Tap Ex-Employees’ Recruitment Potential

By Peter Weaver Jul 1, 2006
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HR Magazine, July 2006Staying connected to ex-employees can pay staffing dividends.

Need to find the right person to fill a vacancy or help expand your business? You can advertise, of course, but more employers are tapping lists of former employees who may be able to provide just the right referrals because they know what kind of workers fit the bill. And, who knows? An employee who retired, or someone who left to take another job, might miss the scene and want to come back. They just need to be asked.

“Reaching out to former employees has really been rewarding for us,” says Jocelyn A. Giangrande, SPHR, director of recruitment and HR services at Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System (HFHS). “We do a lot of rehires and find that a significant number of employees who leave our community come back,” Giangrande says.

Like many employers, HFHS is taking steps to actively stay connected with former employees, having found them to be a valuable resource for the nonprofit company’s recruitment efforts. While some companies maintain formal alumni networks that allow former employees to see job postings, network with their former co-workers and earn money from referral bonus programs, other companies take a more casual approach by doing things like organizing social events for former employees or sending them occasional newsletters or invitations to company-sponsored activities. Some groups operate independently, while others are actually sponsored by the employer.

Whatever the structure, lots of companies have found recruitment value in their alumni networks.

Pros of Returning Workers

The advantages of pursuing former employees, says Alice Snell, vice president of San Francisco-based Taleo Research, a division of Taleo Corp., are that “they are known commodities and are considerably less expensive to bring back than having to advertise, which can become a large part of your recruiting budget.” If employers maintain a good relationship with their former, high-quality employees, Snell says those ex-employees “can become an excellent source of referrals or come back themselves.”

And there are other positive side effects. “When former employees return,” she says, “they can bring back competitive intelligence and have a broader knowledge of the market.” They also can be instrumental in helping develop newer workers, she says: Ex-employees who return “can act as mentors for the other recruits who are new to the scene.”

According to Monique Brannon, national director of recruiting for the Cincinnati office of accounting firm Grant Thornton LLP, former employees “know our culture and they know the types of clients we serve, which makes much less of a need for training and orientation.”

Giangrande of HFHS echoes those sentiments. A big dividend in rehiring former employees, she maintains, “is the fact that we don’t have to do a lot of retraining, because their learning curves are significantly reduced.” Rehires also understand the organization’s culture, Giangrande adds, “so you have a better chance of retaining them a second time around.”

Even so, HFHS makes a concerted effort to get rehires back up to speed. “We have a new-hire orientation session every Monday, and as much as 20 percent of the audience is made up of alumni rehires who may not know about new projects,” Giangrande says.

Susan B. Whitcomb—executive director of the California-based Career Masters Institute, a professional group of career consultants, career coaches and job-search strategists—agrees that the familiarity former employees bring offers big benefits. In fact, she believes that one of the main reasons employers are combing their alumni ranks for possible rehires is the fact that these individuals know the organization and understand its business needs and culture.

Whitcomb also points out that the employees themselves are proven commodities. “You’ve gotten to know them,” she says. “There won’t be any surprises, because you know what you are dealing with.”

She adds that going back to a former employer can create loyalty and good will on the part of a returning employee because it shows the value the organization places on them, and that can translate into greater productivity.

Staying in Touch

Employers can’t gain the benefits that returning employees offer without some effort, however.

One of the main reasons employees return to HFHS, Giangrande explains, “is because we maintain contact by keeping them updated with what’s going on.” To keep in touch, she says, “e-mail notices and postcards are sent out to announce upcoming recruitment activities where former employees are invited to join in.”

“When good employees leave for another job, early retirement or whatever,” Giangrande says, “we don’t want to let them go quietly and just forget about us.” That’s why the company is putting together a new alumni recruitment campaign called Reselling the Employment Proposition, Giangrande says. She describes the campaign as an effort “to explain how we will build relationships and cultivate the bond with former employees.”

It begins as soon as employees declare they are leaving, Giangrande says. The company starts by conducting an exit interview and entering the departing employee’s name in the company’s alumni database. After one month, the company will keep up correspondence through a newsletter. After several more months, “we will invite them to an alumni event and invite them to reapply for employment,” Giangrande says.

Giangrande says HFHS makes a conscious decision to go after former employees soon after they’ve left “because you have a much better chance of persuading them to come back within the first year after they’ve departed.” During this time, she explains, “former employees might find that their new jobs aren’t what they thought they would be and don’t measure up.”

For example, employees are sometimes lured away by the promise of a greater salary, but may find that their new compensation is not significantly greater than what they previously earned. “After a while,” Giangrande says, “they realize there is more to a job than just the money and they are open to becoming reinstated in their old position, or something related to it.” Because the nonprofit corporation is in a field facing a national health care labor shortage, Giangrande says, “we really have to think outside the box as to how we will fill our vacancies.”

At Grant Thornton, Brannon also feels the squeeze of a tight labor market. To induce people to return to the firm, she says, the company offers a sign-on bonus. For example, “a manager who comes back could get as much as $10,000.” Grant Thornton is “offering these bonuses and other inducements,” Brannon says, because “there’s a scramble out there for talent and, with our recent growth, we don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”

Keeping Them Coming Back

To keep open the channels of communication with former workers, Booz Allen Hamilton, a management consulting firm based in McLean, Va., has instituted an alumni recruiting program called “The Comeback Kids.” According to program manager Jerrod A. Wheeler, during the past year “we rehired 166 former employees because we know these people and know what they can bring to the table.”

And what those employees bring can be quite valuable. For example, the company does a lot of business with the government and a major portion of its rehiring involves former employees who have the necessary clearance credentials.

Another high priority for the organization is rehiring former employees who are well-versed in organizational change, organizational design, management change and leveraging technology to aid the business process. “If we can find alumni out there who have this kind of talent,” Wheeler says, “we want to get in touch with them.”

What helps, he explains, “is the fact that we’re not making cold calls. They’re ‘warm calls’ to reintroduce rehire candidates to the company.”

Online Reunion

Many companies are turning to their alumni communities to find individuals to take on short-term and project work. One such business is Shell Oil Co., which launched a networking web site for its alumni in November to support corporate business development and recruitment and to provide alumni with an online networking platform. The company-sponsored site doesn’t charge alumni to register. So far, AlliancexShell has signed up more than 1,000 active members. The site allows ex-employees living around the world to post their resumes detailing their Shell and other work experiences. As the company identifies its short-term resourcing needs, its HR staff uses the database to search for alumni candidates with the relevant skills for various projects.

Some alumni web sites provide a focal point for former employees even after the employer has been acquired or merged with another company, becoming a resource for other employers in the same industry to find experienced professionals.

Former Digital Equipment Corp. employee Peter T. Koch is president of Digital Alumni Inc., which has more than 2,000 active members, even though Digital was acquired by Compaq and Compaq was acquired by Hewlett-Packard. Digital Alumni still puts out a quarterly newsletter, Koch says, “where employers can post job openings.”

The site is effective for acquiring part-time help and reaching individuals interested in temporary assignments, Koch says, since some of Digital’s alumni “don’t want to work full time, but could be available for part-time projects where their specific skills could be of value.”

Peter Weaver is a freelance writer in Baltimore.

Web Extras

SHRM article:
Alumni Networks Can Cut Recruiting Costs, Boost Employer's Image
(HR Magazine)

Articles:
Corporate "Alumni" Groups Take Shape
(USA Today)

Company and Military Alumni Networks
(Job-Hunt.Org)

Navigating the Alumni Network
(Net-Temps)

Resources:
Establishing alumni groups
(Google)

Establishing alumni groups
(Yahoo)

Web sites:
Corporate Alumni

Select Minds

Digital Alumni

Taleo Research Inc.

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