Don’t Say Goodbye

Employers are taking advantage of online networks to stay connected with former employees.

By Michael A. Tucker Aug 1, 2011
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Jeff Shuey works in Seattle as director of business development for imaging giant Eastman Kodak Co., but he keeps up with the goings-on at Microsoft Corp., where he was employed a decade ago. “It’s great to stay in touch,” Shuey says. “I helped 16 people find new jobs last year. Several job postings and several job seekers came directly from contacts I met through the Microsoft Alumni Network.”

Caren Scoropanos is director of alumni relations at KPMG LLP, the audit and tax advisory firm with 23,000 employees in the United States. “KPMG has about 100,000 alumni, and maintaining those connections is really important,” says Scoropanos, who works out of Montvale, N.J. When someone “says, ‘I came back to KPMG because you left the door open,’ that’s a great thing.”

Katrina Van Alstyne, PHR, is helping her health care staffing company with 135 employees expand nationally through public relations and business opportunities with ex-employees. “If employees depart on good terms, contact should be maintained through proactive networking efforts by the company,” says Van Alstyne, HR manager for Staffing Plus, based in Haverford, Pa. “It keeps the door open for good employees to return.”

These three examples illustrate a growing trend taking hold in business—the establishment, use and expansion of online employee alumni networks. While they vary in scope and structure, they all have the same goal: telling and showing former employees, retired workers and ex-interns that the employer wants to keep them in the family.

Online alumni networks allow recruiters to cast a wider net, reduce recruitment costs, build good will and instill loyalty among former workers. In return, alumni receive announcements about job openings, information about professional and career development opportunities, and a chance to socialize with former colleagues.

Just like the organizations they serve, alumni networks come in all shapes and sizes. Some are corporate-owned or -sponsored, and many enjoy a following on public sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Creating a presence on social media is by and large free. Employers that want to control their brand and keep tight reins on who’s utilizing the sites may incur setup costs of $5,000 to $100,000, depending on the size, features and staffing needs of the site.

Brand Extension

Alumni networks include endless streams of networking opportunities, education and career advancement information, announcements of social activities, and photos and videos.

Tony Audino is co-founder and chief executive officer of Conenza, a Seattle company that builds and manages online alumni communities for major corporations, including Microsoft. He estimates that less than 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies have formal alumni networks.

“It comes down to a technology platform that allows you to have this branded, highly configurable, secure community for your alumni and your company,” Audino says. “Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a small or medium-sized business, you want it your way, and you want it to reflect your culture, your brand.”

Goodbye, for Now

The sheer number of people who will change jobs during their lifetime means businesses would be ill-advised to lose touch when employees leave. Younger Baby Boomers—those born from 1957 to 1964—held an average of 11 jobs from ages 18 to 44, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Alumni networks allow HR professionals to follow people their companies have invested in, whether that’s Boomers or workers from younger generations. “We spend so much energy hiring the best people, and we want to ensure that those relationships stand over time,” Scoropanos says.

Using technology to maintain connections with former employees can help recruitment efforts and result in solid referrals.

KPMG officials estimate that they have about 100,000 alumni, 36,000 of whom use KPMG Connect, the firm’s members-only alumni website that launched in 2007. New York City-based SelectMinds, a provider of technology solutions for alumni relations and other web activities, helped design the interface and supporting infrastructure.

“We mined our existing alumni data for contact information,” Scoropanos says. Then, “We launched a postcard mail campaign to interest our alumni in becoming a part of KPMG Connect.”

Three HR professionals with backgrounds in communications, marketing and information technology handle outreach efforts. Like most alumni sites, KPMG Connect contains a smorgasbord of news, professional resources, corporate events, social activities and more. Thousands of former employees sign up for training opportunities through the site.

The company also has a robust social media presence with almost a dozen LinkedIn groups—some started and maintained by staffers, others by alumni. The largest network boasts 18,000 members, while smaller networks target various countries and specific groups such as women. There are more than a dozen Facebook fan pages (the largest has almost 21,000 fans) and many YouTube videos on recruitment, internships and personal accounts of life at KPMG.

Refer and Recruit

Using technology to maintain connections with former employees can help recruitment efforts and result in solid referrals for star candidates considering their options.

“Employee referrals are a phenomenal way to recruit,” says Brent McCombs, SPHR, vice president of talent and diversity for Waste Management Inc., a recycling, trash and waste removal company based in Houston. The company has two HR staff members overseeing alumni outreach groups on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Kevin Kelly, Americas director, people, at Ernst & Young LLP in New York City, says alumni networks provide his company with a rich source of experienced workers that will be important as the economy recovers.

“At Ernst & Young in the U.S., about 19 percent of new, experienced hires at the manager level and above are ‘boomerangs’—people who left and then returned to the firm,” Kelly says. They “tell us they are returning to Ernst & Young because of the career opportunities we provide and the quality of the people here.”

Rothstein Kass & Co. PC, an audit and tax service company headquartered in Roseland, N.J., taps into its online alumni networks to recruit and retain top talent. It is a “holistic approach to the dynamics of our culture,” says Andrew Botwin, SPHR, principal. “Because alumni are one of our best sources of new business referrals, we have created a self-sustaining and hopefully endless cycle of effective recruiting, which in turn strengthens our alumni network, which leads to stronger business origination efforts.”

Among benefits offered to alumni by Rothstein Kass are continuing professional education credits that help accountants, lawyers and other professionals get up to speed on trends and best practices. These technical courses focus on regulatory and legislative issues that affect the financial and commercial services sectors. Taken outside the company, these webinars and events can cost up to $500 each.

Hundreds of former employees have participated. About 10 to 20 alumni participate in each of the 25 to 30 programs offered annually. Participants receive up to one-and-a-half continuing professional education credits for each program.

Ken Stephens, a principal with Rothstein Kass, says benefits to alumni, including free continuing professional education credits, add value to participation: “Down the road, they will remember that and perhaps keep us in mind or put us at the top of the list when they have a business need.”

Online networks are giving employers the technology tools to maximize employee engagement and keep alumniactive and faithful.

Ernst & Young

The global behemoth leverages a giant-sized alumni relations effort that includes an online website; a colorful, twice-yearly print and online magazine; and a social media presence, including multiple groups on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and videos on YouTube about entrepreneurs and careers. Jeff Anderson, Americas director, alumni relations, says the company employs about 20 people globally and eight in the Americas to stay in touch with an estimated 500,000 alumni around the world, including 200,000 in the U.S. and Canada. Alumni relations team members, including staffers with HR, marketing, communications, and project and data management experience, organize and publicize events, publish Connect magazine, and maintain an alumni database and an alumni network website. The team is currently tweaking the website to enhance alumni-to-alumni connections globally and to improve integration with HR and candidate relationship management systems, as well as with social media platforms.

“You’ve got to be deliberate and intentional. It’s a win-win for our alums and it’s a win for us because the better we affiliate with our alums, the stronger our brand is in the marketplace and the stronger our relationships,” says Anderson, who is based in Atlanta.

McKinsey & Co.

Pictures of smiling faces are the norm on McKinsey’s multiple LinkedIn sites operated by current employees and alumni. More than 15,000 members in two dozen groups receive announcements of new hires, summer internships and myriad business interests. YouTube videos feature discussions on global economic issues and interviews with McKinsey executives. The alumni-only website features company news and announcements and a directory. All this to keep 23,000 alumni in 120 countries connected to the New York City-based management firm.

“In our recruiting message, we feature people who came to the firm, did great stuff, and then left the firm and did more great stuff,” says Sean Brown, director of global alumni relations. “We have been called a leadership factory.”


Custom hardware and software platforms mean Microsoft Alumni Network members can post events, use inbox messaging, post jobs and connect to various social media. That’s great for recruiters such as Jennie Ellis, SPHR, the network’s former executive director. “A recruiter’s job is not done and the work not lost just because somebody quit or was laid off. My work is meaningful long into the future,” says Ellis, who recently moved from Microsoft to Conenza, where she is director of talent services and serves as strategic advisor to Microsoft’s alumni network. (Conenza operates Microsoft’s site.)

With 18,000 users, Microsoft’s 12-year-old alumni site offers information about insurance plans and financial programs, job opportunities, deals on tech products, and shopping privileges in the Microsoft company store. Thousands of former employees follow the company’s Facebook and LinkedIn alumni groups.

Ellis says HR professionals who fail to engage alumni are out of sync with current branding, recruitment and retention realities. She acknowledges that many business leaders are wary of negative postings on social media, with its resulting bad news for a company’s image.

“There can be ill will between companies and their ex-employees. It’s kind of a loyalty issue,” she says. “But with the advent of these social networks, you can’t really burn bridges. That’s not in the best interest of anyone.”

Ellis says proactive outreach will yield positive results for companies and former staffers.

“Alumni want to connect with each other because they developed great working relationships while at the corporation, so why not help them stay in touch?” she asks. “Why not do that in a private, branded way so that it’s received as a welcoming gesture?”

The author is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C., area.

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