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Boomerangs: The Strategic Process of Rehiring Your Former Employees, Part 2

by May 22, 2006

As previously discussed in Part 1 of this series, a corporate boomerang/alumni rehire program is an excellent, low-cost, high ROI recruiting approach capable of producing top performing talent. Often underused, it is a best practice that professional service firms like McKinsey and Booz Allen Hamilton have used for years to leverage a talent population that is familiar with their organizational culture and that has a proven ability to perform. While Part 1 detailed the reasons that any recruiting function should invest in boomerang/alumni programs, Part 2 will focus on the steps that you must take in order to develop a world-class boomerang/alumni program.

Steps in Building a World-Class Boomerang/Alumni Program

There is no standard format for a corporate alumni program, but there are a number of essential steps that you should consider when implementing a program if you intend on being successful. They include:

Program Start-up Steps

  • Assign an individual or team to be accountable for the boomerang/alumni programs.
  • Build a business case to both executives and, more importantly, hiring managers. This is critical because if hiring managers don’t see the economic value to them, they just won’t participate in the effort. It’s important in any discussion with managers to remind them of the potential value that former employees can add upon their return. Be able to quickly articulate in less than a minute the selling points, and provide actual examples of increased business results that others have experienced.
  • Involve recruiters in developing boomerang processes. It’s important to involve them and get their buy-in, or they may resist processing boomerang candidates. (Be aware that there is always some illogical resistance on the part of recruiters, because they think recruiting boomerangs is too easy.)
  • Benchmark other programs to identify their critical success and failure factors.
  • Consider working with outsource firms that have already established alumni program templates.
  • Develop a formal written program plan with budget and success milestones. Review the plan against the checklists in this article. Make sure that the individuals involved are measured and rewarded for their successes. Wherever possible, get a senior manager from outside of HR to sponsor and champion the program.
  • Run the program design by your legal team for privacy-related issues.
  • If your organization is global, involve international offices and program design features that work around the world.
  • Develop a process to continually review past layoff lists and voluntary terminations to see who would add value given the increased resources of your present firm. Start with top performers.
  • Develop a program to pre-identify key individuals who are at risk of leaving, so that you can take steps to keep them. This way, you will not need to make them part of your boomerang program.
  • Develop a set of metrics to assess programs results. Include ROI, quality of hire, speed of hire, retention rates, candidate and manager satisfaction, and business impacts the boomerangs have made.

Steps to Take as Key Employees Are Leaving

The most important elements of any boomerang/alumni program occur not post-separation, but rather during the separation process. It is imperative to let key individuals know that just because they are separating now, they are welcome back. Specifically:

  • Tell targeted individuals during their exit interviews that you might want them back. Immediately start rerecruiting top performers during their last week and during the exit interview. Ask them to formally join your alumni network during the exit interview process.
  • Conduct post-exit interviews six months after separation to find out the reasons why individuals left and under what circumstances they might consider coming back.
  • If necessary, change the exit process to capture individuals’ permanent addresses (email), and ask their permission to keep in touch with them by email.
  • Revise the exit interview process to ensure that top performers leave happy and will not bad-mouth the firm after they leave. If they leave happy without any major grudges or frustration, they are more likely to consider returning.

Continuous Process Steps

Once the program plan has been approved, here are some action steps that you must continuously take:

  • Develop an electronic alumni newsletter and distribute it at least once a month to keep alumni informed about company products, initiatives, and successes.
  • Make every employee aware of the program and the reasons for it in standard corporate communications. Make it clear during orientation that you have a community and that former employees will always be treated with respect. Tell employees they should never want to leave, but if they do, you’ll hope that they’ll consider returning in the future.
  • Make a list of your targets and where they hang out. Then frequent those places and events in hopes of a chance meeting. Once a week, visit restaurants and bars in the vicinity of the company in order to renew contacts.
  • Go out of the way to make positive comments about these individuals’ contributions to your firm at conferences and to colleagues that work at the same firm. You can bet that the positive information and praise will get back to them.
  • Periodically make benchmark calls or send emails to former colleagues. Ask about their best practices and what things they are working on.
  • When you get a boomerang to return, ask him the names of the best people at his former firm and get his help in recruiting them.
  • Take extra effort to track those who went to start-ups, since so many fail. Realize that these individuals might have higher values because most individuals who went to a start-up are risk takers, entrepreneurs, and technology wizards.
  • Make boomerangs a target in your referral program, and make it clear during your presentations and in your marketing that they are highly-prized targets. Consider giving an extra bonus for boomerangs.
  • Periodically send former colleagues copies of articles and information that they can use in their current jobs.
  • Occasionally email former colleagues with technical questions, or solicit their opinions on some of your advanced work.
  • Identify job openings at your firm and then email them to the appropriate corporate alumni.
  • Invite targeted boomerangs to attend company events and assign individuals to rerecruit them.
  • Seek out boomerangs at trade and industry events.
  • Develop a compelling story to reach targeted boomerangs that convinces them of the benefits of returning. In addition, make a list any potential negatives they might perceive and counter each of them.
  • Put boomerangs in your tickler file to remind yourself to contact them at least twice a year.
  • Put them on your firm’s advisory groups or as external consultants on your hiring committees. Consider periodically asking them for their advice on key company problems.
  • Develop mechanisms to celebrate the return of boomerangs.

Steps in Building the Relationship With Alumni

Remember that even if former employees don’t come back, they can add great benefits to your organization. It’s important to keep in contact with alumni that might never return to your firm, as well as those who have a reasonable probability. This means that you must build a continuing alumni relationship with every key individual and manager who was not fired from your organization. Some of the actions you should take include:

  • Develop relationship “maintenance tools.” Consider an email newsletter, product discounts, referral bonuses, and offers for free training to keep up communications and relationships.
  • Tell them they can earn referral bonuses just like current employees for referring individuals to your firm.

Conclusion

I don’t know how many times I have heard top performers express the desire to return to a former employer, but opt not to because they feel they are not welcome back. If you are not making your former employees welcome, you are losing out on good people for pride and principle. Instead, it’s essential that you make them a key part of your overall sourcing and recruiting strategy. Your role is to make them feel more like they are going on a sabbatical (which will some day end), rather than actually leaving your firm forever!

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • Todd Burkhardt

    I guess the only thing to watch out for is Boomerangs hitting you in the head. That was addressed in Part I very well. Overall I agree that the programs can and should be used for optimum recruiting advantage. It’s an all out war.

  • Paul Houston

    Dr. Sullivan,

    I’m an external recruiter and I enjoyed both parts of your article on boomerangs.

    Two observations:

    1) Interviewing new hires to gain competitive intelligence should be done with ANY new hire from a competitor, not just with boomerangs. Also, corporate alumni can be great sources of external intelligence about the marketplace, even if they never rejoin the company.

    2) In Part One you properly warned the reader of ‘antiquated thinking,’ i.e., some view former employees who have left as ‘traitors.’ I’ve seen it go way beyond that. There is a large, well-known pharmaceutical company in the Chicago area that has a formal policy that makes it difficult to rehire former employees. I was partnering with another external recruiter, whose client this company was, on a very hard to fill assignment about one year ago. The highly-qualified candidate whom I presented had left this company SEVEN years earlier. The position he had held seven years earlier was in a completely different functional area. Even though the candidate had a corporate VP (who had maintained contact and served as a mentor for the candidate) vouching for him internally , HR would not change their policy on rehire. The candidate was not considered for the position because of the traitorous act he committed by leaving seven years earlier. The mission-critical position is STILL vacant.

    In case anyone is thinking, ‘He probably doesn’t have his facts correct, this couldn’t be true,’ let me assure you that I’ve heard about this company’s policy on rehires from other recruiters, it is fairly well known.

    I really don’t understand the logic here, but would like to very much. Perhaps someone from HR in this large, well-known pharmaceutical company in the Chicago area (or from any other company that follows this practice) might recognize themselves here and would care to respond? Perhaps they could tell us why an explicit policy that discourages rehiring ‘boomerangs’ represents ‘enlightened thinking’ as opposed to ‘antiquated thinking?’

    After all, it’s always possible that Dr. Sullivan and I are both missing something.

  • Gabriella Idegwu

    I really don’t think it should be allowed that past employees can’t be rehired except the circumstances surrounding the initial resignation was questionable ie fraud, sexual harrasment etc. If this is not the case, organisations should have open policies giving room for growth. I think it should make organisations proud if they have former employees apply for new postions; it is possible they have explored other companies and didn’t find the job satisfaction they desired.