Networking Gives People An ‘Illegitimate Advantage Over Others In The Job Market’: Ethicist


If you’ve talked yourself up at a business function or connected with someone via LinkedIn, you’re guilty of trying to gain unfair advantage over other job seekers in your industry, according to an Australian ethicist.

In a speech to at the Centre for Applied Philisophy and Public Ethics last week, UNSW academic Dr Ned Dobos argued that networkers denied, or tried to deny, rival job-seekers the right to be judged fairly or even to be judged at all.

That’s a bad thing if you assume that jobs should go to people who are best equipped – through qualifications, experience or work ethic – to fill them.

Dobos described networking as either an attempt at “bribery” (where the currency is non-merit-based favouritism), or an attempt to try to influence judges outside of a formal competition.

Here’s what he said:

The ultimate goal of career networking is economic advantage … the idea is to build a rapport with people who may be in a position to benefit your career in the future; to endear yourself to them and win their goodwill.

If all goes according to plan, these people will take their fondness for the networker into account when making decisions that affect his/her career. That is precisely the point. If those decisions include the awarding of jobs that are the objects of competition, the networker will have successfully garnered non-merit-based favour. And even if his efforts fall flat or backfire, he has nevertheless attempted to gain non-merit-based

[Alternatively,] perhaps the networker, rather than trying to foster and benefit from non-merit-based favouritism, is simply trying to show that he/she is in fact meritorious … even this more charitable understanding of networking raises ethical concerns.

In other, adversarial contexts where winning involves impressing or persuading judges, and there is a formal process that gives competing parties a structured setting within which to do this, a competitor who tries to win the judges over outside of the formal process is considered to be seeking unfair advantage.


However we characterise it, career networking involves an attempt to gain illegitimate advantage over others in the job market. What makes the advantage illegitimate depends on which characterisation we run with.

There’s more on UNSW’s online newsroom.

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