How to Get Helpful Company Information

There are now many job information sites that provide salary data, management reviews, culture snapshots and even gossip about a particular workplace. But can you trust these sites to give you the real dirt on specific employers? The short answer is yes, as long as you understand what you're looking at and you know how to evaluate different types of information, especially since it's not all created equally.

Reviews of Company Culture

Glassdoor.com and Vault.com are just two sites that allow individuals to post anonymous information on their employers, ranging from reviews of top executives to feedback on company culture, management style and benefits. This provides job seekers with access to an insider's perspective of what it's like to work there.

Critics argue that the nature of the information -- it's often submitted anonymously -- questions its validity. But anonymous doesn't necessarily mean untrue. In fact, anonymity often gets a bad rap. If you posted something positive about your boss on such sites -- and signed you name to it -- you'd be labeled a suck up. If you trashed the company and identified yourself while doing so, you'd risk losing your job.

Some sites have built-in features to weed out fakers. Multiple reviews posted about different companies using the same computer or login are flagged by Glassdoor's system, according to the company. Someone registering as a 22-year-old, who then indicates 10 years of professional experience, would also be discounted by some systems.

In addition to anonymous posts, Vault, for example, collects verifiable data by sending comprehensive surveys to current employees at a range of companies -- a particular emphasis is placed on law, finance and consulting industries -- for their take on culture, management style, benefits, advancement opportunities and compensation. Expert editors review the responses for patterns, to form reliable insights on each employer. This provides a reputable snapshot, including pros and cons, on life at a company.

Put This Data to Work For You

Just as with restaurant, hotel or travel reviews, it's impossible to know the biases, agendas and personality styles and cultural preferences of each writer. The same applies to the workplace. I might tell you about a nightmare boss of mine -- she was too distant and unavailable, for example -- but you might find that same person to be the dream manager. This means it's important to consider varying opinions -- whether anonymous or on-the-record -- through your own prism.

If you find there's a hot button issue that's registered a lot of complaints on job-related message boards -- such as high turnover among new hires -- you don't have to steer clear of that company, but it's certainly a topic you'd want to address directly in the interview process before making your own decision. It's likely to be an issue you wouldn't have even known about had you not perused these Web sites.

On the flip side, don't be quick to accept everything at face value. The employee who raves about the incredible work/life balance at his current company might previously have worked for a tyrant who expected him to be on call 24/7. Now he's "only" required to be available every Saturday.

Compare the feedback on employers on multiple sites before drawing conclusions. Then use this information as a springboard to initiating conversation when interviewing.

Money, Money, Money

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