On the job hunt: Should you pay attention to what former employees say?

job-hu1I am freshly back in the USA after taking some time off to travel through Europe and Asia. (For more on that, visit my Instagram: @Donovans_TakeTheWorld.) As I start my job search, one of the important factors I’m considering is company reputation and whether employees are happy. There are multiple tools to research employee sentiment, including GlassDoor.com. Former employees’ personal blogs and other forms of outreach are also becoming more common. But should you trust what a former employee says?

Major tech companies like Uber and Amazon have received negative press based on blogs published by or statements made by former employees.  When individuals speak out against their former employer, I usually take it with a grain of salt. Some former employees are disgruntled and have their own agendas. However, the company’s response is far more telling and provides insight into the values of its leadership team.

For example, after former Uber employee Susan Fowler wrote a negative post about the company’s allegedly sexist culture, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick took it seriously. Shortly after the post was published, Kalanick met with 100 female engineers internally and committed to addressing the issue head-on. A head engineer was also fired in the aftermath. While these actions don’t immediately solve the problem, they do prove that Uber’s leadership team acknowledges and cares about improving employee welfare.

In another famous example, The New York Times published an article in August 2015 about Amazon’s workplace that was critical of how it treats employees.  Several current and former employees were interviewed, offering varying degrees of negative comments. Despite the excellent reputation of the NYT, I’m not convinced the article presented the entire story. If you pick any company and interview its employees anonymously, or talk to its former employees, negative aspects of the company will come to light. How many of your friends need a night of venting about work every now and then, even if they love their job?

Interestingly, Amazon shot back with a scathing response to the NYT article. Amazon’s Senior Vice President for Global Corporate Affairs at Amazon, Jay Carney, published a blog on Medium claiming the NYT didn’t provide all the facts. He also claimed that one of the former employees who was quoted in the NYT article left the company “after an investigation revealed he had attempted to defraud vendors and conceal it by falsifying business records.” Carney provided other specifics providing background on the comments made by other disgruntled employees. What he didn’t do, and maybe should have, was make a public statement about Amazon’s commitment to employee welfare.

These examples demonstrate the obvious cliché that there are two sides to every story. While it’s important to research the reputation of a company you want to work for, don’t dismiss a company outright based on a few instances of negative press. I rely more heavily on first-hand information from trusted friends and colleagues, as well as my own impressions throughout the interview process.

Wish me luck in my job search!

-Posted by Elizabeth Pace

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