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Companies Tap Alumni for New Business and New Workers

How to leverage past employees…..

SAP, Nielsen and the Gates Foundation use online platforms to stay in closer touch with former employees

More companies are treating their former employees like alumni rather than deserters.

Big consulting firms like McKinsey & Co. and Ernst & Young LLP for years have kept tabs on former workers as a talent pool, as well as a source of new business and candidate referrals. Now as workers across more industries are increasingly jumping from job to job, a broader array of companies and organizations are taking note of the competitive advantage alumni networks can offer and are funneling resources toward keeping their former personnel in the fold.

“You never know where that next client or next piece of work will come from,” says Lisa Taylor, founder and president of Challenge Factory, a Toronto workforce-analytics firm.

At McKinsey, where many junior employees cut out after a couple of years, the company stays in contact with its more than 31,000 former consultants world-wide through online webinars and in-person networking events, says Sean Brown, global director of alumni relations. The company also gives former workers an incentive to stay connected by offering them access to firm research.

Alumni can serve as de facto “brand ambassadors,” which maximizes candidate quality and yield in recruitment, Mr. Brown says. Some also return to the company full time or on a contract basis. Many go to work for clients and refer business back to the firm as well.

Asked for a measure of how successful its alumni efforts have been at leading to rehiring of former employees or bringing in new business, a McKinsey spokesperson says the company doesn’t track such statistics.

Companies in other sectors, meanwhile, are leveraging the Web and digital technology in their efforts to rev up formal alumni programs. SAP SE recently digitized and updated personnel records of former employees from paper documents and old computer files in the human-resources department. Streamlining those records helped SAP set up a database and a platform on which its alumni can interact with one another and with current workers. The overarching goals, he says, are to stay connected to alumni talent as well as drive sales and brand awareness through word-of-mouth.

Customized forums

For assistance setting up its platform, a burgeoning cottage industry of third-party providers has sprung up to help companies create customized social networks for their alumni, as an alternative to the informal groups of alumni that pop up on big public networks such as LinkedIn.

With its new platform, launched last month, SAP plans to target specific groups of alumni with email newsletters, and to offer webinars, blogs and live community events, as well as extend invitations to in-person special events for VIP alumni. To encourage registration, Mr. Ettling says, SAP will promote its new official network in an existing LinkedIn group for former SAP employees, and the company hopes current workers will broadcast the message, too.


A similar effort is under way at Nielsen Co., the ratings firm, which is working to shepherd former employees into a recently relaunched alumni program. Nielsen is dovetailing that effort with a campaign to develop and train leaders, says Chris Louie, senior vice president for global talent acquisition. “Some of these folks might have an interest in coming back to Nielsen,” Mr. Louie says.

Nielsen is trying to get thousands of former employees who belong to a group on LinkedIn to switch over to an alumni forum custom-built for Nielsen, The Nielsen forum features profiles of alumni and job postings.

Many alumni go to work for clients within the industry, Mr. Louie says, so it’s advantageous for the firm to maintain ties with them.

To boost registrations, Nielsen also has launched a “refer-a-friend” program, where former employees who join the platform and enlist others to register as well receive a $10 gift card. The company says several hundred employees have opted in so far.

Nielsen and SAP spokesmen say it’s too soon to say how much impact their online alumni forums are having in terms of boomerang hires or bringing in new business.

Names and numbers

Getting large numbers of alumni to participate is key. When the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched its formal alumni network platform in 2014, Deputy Director Andrea Voytko, head of the alumni program, reached out to roughly 1,200 former employees. Workers who leave the foundation, Ms. Voytko says, often go on to similar roles in the nonprofit sphere and wanted a structured way to stay in the loop on foundation news. Other programming in the works for the platform includes in-person training opportunities and networking events. Job openings are posted, too, Ms. Voytko says.

“They may go and work in the field,” she says, “but hopefully come back to us with their additional expertise.”

The foundation has rehired seven alumni since the network’s launch in November 2014. Jeffrey Ried, a six-year veteran of the foundation who left in 2011, joined the alumni network soon after it was created. Almost immediately, he says, people at the foundation reached out to him with a seven-month contract opportunity in his area of expertise, agricultural development.

Mr. Ried jumped at the opportunity. “It was a natural fit,” he says.

By Lindsay Gellman – Wall Street Journal

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