The Power of an Alumni Network, and 3 Reasons You Need to Consider One

What typically happens when an employee leaves an organization? The employer and employee share a few laughs, celebrate the good memories and begin to redefine a new chapter in their relationship moving forward.

Sound familiar? Well, it shouldn’t. The relationship between employers and former employees is often messy regardless of the circumstance. Someone feels rejected. Someone feels awkward. Both feel abused and the result is often an offboarding process that somehow goes awry.

The proliferation of social media only exacerbates this situation, since former employees now have an outlet to channel their frustrations. Sites like Glassdoor and Jobvent are quickly gaining steam as a place for former employees to voice their opinions and rate organizations.

A former AIG employee recently posted the following on Glassdoor:

AIG has not treated me and others well after we were terminated. Often decisions about how to treat customers are driven by profit and not what is the right thing to do.”

It is starting to get ugly. For those organizations not thinking about their alumni, now is a good time to start.

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According to a study conducted by Manpower, 84 percent of people will be looking for a new job in 2011. Best practice organizations are beginning to recognize that an alumni program will not only improve employer branding but can also serve as a powerful recruiting tool.

The catch is that employers need to create, manage, and cultivate these programs. It requires a dedicated individual, strong communication strategy, a system to measure the progress, and of course, technology.

Why you should consider an Alumni Program

  1. Employee Referral Programs — Since Employee Referral Programs are often considered the most effective recruiting tool, organizations should consider expanding these programs to include alumni. Former employees have great insight into the company culture and can help identify quality of hire. Organizations should include alumni in employee referral communication strategies and also provide former employees with the same incentives they would provide existing employees.
  2. Boomerangs — “Boomerangs” are former employees who have been hired back into the organization. Best practice organizations are actively expanding their talent pools and engaging with both active and passive candidates. Alumni should be part of this process and organizations should aim to have a rehire rate of over 10 percent. Deloitte is one example of a company that invests heavily in their alumni program with a rehire rate of 20 percent.
  3. Employer branding — The most critical impact of alumni programs falls under employer branding. For many industries, such as professional services, former employees will one day become clients. Organizations need to treat their alumni with the same level of attention and support that they show their customers. With social media and sites like Glassdoor on the rise, a poor alumni strategy can negatively impact the employer brand and directly impact the bottom line.

How can you leverage technology?

  • Dedicated website: Some organizations, such as Scott Paper Company, SAIC, Sara Lee, and the Federal Government, host dedicated websites for their alumni. These sites post information on events, employee referral programs, provide collaboration, and in the case of McDonald’s UK, even provide coupons to former employees.
  • Social media: The most popular and most affordable way to leverage technology for alumni programs is through social media. Companies such as Salesforce and Deloitte have created employer-driven LinkedIn groups for their alumni. These groups help alumni to stay connected to their former colleagues and even include information on alumni events and resources. Ernst and Young invite alumni to participate in their impressive Facebook page.
  • Innovative technology: Innovation is a key theme in talent management technology today. Forward-looking solutions providers are entering the market looking to make the process of recruiting and retaining top talent more efficient and more effective. Some of these solution providers, including Social Text, Avature, Zapoint, and Jobs2Web offer capabilities to help support alumni programs. Organizations should take a closer look at both their existing technology and innovative solutions to see how they can strengthen their alumni programs.

In a world of greater transparency and increasing competition, organizations can strengthen employer branding and talent acquisition efforts through a formalized alumni program. These employer-driven programs leveraging technology will help them achieve results and gain competitive advantage.

Madeline Laurano is the Research Director, Talent Acquisition Solutions, within Aberdeen's Human Capital Management research practice, and is responsible for leading and collaborating on Aberdeen's research coverage across a range of HCM topics, including talent mobility, workforce planning, sourcing strategy, recruitment process outsourcing (RPO), employer branding, onboarding and talent acquisition. Additionally she is responsible for delivering research findings via published works, speaking engagements, on-line events, and Aberdeen's annual Human Capital Management Summit. Before joining the Aberdeen Group, Madeline was a talent systems analyst for the Newman Group, driving the company's success in the area of Talent Management Technology Evaluation and Selection. Madeline joined The Newman Group from Bersin & Associates, where she served as Principal Analyst of Talent Acquisition. Prior to joining Bersin, Madeline served as the Research Director for ERE Media where she created the ERE webinar series, published the Talent Acquisition Industry Analysis and Buyers Guide, lead the community discussion groups, and conducted various research products and services.

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2 Comments on “The Power of an Alumni Network, and 3 Reasons You Need to Consider One

  1. It’s interesting how few companies are doing this despite the fact that it has been discussed as a valuable idea and resource for so long. A search on Google for “employee alumni network” yielded in the an article from 2001 in the #2 slot (http://stevensonconsulting.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=28). Amazing that an article from nearly 10 years ago is still in the #2 position considering the recognition that companies should consider alumni networks.

    The article also suggests that employees are maybe skeptical of company-owned networks and often start networks themselves, but this is perhaps down to the transparency point that Madeline raises. If employees think that the network they’re joining is going to be heavily censored, they’re perhaps unlikely to join, but as long as the company stresses the transparency of the network and welcomes all constructive feedback (good and bad), alumni shouldn’t be afraid to contribute.

    I’ve certainly worked for companies that I haven’t viewed very positively after I’ve left, but have remained in touch with many individuals I worked with who have subsequently become clients, advisors or colleagues at other companies.

    Frequently individuals’ loyalties are to other individuals, rather than the companies themselves, but if the organizations are openly promoting transparency and knowledge-sharing amongst both employees and alumni, they’ll definitely see benefits in the long run.

    The reality is that it’s a small world and it’s not worth an individual cutting of their own nose to spite their face with a former employer. We all turn to our networks when we want to share ideas, solicit feedback etc, and people are likely to reach out to more active (and positive) members of their network when they’re looking for help.

    Structured alumni networks enable individuals to do this and also help the companies to learn from past experiences. Showing themselves to be open and transparent definitely increases credibility for employers and encourages referrals from within these networks.

  2. One of the best pieces of advice on this subject is for the company to start the alumni group on LinkedIn. So many cede this to former employees, who gain first mover advantage. The potential impact on the brand is very real, and controlled by people no longer employed by the organization.

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