The fine line between job hunting and networking

Where do you draw the line between networking to share best practices and fishing for a better offer from a competitor?

When is it networking, and when is it cheating?

If you’re employed and not looking for a job, the most likely way to get a job offer from a competitor is by networking with peers at other companies and leaders in your industry.

It’s done at conferences, formal meetings and casual lunches and gatherings. Most employers consider it good career development and a way for employees to stay connected to the latest processes in the industry. But where do you draw the line between networking to share best practices and fishing for a better offer from a competitor?

The line probably rests on your intentions, said Clark Christensen, a senior-level executive in Coca-Cola Financial Management. Clark is a dedicated networker who advanced from consulting, auditing and accounting roles at Deloitte to Coca-Cola, Miller Zell, Global Link Logistics and PS Energy Group before landing back at Coca-Cola.

“You have to stay connected and keep your name out there and let people know what you’re about,” he said. But, if you’re truly networking to stay connected, you’re not out there asking for jobs, Clark said.

Instead, you’re asking peers what problems they’re facing and doing what you can to help, offering your expertise as a speaker or perhaps acting as a go-between to link contacts for their mutual benefit.

Not only do you end up being owed a lot of favors, you find out a lot more about the business environment in which you operate than you would relying only on contacts within your own company, he said.

Clark belongs to several industry organizations and attends regular meetings to stay current and keep his name in circulation among peers. He also tries to have lunch with a new contact two to three times per week.

It also helps you and your company when it comes time to hire, he said. That same network is likely a good source of candidates and beats sifting through a stack of resumes, he said.

But don’t waste the company’s time or your family’s, Christiansen warned. “You can burn up a lot of time doing this at the expense of your family and employer … A vigilant reading of the tea leaves at home and work is your guide to striking the right balance.”