A review of Glassdoor, from Jackie Elliot

Looking through a glass darkly

I'm feeling queasy about Glassdoor, the job search engine that shares anonymous reviews. I am not bothered by the fact that such a site exists, but that it has built a successful recruitment business through the devilishly clever strategy of not actually being a glass door at all. It's a one-way mirror.

There are two issues for me. First, the site's fame is based on a process of anonymity and anonymity is always something to be careful with – and of. Second, and as a direct result of the first, it doesn't allow a moderated, two-way commentary.

Why hide behind anonymity?

I am not defending, say, a badly-run firm with shoddy management, rampant cronyism, inflated expense accounts for favourites and padded invoices for clients. If you meet one of those, then it should be outed in public. Leave, say why you are leaving and attach your name firmly and loudly to the criticism. You may have to defend your views but you will have examples, notes and evidence to support your comments.

Or leave, decide you don't want the publicity and in the future always refer to a difference of opinion on company procedure.

But don't scuttle off to the school blackboard and leave an anonymous note. You immediately undermine the value of your opinion, diminish the possibility of effecting some real change for your former colleagues and put yourself in the muddy puddle of "aggrieved former employee" with everyone else left wondering what really went on; who was really at fault?

Allow a dialogue

I haven't done a comprehensive study, but many sites where personal opinion of experience is solicited, allow the company/service/product, the right of reply. Grovelling apologies, grateful thanks for the opportunity to put things right, valid explanations, resolve to do better etc, etc – you can see a dialogue between user and provider which gives a more constructive picture of the situation and a more valuable "review" for the reader.

We know there are always two sides to a story. I found myself in a business situation recently experiencing two completely different versions of one story. I was in the middle of it, knowing one side was either 100% right or completely wrong and the same for the other. But which was which? Fortunately, common sense reared its (increasingly endangered) head. If only one party had been allowed to talk, we would never have known what the solution could be. The issue was double-sided, as they often are (or even more complex than that) and a resolution could only be found through dialogue.

Unless you are rehearsing a speech, just how useful is it, to talk to a mirror? (And even then, it helps to have someone else in the room...)

Time to open the door

Perhaps Glassdoor is not done with us yet. The £800million business must know it is suffering because of this weakness. Corporates will, rightly, become more vocal in presenting their side of a negative story. Why not open the door? Take a bold step and agree genuinely objective comment when reviewing companies.

It's an old tech model, I'm afraid. Ask Which? magazine, a Michelin Guide – or any other organisation not afraid to test, review and comment based on real, and expert, experience. We can't all work at Glassdoor companies, but most of us would welcome genuinely objective, professionally trained, points of view.

By the way, if you are wondering about "Through A Glass Darkly" it comes from the Bible – Corinthians. It means, according to dictionary.com, "to have an obscure, or imperfect vision of reality".

Written by Jackie Elliot, CEO of communications firm Cathcart Consulting

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