Starting a network of former employees is simple, and a cost-effective way to fill roles. So why don’t more organisations have an alumni programme?

Many of us have got a job through people we know, with studies estimating that between  60% and 85% of all roles are secured thanks to our professional contacts.

The traditional way of networking is usually candidate to company, but that’s changing as employers build their own alumni networks. But why don’t alumni networks matter to organisations in the same way they do to universities and schools?

 

Four reasons why alumni networks should matter to employers

 

1. They’ll grow your talent pool

Look at a list of ex-Paypal employees and it’s a who’s who of Silicon Valley: alumni include founders or senior management for innovative brands such as LinkedIn, YouTube and Tesla – and that’s no coincidence.

PayPal’s former workers are an extreme example of alumni talent pools, but the same principle can be applied to your organisation, too. Betsy Strickland of Harvard Business School cites an HBS alumni event she attended, saying: “We witnessed alumni offering their time, energy and resources to support one another in a way that made it feel like a group of old friends getting together.”

She said many shared updates on current roles, what they’re working on and potential future opportunities – and having such a forum to build relationships and connect with those looking for new opportunities is exceptional. “By encouraging current employees to connect and engage with candidates from their alma mater, your company’s talent pipeline will inevitably expand,” she adds.

 

2. They’ll encourage ‘boomerang’ employees to return

It’s good business practice to re-hire quality ex-employees. The cost to re-hire a former worker is estimated to be a third to two-thirds cheaper than recruiting someone new to your company, and you also don’t have to spend money on external recruiters. One study says 76% of firms are now more likely to hire a previous employee than before.

These boomerang employees will not only have a more diverse experience than their peers, but will also know how your organisation works and are likely to be more productive, more quickly, than brand-new hires.

 

3. Ex-staff are your brand ambassadors

Keeping in contact with ex-employees can enhance your employee value proposition (EVP), says Heather Travis, director Asia Pacific for talent-mapping specialists Armstrong Craven.

She cites a point made by LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman about how important it is for alumni to build brand values: “If they promote a product or initiative on social media or respond to the tweets of customers or prospects, alumni have a credibility that current employees simply can’t duplicate,” he said.

 

4. They’ll help you secure new clients

The trust between brand and client is already established if a former employee returns with new business – you don’t have to spend time building it. “I consider my alumni folk to be one of my most important constituencies from a marketing perspective – someone we have a lifelong relationship with,” says Miki Tsusaka, senior partner in Boston Consulting Group’s Tokyo office and head of the company’s global alumni department.

But, despite these benefits, organisations are currently under-investing in alumni networks, according to MIT’s Michael Schrage. “Companies without such networks, whether large or small, can be said to be disadvantaged,” he says, adding that even smaller, more budget-conscious employers can build an effective alumni network.

 

How to start an alumni network

If you’ve got little or no budget, concentrate on using LinkedIn and Facebook to develop your network, because they’re the cheapest and most effective way of keeping in contact with this group of ex-employees, says Mike Halloran, who set up Proctor and Gamble’s alumni network in 2001.

Halloran also recommends getting more than one person involved, and to devise a way to fund the programme, such as through fundraising events, a membership fee or getting a company contribution.

To keep members engaged, you need to be engaging. Alison Collins of law firm Linklaters suggests extending employee incentives to alumni, and to set-up a dedicated website with regularly published content.

If you’ve got more money to play with, you could take inspiration from LinkedIn’s own alumni model, as outlined by Nina McQueen, the company’s vice president of global benefits and employee experience. She recommends:

  • Forming a cross-functional team
  • Picking an alumni network manager
  • Deciding which alumni groups to invite (should it include former employees, contractors, interns and current employees?)
  • Looking for unofficial alumni groups – then inviting members to join your network
  • Updating your exit process so it’s more like a ‘warm send-off’
  • Appointing an internal community moderator to get feedback, create content and highlight alumni achievements (among other tasks)
  • Creating a candidate referral programme
  • Telling current employees, so they can use the network as a resource
  • Hosting alumni events

Deloitte’s alumni network is one of the largest and most successful, with more than 14,000 members and over 6,500 subscribers to its alumni group on LinkedIn. It maintains relationships by sharing information about vacancies with its ex-employees and their connections, as well as by inviting former staff to several events a year.

Not all of these steps may be appropriate for your organisation, but time and a little bit of money in your own alumni network will enrich your employee experience, enhance your reputation as a great employer, and might just broaden your client base, too.