Snake oil salesmen existed long before the Chinese water snake contributed to the universal term for exaggerated claims about products and services to better one’s life. Ironically, the water snake’s omega-3 oils did help relieve the ailing joints of mid-19th century railroad workers. However, the countless versions of healing oils made by opportunists that didn’t work and could kill you turned the “snake oil” term toxic. Of course, the only thing people at that time had to go by was the handsomely dressed carnival barker and a handful of paid endorsers claiming his tonic worked miracles. By the time the desperate seekers of pain relief and vitality realized their kidneys no longer functioned, the circus had moved on to another town to mislead a new group of suckers.

Thanks to Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf (with a special mention going to Al Gore; not for inventing the internet but for his contribution to this blog’s main point), the carnival is ever-present on the World Wide Web. The convenience of having access to anything at the touch of a button solves logistical challenges and saves time, but also creates more opportunities for trickery.

Losing out on a less-than-stellar blender because you believed the hype written by the person who got it for free to write a good review is terrible. But what happens when you make a career decision based on the overwhelmingly positive reviews on an online job site, like Indeed and Glassdoor? Deciding to work for a company is a significant choice on your financial, mental, and—in some cases—physical well-being.

You’ve had a friendly phone call and an in-person or webcam interview, but you still feel like the company knows more about you than the other way around. Fortunately, we have reviews to help us decide if this company is as good as the help-wanted ad and hiring manager claimed.

During the meeting, you bring up a number of negative reviews posted on a job board. The hiring manager wants to put you at ease and sites a Forbes study confirming that 10% of a company’s ex-employees post bad reviews with false claims to hurt the business’s reputation.

Missing from the explanation about the negative comments is the fact that the small percentage of people lying about the company is insignificant when compared to the deceptive review practices many businesses using online job sites are employing. A Wall Street Journal investigation revealed how a shocking number of companies are manipulating their employees to write reviews about positive work experiences to offset the negative remarks. The Journal’s analysis discovered millions of anonymous reviews posted on Glassdoor’s site, identifying more than 400 companies with substantial single-month increases in reviews.

The massive surge of these reviews stated claims of a working utopia with the best boss and co-workers you could want. Impressively, these glowing endorsements had the same number of sentences, saying the same thing at a disproportionate rate to the three reviews warning job seekers of the business’ dysfunction and high turnover. I don’t know about you, but the whole Stepford Wife-style review just seems a tad creepy and disingenuous.

An article on Techspot highlights how some companies threaten defamation lawsuits to dissuade any current or former employee from speaking out against their working environment. Encouraging current employees to make their employer look attractive to job seekers is unethical. Threatening legal action to anyone daring to share anything negative, even if it’s the truth, is pathetic and exposes an organization you should avoid.

Pay close attention to a block of similarly worded reviews showering praise from employees who worked there less than one year. Noticing a lack of negative reviews of any kind should also encourage seeking sources outside the job site’s review section to confirm their legitimacy. It may be a good company but doing due diligence researching a company you’re considering investing your life in is just good business sense.

Finding a new job can be frustrating and exhausting. Unless you’re running for Congress, you must have the right keywords on your resume, always tell the truth, and ace your interview. You must do time-consuming assessments, and you must stand out over a lot of other qualified candidates. If you’re over 40, you must explain why you are seeking a job occupied predominantly by 30-year-olds. If you’re under 25, you must have many years of experience, which is near impossible since you just graduated from college. That’s a lot to ask, so it’s only fair we that interview the companies that are expecting perfection from us.

Reviews can be helpful but trusting a job’s value based on studies that the organization ‘encouraged’ their employees to write is as lazy and useless as having a computer program evaluating a candidate’s worth instead of an actual person.

Investigating a company using the same scrutiny used on you involves finding current and former employees on LinkedIn and asking about their experience with the company. Typing the company name into a search engine will bring you to forums where you’ll find more information about the employer that is likely to be more accurate than what you’re reading on job boards. In many cases, learning the truth will be both revealing and alarming.

Snake oil is not just an elixir containing silver solution claiming to cure any disease while turning your skin a permanent shade of blue. Deceptive business practices work to attract unsuspecting customers and employees. Businesses pull their weight to mislead by playing the role of victims of sabotage from ungrateful former employees and intimidating anyone with less than perfect opinions. That’s not okay, and it’s not something you should ever accept. Spend time genuinely getting to know the actual company you’re about to invest your life in and stick with filtered water; it’s better for you in the long run.

Until Next Time, Billy

Bonus: In my first blog, I promised to explain the “six-foot man-eating chicken,” which gave me the idea for this post. When I was a kid, the State Fair of Oklahoma had an exhibit my friends and I just had to see. Inside the tent, we were informed, was a six-foot man-eating chicken. As we entered the tent with interest, we were exposed to a six-foot-tall man eating a bucket of chicken! In fairness, the advertisement was technically true, but it still makes me think about how easily we are manipulated into believing everything we want to see, which is why I  wanted to throw a few words of caution into the wind to protect you from succumbing to the job-site equivalent of the six-foot man-eating chicken.