Stop naming it networking, call it nepotism. Hiring people based on who they know is unprofessional. I work in HR and someone's recommendation means squat, I have enough of a brain to evaluate skills and not relationships. If you had to have life saving surgery would you pick the most qualified doctor or one that is funny at parties? Oh and the recruiter that says we remember names of people who turn down offers, why do you feel your time is more important than the candidates? typical HR workers that make me embarrassed to tell people my profession.
First of all, the usual use of the word "nepotism" is favoritism to family members. There are some who define it as favoritism to close friends, but a better word for what you are trying to describe is cronyism. It's all about word choice and I'm not saying the anonymous commenter's choice was technically incorrect, it was just not what I would have used.
I'm rather embarrassed that an HR person would presume to have more knowledge about the skills necessary to do the job then someone who actually does the job. Yes, yes, I can read a resume with the best of them. I can even ask interview questions. But, I would rather get an opinion from somebody who does the actual job.
Would I hire my brain surgeon based on his ability to tell jokes? No. But, if I needed brain surgery, I would start looking for one by asking for referrals for a neurologist from my current physician. Then I would ask the neurologist about neurosurgeons. Theoretically, all those years of medical school, residency and practice means they know a bit more about medicine then I do. Sure, I'd want to check the recommended person's resume and ask questions like, "how many of these types of surgeries have you performed?" But, would a physician's recommendation hold more weight than my hairdresser's recommendation? Absolutely. Why wouldn't I ask someone with knowledge and experience in the field before making my decision?
You know who else I would want to ask? The nurses that work in neurosurgery. They would know all the doctors, their success rates and their personalities. And in the case of brain surgery, I really would prefer a pompous jerk who knows how to fix my brain rather than a good joke teller. If I'm just basing my opinion on an interview, rather than someone who has worked with the surgeon before, I'm more likely to be swayed by the good conversationalist. And the reality is, conversation is nice, but what I need is a good surgeon.
I do agree that the recruiter who said they would hold it against someone who turned down a job offer is a jerk. If you are a good recruiter, you should be able to pull in quality candidates. Quality candidates frequently have other job offers because they are, you know, high quality. Just because this current position doesn't meet their current needs/goals doesn't mean they won't need a job in the future.
This reminds me of a little story. Once upon a time, my beloved husband went on a job interview that was 7 hours away from our home. He drove and paid his own expenses on the promise that he would be reimbursed. He submitted his expenses and the head hunter sent a check. The company made him an offer. The offer was a rather lousy one and he, at this point, had 4 or 5 offers that were better. So he turned it down.
And they stopped payment on the check.
My husband, being nicer than me, said, "Just let it go. It's only $300." (Clearly this was back in the days of reasonable gas prices.) I said, "It's $300 and dang it, I want the money." So, he said I could call. Generally having spouses call is a big no-no by the way, but we didn't have anything to lose. So I called and asked, innocently why they stopped payment on the check.
"Because he didn't accept the job," recruiter said.
"That wasn't part of the deal. You were to reimburse him for expenses related to the interview."
"But, he didn't accept the job! We've never had anyone get an offer and not accept it before!" she said.
"I want to talk to your boss," I said. Boss got on the phone.
"Do you even work?" he snarled, "or are you just a housewife with nothing better to do?"
So, now my blood is boiling, but I managed to reply, rather sweetly, if I do say so myself, "Your comment is insulting on many levels, but in fact, I do work. I'm in Human Resouces and I happen to know that paying travel expenses is part of the cost of recruiting."
"But, we've never had anyone turn down an offer before!" he said.
"In that case," I replied, "you must not be used to working with highly qualified candidates because people like that frequently have more than one offer."
"You'll have your check," he said.
And we did. And he was an idiot. And he was in HR. But, fortunately, most of us are not like that. And most of us recognize networking for what it is--an invaluable tool.