September 29, 2022

How Alumni Programs Are Turning Into a Necessity for Success

  • Many companies’ alumni networks are an untapped resource. With cost savings of up to $75,000 per alumni hire, leveraging this community means investing in your organization’s success. 
  • Through his company EnterpriseAlumni, James Sinclair is ushering in a new era of connection and showing companies how their next best hires may have worked with them before. One alum at a time, he is reframing proprietary to unpatented professional success portfolios. 
  • One way to tap into the value of your alumni network? Focus on building human-centered analytics. The humanity living within binary metrics could reveal your next great hire or areas of improvement for the current team. 

Amidst the great resignation and the rise of “quiet quitting,” another trend has slowly taken flight in the past two years. 

Alumni management platforms dare to ask, what if, rather than expecting employees to give their entire lives and careers to one company, we instead praised them for leaving? Alumni programs can help to erase the work cycle of yesteryear and shatter the glass ceiling of career path paralysis through skill diversification.

James Sinclair is the founder & chief executive of EnterpriseAlumni and understands that the end of one's time with a company is just as important as the beginning. What started for him as a strategic answer to furloughed employees’ personal details has picked up steam and helped to appease leaders’ concerns over losing money on training and education. 

On an episode of the TribePod podcast, Sinclair explains why losing talent isn’t the issue. Rather, it’s what you do after an employee moves on that counts. By teaching corporations how to embrace transparency and cut costs through alumni hiring, Sinclair proves that an employee exit isn’t a goodbye — it’s a “see you later.” 

Don’t Call Us — We’ll Call You

In the past, the exit interview symbolized an opportunity for employers to learn what they could do differently to retain future talent. 

Sinclair takes a different approach to exit interviews, asking this question: What can we do to see you again in the future? This question shifts the conversation toward maintaining the bond and trust built within the working relationship between employer and departing employee.

One of the main obstacles Sinclair faces with clients when reframing an employee exit is the ego surrounding rejection. Employers speak to Sinclair about feeling hurt or frustrated that they’ve lost a team member and are quick to brand the person as disloyal. But an employee leaving for a better opportunity brings up one of Sinclair's favorite discussion points: employee autonomy. 

The outdated concept of “who owns an employee and their success” has become a muted message in the upheaval of tethered desks and nine-to-five attendance. The sooner employers understand an employee is autonomous, the better their working relationship will be. 

Holding grudges over unexpected exits is a thing of the past. Rather, employers should change their mindset and ask, “How do we continue going forward?”

In addition to changing perspectives on employee transitions, the corporate landscape has had to relinquish other traditional ideals. Entering an online office requires entire teams to learn tools they could never have predicted. The same adaptive flexibility must extend to how we view an employee’s work cycle. 

Will Staney on CNN

Reframing Reconnection

Throughout his work, Sinclair seeks to transform organizations' mindsets about reconnection. He recounts this quote from one of his clients: “[For us,] there is no going back to work. We’re only going forward.” 

The key to making a change exciting instead of aggravating is flawless integration through bringing the data to where people already live. Sinclair says this means connecting with people on platforms they prefer. “Some people want an email. Others want WhatsApp or WeChat — you’ve got to go where they are,” he explains.

Sinclair believes it takes three things to introduce a new system. He highlights transparency, sales channels and disconnecting from arrogance and ego as the three foundations to unlocking a new mindset towards alumni and their capabilities. 

1. Transparency

Transparency must be part of company culture before the end of an employee cycle. Sinclair encourages clients to celebrate an employee’s written notice and swiftly move towards outlining the benefits of joining the alumni database. 

He says the main thing employers forget is to gather an employee’s personal email address in their exit interview. Using their personal email will provide the space for employers to keep them aware of company milestones and growth and, most importantly, future opportunities. 

2. Sales channels

With clear boundaries and transparent communication, Sinclair says it becomes easy to utilize alumni as a potential sales channel. 

A database of alumni doubles as a community invested and supportive of your company’s sales goals — right at your fingertips. Sinclair says that keeping this community happy turns into “leverage for so many things: diversity and inclusion, sales, recruiting and [any] business objective.” 

This connection can be a lightbulb moment for companies who are new to alumni programs. The network creates a space where alumni can feel safe to raise their hands and say, “Yeah, I'll reconsider coming back.”

3. Separating from life arrogance

The final hurdle new clients face when opening an alumni database is separating from ego and arrogance. 

Sinclair points out that, regardless of transparency or space to stay in the loop with company announcements, it can be hard for someone to admit that they want to return or that they’ve made a mistake. Employees often begin a new position only to realize it’s a poor fit. Now, they face the challenge of learning a new position while searching for a better job when, instead, they could return to an office where they felt comfortable in the first place.

Removing this obstacle for previous employees unlocks a whole world of alumni hiring potential.

Human Intricacies Within Calculated Metrics

While alumni programs offer a variety of benefits to companies, one key strength of corporate alumni management is budget allocation. When looking to fill positions, HR teams can focus on sourcing candidates from employees they were sad to lose instead of hiring less-predictable strangers — a much less risky financial investment. 

Success metrics make it easier to find the connection between your alumni database and the bottom line. Sinclair directs talent and HR teams to use a dashboard with predictive analytics so everyone understands the meaning behind the numbers. 

When Sinclair reviews analytics, he’s looking for connection and deeper meaning. “Data without impact doesn’t really mean anything,” he says. Sinclair leads teams to identify improvement points by asking them, “What does this mean to you? What should you change?”

Another strength of having an alumni engagement strategy? Re-entry and the training cycle. Sinclair’s team reviewed the industry average of the number of applicants versus the time to fill — and they noticed a powerful trend. When organizations hire alumni, the typical time to productivity decreases drastically from 60 days to 22 days.

Sinclair views the HR and talent departments as engaged members of every team company-wide. Yet even though their efforts touch every team, he doesn’t think they spend enough time celebrating their wins. 

With impactful analytics, the HR departments can broadcast accomplishments, including that of hiring returning employees — and their productivity that starts significantly sooner than that of new recruits. 

Press Rewind on Retirement

Sinclair encourages clients not to discredit one hiring pool in particular: retirees. After leaving, many retirees keep stock options or stay up-to-date with network developments. Why not capitalize on these individuals with a developed affinity to your brand rather than recruiting fresh faces?

Sinclair says the data indicates that retirees perceive conversations with talent acquisition as a call to action and a chance to dust off age-old wisdom. The opportunity to be called back boosts morale for retirees and furthers a company’s innovation through a sturdy and loyal employee base. 

In an EnterpriseAlumni webinar, Ernst & Young shared that 17% of its employees are returners, and Citibank noted that 12% of its employees return. Sinclair can use statistics like these to estimate company cost savings in actual dollars. 

These analytics also attach a specific value to training and onboarding times — which alumni hiring cuts in half. On average, working with a returning employee, retiree or otherwise, saves $75,000 per hire. These savings include higher rates of productivity and an average returning employee tenure of two years. 

Returning Stronger to Build the Future

With the foundations of transparency, employee autonomy and commitment to celebrating departures, companies can see the future as agile and exciting. As we move closer to the freedom a gig economy offers, organizations that build intentional ethos and global employee autonomy will thrive. 

Investing in employees — both current and departing — and empowering them to grow their skills is a win for all involved. Supporting alumni and encouraging them to return will never go in vain.


This article is based on an episode of TribePod, a HR community podcast by Proactive Talent, a recruiting, employer brand and retention consulting firm. Subscribe via Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts for more insight into best practices in human resources. 

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