43

Last week, I received a dinner invitation from an organizer that I never worked with nor heard of. I received the invitation through my employer's email. The location of the event is a well known restaurant in my area.

Beside the date/time information (Weekday - After hours), the invitation describes the event as "a complimentary dinner and discussion" for "professionals who work for nationwide companies and live in this area"

Then, there is a link to register. In the link, there are questions about "your company", such as:

  • What's your company's net worth?
  • What's your company's annual revenue?
  • How many employees?
  • Where are the branches?
  • etc..

I asked a senior coworker if they received similar email, and they denied it. I asked them to take a look and they said, "it looks real". I invited them to come with me, but they said they can't due to the early notice since the event is in three days.

Today I received another email, as a reminder of the event. I would like to attend the event (is it real?), but I am concerned that it would be a security breach. Is it OK to submit my honest answers, and attend the event? What if my employer knew about it? What if I met my manager there? Thanks!

  • 21
    Not a security breach, as such, but possibly unsolicited spam. – Laconic Droid Jul 8 at 16:33
  • 13
    ...an organizer that I never worked with nor heard of - Have you been able to find any information about them online? What is the 'discussion' supposed to be about? – BSMP Jul 8 at 16:33
  • 84
    Why do you want to go? Sounds like spam to me: they don't give you free food unless there is an ulterior motive behind this. – Hilmar Jul 8 at 21:22
  • 18
    You need to check your companies code of conduct in regards to accepting presents in a vendor selection context. If you have no buying power it’s probably ok. – eckes Jul 9 at 10:42
  • 9
    I'd have to suspect there's no dinner, and this is a data harvesting ploy. I get loads of improbable emails like this about "conferences" and "networking opportunities" that never seem to crop up in the actual developer community in the area . – Grimm The Opiner Jul 9 at 11:47
147

Sounds like a networking event - and given you were "invited" through the company e-mail it sounds as if you'd be attending as a representative of the company. Especially given the questions asked.

Best course of action in that case is to discuss it with your manager to see if this is something the company sees as being potentially beneficial. If so the whole thing would be above board and there's nothing to worry about in terms of meeting your manager etc and you can feel free to benefit from the complimentary dinner etc.

  • 26
    Agree. In short: ask your manager. – DarkCygnus Jul 8 at 16:43
  • 71
    @SandraK if he will say "don't go" then it will be something that you shouldn't do, and you should strongly consider complying to your manager's request. I suggest you ask him to find out anyways, so you are transparent with your manager. – DarkCygnus Jul 8 at 16:45
  • 48
    @SandraK I have to agree with DarkCygnus here - if your manager doesn't want you to go then going would be a bad idea. The questions are clearly aimed at allowing companies to network (in addition to any personal networking that might take place) and if you're doing that it has to be with the blessing/consent of the company. – motosubatsu Jul 8 at 16:56
  • 4
    @SandraK You still haven't explained why you would want to go, if you think your supervisor would be opposed to it. – Mike Harris Jul 9 at 16:33
  • 17
    @SandraK Better opportunities for yourself? You want to go to a networking event representing your company and look for work at other companies? Do you see how bad that sounds? It sounds like irreparable damage if your manager finds out. – Agustín Lado Jul 9 at 19:25
143

These types of events are usually nothing more than a sales pitch by a vendor to get your company to buy its products or use its services.

Before you unilaterally decide to register and attend you need to find out your company policy on gifts. Depending where you work, a free dinner can be considered a gift and you need to understand your company's policy on receiving gifts from vendors. Some companies don't care, some allow up to certain limits, and others don't allow it at all. You need to find out your company's stance on the matter as attending could result in your termination if you are in violation of their policy.

Next speak with your manager to determine if you are the appropriate representative of your company that should be attending. Perhaps your manager would want to attend or appoint someone else. It's best to ask beforehand than to have to later explain your actions and face possible discipline.

32

You asked a few related questions:

I would like to attend the event (is it real?)

Of course, none of us can literally tell you if it's real or not, but the scheme is somewhat common. Typically, these sort of "networking" sessions are set up with a hook (free food!) and are a thin veil for a marketing firm or vendor to try to get a captive audience so they can sell you something. Of course, they don't tell you that upfront. Remember the old adage, "there's no free lunch." In this case it applies literally. The organizer may be offering "complimentary" food, but they wouldn't be doing that unless they had something to gain.

but I am concerned that it would be a security breach. Is it OK to submit my honest answers, and attend the event? What if my employer knew about it? What if I met my manager there?

Unfortunately, none of us can really tell you those answers, either. However, the fact that you're asking these questions shows you have an awareness that it might not be OK - and that's a healthy awareness. The questions they're asking may seem innocuous, but things like net worth or annual revenue may be closely guarded secrets for some employers. In general, before you divulge any information about your employer to a third party, it's good practice to get approval from an appropriate authority at your employer (your boss, or your public relations department, etc.) Your company may have strict policies on what information you're allowed to disclose. It may also have policies on vendor management that would cause an offer like this to be funneled through an official channel (versus you as a random person). There may also be policies based on accepting gifts to take into consideration.

The fact that this invite came through your work email, and is clearly targeted at your employer (not you personally) means that you need to consider yourself a representative of your employer when interacting with this entity. If that's a role you're not familiar with or comfortable with, you may be best off declining to respond.

13

Sounds very fishy. In our company, if we'd get something like that, we'd treat it as a security incident unless it were from a known source and sent to people known to be outside contacts with that source (e.g. sales for customer or sales events, senior developers for things like OracleOne, etc. etc.), and report it to our security manager as such, who'd then investigate.

10

I think your company is testing your resistance to social engineering attacks. Forward the letter to your IT security department, and think about how this set of answers would let an outsider start to play a game that would compromise your security further.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_engineering_(security)

  • Good for testing the social vulnerability of employees, but it would be smoother and easier to forward the email to the direct manager than to IT security. – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Jul 11 at 7:47
  • 3
    @usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ It is always good for IT to know about these things. If spam or malicious, they are the ones who can/will do something about it like blocking outgoing emails from all employees to that address if necessary. All your direct manager is going to do is forward it to IT anyway, you might as well CC your manager into the email to IT instead. – Andrew Jul 11 at 8:38
4

Apart from the answers above, there are a few points that I see.

  1. They sent you an email to your company email address but they don't know which company it is. Usually in events like this(conferences, hackathons, meetups, ...) the interactions are done through the company("We're inviting you in collaboration with CompanyX(your company) to attend Event Y"). However, nothing like that here, so it's just fishing for information.
  2. As @jww mentioned in a comment, did you try calling the restaurant to see if the event is legitimate? If the restaurant denies, then you can be sure nothing is going to come of your "registration".
1

This is probably a fairly common invitation to "networking events".

Look for a document called "Code of Business Conduct" or similar (it may be "Ethical Business Practices"). It is a great opportunity to learn what you can do and what you cannot.

If your company has such a thing you will learn there what the rules for invited events are.

If you feel that you are in the good (= that your meet the requirements of your company for such events) then discuss it with your manager. Bring up the fact that you reviewed the policy.

It is not likely that the policy explains in details what information you can provide and what not. Do not forget that this is a request from a random company to exchange information about your company for food. If I were you I would not answer to the specific questions in the invite (and also not during the event).

EDIT: such events are not necessarily bad. they are completely commercial but also an opportunity to learn something. The point is that they should not influence you in decision making.

I have a rule in my career as a manager to never attend such meetings, but let my team do that. Since I am ultimately making the decision to buy or not it is a fair deal.

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