When is the last time that you frequented a restaurant or business without conducting a thorough online search to find reviews to validate your choice? How else are you going to know which sushi restaurant makes the perfect Spider Roll, or which companies treat their employees fairly? Rather than relying on word of mouth or personal recommendations, we have started depending on the opinions of complete strangers in our decision-making process. Whether your preferred platform is Yelp, Glassdoor, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google, there is an art to reading reviews and discerning if they accurately represent the company.

Go beyond the stars: Rather than relying on the average number of stars that a company has received, take the time to read the corresponding reviews with a critical eye. As you are reading, note that even one negative review can bring a company’s average rating down- whether it is true or not. Keep scrolling down past the star rating and read what the reviewers have to say. Keep in mind that an individual’s rating standards will not necessarily match the description of their experience. For example, after reading an entire review you may find that a customer gave a company a rating of 1 out of 5 stars due to limited parking; while this is sure to be frustrating, the rating does not depict their comprehensive experience with the company.

Source: Always consider the source of the review. Is the reviewer hiding behind a corny screenname, or even a fake profile to review a company? If a reviewer isn’t confident enough to have an authentic profile, question if they are writing an authentic review. Also, if they mention previous employment, acknowledge that their separation from the company may have created bias in their rating.

Consistency: Be wary of ratings and reviews that stick out as inconsistent. If a company boasts primarily 4 or 5 star reviews and suddenly has an extremely negative review, consider that their experience could be circumstantial rather than the norm. Of course, it is completely possible that the reviewer is giving an accurate depiction of their experience; however, a reviewer’s mindset can change based on what is going on in their personal life, who they were with, or any bias that they may have.

While it is relatively simple to rate a company online, it is far more difficult to decide whether you can trust a company’s rating. Take the time to actually read the reviews, glean the information that you need from them, and weed out any suspicious or unnecessary feedback.