The Value of Corporate Alumni Networks

By Katherine Spencer Lee

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It used to be that when employees left a company, managers would wish them well, and both parties would simply move on. However, today many organizations are recognizing the value of staying in touch with former staff members by creating or supporting corporate alumni networks.

What exactly are corporate alumni networks? In the same way that university alumni groups function, the corporate versions help people with a common bond maintain contact.

Participants in these networks may hold regular events and meetings, host job-referral programs, publish alumni directories, offer professional training sessions or provide career-placement services, among other activities. Some groups encourage company leaders to attend functions periodically to keep members informed of interesting business developments. Websites are frequently used to maintain communication among participants.

Benefits to Companies

Former employees clearly benefit from the professional networking and resources offered by alumni networks. However, these groups provide many advantages to companies as well.

What follows are some reasons employers such as Microsoft and McKinsey & Co. have taken the step of supporting alumni networks and why you might consider doing the same:

A sense of community. Participating in alumni networks helps to continue the feeling of family that existed when people worked together on a daily basis. By demonstrating an interest in former employees, your organization shows that it truly values its workers’ contributions over the long run.

Potential rehires. Building a sense of community also can enhance your firm’s recruitment efforts. Alumni groups may encourage people to consider rejoining your company, which can save you time and money in locating and training new staff.

Research by the Society for Human Resource Management has shown that individuals who return to previous employers cost about half as much to bring on board as new hires. These “boomerang” employees have specialized expertise and inside knowledge of your information systems, enabling them to make an immediate contribution to your IT team.

Candidate referrals. Individuals who feel a positive connection to your firm through an alumni group also are likely to recommend skilled applicants for your openings. Previous employees have a strong understanding of your corporate culture and hiring needs, so they are likely to generate quality referrals.

Business opportunities. On a larger scale, keeping in touch with former employees can prove to be a smart business move.

Alumni who feel connected to your firm are likely to recommend your company’s products or services to current employers and other associates. At the same time, former employees may let you know of potential vendors or resources of value to your department, such as a consulting firm that focuses on a particular IT specialty or a software manufacturer about to release an innovative application.

Getting Involved

There are a number of options for establishing a corporate alumni network. You can designate a member of your staff to serve as a point person, handling such tasks as collecting contact information for previous employees and spearheading program design and details, such as meeting schedules.

You also can outsource the process to a company specializing in managing these groups. Or, you can let former employees take the lead in developing an alumni network; offering support by allowing the use of your company name and logo, creating special alumni newsletters, or hosting events on-site.

Alumni groups are worthwhile for employees and employers alike. Maintaining contact on a regular basis enables both parties to form advantageous business connections and continue building professional relationships over time. Rather than saying goodbye to valued team members when they leave your company, you will keep the door open to mutually beneficial opportunities.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at www.roberthalftechnology.com.