Lists and social networking sites help job seekers gauge workplace culture


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Every year, the Post-Gazette undertakes the painstaking effort of determining which workplaces in Pittsburgh are the best places to work. But to what avail? Who uses these rankings, and what are they useful for?

It turns out that the latest generation of job seekers, native to the realm of social networks and freely available information, puts a premium on workplace culture.

There are many dimensions of this sometimes amorphous identifier, ranging from aspects as important as compatibility with one's manager to trivial matters, including whether the company takes its employees to concerts or how many appliances are in the office kitchen.

Lists such as the one presented in this section attempt to distill workplace culture to a collection of ranked items. But human resources experts say that static tools such as lists perhaps best serve as jumping-off points, providing inspiration to job seekers looking for options to consider.

"What's hard to decide is whether rankings are meaningful at an individual level. Even if Google is a great place to work, what if Google's aspiration is not the same as mine?" said Scott Erker, senior vice president at Development Dimensions International, a human resources consulting firm based in Scott.

"When I'm a job seeker, well, that's only one data point. I still have to decide my own fit into the company and whether I'm going to like my boss."

Over the past several years, job seekers have turned to social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor to aid in their job searches. These sites allow seekers to view testimony from employees at companies where they might like to work, providing a seemingly unfiltered picture of the true nature of each workplace.

They also allow seekers to network with employees of specific companies. Mr. Erker estimates approximately six in 10 new jobs are found through a connection rather than a "help-wanted" listing.

"It used to be, I would use a newspaper for a job," he said. "Now, I'm going to use my social network to say, 'Does anyone know about a good opportunity?' It's information from job seekers for job seekers. It's not designed by a company in the way a classified ad is."

On Glassdoor, users can see what an office looks like, hear from its employees, practice interview questions and view salary reports -- all before even applying for a job.

Of course, since nearly all of this content is user-generated, some experts fear it is not an accurate depiction of an office's culture. More often than not, employees who feel the most compelled to post testimonials are those who believe they have been wronged.

Scott Dobroski, a community expert at Glassdoor, said the Sausalito, Calif.-based company keeps its eyes peeled for posts that appear to have an agenda. Community experts, like Mr. Dobroski, remove any posts that contain only negative information or those whose author's identity cannot be verified. In all, he said, nearly 20 percent of the content posted is deleted.

"Before, people did more research through networking. These tools make the same information more accessible than [in] the past -- and they consolidate the information," said Melissa Shapiro, director of the career management center at the University of Pittsburgh Katz School of Business.

"But our students don't take them as an absolute."

Whether or not a company's image -- a mosaic of tidbits gathered on the Internet -- is the deciding factor for most job seekers, it is undoubtedly a crucial aspect of talent recruitment. So much so that employers have begun to attempt to manage their own image.

It has gotten to the point where larger companies are devoting marketing staff to checking on sites like Glassdoor.

"What they would do is, they would monitor, see what's being said about the company," Mr. Erker said. "And if they see people who are disgruntled, then the company representative responds and says, 'I work for this company, and this is what we're trying to do.' They're trying to control the chatter."

For its part, Glassdoor has already begun to capitalize on companies' anxiety. The website allows organizations to post official videos and testimonials for a fee, and it charges extra for companies that want their job openings to be more prominently featured on the website.

Still, even though companies tamper with their public image, it is undeniable that the unprecedented free flow of information online -- from top workplace rankings to crowd-sourced information websites -- has empowered job seekers in a way they have never been before.

topworkplaces2013

First Published September 12, 2013 4:00 AM


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