How to Leverage the Knowledge & Experience of Former Employees
Most businesses view talent engagement in one of two ways. For some, it is a finite line with a starting point, achievements along the way and a clear end point. You’re hired, you work, and eventually you move on one day to a new opportunity or retirement. For other businesses, the talent relationship is a circular continuum—a life cycle in which people can move in and out. They welcome boomerangs (former employees who return) as part of their overall talent strategy. Is one better or worse?
In the knowledge economy, where institutional expertise and customer insight are precious commodities, a circular approach that welcomes returning talent as skilled specialists or consultants, has advantages. From the talent side, it gives former employees—alumni talent—an easy way to come back, contribute and pursue professional goals on their own terms and time scale. From the business side, it saves time and money while preserving valuable institutional knowledge.
Hiring, as any HR or talent acquisition leader can tell you, is a pricey endeavor. People may be a business’ greatest asset, but they are also its most expensive one. Engaging former employees, which requires little-to-no recruitment and onboarding effort, is one way to reduce recruitment costs while tapping into an earlier investment: the years of experience and training put into former employees.
The lack of ramp-up time required with alumni talent is also a tremendous boon for businesses focused on moving forward with speed or navigating uncertainty and limited hiring budgets. Engaging someone who is already entrenched in the company culture, solutions, products, and/or clients means work can begin right away and productivity gains are nearly immediate.
Boomerang Safety: Five Tips
Before activating an alumni talent network, businesses need to be thoughtful in how they bring back former employees. Compliance and regulatory issues must be considered. Internal employees and their perspectives have to be factored into the equation. Before jumping into alumni recruitment, consider these five tips for making the most of the network of former employees you’ve built.
#1: Work with a Talent Partner
You hired the employee the first time so why would you need a partner for the second time? To protect both your business and the alum. Unless you are re-hiring the alumni for a full-time job, your business will be engaging them in a contract role as a specialist or consultant, which adds new layers of administrative complexities. Businesses leverage firms like Employment Enterprises—experts in contract and temporary employment— to manage alumni contractors.This can help ensure compliance with regulations like ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) and mitigate risk.
Employment laws and classifications can be complicated and easy to violate unintentionally. By placing a third-party partner between your business and the alumni, your business gains an essential level of risk management while ensuring that former employees and their benefits and interests are safeguarded. It’s a win-win in protection for both the business and the talent.
#2: Capture Talent on the Way Out
Not every former employee is a good boomerang candidate. Some have fallen behind in relevant skills; some leave disgruntled. To help your business identify strong alumni talent and build a pool of interested project-based resources, a two-step screening approach works well.
First, ask managers to consider the re-engagement potential of each outgoing employee. Could the outgoing employee provide strong value as a mentor, trainer, specialist, or consultant? If the answer is yes, then bring the question to employees who are on their way out during their exit interviews: Would you be interested in being contacted for future contract-based work or consulting roles should they arise in the future? From there you can inform them of how alumni positions and/or the process your business uses to re-engage former employees.
This early screening and education effort is a chance to communicate the opportunity and identify strong candidates for future projects. It’s also a useful way to set expectations that return options for alumni work operate under specific rules and limitations that protect both the individual and the business.
#3: Maintain Connections with Alumni Talent
Find creative ways to maintain alumni connections with thoughtful outreach. Just as college recruiting and internship and apprenticeship programs bring in new hires from diverse pools, building an engaged alumni pool can keep knowledgeable resources interested and contributing in various ways.
Some businesses, for example, create newsletters and digital communities where alumni can get company updates, reconnect, and stay engaged. These tools and outreach efforts can help HR teams keep track of former employees while also leveraging external resources to boost the employment brand. Alumni who stay connected and loyal to the brand may or may not come back as contractors or consultants, but many will refer talent and opportunities back to your business because positive relationships and mutual respect are maintained.
#4 Limit Contracts by Time Frame
Fuzzy end points can reduce the efficiency factor of leveraging alumni talent. That’s why it is helpful to structure contracts with alumni talent for specific time frames, such as three months, six months, or a year. Open-ended projects defined by general project parameters and milestones, such as “when the product/app development process is complete” or “when the pipeline is full,” can increase costs without increasing the value delivered. Sometimes a business can end up paying a resource longer than needed. The good news is that it’s easy enough to add time to a contract or create a second (or even third) contract if needs expand.
#5 Communicate Boundaries, Reassure Employees
One final reminder is to be sensitive to the watchful eyes of internal employees.A business cannot thrive or innovate with a revolving-door culture that encourages employees to leave and return as it suits them.
When bringing back former employees, it’s important to communicate the scope and limits of the engagement. If internal employees perceive that alumni talent are coming back as “high paid consultants with limited responsibility and big freedoms,” they might question their own employment contracts and loyalty. With transparency and clarity, businesses avoid potential resentment and give their employees the information they need to focus on the knowledge and experience values alumni can bring to the business.
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Alumni Are for More Than College
Colleges and universities have long understood the economic, experience, and networking value of building lasting relations with alumni. It’s where the name comes from after all. Businesses can do the same with their alums. They can fill temporary talent gaps with known and trusted former employees, smartly and strategically leveraging one of their most knowledgeable networks for support, for experience, and for efficiency gains.