Travel time needn't be just a chance to catch up on reading the latest books. Whenever Kathi Jones, human- resources and recruiting manager at Aventail Corp., in Seattle, is flying out on business, she arrives at the airport an hour early, and not because of increased security measures. She reads other people's luggage for company tags featuring the names of such big-time competitors as Cisco Systems and Raptor Systems, and takes the opportunity to chat up the owners of the luggage. She also keeps an eye out for folks wearing competitors' T-shirts and baseball caps and engages the sporty travelers in employment-related conversation.

When Barry Brodersen, cofounder and vice-president of Domino Equipment Co., in Clinton, Okla., hears about a particularly good service or construction specialist, he tries to get as much information about that person as he can and looks for opportunities to become acquainted. Once Brodersen pursued a hot service specialist (armed only with the fellow's name, a vague physical description, and the name of his employer), tailgating him for 30 miles. When they stopped, Brodersen introduced himself and said, "Why don't you come work for me?" Now the man is a service manager for Brodersen, whose company installs and services petroleum equipment.

While some people look for opportunities to reach out to others in their industries, others prefer to manufacture those opportunities. Dave Clark, president of Mindsource, a technical staffing company in Silicon Valley, has created a monthly industry-networking session called "Birds of a Feather" (BOF) at which he and his employees hobnob with other Internet protocol folk in the Silicon Valley area. Word has gotten around about the monthly fete--mostly through E-mail and various newsgroups--to the point where Clark says the gathering has become a "centerpiece for our particular niche." It has also, he admits, become a source for the occasional hire.