If networking is considered to be either cultivating non-merit-based favouritism or demonstrating one’s merit in advance of formal selection processes, then I argue that it is an attempt to gain illegitimate advantage over competitors and is thus immoral.
Networking is taken to be a perfectly innocuous part of business and career-advancement. I argue that, where the aim is to increase one’s prospects of prevailing in a formal competitive process for a job or university placement, networking is an attempt to gain illegitimate advantage. This is true no matter which of the two standard characterisations we accept. If networking is about building personal relationships, as some claim, then it involves cultivating non-merit-based favouritism. To that extent it shares one of the wrong-making features of bribery. On the other hand if networking is about demonstrating one’s merit in advance of formal selection processes, it shares one of the wrong-making features of earwigging in legal advocacy. One way or the other, the networker denies (or tries to deny) rival candidates something to which they are presumptively entitled. Either he denies their right not to be disadvantaged for reasons other than lack of relative merit, or he denies their right not to be disadvantaged by private ex parte communications that take place outside of formal selection processes.