Our door is open: Why and how to create an employee alumni network that benefits your business

By Charlotte Carnehl

Larger companies like Microsoft or Sodexo and consulting firms like McKinsey or Deloitte have long been convinced of the importance of staying in touch with former employees. But increasingly, smaller organisations are also making an effort to build their alumni networks. No matter if big or small, what these networks have in common is that they provide an opportunity to keep in touch and exchange — and that brings advantages for both sides.

Does your organisation have a strategy to keep former employees close? If the answer is no, you should reassess.
Let’s look at the benefits of a (corporate) alumni network and what it takes to create one.

What is an employee alumni network & why is it worthwhile?

A (corporate) alumni network describes a group of former employees who maintain a connection with an organisation and former colleagues after the end of their employment. 

According to the 2022 Corporate Alumni Benchmarking Report, there exist three central areas in which employee alumni networks constitute a return on investment for organisations:

  • Business development and business-to-business relationships
  • Brand ambassadorship
  • Supporting talent acquisition strategies

Let’s unpack this and also look at what’s in it for the alumni!

It might be time for a short disclaimer: For the following recommendations, we assume that you part ways with your employees amicably—if there have been tensions in the relationship or even a breach of contract, you might choose not to include them in your alumni  network. On the other hand, parting and past employees might have their reasons for not being interested in staying in touch. You can extend an invitation to join your network, but the decision to accept remains theirs. 

What’s in it for your organisation?

As pointed out before, an alumni network comes with various benefits to your organisation:

  • It strengthens your employer brand and comes in handy in recruitment: Finding and recruiting the right talent is not getting any easier. An employee alumni network is a helpful channel as your former employees act as brand ambassadors and can refer suitable candidates. You could even think about financially incentivising them for their referrals. Alumni might also be interested in returning to work for you—becoming so-called “boomerang employees”.
  • It assists your business development: Former employees know your organisation, products and services inside out. Their specialised knowledge makes them the ideal future clients, customers or partners.
  • It adds value for your current employees: They can benefit from exchanging with former colleagues and gaining expert advice, mentoring or inspiration for future career paths.

What’s in it for your (former) employees?

An employee alumni network only works, if former colleagues are interested in becoming a part of it. Usually, its advantages are easy to convey:

  • They stay in touch with former colleagues: Alumni networks provide a platform to connect with other professionals with similar experiences or interests. This can be valuable for career growth, mentorship and finding new opportunities. The trust and shared history withing the network make it easier to informally ask for advice or to establish new business relationships.
  • They learn and stay informed: Many alumni networks offer access to events or learning opportunities that help former employees to enhance their skills and stay up to date with industry trends.
  • The network enhances their professional reputation: Being part of a well-known alumni network can enhance an individual’s professional reputation as it signals a level of achievement and belonging to a community of successful professionals.

How can you set up an alumni network for your organisation?

To make your alumni network successful, you need to approach it with the right mindset, thoroughly integrate it into your organisation’s employee journey and find the right platform to stay connected.

Exhibiting the right mindset

Rebecca Zucker, executive coach and leadership development expert, emphasises the importance of exhibiting the right mindset to attract boomerang employees. These approaches also apply to building an alumni network more broadly:

  • Normalise leaving an organisation: Building a thriving network won’t work if you stigmatise employees for leaving your organisation. In today’s world, switching jobs is a normal part of career development and progression—so make sure you treat it as such.
  • Build a positive employee experience: If your organisation is a great workplace, employees will be much more likely to stay in touch, recommend you and perhaps even return. 
  • Create a great offboarding experience: According to Gallup, only 45% of employees are satisfied with how their organisation handled their exit process. Offboarding is the gate to the future relationship with your parting employee—so make sure you use it well, for example, by supporting their transition and connecting them with other alumni in the industry. 
  • Be explicit that the door is open: Before an employee leaves your organisation, ensure they know you’d like them to stay in touch. During your exit interview, you can offer a lunch or check-in call a few months later.

How can leaving the door open look in practice? Last year, the Austrian Federal Railways ÖBB found a great way to signal the possibility of return to leaving employees. In his recent LinkedIn post, Thomas Kreiter, Head of HR at ÖBB-Infrastructure Group, explains what they do (my translation from German): 

“On leaving, the employee receives a personalised ÖBB return ticket with a QR code to the ÖBB career page. The “golden ticket” is intended as a farewell message to former employees that we value the work they have done and respect their decision. However, they’re also cordially invited to become part of our team again.”

Six practical steps

Let’s assume you’re now convinced that it’s the right time to set up your organisation’s alumni network. What should you do next?

  1. Find your members: If you’re setting up your alumni network from scratch, your first step will be finding your former employees. You might need to do some research to figure out where they’re at and how you can reach them. But with LinkedIn and current team members to help, your future network members will only be a couple of clicks away.
  2. Identify and set up the right tools: There are many ways to manage alumni networks—from simple email lists, LinkedIn groups or Slack teams to community platforms like PeoplePath or Hivebrite (if you’d like to take a closer list at platforms, here’s an extensive list of tool options). Decide what works best and feels most appropriate for your group. Ideally, the tool will allow members to find and contact each other without your involvement. By using only an email list and putting all alumni in BCC, you remain the only sender and your network won’t become a place of vivid exchange. You should also assess how you can adapt your CRM to keep track of alumni contacts.
  3. Define a point of contact in your organisation: Establish clarity about who in your team serves as the point of contact for alumni. You might also want to decide who is in charge of developing your network strategy further.
  4. Reach out to them: Do you want your alumni to join your digital platform? Or will you host an event to kick off the start of the network and wish for them to attend? Getting the start of your alumni network right is crucial, so spend some time crafting an appropriate invite strategy. Perhaps it’s also helpful to send out a small survey to your network members and ask them how the network can be of most value to them and how they’d like to contribute.
  5. Develop an engagement strategy: Depending on your organisation’s goals, the network’s size and budget, your opportunities to design an engagement strategy are endless—ranging from simply inviting alumni to join your company get-togethers to holding alumni-specific events or webinars.
  6. Integrate your corporate alumni network into your onboarding process: Once a new colleague joins your organisation, tell them about the wider community they’re entering and how the alumni network might be helpful to them. Give them access to the network’s platform in the first couple of weeks so they can gain a clear picture by themselves.

Employee alumni networks come in many shapes and sizes, and there is no blueprint for creating them. One useful starting point is to ask yourself why you are or aren’t in touch with your own former employers: What type of contact and engagement do you enjoy most from your perspective as an alum? Should building a full-blown alumni network for your organisation feel like too big of a task at the moment, consider reaching out to two or three former employees and discussing your thoughts with them—we’re sure they’ll love hearing from you! 

Are you looking for support or a sparring partner to build or re-engage with your organisation’s alumni network?
We’re happy to help!

March 11, 2024