CWS 3.0: January 5, 2011 - Vol 3.1

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In the Spotlight

"We offer a place where employers can tell their story"

A start-up helps companies promote their brand

he January issue of CWS 30 features Robert Hohman, CEO and co-founder of Glassdoor, a Bay Area-based start-up that focuses on helping people -- employees , job seekers and contingents -- to make better career decisions. The company helps provide an inside look into a firm's culture through reviews posted anonymously. Information on salary reports, company reviews, interview questions, workplace photos, and much more are all provided by people on the inside, and all for free.

So whether you are a contingent looking for the next contract, or an employer checking out a staffing firm, you can have access to information that can help you in your decision-making process. Glassdoor protects reviewers' anonymity by recommending they not share information that may be personally identifiable. This will allow people to post even if they work at a small company or they are the only ones at their firm with an unusual job title. CWS 30 caught up with Hohman, an engineer-turned-businessman who started out at Microsoft. He chatted about the idea behind Glassdoor, his views on the workplace, how employers can promote their brand and more.

Q: What does the company name mean?

A: We named the company Glassdoor because of its very concept: you could look through the doors of a company and see what's going on inside. We founded the company really to help people make better career decisions. That's really what we want to do. There are numerous ways that we do that, but one of the most important is picking the right company for you.

All companies have strengths and some weaknesses and many have a very distinct culture. And if that's a good fit with you, often times you'll flourish. And if it's not a good fit, it's almost doomed from the start. So Glassdoor is your friend on the inside, helping you figure out what are the strengths and weaknesses of this company, what makes it unique and is it a good fit for you.

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So this is not restricted to traditional employees? You are talking about helping finding workers of any kind the right place to join.

Yes. From the beginning we have always felt that Glassdoor would only really succeed if the community was safe, if it were a safe environment and a constructive environment, one in which employers could participate. That really has been in our DNA since day one, so we go to great lengths to make sure that the content on our site is responsible. It really is the kind of environment where an employer can pull up a chair and join the conversation.

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Tell me a little bit about how it works.

We collect a few different pieces of content. For example, one thing we ask people is that they take a survey to answer what it like is to work at their company. There are actually 16 quantitative questions and then four open-ended questions. We ask people to rate their satisfaction with various factors, such as pay and compensation, and work-life balance. We ask them to rate their confidence in senior leadership, fairness and respect. Then we ask four open-ended questions. We ask them to tell us what's working well at their company. And then what are the things their company can be doing better. And then we ask people what advice they would offer to senior management.

All of this is anonymous, and all of it is moderated. What that means is every single one of these reviews that we collect -- and we collected more than 150,000 company reviews in the last year alone -- is read by a human being before it goes live on the site. We have very strict community guidelines about what is fair game to talk about. It's kind of walking the halls of the company and getting to talk to a bunch of employees and hearing what they like about their job.

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How do you decide which companies to review?

It's completely open. The employees tell us. We have coverage on 108,000 companies on Glassdoor today. But every day, users tell us that we're missing their company. Once we confirm that company's existence and that we are missing it, we add it to the community.

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It is user-generated content?

It's all user-generated content. In fact, we call it employee-generated content.

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What if I want to add something to a company that's already been reviewed by somebody else. Can I?

Absolutely. If you look at Microsoft, for example, I think you'll find I think it has around 1,750 company reviews. That's part of the magic of our system -- as different people have different opinions. It also lets people dive in and see what software engineers say about working at Microsoft. Or what's it like to be a contingent at Microsoft. For example, someone might have a specific question, such as, "I'm looking at a contingent technical position at Microsoft. What is that like?" And the reviews may provide answers. It probably is pretty different being contingent than it is to be in full-time marketing. So that's the kind of the reviews we collect -- by company and by specific job title. We also collect salaries. People tell us -- anonymously -- about their base pay, bonus pay, stock options. And then we tabulate that.

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And it's all anonymous.

Exactly. But you can dive in further; once we get enough data on a company, you can view the data by years of experience, by location, so you can see what workers in the Bay Area make versus Seattle, for example.

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What was the idea behind all of this?

It's kind of funny; it came from a near-miss work experience that I had at Expedia. ... As an executive at Expedia, at compensation review time I would have a spreadsheet with all the compensation data. In this case, I printed that spreadsheet out on the public company printer and then I got interrupted and I left it on the printer for around half an hour.

I realized someone could easily have taken that spreadsheet, with everyone's comp in it, photocopied it and left it on every person's seat in the company. What if they'd scanned into email and sent it out to the world? We tried to run Expedia such that if that ever happened, people would see that our compensation was fair. Regardless, that near-miss sparked this concept. I was wondering whether such transparency would be a good thing or a bad thing for the world and I started thinking more about it. But ultimately, I think this level of transparency is a good thing, albeit on an anonymous level.

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Why?

Well, I think many of us who have been managers at companies of large workforces, and have been on both sides of it, know that both sides can overestimate or underestimate their hand. Often, employees just do not know what legitimate pay is for the work they're doing. Or they may come in with unrealistic demands for pay. Or ask for a bonus or something else because they've talked to someone and they've heard this. So having a document that you can point to and say, "Here. This is what we pay," would be very helpful.

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And it's useful for contingents too.

There are two reasons I think it's so important for contingents. One -- and I'm sure you see this -- there's an increasing number of contingent workers, this generation of people are very used to moving around and trying new jobs. They want to find out, what's the deal with this company's culture that I am interested in. Is this a good fit for me? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this culture? Because the fact is today's workers are going to be entering new environments frequently, and they don't want to go in blind. They want to have some idea to help them make decisions. From a salary standpoint, companies in varied regions can pay dramatically different rates. So having some insight into just what is reasonable is extremely valuable on both sides of the negotiating table.

We also ask people to tell us about the job interviews they go on. They tell us the process they went through, how long it took, whether it was a panel interview or one-on-one among other things. We collect all that detailed information, because when we talked to employees, many of them were contingent during the recession. Some were unemployed for the first time in their lives. And there was one open job for every five job seekers. Interviewing became even more stressful thanks to this environment. About the only thing that can really help deal with that anxiety is information. What they told me was if they can just be a fly on the wall in the interview before them would help so much. And that's what we tried to do. And I think for the contingent worker who has ongoing interviews as a part of life, the interview tool on Glassdoor is very powerful.

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How can contingent workforce managers use you to promote their brand?

We have what we call our enhanced employer profile on Glassdoor, and this is where companies can tell site visitors why they should work for that company. And that can be a big company like Microsoft or a small company. It can even be a recruiter or a staffing agency telling you why you should let that firm place you. And so we have that portion of the community that is maintained by various firms that spell out what the unique and differentiated angle is that they provide.

From a company standpoint, it's very important to outline what you view as the distinct values of your company. I'll give you an example. Facebook has an enhanced employer profile on Glassdoor. In Facebook's profile, you see they really focus on their hacker culture. They want you to understand if you're going to come and work at Facebook, you're going into an uber-geeky environment. And if that sounds fun to you, and you're comfortable with that, it's going to be a good fit. If you're nervous about that, it's probably not a good fit. General Mills wants you to know that they really value work-life balance. They want you to have a life.

So Glassdoor allows a company to tell its story. You can highlight what is unique about your company. And you can even have a section that addresses your contingents. It's a great tool for competitive salary information. We are one of the only site to have this depth of data for specific workplaces and specific jobs.

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What about people who use it just as a venting tool?

We deal with those situations in a couple ways. First, we have what we call our 'give to get' model. After someone's used the site for a few minutes and has viewed a few pages we'll start popping up, saying that we've noticed this information's valuable to you. Could you contribute? Could you contribute to the community, as you seem to be getting value from the community. It's still free, but we ask you to 'give' a contribution so you can 'get' insights from the many other employees and job seekers who have shared their work experiences on Glassdoor.Because of our give-to-get model, we don't just get people who love their job or people who hate their job. To use Glassdoor, you have to contribute to keep reading and using the site.So that's one important piece of the puzzle.

The second big piece is that we have very strict community guidelines. You will not find a single review on Glassdoor that is a rant, because we do not allowed reviews on Glassdoor that only outline cons. You have to be able to say something good about your employer, because you chose to work there. Otherwise we consider a review invalid and reject it. And as I said before, every single one is read by a human being.

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And what does the human being do?

They read the reviews. They make sure there's no violation of community guidelines and the tone of the review is not vitriolic in nature and that there are some pros and some cons. We don't allow any naming of names of employees below the C-suite either. You can't say, "I really don't like Jane, my manager." The community has told us that providing such names is not fair. Jane didn't ask to be reviewed on this site. So that's not allowed on Glassdoor -- that review would be rejected. Ultimately, we end up rejecting about 15 percent of the reviews that come into Glassdoor because they violate the community guidelines. And it's through that kind of rigorous process of moderating that content that we feel we've been able to create a valuable resource and one that is safe for employers to participate.

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And these community guidelines are made public so that people know?

Yes. Our site tells people that they should not tell any inside information about their company because it's not allowed. Don't violate a non-disclosure agreement because you're not allowed to. Tell us what's good and what could be improved, but you know what lines you shouldn't be crossing and don't cross them.

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What are your future plans?

Right now we're really focused still on building on the community, collecting content. We've collected more than 1.5million pieces of content now on about 108,000 companies. There are about three million people who come to Glassdoor every month, and we're focused on building on that. And we're really just beginning. You can imagine there are lots of other interesting content areas, more layers of the onion that we can peel back.

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If you do resume building, and then there's salary comp and there's references. You could almost place people next.

You know, we have no plans to do that, but we do have two million jobs listed on Glassdoor. We are targeting relevant jobs to users, and that is largely because, in order to make the right decision for your career, you need to know what the open positions are that best fit your experience and career interests.

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And this is a free service that you give to your readers.

Yes. It's free. I get emails from people who tell me how valuable the site is to them, how it helped them ask the right questions at an interview or how it helped them get a raise

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