative reviews turn out to be malicious or untruthful.”

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Meanwhile, companies saddled with bad reviews can show candidates that the working environment is better than what the reviews say, or has improved since, by bringing them around the office.

“Projecting confidence through showcasing a normal day-to-day routine is a productive way of demonstrating to candidates what a company is really like,” Ms Teo says.

Allowing candidates to make their own judgments also bolsters their confidence in their decision on whether to take up the offer, she adds.

Ms Teo says that if the negative reviews were written years ago, there is a possibility that the company has evolved into one with a better environment, making the reviews less relevant.

There may be other reasons to still join a company with negative reviews.

Mr Low says: “One may be above-market compensation and benefits. The other may be the unique learning opportunities offered.

“If the offer is for a senior leadership position, it might even be worth considering taking up the offer to help the company turn around its culture and practices.”

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