Don’t Lose Track of the Ones Who Got Away

Aug 22, 2014

These days, it’s rare to come across a ‘lifer’ — someone who has spent their entire career with one organization. It’s especially true of top performers and those with specialist skills, who are more and more likely to seek their next career move outside their employer’s four walls.

So, when those highly valued people walk out the door, what can talent acquisition specialists  do to lay the groundwork for bringing them back into the fold as ‘boomerangs’?

Know Who You Would Bring Back

Organizations routinely tag departing employees with a “do-not-rehire” label, but surprisingly few can identify whom they’d eagerly welcome back. When we counsel clients on their talent acquisition strategies, we recommend they create a re-hire check process if one is not already in place.

A variety of criteria can be used to make an assessment on each potential boomerang:

  • Target those with hard-to-find skills such as those in specialized engineering or technology.
  • Consider the possibility that they could return with a well-qualified team or even new clients (subject to non-compete agreements, of course). These are especially valuable in sectors like software development, investment banking, and professional services.
  • Look at seniority and past performance ratings. A tenured employee with a stellar record is probably someone you’d readily welcome back.
  • Consider their experience outside the company. Has it made them even more valuable? Perhaps they’ll bring back competitive intelligence or new ways of effective working.
  • Always remember those who were a strong cultural fit for your organization’s values.

Make Sure Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

How you address an employee’s last few days will set the tone for the post-employment relationship. But a 2013 report by Aberdeen Group revealed that only 29 percent of organizations have a formal off-boarding process in place.

When someone looks back on their time with any organization, you want to ensure their last few days on the job leave them with a positive final impression. Offboarding is a chance — perhaps the last chance — to refresh the relationship with your soon-to-be alumnus.

Ask if there were any outstanding concerns when the employee left, and make sure to address them as completely and honestly as you can. And when someone leaves an organization , make sure that your feedback on potential boomerangs is positive — because negative feedback can burn bridges.

Don’t Wait for Them to Come to You

With high-value former employees pre-identified and entered into your pipeline, the talent acquisition  team should reach out to those once and future candidates every six to 12 months to check in on how they’re doing in their new role.

Always include them in appropriate referral and talent acquisition campaigns and, when the time is right, be bold: ask if they’d consider returning. And even if the time isn’t quite right, ask if they’d recommend candidates from their own professional networks.

Talent acquisition specialists might also consider getting to know employees who are still in contact with the potential boomerangs, and ask them to tactfully gauge their employment situation.

Build a Killer Alumni Relations Program

A strong alumni program not only helps you keep in touch with potential boomerangs, it reflects an organization’s relationship with its employees. A culture that values both current and former employees can be an attractive draw for high-value boomerangs, not to mention a powerful retention tool for existing colleagues.

Dedicated alumni websites, managed directly by the organization, are now being used or planned by more than 50 percent of the respondents in the 2013 Aberdeen Group survey. Law firms and the “Big Four” accounting and consulting groups are especially effective at maintaining formal alumni programs. These are frequently anchored by a dedicated website that promotes networking and professional development events, highlights alumni career moves, and shares job opportunities. Many even extend corporate discount purchase programs to former employees.

The most sophisticated alumni programs will have dedicated resources. We typically suggest one full time employee to support a community of 3,500 alumni.


If you’re not quite ready to build a dedicated alumni site, social media platforms — especially LinkedIn — are ideal places to share news about your organization and your industry, and alert alumni to open job opportunities. These “gathering places” help you stay connected to former employees, while helping them stay connected to one another. So when employees leave, encourage them to join your LinkedIn groups and follow the company on Facebook and Twitter.

Whether you build a dedicated alumni website, or start small with a social media strategy, the key is to make it all about the alumni and meeting their needs. It just so happens that showing former employees what they’re missing can also be a powerful way to lure them back.

Use Your Internal Referral Network

Everyone likes a little extra pocket money. So why not consider “re-referral” awards — incentivizing employees to keep in touch with and refer former colleagues when they’re thinking of making another move?

This twist on the tried-and-true referral bonus plan can create an extra level of excitement and incentive among employees to participate.

Make it Worth Their While

Just about everyone wants to work for an organization with a great culture, where they like their co-workers, they enjoy the work, and they feel a sense of purpose and belonging.

But we’d be naïve if we thought that dollars and cents don’t usually factor into the decision to return or not. Many organizations recognize this, and some will restore a boomerang’s prior service in calculating service and retirement rewards if they return within a certain time period. We’ve seen this happen quite often in sectors that experience high turnover rates, or peaks and valleys of talent demand, like mining, energy, and engineering.

Bottom Line: Don’t Frown on a Returner

Leaving a job is rarely easy. There’s probably a little second-guessing (on both sides). Personal relationships with colleagues and managers might be frayed. Projects are impacted. And there’s always that lingering feeling of “where did we go wrong?” But allowing your staff to venture out, learn new perspectives, and grow professionally can set the stage for a great second act.

The war for talent in many industries makes it especially important for companies to remain on best terms with former employees, and vice versa. So rather than ignore the boomerang and let it pass you by (or, worse, smack you in the face!), do your best to catch it.