Are You Ugly?

article by Dr. John Sullivan & Master Burnett It should come as no surprise that when candidates are deciding whether or not to accept a job opportunity or target a specific employer during a job search, information found online plays a major role. While it may have been difficult a few short years ago for the average job seeker to mine relevant information from the Internet, advances in technology have made it significantly easier to not only find information but also post and share findings and opinions with others. According to a number of recent studies, the percentage of applicants who admit to researching prospective employers online has nearly doubled since 2000 to more than 90%. With so many applicants going online to seek out information, it is becoming more and more critical for organizations interested in managing their employer brand to not only identify what information is out there, but also manage it to the greatest extent possible. What Applicants Are Looking For Most applicants go online looking for basic information about on organization, including details on its history, leadership, products, and financials. For a growing number of applicants, however, the basic information is only the tip of the iceberg. Savvy internet users have also reported looking for:

  • Opinions of insiders and former employees about the organization as an employer
  • Tips or insights into the organizations hiring process
  • Legal filings against the organization
  • Contact information for current employees
  • Analyst opinions on the organization’s strategy
  • Personal details about individuals involved in the hiring process

For really savvy internet users, there is almost no desired information they cannot find within minutes, including details on future product strategies, internal processes, and ways to manipulate current systems. Your Website is Ground Zero While applicants may use other sites to identify a list of firms to target, the first site many use to evaluate your organization as an employer is your corporate website. A recent survey conducted by CareerXroads in partnership with found that 92.4% of job seekers surveyed “stated they are very likely or likely to visit the corporate website to obtain more info regardless of where they first heard about the opening.” Unfortunately, what most organizations publish today leaves a lot to be desired as a sales vehicle for touting your organization as an employer. For too many organizations, pages relating to careers and employment have become nothing more than bland front-ends to an applicant tracking system database that clearly offers little additional value to applicants. Outside the often separately hosted career or employment pages, there is little or no information targeted to potential applicants to settle their thirst for information. In short, the poor design of your organizational website literally pushes applicants to find information from other sources ó and unfortunately, most of the sources they turn to are outside your field of influence. Other Sources Applicants Visit As you might imagine, the behavior of applicants searching for information is as varied as the type of products one might find in a 99¢ store. To be truly world class, any effort to find out what information applicants are searching for online about your organization should start with them. Your industry, your location, the job function of the candidate, their age, and the experience level of the candidate could all influence what sites they visit. That said, to get a basic idea about what they might find out, consider these sources sorted by category. Major Search Engines The major search engines are an excellent starting point. They will provide you with a very wide scope of information. Adept researchers often start broad, then narrow their search based on initial findings. Start with a basic search string containing just the name of your organization. Review only the first three pages of search results, few people look beyond that. Document any information that either supports or counters your desired employment brand. If you want to dig deeper, add additional search terms related to each of the major types of information applicants search for or major themes that emerged in the first three pages of generic search results. While you can use any search engine you want, you have a much greater probability of mimicking the experience of applicants if you use:

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  • Google. Google is by far the most used of the major search engines. In addition to powering its own website, the Google search engine powers other popular sites such as AOL Search. Google powers approximately 44% of all Internet searches.
  • Yahoo!. Once powered by Google, Yahoo! now manages its own search product and has retained its place as the second most used search engine. Yahoo! powers approximately 32% of all Internet searches.
  • MSN Search. MSN Search was reengineered recently by Microsoft to help produce a search product capable of standing up to the power and ease of use of Google. The result is a powerful search product that is clearly capable of challenging the leader. MSN Search powers approximately 16% of all Internet searches.

Online Communities Thousands of communities abound online, each capable of providing volumes of potentially faulty and untrue information about your organization. While some of the following sites require you to become a paid member, each is worth a visit:

  • F–ked Company (http://www.f– When dotcoms were crashing left and right this daring site provided the play by play and even managed to make a game out of it. The site allows visitors to report news about any company based on an already published news story or a rumor, first-hand experience, or tip from a friend. The site now has a sister site that posts internal memos obtained from current employees. Example report:

    Layoffs at The Globe Rumor had it The Boston Globe has implemented a streamline to grow (cut and grow) process. This process will come to a head in March, but this process started laying off six people yesterday. When: 2/4/2005

    Company: The Boston Globe

    Severity: 50 (On a scale of 1?100, 100 being worst)

    [Unfortunately, publishing standards don’t allow us to print this company’s name in its entirety.ó ed.]

  • was recently named by Fortune Magazine as the best place online to help job seekers prepare for a job search. The company bills itself as the ultimate destination for insider company information. Example posting:

    Company: Home Depot

    Posting Title: Here is the skinny

    Date: Jan. 3, 2005 No matter what position you are applying for, be prepared to carry more than your weight. Prepare yourself as a worker on what should be a three-person team to be the only person on that team. When you fail at what a three-person team should have accomplished, your review will reflect.

  • Yahoo! Finance Message Groups. The message boards tied to Yahoo’s Finance site contain mostly posting from casual investors, some of whom are insiders. While many postings pertain to financial performance, from time to time insiders vent on strategy, leadership, policies, etc. MSN operates a message board similar to that of Yahoo!; however Yahoo! seems to have more relevant postings from insiders. To get to the message boards, visit Yahoo! Finance, enter your firms ticker symbol, then click the message boards link in the navigation area on the left side of the page. Example posting:

    Company: Cincinnati Bell Inc.

    Date: 2/1/05

    Posting Title: Too Many Managers??? I’m not a manager type, but you’re wrong to think that there are managers tripping over each still. My coworkers and myself wonder why in the hell would someone take that worthless job now as it is. First levels get treated like shit and have to pay for a portion of their health care. Retirement sucks and they are threatened weekly over getting laid off.

  • Google Groups. Newsgroups were very popular in the late ’90s as a way to share information. They are still around today, but finding them can be difficult. Google Groups make Usenet newsgroup archives accessible by indexing them using the Google search engine. By January of 2005, Google Groups had indexed more than one billion postings. Example posting:

    Company: Wal-Mart

    Posting Date: 8/10/2004

    Posting Title: Bashing Wal-Mart Wal-Mart likes to point out the fact that you get an employee discount, health benefits, profit sharing, vacation time, personal time, etc., and they say you’re really making more than just what’s on your paycheck. I think that’s a cop out. People need their wages now, not when they quit, retire, or get sick. Gosh, you have to be with the company for three years just to be 20% vested in your profit sharing. I was with them for six years, so when I quit, I got 80% of the profit sharing I’d accumulated, which ended up being a check for about $2,000. Wal-Mart says that if they go union, the profit sharing plan would end. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea. That $2,000 over six years was only $333 per year, or 16 cents per hour if I’d been working 40-hour weeks. Which brings me to another point… It’s bad enough that the employees at Wal-Mart are underpaid, but if sales aren’t being met, people are sent home so the store can make a profit. So your work week, typically 37.5 hours per week, is suddenly cut short when you’re sent home at 10 a.m. to save payroll. People who are eating Ramen noodles twice a day can’t afford that. Plus, other companies I’d worked for ó when a holiday came around, like Christmas, they were paid. They’re paid at Wal-Mart, too, as long as you work the scheduled day before and after the holiday. But do you get the benefit of the extra money? No. They make you take an extra day off during the week. So the store is short-handed, and nobody gets the extra money.

Blogs A blog is the Internet version of a personal journal. The word is actually short for “web log.” Blogs started out as a way for early Internet explorers to share links, content, and serve it up with just a bit of commentary. But in 1999 two companies, and, introduced sites that made it possible for non-technical people to have an online journal. Since that date, several million blogs have popped up online, many of which contain entries from employees talking about their employment experience. To find blogs that mention your organization, search using one of the major search engines for your organization’s name and the word “blog.” Conclusion This article could go on and on, but if you search these basic online locations for dirt, you should find out what others are saying about your organization, and how ugly they make you look. While negative information will always exist, you cannot effectively counter it if you are unaware of it. As long as applicants feel compelled to look beyond your website to learn about your organization, you will need to stay abreast of what’s out there and act to protect your brand.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



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