Ways to take action

Negative word-of-mouth in recruitment: employer brand to the rescue

Negative reviews matter. They matter for restaurants, hotels, and other businesses that deal with customers, their satisfaction, and their discontent. They also matter for companies who are…

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7 Apr 2020

Negative reviews matter. They matter for restaurants, hotels, and other businesses that deal with customers, their satisfaction, and their discontent. They also matter for companies who are recruiting new employees. In the last year only, headlines point out the importance of negative reviews for potential employers: Was Your Company Trashed Online? What to Do with Workers’ Negative Reviews,” and “Why Online Employer Reviews Are Crucial To Your Branding.”

In a study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, Serge da Motta Veiga, Professor of HRM at EDHEC Business School, along with Sara Stockman and Greet Van Hoye from Ghent University found that negative reviews turn job applicants away from applying to potential employers. They also found that the negative impact of negative reviews depends on a company’s employer brand.

A company’s employer brand represents job applicants’ familiarity with a potential employer based on their knowledge and experiences with this company.

Negative review's at everyone's reach

Logo de l’entreprise Glassdoor. site de l’entreprise

Negative reviews are more prevalent than ever with websites such as Google, Glassdoor, Indeed, and Facebook giving everyone the opportunity to leave a positive or negative review about current or past employers.

Word-of-mouth is a valued source of online and in-person information, in this case for job applicants who are searching for potential employers. The study unveils that the more a company is known the less it suffers from negative word-of-mouth.

More concretely, if an individual is considering multiple job openings at different companies, and that he has been exposed to negative reviews for all these companies, he will be more inclined to apply to employers he already knows well.

In addition, this study found that the impact of negative reviews is at its worst for a potential employer when job applicants have never heard of the company. Having a negative brand is better than having no brand at all. Best, to mitigate these negative reviews, is to have a positive employer brand.

One of the study’s participants reports that: “If it is an interesting job and the company is doing interesting work, I will apply even though I would hear from someone else that their experiences have not been so positive.”

The authors of this study found that there are other key aspects related to an employer’s brand that come into play when job applicants evaluate these negative reviews: consensus, verification, and direct experience.

Job applicants believe what they see

As mentioned earlier, job applicants are less likely to pay attention to negative reviews, if they already have prior knowledge about the company. They will decide whether to consider this company as a potential employer based on their prior knowledge above and beyond negative reviews.

Job applicants also seek consensus. Is one negative review enough to deter someone from considering a potential employer? Consensus suggests that job applicants seek more than one opinion before deciding whether they are interested in that employer. This is underscored by another participant in the study: “I would have to see a bunch of similar reviews before I would draw any conclusion… If I see several good reviews and one bad, one bad does not mean a thing. They all need to be predominantly bad.”

Job applicants also want to verify whether the negative information is accurate or even truthful. They might ask current employees whether that information is accurate before ruling out this employer. This was the case for this participant: “I would still look for more information. Is it correct what they are saying here? I would ask the person spreading the negative WOM.”

Finally, direct experience might be best to mitigate negative reviews. Since current and former employees tend to lie about their negative experiences with a company, job applicants might be better off learning about a potential employer in person. This study’s participant shares that: “I would keep it in mind, but I would like to experience it myself first.”

Open house policy in recrutment

In conclusion, the proliferation of negative reviews is hurting potential employers. But these companies can solve this problem in a few ways. They can improve their employer brand in order to make themselves known to as many job seekers as possible.

Potential employers can also work on the consensus and verification aspects of their employer brand by limiting untruthful or inaccurate negative reviews, but also by responding to criticism in an honest and transparent manner, on- or off-line.

Finally, another solution lies within a company’s capacity to offer job applicants a unique recruitment experience, for example by letting them see for themselves the inside of the company during the whole recruitment process. This is called open house recruitment.

For the last few weeks, the Covid-19 crisis has disrupted business operations in an unprecedented manner and has led to the implementation of new ways of working. Some of these new working methods might however draw employees’ criticism. Will companies be able to contain a potential negative word-of-mouth during these uncertain times?

The current stay-at-home context might also foster innovation and generate new and creative ideas to improve a company’s employer brand, while reassuring current and future employees.


Arruda, William. Why Online Employer Reviews Are Crucial To Your Branding. September 29, 2019

Schreiber, Noam and Conger, Kate. Strikes at Instacart and Amazon Over Coronavirus Health Concerns. March 30, 2020.

Schwantes, Marcel. New Study Reveals 10 Percent of Former Employees Lie When Writing Reviews on Glassdoor, Google, Indeed and Facebook. March 21, 2020

Stockman, S., Van Hoye, G., da Motta Veiga, S. (2020). Negative word-of-mouth and applicant attraction: The role of employer brand equity. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 118, 103368.

Wilkie, Dana. Was Your Company Trashed Online? What to Do with Workers’ Negative Reviews. June 13, 2019