What Makes an Alumni Network Successful? See What These Companies Are Doing

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The modern job market has evolved. People want mobility, variety and a chance to develop their skills. The notion of settling in comfortably with a single company for the long haul fails to resonate with employees today. No one is sticking around for a farewell dinner and gold watch anymore.

Case in point: Alison Doyle writes at The Balance that the average person changes jobs 12 times in a lifetime. And that number is likely to increase among younger workers. LinkedIn’s Guy Berger reports that graduates between 2006 and 2010 worked for nearly twice as many companies (2.85) in their first five years after graduation as did graduates between 1986 and 1990.

Proactive companies have begun tapping into the power of corporate alumni networks.

If done successfully, these networks are able to build strong relationships between the company and its former employees. This results in continued employer brand development, as well as creating a resource for new hires through referrals. It also sometimes creates boomerang employees, those who come back for another round of service.

In this post, we will explore what makes corporate alumni networks so valuable, and which companies are already ahead of the curve in implementing them.

Alumni Networks Add Lasting Value

Alumni networks can provide significant resources to companies. The closer-knit the network, the more likely companies will be able to leverage brand loyalty. Past employees praising the company, even while they no longer receive a paycheck, makes for good employer advertising.

These networks also act as a shortcut for vetting candidates. Often used as a hiring tool with former employees referring new hires, alumni can vouch for the new blood. It’s not as blind a process as the sifting through cover letters and resumes.

Some companies, such as LinkedIn, have also realized alumni networks can also provide an informed testing ground for new products and services.

This is key given that employees today are significantly more mobile than in generations past. Reid Hoffman, who co-authored the New York Times Bestseller The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, argues that a corporate alumni network helps to foster trust, investment and benefit for employee and employer “in an era where lifetime employment is no longer the norm.”

The power of an alumni network is not hard to find. Perhaps most prolific has been the alumni of PayPal. They’ve gone on to found LinkedIn, Tesla, YouTube, Yelp, Yammer and SpaceX.

These networks even give companies an edge over their competitors. Cem Sertoglu and Anne Berkowitch write at the Harvard Business Review how companies that maintain ties with alumni have a boots-on-the-ground understanding of what their competitors are doing.

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Smart Companies Are Discovering Hidden Benefits From Their Alumni Networks

Alumni groups are gaining in popularity as more companies recognize the benefits.

For example, Awais Ahsan, director of marketing at Content Raven, writes about how companies are beginning to under that an alumni program can be great for offboarding employees, which helps maintain employee productivity right to the end of employment. This means not having to remove key contracts and projects from employees to protect sensitive information, or having to worry about them clocking out before their last day.

Alumni networks can also bring back the boomerang employees who’ve chosen to return after a stint elsewhere. This gives companies the advantage of being able to hire people already familiar with the company, people who then bring onboard a host of new experiences to integrate upon return. Without fostering a formal connection, it would be much harder to get them back among the fold.

A Wake-Up Call for HR and Directors of Talent

Despite the clear benefits, official alumni networks remain the exception rather than the norm.

Hoffman cites a 2014 study from the University of Twente in the Netherlands that found only 15 percent of the companies surveyed had formal alumni networks — though many had employees who took it upon themselves to organize informal alumni groups.

The demand for alumni networking is clear, as are the benefits. The next step is for talent acquisition managers to organize official alumni programs, rather than relying on ambitious former employees to self-organize.

Formalizing the network allows your organization to directly access the intelligence that such a network provides, build a stronger employer brand and fortify some very effective recruiting processes.

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10 Companies With Model Alumni Programs

We have put together our own list of 10 companies doing great things with their alumni networks, from providing perks at thousands of merchants to developing alumni’s careers long after leaving to creating lasting business networks.

When building your own network, it may be worthwhile to take cues from the companies below.

ABB

ABB has more than 132,000 employees across 100 countries. That is a lot of alumni, with more to join in the future. The company’s alumni program, ReConnect, is set up as a closed business network and is used for rehires, referrals and broadcasting job opportunities to former colleagues and existing colleagues.

Bain & Company

Bain & Company’s alumni network stands at more than 13,000 members. The aim of the program is to build enduring relationships with employees that so even after they have left they remain connected to the company.

Members can access contact information of other alumni through the directory, which is a big help for future business partnerships or collaborations. There is also a career development program available for alumni looking to further their own careers or access resources to help find talent for their new teams. Alumni have access to webinars, a private social network, a few perks, and plenty of industry trends and news.

Boston Consulting Group

Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has a 20,000-strong alumni network. It offers, for life, a purpose-built alumni website and online directory for news and networking. There is also access to BCG thought leadership and virtual training sessions, plus alumni have a jobs database and career counseling support.

While still at the BCG, outgoing employees can even have bosses help them negotiate a good deal with their new employers. Worldwide Alumni Day across more than 70 cities around the world every year provide a chance to network in person.

Citi

Citi has more than 17,000 alumni in 113 countries around the world. The strong alumni network gives back to former employees with benefits such as museum passes, tickets to sporting events and merchant discounts.

It also offers opportunities to stay connected with job vacancies at Citi, for those wanting to return or to refer someone. Alumni also have the chance to volunteer with nonprofits through the program.

Andrea Legnani, global director of alumni relations, tells the Argus Leader how Citi launched a website to register former employees and retirees, and then spread the word on social media. It offers funding for cocktail parties, golf tournaments, wine tastings and baseball games.

Deloitte

Deloitte offers cash bonuses to corporate alumni who refer successful can­didates, and the company provides a strong, long-lasting community. The network showcases the successes of alumni with personal profiles, shares industry job opportunities and provides continued career development. It also provides alumni discounts to more than 32,000 merchants.

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McKinsey & Company

McKinsey & Company has one of the biggest and oldest corporate alumni networks, with more than 30,000 members in 120 countries. Focusing on lifelong career development and maintaining lasting relationships, the alumni program unites key figures in the global business community. There is also alumni news and profiles of alumni who are making waves in their new endeavors. Global Director of Alumni Sean Brown tells Forbes how the member-only site is about building a global network of former consultants to serve the needs of current clients.

Nielsen

Dan Klamm, director of alumni relations at Nielsen, says alumni programs need to provide distinct, present-day value. They cannot rely on nostalgia. The company started its network in February 2016, and it acts as a hub for former employees to connect, access industry knowledge and career opportunities, and volunteer in community projects. This is the value Klamm talks about. It’s about connecting people with opportunities to develop both professionally and personally.

Persistent

Persistent prefers to refer to former co-workers as alumni and family, not “ex-employees.” Alumni tend to stay in touch with the company, sharing its philosophy as brand ambassadors. Others continue to collaborate with Persistent on independent assignments. And then there are employees who return. An in-house study shows employee-friendly policies, inclusive culture and challenging work opportunities were the main reasons cited for returning to the organization.

SAP

SAP has more than 355,000 employees around the world. Its alumni network places trustworthy connections at its core, and values strong networks as a powerful new currency.

Facilitating space for collaboration among employees past and present, SAP’s alumni network introduces thousands of like-minded people to industry leaders for opportunities to learn and collaborate. It also offers job listings, career development, webinars, blogs and live community events.

Alumni have access to discounts as well as opportunities for further learning. There is also a comprehensive directory of employees past and present. Mike Ettling, president of SAP’s SuccessFactors, tells the Wall Street Journal that the goals of the network are to connect alumni with employees, and drive sales and brand awareness through word of mouth.

Thomson Reuters

Thomson Reuters’ corporate alumni network includes substantial perks and discounts, but there is also an alumni program for the Thomson Reuters Leadership Development Program, as well as The Baron, a website to share news of employees past and present from Reuters and Thomson Reuters.

Images by: Mantas Hesthaven, Priscilla Du Preez, Rémi Walle, Bethany Legg