Your phone rings. It’s from a number you don’t recognize. You agonize for a moment about whether or not to pick up, and when you do, your fears are immediately confirmed: It’s a student from your alma mater reaching out to request a donation. Yep, you’ve definitely learned your lesson: No more answering calls from unknown numbers.
But let’s take a minute to reimagine that situation. What if it wasn’t your college that was trying to get in touch, but, instead, a former employer? And what if they weren’t asking for money, but were inviting you to an exclusive networking event or, even better, proposing an enticing new job opportunity? You’d be a lot more likely to pick up, right?
This is not some far-fetched scenario—it’s already happening! Many companies are recognizing the advantages of maintaining relationships with their former employees and are taking action to do so. Companies can not only gain valuable insight into the company’s triumphs and failures as an organization but can also turn former employees into engaged brand ambassadors for life. Sound enticing? See potential value for your company? We thought so.
As you begin building out your employee alumni program, make sure to ask yourself these 5 questions to ensure your success:
1. What are you trying to achieve?
This question may seem obvious, but it’s important to clearly articulate why you are creating an employee alumni program to begin with. Ask yourself: What, exactly, are your goals? Here are some common ones to get you thinking:
- Sourcing and recruiting in order to encourage people to apply to open positions
- Filling open positions with boomerang employees
- Acquiring new direct customers and clients (business development)
- Maintaining communication with former employees
- Assisting former employees with their professional development (e.g. providing networking opportunities)
- Building your employer brand
Once you have solidified your goals, you’re ready to move on to the next step—measuring the success of your goals!
2. How will you measure the success of your goals?
Having a goal like “building your employer brand” is a great start, but it’s going to be hard to judge how well you’re achieving something that’s so broad and vague. So, you’ll want to consider some specific metrics that you can use to gauge your success. These metrics will vary depending on your specified goals, but here are some suggestions to help guide you:
- If your goal is related to employer branding or recruiting (either new or boomerang applicants), you will want to track the number of applicants, the number of hires, and the retention rate.
- Is business development your primary goal? Then you’ll want to track the number of deals or amount of revenue brought in through your initiatives.
- If your goal surrounds communication or knowledge sharing, you’ll want to measure engagement and reach with whichever initiatives you decide to put in place. For example, if you’re sending out a monthly newsletter, measure your open and click-through rates. If you have an alumni website or online portal, track how many new people are visiting on a monthly basis as well as how many returning visitors you get.
- Attempting to provide former employees with professional development or networking opportunities? Pay attention to attendance numbers for your events, the number of jobs posted each month, and web traffic to your online job board.
You may find that some of your goals and metrics overlap with those of other teams or departments in your company. For example, you may have an entire team dedicated to business development, or perhaps your marketing department already sends out and tracks open and click-through rates for email newsletters. This is great news for you—seek out advice from those people as you begin to put together your program and see how you can support one another as you strive towards similar goals.
3. Who will you be contacting, and how will you manage this information?
As you go through this process, take a moment to define who, exactly, is considered an alum of your organization. Is it someone who interned for a summer? Worked there for a minimum of six months? Is it temporary employees or seasonal workers? You need to decide what your specific criteria. This way, everyone in your organization can be on the same page.
Additionally, it’s going to require a bit of time and effort to collect and manage the contact information for all your alumni. If they left within the past year, your payroll department should have at least their mailing addresses (for tax purposes), but you may not have access to their email addresses, and if they’ve been gone for more than a year, you may have little to no reliable contact information. So, another big piece of the puzzle is obtaining accurate contact information.
Think about how you might gather this information right now as well as how you’d like to collect it in the future. Will you set up an alumni group on LinkedIn and hope your alums will opt to join it? Ask employees to complete a form at the end of their last day? Send them a “goodbye” email with a link to your online portal? (Side note: be sure to add these to your off-boarding checklist!).
Finally, once you have all this information, you’ll need a place to store and manage it. This will most likely be a CRM system or similar database. Think of alumni the same way you think of customers or prospects. And don’t forget to spend some time chatting with your sales, marketing, and customer support teams to learn how they contend with their databases, segment their members, and otherwise wrangle their data. Then, apply applicable tactics to your program.
If you already use a CRM for other purposes, it may be possible for you to add and track your alumni in that system. Contact your current administrator to find out. If not, there are countless other solutions to investigate, such as CRM behemoths like Salesforce, academic alumni-focused products like Graduway, and corporate alumni networks like Conenza.
4. Which resources will you need?
Once you’ve figured out your primary goals and your strategies, you’ll need to think about which types of resources it will take to carry these out.
For example, let’s say you’ve committed to engaging your alumni in networking events and decided to host two events each quarter. Think about how much time and what sort of budget it will take to secure the venues, order food and beverages, handle publicity, and take care of logistics on the day of the events.
Or if you plan to distribute a monthly newsletter, what will it take to plan the editorial calendar, create and design the content, and manage the email distribution? Can a single person handle all these tasks? Should they be distributed among existing staff members? (Yes, there’s a lot to consider!).
Additionally, if you have several offices, will it make sense to have a single person coordinate all communication and planning, or should you give each office autonomy to handle their local events? Or perhaps you’ll take a hybrid approach where one central office handles planning and oversight, but individual offices are largely responsible for their own events. Each case calls for a different approach to resource allocation. Make sure you firmly decide on this beforehand, otherwise confusion (and frustration) for all parties will ensue.
5. How often will you communicate with alumni?
You’ll want to think carefully about how often you’re reaching out to alumni. (Remember those phone calls you were avoiding from your alumni office?) Now that alumni are no longer a part of your organization, they have no obligation to open your emails or attend your events. But as long as you’re providing information or services that are beneficial to them, they should be happy to hear from you.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: Don’t just consider what information you want to share—think about what would be most useful to your alumni. Put yourself in their shoes.
You may wish to start slowly so that you can observe what your alumni are most receptive to. If your metrics are all trending upwards, that could be a good indication that you can contact them more frequently—and that they’ll be glad you did.
Your relationship with your employees doesn’t have to end simply because they stop working for your company. But this transition probably won’t happen automatically—it takes a little bit of marketing, a smidgen of salesmanship, and some serious database domination. But in the end, it’s worth it—not only may you have current employees singing your praises, but former employees may, too! Now that’s what we call employer branding done right.