We’ve talked about the role of Boomerang employees and how they are important to your talent brand. To recap, “boomerangs” are former employees who may return to your company at some point with more diverse experience as well as insider knowledge that allows them to hit the ground running.

Here, we’ll go deeper in the specifics of how to engage, build, and foster those relationships with past employees, your alumni, that can passively or actively drive qualified candidates to your organization.

In a near zero unemployment economy, many employers are finding that they must be more creative in their recruitment efforts. Considering the average cost of turnover and cost per hire, connections with former employees can offer a competitive advantage by providing a pool of prequalified candidates, candidate referrals, and new business connections.

Tapping into your organization's alumni network can also open doors to new business opportunities. Former employees find new jobs or form their own enterprises, and when they are looking for business partners, they often turn to previous employers. An organization's alumni can serve as resources for industry trends and for keeping up with what the competitors are doing. In addition, well-informed alumni can be powerful ambassadors for the company in the business community.

In the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer Study, employees were seen as the most credible source by the public to report on key business findings—higher than CEOs. The same holds true for your alumni network. They know your organization, its leaders, and the work environment due to their direct experience with the organization. It says a lot about your business and work environment if, even after leaving the organization, former employees take the initiative to refer and recommend candidates to open roles at your company. 

The Stats on Boomerang Employees

Statistics show it costs half as much to rehire an ex-employee as it does to hire a brand-new person; rehires are 40% more productive in their first quarter at work and tend to stay in the job longer. Research also suggests the average Fortune500 company could save $12 million a year by actively recruiting alumni.`  

Additionally, in the first study released in the Employee Engagement Series commissioned by The Workforce Institute and WorkplaceTrends.com, survey data shows a changing mindset about hiring boomerang employees.

In the national survey of more than 1,800 human resources (HR) professionals, people managers, and employees, responses show that employee engagement should not end once the working relationship is over – especially between high-performing alumni and organizations with a strong corporate culture. However, this era of the employee relationship economy and the boomerang employee creates a unique type of competition for job seekers and new challenges for organizations to maintain relationships with former high-performers.

While organizations appear increasingly more accepting of boomerang applicants, 80 percent of employees say former employers do not have a strategy in place to encourage them to return, with 64 percent saying there appears to be no strategy for maintaining a relationship.

Nearly half of managers say their organization has no alumni communication strategy. HR practitioners, on the other hand, say they use several strategies for keeping in touch with former high-performing employees, including email newsletters (45 percent), recruiters (30 percent), and alumni groups (27 percent). Facebook is the platform of choice for alumni groups according to HR professionals (42 percent), with email (39 percent) and LinkedIn (33 percent) close behind.

Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends.com and New York Times Bestselling Author of Promote Yourself, says that “No one organization is the right fit for every employee and vice versa. Sometimes making a change is the best thing for both the employee and the employer.  But this data shows that it’s mutually beneficial for highly engaged employees with outstanding performance and organizations with strong cultures to part ways in good standing. The best boomerang strategy for forward-thinking organizations is to ensure that employees are engaged and feel appreciated while at work – that way if employees decide to leave to explore other career options, the organization will be on the short list of employer options if their career situation changes and they are looking for a more positive opportunity.”

Six Keys to Maintaining a Great Alumni Network

Your alumni employees have insights into your organization that other candidates and contacts don’t. They know the culture, work environment, and are some of the most trusted and reputable sources of qualified employees. However, not losing touch with former employees is imperative to creating and maintaining an exceptional alumni network.

1) Go where your alumni are

Whether it’s social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook or a private Google Group, let your network dictate the communities and the engagement sources that suit them. Online alumni associations can be established and maintained through Google, LinkedIn and Facebook. If a comprehensive effort to maintain an alumni association is not an option, an employer can consider providing its alumni with an electronic newsletter, either the standard company/employee newsletter or one geared specifically to former employees. The benefits of online publications include instant feedback from readers, interactivity, speed, savings of distribution costs, flexibility and customization.

2) Provide value in non-traditional ways

This could be virtual happy hours or in person alumni events and mixers as well as career workshops and other learning and development opportunities. It’s a small investment to make in a valued former employee who may take advantage of training programs to improve their skills, because when they boomerang, it could be to return in a higher-level position than the one they left. Ask your executives to attend alumni events to create a continuation of commitment to this pool of talent and industry and institutional knowledge.

3) Consistent communication

Send every team member off well. Thank them for their service and solicit their willingness to stay in touch. A successful boomerang recruiting process begins right before an employee leaves. Create an offboarding process that includes determining which employees are “regrettable turnover,” which means that they would be welcomed should they choose to return. The next step is to let the departing employee know that their return would be welcomed. And finally, get their permission to keep in touch after they leave.

4) Spotlight your jobs

Periodically create content to update alumni on the latest goings on at the company. Include things they may be able to help you with, such as suggesting candidates for a job opening. Rather than directly asking a former employee to return, make sure they have up-to-date information on new job postings (which may include their former position), and let them decide if they want to refer someone or apply themselves.

5) Offer incentives exclusively for your alumni network 

Consider expanding your employee referral bonus policy to your approved alumni. Financial incentives show that you still consider them “part of the family” and trust their referrals as much as you did when they were employed. You might also consider inviting preferred alumni to company events. Engaging with former coworkers could be key to persuading your preferred alumni to return to the fold.

6) Create value in ways that keep them coming back

As today’s employee turnover rates continue to increase, the number of corporate alumni who are available for rehiring also increases dramatically. If you get an inquiry from a potential boomerang employee, acting quickly is imperative. It’s important to let them know that they’re important to you and your company, even if they haven’t actively engaged with your network. Even if they choose not to pursue a second opportunity, this is an excellent way to re-engage them.

Successful Alumni Networks

Bain & Company’s alumni network stands at more than 13,000 members. The aim of the program is to build enduring relationships with employees that so even after they have left they remain connected to the company.

Members can access contact information of other alumni through the directory, which is a big help for future business partnerships or collaborations. There is also a career development program available for alumni looking to further their own careers or access resources to help find talent for their new teams. Alumni have access to webinars, a private social network, a few perks, and plenty of industry trends and news.

Citi has more than 17,000 alumni in 113 countries around the world. The strong alumni network gives back to former employees with benefits such as museum passes, tickets to sporting events and merchant discounts. It also offers opportunities to stay connected with job vacancies at Citi, for those wanting to return or to refer someone. Alumni also have the chance to volunteer with nonprofits through the program.

The Bottom Line

Boomerangs are a win-win opportunity and “the lowest-hanging fruit” in recruiting. The sheer number of people who will change jobs during their lifetime means businesses would be ill-advised to lose touch when employees leave. The mobile workforce isn’t limited to the much talked about Millennial generation. Other generations, such as younger Baby Boomers—those born from 1957 to 1964—held an average of 11 jobs from ages 18 to 44, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Alumni networks allow HR professionals to follow people their companies have invested in, whether that’s Boomers or workers from younger generations.

 

Jessica Miller-Merrell is a workplace change agent and author focused on human resources and talent acquisition. She lives in Austin, TX and is recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer. She's the founder of Workology.