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A new LinkedIn contact that I thought to be a recruiter invited me to lunch to discuss about "technical environment" and "project management" in the company I work at. This person doesn't offer anything (except lunch) and there is no offer on the table, just a talk.

Looking at the contact list a few of my colleagues are in it.

I may be overreacting but I'm not at ease with the situation.

Should I accept the invitation and network with this person? Refuse and forget? Raise a concern in my company?

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    Why are you jumping to industrial espionage instead of a cold call sales pitch? – Lilienthal Mar 26 at 8:50
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    @Lilienthal why would you even want to discuss informations about your company, and especially technical environment and stuffs. It's simply none of their concern. – Noblesse Mar 26 at 8:57
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    @JasonMarechal You can't consider yourself a nobody, have some self esteem. You're and employee doing his job and contributitng to the company but your position is less than some others because of your experience level. Other thing is that you can't just trust someone from your company, even if you are talking to them daily, their are some people out there literally waiting for a position to take people down to get themselves promoted. e.g : you ask them, and they'll directly report you to your boss telling them that you are thinking about quitting so that they can find someone to replace you. – Noblesse Mar 26 at 9:20
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    The reason I bring it up is that this reads like a simple sales pitch. Most likely the guy is representing some type of process improvement methodology, a deployment / release management tool, or something in that vein. He's trying to get an in with your team and the topics he mentioned are because he's digging for "pain points" that he can turn into a sales pitch. Jumping to espionage is far-fetched in my view (and some of the answers below a bit fanciful as a result). That said the main advice below of just clarifying the nature of this meeting is sound. – Lilienthal Mar 27 at 10:01
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    If you are working on some sort of government contract with maybe access to classified information, you should check the rules and guidelines, if that invitation is already an incident you need to report to your security officer. – Simon Mar 31 at 10:24
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+200

I have a bit more of a broad answer.

Never go to any meeting without knowing what the purpose of the meeting is, and what each participant wants out of it. *

* Exceptions exist for spouses and bosses

It follows that you should never attend a meeting unless it aligns with your interest.

If you are prepared to go for a vague chat about things, it signals that you don't value your own time. How can you expect the other party to respect you.

If you don't know what the meeting is about, you cannot prepare. You can't have talking points ready to go. You can't think about what can or cannot be discussed.

If you don't know what the meeting is about, you are going to struggle to steer it onto things that are on-topic (because everything is on-topic). It's very easy to be manipulated into discussing things you shouldn't discuss when there is not a clear agenda.

If this person, whose job as a recruiter is about communication, cannot clearly articulate through a prepared statement what the meeting is about, it is unlikely you will have a favorable outcome in any case.

  • That's a good answer. Although the probability that it's really about industrial espionage is very low, the probability that OP would be wasting time for a meeting they can't profit from - very high. – BigMadAndy Mar 31 at 10:41
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    After working in a country that uses recruiters quite heavily, I've found it to be a good idea to meet with them and get information from them. At worst, you get lunch and know who not to call when you're looking for staff yourself. Otherwise, you've basically picked up knowledge about the state of labour pool is right now, plus possibly gleaned some knowledge about the competition. Eat, and make sure you're the one leading the discussions and asking questions. – Malisbad Apr 1 at 1:06
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    This answer answer says it all on the second paragraph: "Never go to any meeting without knowing what the purpose of the meeting is, and what each participant wants out of it." to which I would add, "why would you even want to in the first place?" No one that wants to make a beneficial offer to you would be unable to tell you straightaway from the first moment. Your case reminds me of Nigerian Prince scums. – David Apr 2 at 7:55
  • everything is on-topic, so true! Great to have this explicitly stated. – jxramos Apr 30 at 23:15
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You know that by disclosing such informations you are breaching the confidentiality and the professional secrecy, as far as I know, before a company recruits someone they oblige them to sign a confidentiality agreement. When you work for a company, they trust you with their resources, data, equipments and everything related to them, there are some information that you can't even say to people in the same department as you, much less other other departments and of course outsiders are out of consideration.

Even if this person offers you a job, you can't disclose such informations about your company. As I see things, the best thing you need to say is this : Thank you for the invitation, but sorry I can't discuss such confidential informations since it may put the company at risk and I've signed a confidentiality agreement or something like that, and if this person turns out to be someone from your company, you'll prove that you are someone they can trust, and if he's a spy, you'll literally be throwing your company to fire.

Good luck

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Well, there are two sides of it:

  • It can be a poorly-worded genuine communication (for recruitment purpose)
  • It can be a scam.

and we can only find out which is which only after we do the assessment.

I'd say, what information you reveal is in your control, so as of now, nothing to worry.

Given that, accepting the invite would not cost you anything and you're otherwise comfortable for a discussion over lunch to a(ny) potential employer, accept the invite, go for a lunch and discussion.

  • If you find that the person is trying to gain information which is "confidential", simply refuse to provide him/ her with the information and put an end to it.
  • If you see that the discussion is about the generic status (to judge whether you think you're doing good or not in current organization), you can proceed with discussion.

Not to be paranoid here: Sometimes, people are simply not good at putting words together. Maybe those words simply meant to judge your level of comfort and happiness in the current organization and whether you are willing to switch or not.

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Don't get involved with industrial espionage, it isn't worth it

The only options I see are:

  • Ignore it
  • Report it

Before reporting it you need to know if the intent is actually nefarious. You can do a little detective work to see who may be safe to talk to by checking the list of your coworkers, if one of them would know the same or more about the areas of the business you're knowledgeable about then you can assume they haven't talked (since if they had then there would be no reason to involve you and the fewer people involved the lower the risk). Talk to that person and see what their experience was.

If you can't find anyone on the list you'd feel comfortable talking to then mention it to your boss as a 'Any idea what to make of this?' rather than a 'I think this is an industrial spy'.

  • It's much, much more probable, the recruiter wants to find out whether they can sell OP some positions. Alternatively, they want to use them as a way to contact their bosses who take recruitment decisions. – BigMadAndy Mar 31 at 10:38
  • @BigMadAndy Maybe but it seems they're already in contact with a few other employees so if they haven't got what they want yet perhaps there is a reason. Either way, no harm in refusing an odd contact, there are tonnes of recruiters out there being a little more transparent than this. – Lio Elbammalf Mar 31 at 11:51
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How good is environment in your company? You may be right about your suspicions. The contact want to talk about your company rather than you. What they are doing is

  1. only people wanting to talk about it will answer
  2. by accepting lunch they will be in debt to the guy who invited them so they will be more willing to say things.

Best practice would be to not reply and forget. And maybe give a little heads up to your manager that such thing occurred.

You may think you are nobody in the company but with that there is bigger chance of you telling something important because higher ups will not be bought with a lunch and they will have stronger (financial) reason to not tell on their company.

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I would advise you to simply ignore it.

This almost certainly sounds like a recruiter fishing for a way into your company (i.e. they want to be able to work with your company and find new hires for them). Unless you're in the position that you've been tasked with finding a new recruiter for your company, there's nothing of benefit in this meeting for you. Best case, it's just a waste of your time and maybe you get a free lunch, worst case it gets back to your company that you've been meeting with recruiters and they start to wonder if you're about to jump ship (which might mean they start to pass you over for the more interesting projects and/or training/promotion opportunities).

Also, by communicating with them (even just to tell them a polite "no"), you're letting them know you're the kind of person they can get a response from, which means they're likely to try this or other techniques in the future to try and get to the company via you. You could, of course, be more forthright and give them an answer which will unequivocally let them know not to contact you again, but then you risk that in the future you might be interested in a job this person is recruiting for and they remember your brusque response. Ignoring it seems like the best response from your point of view.

If this is not a recruiter, then it's very suspicious. It could be someone trying to get access to company secrets (either a journalist or someone from a rival company, for instance). In any event you don't want anything to do with this meeting, and again offering no response and ignoring it seems like the best approach.

The other possibility is that somehow this did come from the company. Perhaps it's some genuine but oddly misplaced way of arranging a genuine meeting (seems very unlikely, and I'm sure your lack of a follow-up would prompt them to get in touch by more conventional means). More cynically, perhaps it's the company testing their security by seeing which employees will fall for something like this (I've never seen a company attempt this kind of IRL meet-up approach, but I've certainly seen them do things like send out intentional phishing emails to see if employees would be likely to expose company secrets). In any event, no response again seems like the most sensible approach to me.

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These seemingly innocent interviews are often tied to espionage, maybe from a competitor.

In such cases the very best course of action is to refuse the "lunch". You can get your company, but also yourself, in trouble for disclosing confidential information.

I would also consider reporting it to your management, as it may be part of a scheme involving other employees.

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