How to Write a Constructive Negative Review for a Company

How to Write a Constructive Negative Review for a Company

13 min read
How to Write a Constructive Negative Review for a

What makes a review effective? It needs to be constructive. Writing a negative review does not need to be a tedious experience, with this guide we’ll show you how feedback can be productive and influential without the discomforting part.

We all know that feedback is the fuel that powers the engine of progress, and nothing oozes progress like the (maybe too fast-paced) tech world. Employees in the tech industry have a stake in ensuring the process is sane, since they shape and influence the companies we work for via different methods — including company reviews, where participants outline their take on an employer.

Reviews, however, aren't always sweet. If an employee had an ill-fated run with a company, they might be tempted to unleash their frustration and bash the company out of the market with a negative review. Given the no-notice layoffs or the hit-and-miss adverse work environments, this scenario is plausible. But even amid the most dire circumstances, even the most negative review should be constructive. A negative statement has to, at least, be well written for it to shake a company up.

The objective of writing a constructive negative review is not to vent your anger.  Rather than that, it’s a means to help the company improve or to aid colleagues in getting a glimpse of how work is over there. By sharing experiences honestly, you can help companies identify areas where they are falling short and make meaningful changes. Your feedback might just be the catalyst for improved workplace culture, better products, or a more efficient workflow.

Preparing to write a negative review

While expressing your dissatisfaction is essential, it's equally important to maintain professionalism and fairness when writing one. By maintaining professionalism, you demonstrate that you intend not to bash the company but provide constructive criticism. Offer specific examples and present suggestions on how the company can improve. Keep your tone respectful and avoid personal attacks. Take a step back and objectively evaluate the situation. Acknowledge any positive aspects as well, if there are any. Keep in mind these points before penning your corporate critique:

Are you working at the company, or not?

Company reviews are anonymous and usually sent after the employers leave the company, yes — only they’re not. Some employees, affected by surprising circumstances or plain disappointment, get the urge to vent, unloose, and go on a negative romp, rating their employer the equivalent of 0.5 stars on company review sites. Sites protect the reviewer’s identity — but, considering that the employer can be specific, it’s too easy for HR or management to pin down the author. What’s next is history: the reviewer will change their LinkedIn avatar to a green-circled #OpenToWork headshot.

But it doesn’t mean current employers can use the review to their advantage. If they feel like they don’t get enough attention from management for an urgent change, wouldn’t a negative, yet constructive, review get the attention of the People VP or founder? It probably would, and it could spark overdue changes.

This is why the strategy for either current employers — who’ll get leers from HR if the review’s too hostile — or former employers is still the same: The review should seek a purpose. What do you want to achieve with it? Most likely, you want to instil changes. Now, the stakes are different for each group of players: Since former employers have way less to lose, they’re comfortable betting all their fortune on a bunch of tickets to a transatlantic cruise ship. Current employees, on the other hand, might sink down like wheeling stones if they’re overtly harsh.

With fewer interests, former employees might be less alarmed about being identified. Even if it could end up earning them a negative rep in the recruiters’ network, chances are that if HR founds out who it was, then there won’t be anything else to talk about, since each side has parted ways already. Now, current employees have to choose whether they are okay with being identified or not. If they prefer to embrace anonymity, they’ll have to formulate their review in a way that it’s not specific enough and include comments that affect all areas.

To define how far you’ll go, it’s a matter of where you’re standing at — but, if you want to achieve anything, the principles of being constructive and street-smart still hold out for either scenario.

Reflect on your experience and identify specific issues

Before we start crafting that constructive negative review, you’ll need to reflect on your experience. Give yourself a moment to cool down and gather your thoughts. Remember, we aim for constructive feedback here, not a furious rant. Think about what exactly went wrong during your experience. Pinpoint those specific pain points that left you scratching your head or banging it against the wall.

A generic complaint won't cut it. You need to be as specific as a code snippet. Look for concrete examples that illustrate the issues you faced. Did your noisy PC crash whenever you wanted to attend a Zoom meeting? Did the accounts payable team take days to respond to your payment inquiries? Did your fellow employees arrive late but had a pass because they were acquainted with the founders? The more specific, the better!

Think about the impact these issues had on your overall experience. Did they prevent you from completing a task efficiently? Did they make you lose faith in the company's reliability? Understanding the repercussions will help you convey the importance of addressing these issues. While you're reflecting, make sure to set aside any personal biases. Remember, we want to be fair and objective in our review.

Finally, don't rely solely on your memory. Document your observations, pain points, and specific examples. It will not only help you write a more detailed review, but also serve as a reference point if the company seeks further clarification.

Determine your goals in writing the review

It’s obvious why you’re writing a negative review: it feels good. Wasn’t Emily in Paris’s success based on people hate-binging it and destroying it online?

We’re just kidding, of course. Because the show’s producers don’t read your reviews, but companies will. That’s why you need to have a clear endgame before you jump into critical feedback. What are your goals? What do you hope to achieve by writing this review?

Be a catalyst for change

The main reason to write a negative review is to encourage changes. Are you aiming to spark a positive shift within the company? By voicing your concerns, you want to inspire the company to act and make improvements that will benefit both their employees and their customers. Venture capitalists and angel investors will love your reviews when surprise-meeting with the founders and refusing to disburse the latest payment. And when it comes to deciding on changes, money talks.

Bringing issues to the attention

Do you want to shed light on the issues you faced, bringing them to the company's and its management's attention? Your goal here is to ensure they are aware of the problem areas and provide constructive feedback to help them improve. Think of it as lifting the fog that hazes over their view of the real issues.

Empower others

Perhaps you want to help your fellow tech employees by sharing your experiences and warning them about potential pitfalls. Your goal is to empower others with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their career paths.

Venting and letting go

Okay, sometimes you just need to let it out. If your goal is to vent your frustrations and release some steam, that's valid, too! Remember, though: It's still essential to maintain a constructive tone even when venting.

You can approach your negative review with clarity and purpose by identifying your goals.

Tips for Writing a Constructive Negative Review

When writing a constructive negative review for a company, providing specific, factual, and productive feedback is indispensable. This section will outline some valuable tips to remember as you craft it.

Be specific and factual

Alternative facts are too old-fashioned in 2023. For a negative review, you don’t need to give an overblown analysis of what went wrong — just do it factually. Were the onboarding guides outdated and tainted by sketchy language? Did they not contemplate that you were an international worker and left you blind-sided regarding invoicing or taxes? Did they not respond to your continuous emails asking for an update on your new laptop? Then tell it, and be transparent. From which year was the guide? How long did it take for them to come back to you and help you cash in your deserved earnings? For how many weeks did they not brief you on your new laptop? Check these timeframes and write them down.

When you’ve completed your write-up with facts and very specific episodes, you'll notice that you won’t need any mean adjectives (“It was bad! It was villainous! It was wacky!”) to make your review resemble something dissenting but not unsupportive. Such a review, although still negative, is a clear chance to learn. That’s the constructive part.

You can use the passive voice to avoid placing responsibility on a single person from the organisation. So when you provide examples of situations or interactions that led to your negative experience, you can frame it as a company problem. For example: “For the first three weeks, I was not provided with a working computer. During the onboarding process, I was never explained I should set up a 2FA with my personal phone, and I suddenly found myself locked out of my account.” Using the passive voice will spread an invisibility cloak over your otherwise-fragile anonymity.

Avoid using overly emotional or offensive language

Keep your emotions in check when writing your review. While feeling frustrated or disappointed is natural, refrain from using excessively emotional or profane language. Focus on objective facts rather than letting emotions take the driver's seat. Remember, humour can effectively lighten the mood, but be mindful of crossing the line into sarcasm or mockery.

For example, instead of saying, “Your sysadmin team is terrible, and your project managers are completely clueless,” say, “I found it challenging to get prompt and accurate assistance from the IT team. There were instances where representatives seemed unfamiliar with basic Agile or Scrum phases.” Notice how addressing the company as “you” is a rage-reviewer move. If you want them to improve and are writing the reviews for your colleagues to get insights, shouldn’t you frame them towards job seekers? Absolutely yes.

Balance criticism with positive aspects, if applicable

While your negative review primarily focuses on highlighting the issues you encountered, consider including them if there are positive aspects worth mentioning. This balanced approach demonstrates that you provide feedback to help the company improve rather than simply criticising.

Offer suggestions for improvement where possible

A constructive negative review goes beyond identifying problems and offers suggestions for improvement. Providing actionable recommendations demonstrates that you have taken the time to analyse the issues and genuinely want to assist the company in reaching a sound culture.

Offer suggestions on how the company could improve and how they could potentially resolve the issues: “As a solution, I recommend developing a better onboarding process for new employees, which would include training and clear communication on company policy and procedures. Furthermore, the team should be encouraged to provide feedback regularly to avoid errors and ensure continuous improvement.”

Offer colleagues a hint

Reviews are an inside job; inside jobs are shams if they don’t offer that sought-for Easter Egg, such as a hint prospective employees could not possibly know about. Thus, a good company review includes giving potential coworkers a lead or a word of advice. This helps future employees set realistic expectations about working for the company. If it quenches the misgiving thought of “this is something I wish I had been aware of before joining the company,” then you can run it for everyone out there.

Keep the review concise and well-organised

A concise and well-organised review ensures that your points are clear and easily understood. Most review sites won’t let you play around with headings or bullet points, but those are extra if you correctly structure your write-up. You can structure it this way:

  1. Introduce your responsibilities
  2. Tell about the good part of the company — there has to be something.
  3. Introduce the problems you faced
  4. Explain what the company response was, if there were any
  5. Provide ideal solutions for them
  6. Hand out insights for your colleagues

This is not a college essay, so you don’t need to add a conclusion.

Example of a Constructive Negative Review

Here’s an example of a constructive negative review that demonstrates the tips mentioned above:

They tempt you with a bonus that is impossible to get — for their fault and not yours

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I worked as a software engineer at Null Pointers R Us for two years. The company is directed by well-experienced professionals from which there’s much to learn. However,  there are areas where the company could significantly improve.

One major issue has been timelines and expectations. Deadlines often shift without clear communication, leading to a hectic work environment. For instance, I had been developing a JavaScript interface for a rocket to Saturn and was given six weeks to ship it on a floppy disk to Cape Canaveral, FL. But the timeline was cut in half, and I had only three weeks to deliver, which resulted in a botched launch, a platform full of rocket debris, and a blame game in which I lost. My bonus was slashed, even though I'm convinced it wasn't my fault.

I felt that the management didn't always hear our team's concerns. For example, multiple team members raised issues about the shifting deadlines during the rocket project, but the problems weren't adequately addressed.

I’m confident that better communication and more structured project management could significantly enhance the work environment. Regular updates on project status and an open platform for raising concerns would be beneficial. Taking on projects that don't require rocket science would undoubtedly help.

Null Pointers R Us could become an excellent place to work if they act on these issues, but meanwhile, I advise colleagues to watch out for their promises about bonuses since most of them are tied to impossible goals.

This review demonstrates several vital elements of constructive criticism that work for both employees and former employees:

  1. Balanced Perspective: The review starts by acknowledging the company's positive aspects. In the dynamic developer’s market, it’s hard to last two years at a job in which all shades are pale, so we’ll assume there was something advantageous.
  2. Specific Examples: The review mentions a project (a JavaScript interface for a rocket faring to Saturn) where the issues of project management and communication were manifest.
  3. Identifying Problems: The reviewer identifies the two main issues — shifting deadlines and lack of response to team concerns. Stating the problems explicitly helps the company understand their weaker points.
  4. Providing Solutions: The reviewer suggests regular updates and an open platform for raising concerns as potential solutions. Offering solutions shows the reviewer's intention to help the company improve.
  5. Giving Colleagues a Hint: The reviewer tells their colleagues what they would have liked to know before joining the company — that the bonuses are tempting but almost impossible.
  6. Professional Tone: The reviewer maintains a respectful and professional tone throughout the review. This approach ensures the write-up is taken seriously and not brushed off as a rant.

This is why a two-star (negative) review is still constructive.

Handling Reactions to Your Review

When you post a review, especially a negative one, it's essential to be prepared for potential reactions from the company. Here's how to navigate this:

Be prepared for potential responses — or retaliation — from the company

Companies, especially on platforms like Glassdoor, have the opportunity to respond to reviews: They can leave a reply like on a forum thread. They might clarify misunderstandings, express regret, or outline steps to address the issues raised. For sceptics, this is what potential employees see, so it’s a smart move for them to address dissenting comments.

Now, that’s what people see — but be prepared for what’s for your eyes only. If you’re a current employee, gear up for any no-notice Zoom calls with the People VP and your manager. If they uncover your identity, you might be suddenly summoned and ousted — or requested to give explanations. So get your facts straight and, foremost, remember why you did everything in the first place: to spark changes. Tell them that. Overall, if they got your attention, you got the upside.

Maintain professionalism in any follow-up communication

Stay polite if the company contacts you directly or indirectly, like over the phone or through a morning-hours email. Your goal was to give constructive feedback, not to start a fight. Moreover, remember that even if your review was written anonymously, its details could reveal who you are. Some examples of exchanges could be:

Company Response: “We're sorry to hear about your negative experience, but we believe your review does not accurately represent our company culture.”

Your Answer: “Thank you for your kind response. I understand that my review may not align with your perspective entirely. However, I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss my concerns and explore potential solutions.”

When engaging in follow-up communication, it's crucial to address the specific points raised in your review and any counter-arguments presented. By doing so, you demonstrate that you've carefully considered all perspectives. For example:

Employer (i.e., a manager) Response: “I disagree with your review. Our team has always been responsive and supportive.”

Your Answer: “Thank you for sharing your perspective. While I appreciate your positive experience, I specifically mentioned instances where I faced challenges with team communication. I would be interested in hearing your suggestions on improving in that area — and I’m also interested in helping you discover them."

Instead of dwelling solely on the negatives, emphasise your willingness to work together and find solutions. This approach helps maintain a positive and collaborative tone. Here's an example:

Company Response: “We apologise for the inconvenience caused. What steps would you suggest we take to address the problems you mentioned?”

Your Response: “Thank you for acknowledging the issues. To address the concerns raised in my review, I believe implementing regular team meetings or using collaboration tools can improve communication and coordination within the team. I'd happily discuss this further and provide more detailed suggestions.”

Stay calm, address specific points, be solution-oriented, and maintain a positive tone. By doing so, you can foster a productive dialogue and work toward positive change within the company. Remember, your voice matters, and your professionalism can make a significant impact.

Consider updating your review if the company addresses your concerns

If the company takes your feedback to heart and implements changes, it's fair to update your review. This strongly suggests that the company values its employees' feedback and is committed to improvement. It also provides a more accurate picture for future prospective employees. If you’re still working at the company, you’ll build up clout as a dependable, reliable worker who stands by their words and cares more about improving the workplace than being right or wrong. A keeper, undoubtedly.

In conclusion…

Remember, when sharing your experiences with a company, fairness and professionalism should be your trustworthy sidekicks. Instead of resorting to a fiery rant or a scathing takedown, let's aim for a fair and balanced approach. Negative criticism requires skilful exercise. Be specific about your issues, providing clear examples that support your claims — this way, you're venting and offering valuable insights that can help the company improve.

Remember, being fair and professional doesn't mean suppressing your genuine feelings. Expressing your disappointment or frustration is okay as long as it's done respectfully. Avoid personal attacks and stick to the facts. Doing so demonstrates that you're a discerning consumer who genuinely wants to see improvements and positive change. Happy (negative) reviewing!

[10:27 AM]