Discussing recruitment woes, a friend of mine who works in HR lamented ‘Hiring is so exhausting. I wish I could simply bring our former employees back.’ Having worked in alumni relations for many years, I promptly replied with ‘So, why don’t you?’ The conversation quickly turned towards corporate alumni networks, based on the same principle as student alumni networks but aimed at former members of staff. After all, the philosophy behind both remains the same – keep your people close.
Traditionally, the term alumni is associated with educational institutions. Increasingly, however, other organizations are beginning to understand the significance of engaging with former employees, often termed corporate alumni. Financial, advisory and consultancy firms were the first to join the party – staying ahead of the game and setting the trend for others to follow. Today, educational institutions are catching on fast and increasingly recognizing the benefits of engaging with former employees.
It follows then that keeping your doors open is a wise policy to adopt. However, merely doing so might be a simplistic way of collaborating with a group of people as varied and complex as corporate alumni. Universities and colleges need to continually devise creative ways of productively engaging with them at multiple levels, beyond alumni dinners. With everyone trying to cram in as much as possible in a single day, your offerings need to add value to their lives, or they wouldn’t hesitate to leave.
While the concept of corporate alumni inherently supports the mission of reabsorbing talent, there are many more ways that universities can benefit from them.
The advantages to universities and colleges
Intelligence and advisory: As they gain experience and expand their network outside your institution, corporate alumni can present you with opportunities for collaboration through consulting, benchmarking and knowledge partnerships. And when they start their second stint with you, they will bring back new skills and expertise alongside knowledge of academia and new trends which can prove valuable to your strategic planning.
Referrals and references: Developing a referral program through which alumni direct suitable candidates to you can make the talent identification process faster. You can further expand this by reaching out to them for reliable reference checks.
Rehires: These are vetted, trusted and trained candidates that you have spent time and resources investing in. Rehiring them makes all the sense as boomerang employees settle back faster; they are familiar with the work culture and often already have a network within the workplace. At the school where I currently work, The British School, we have always had teachers come back. They all return with broad smiles saying the same thing ‘It is like coming back home.’
Fiercely loyal support base: If you have ever wondered who are the best people to represent your university at a recruitment fair, you now have the answer. Develop returning employees as staff ambassadors and get them to share their story with potential candidates. Why? Because nothing moves people better than stories. Plus, this will add a humane touch to your recruitment drive.
Build a knowledge base: Invite alumni to share their insights and perspectives on pedagogy, academia and pastoral care through your blog or journal. Offer them a dedicated space to share reflections that can start conversations and generate new ideas.
Brand advocates: You don’t want former employees bad mouthing you on social media. Each of your employees, current or former, is an ambassador and you want to create strong advocates, not brand detractors. Keeping them engaged and involved after they have left will help build strategic relationships with them.
The advantages to alumni
Professional development: Alumni can gain access to a more formal and focused platform (beyond social media) for engaging with peers and former colleagues. They can find trustworthy expertise and mentors within the network to explore new ventures and initiatives and further their career prospects.
Settling back: Again, settling down faster is advantageous not just to employers but also to alumni as they spend less time finding their feet owing to an understanding of internal systems.
Discounts: Organizations should continue to provide perks and discounts offered to employees and not withdraw them at the time of exit. In most cases, it doesn’t cost the employer very much but to alumni, it can serve as a tangible reminder of still being a part of the organization.
Interview call: Consider creating a policy that guarantees invitation to the first round of interviews for alumni applicants. The rationale is simple – enabling pathways to let them seamlessly ease into the system.
Membership card: I am a firm believer in alumni membership cards. There’s something about holding a tangible item in your hand that validates that association of trust. Hand over a membership card to those leaving to reaffirm that they may be leaving for now but will always be welcome.
Events: This is really a no brainer as events form the heart of alumni relations. You can organize targeted activities or open up your staff events to them. Not many may turn up but knowing they have been invited will help develop further allegiance to you. If you can’t organize focused events, think of other budget friendly ways of connecting such as virtual workshops, or streaming videos and live events. Take a cue from KPMG’s Global Alumni Program that runs not only in-person events but also webcasts to bring together alumni spread across the world.
Referral rewards: If you ask alumni to tap into their network for referring candidates to you, consider offering them a token of thanks. You don’t need big budgets for this; something small but thoughtful such as coffee shop or bookstore voucher would be received with thanks. Remember, the purpose is to get them involved and to appreciate their time and effort.
Create resources: Start a newsletter aimed at alumni with news as well as interviews and features on what other alumni are up to. You can also create a resource section on your website to keep them abreast of vacancies, volunteer opportunities or latest research from your university and trends from academia.
In part two of the series, I will write about the basics of setting up a corporate alumni network and how to design an exit strategy for discontented employees. Stay tuned!
I’d be interested in hearing your views on the subject and learning how you engage with your former employees. Please leave a comment to start a discussion.
Navneet Kaur has over 13 years’ experience in alumni relations in both India and the UK. Presently, she is the Corporate Communications and Brand Manager at The British School New Delhi. Navneet has been a speaker and on the panel of experts at alumni relations conferences and she also writes on the subject. Her areas of interest are corporate and internal communications, alumni relations, brand management, content marketing, editing and copy writing.