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Ensure a Positive Candidate Experience When Hiring Contingent Talent Remotely

As digitization, coupled with the global pandemic, propels contingent hiring online and with more individuals relying on employer reviewer sites to evaluate businesses, delivering a positive[...]

March 10, 2021

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Why Building an Alumni Talent Network Strengthens Your Employment Brand

I’m a huge fan of Oregon Ducks football. I’ll just put that out there for anyone who doesn’t know me yet. So I was doubly interested to hear Hall of Fame safety Chad Cota join the “Recruiting with Andrew Nemec” radio show to discuss, well, recruiting. As Cota described, coach Willie Taggart faces hiring challenges that aren’t much different than those we confront every day. “There are two generations that any coaching staff really has to ingratiate themselves to when they get started,” Nemec explained. Naturally, members of the millennial generation occupy a big amount of that focus. However, by engaging alumni, every aspect of the talent acquisition, onboarding, and acculturation process becomes more optimized. Cota said the way in which Taggart maintains and utilizes his network of former players has made all the difference. Let’s see how we can capitalize on that same approach.

Exceptional Talent May Leave, But Should Never Be Forgotten

Cota noted that Taggart has made a consistent habit of “contacting former players and getting them to practice, getting them around the program as much as possible.”

“We had the football alumni golf tournament -- it was right before the spring game,” he continued. “We did this great thing up in the stadium, and coach Taggart made the whole staff go. I think they were there hanging out with the former players in the club room for like three hours. They stayed there the whole three hours and socialized and talked to the former players. It’s great to see. It’s something that he’s pushed, and I saw first-hand.”

In her article for Wall Street Journal, Lindsay Gellman profiled how big consulting firms like McKinsey and EY keep tabs of former workers as potential talent pools, as well as a sources of new business leads, partnership opportunities, and candidate referrals.

At McKinsey, where many junior employees cut out after a couple of years, the company stays in contact with its more than 31,000 former consultants world-wide through online webinars and in-person networking events, says Sean Brown, global director of alumni relations. The company also gives former workers an incentive to stay connected by offering them access to firm research.

The advantages of forging strong bonds with alumni talent are many.

  • Alumni serve as some of your company’s most powerful brand ambassadors.
  • Former employees can bring in new business or pave the way for developing partnerships.
  • Companies like Nielsen tap into an alumni talent network for knowledge transfer, leadership training, and mentorship programs.
  • Highly skilled former workers can be deployed as contractors to tackle mission-critical projects. They already understand the business, the company culture, the clientele, the work, and the demands.

As David Burkus stated in Forbes, McKinsey’s tremendous dedication to its alumni talent network has played an impactful role in its success.

There’s a lot to be proud of. In the company’s more than nine decades of existence, the firm’s consultants have influenced every major corporation on the globe and world leaders from a variety of countries. Much of the firm’s impact ever since has stemmed from its ability to recruit new talent from the world’s premier universities — including Rhodes scholars from Oxford and Baker scholars from Harvard Business School — and groom them into members of one of the world’s prestigious sources of counsel.

McKinsey probably would not have traveled the path to prestige so easily without one distinctive company practice, the same one that new recruits might find so odd — McKinsey celebrates departures by building their alumni network.

In 2010, 54 percent of large U.S. businesses laid off their employees to combat the adverse effects of the Great Recession. As reported by Reuters, citing an influential study conducted by the consulting firm Accenture, those same organizations also anticipated rebuilding their workforces within a two- to three-period. Unfortunately, that study also warned of a problematic shortage in skills when the economy eventually recovered. As employers prepared to augment their workforces during the recovery, they discovered that the deficit of necessary skills had grown during the intervening years. Many organizations found themselves turning to an alternate option for sourcing qualified talent: rehiring former employees.

“There’s no recruitment method more cost- or time-efficient than rehiring reliable former employees,” wrote Issie Lapowsky of Inc. Magazine in May 2010. “Some businesses call them alumni. Some call them boomerangs, but almost all businesses will admit that rehiring top performers can drastically increase their return on investment.”

Flash forward to May 2014. Accenture published an eerily familiar report about, you guessed it, a major skills shortage threatening “Future Earnings and Growth Prospects of U.S. Manufacturers.” In this iteration, the report concluded that “U.S. manufacturers may be losing up to 11 percent annually of their earnings as a result of increased production costs stemming from a shortage of skilled workers.”

Manufacturers struggled to fill critical roles. Overtime, downtime, and cycle times soared -- not to mention the measurable declines in output, quality, and material conservation. And again, one of the top ranking solutions suggested was creating an in-house bench of passive candidates with the appropriate skill sets. Three years later, not a lot has changed.

Recruiting and Re-engaging Past All-Star Players

Corporate alumni programs are not new. Companies of all sizes maintain an online presence for these recruiting initiatives, though most are nominal investments not deeply aligned with overall business strategy. And they’re generally restricted to a corporate webpage. Yet past workers can serve as dynamic resources for companies looking to maintain a virtual bench of passive and immediately deployable talent. They can be engaged as technical mentors for niche skills that universities can’t or don’t support. They are also excellent ambassadors for promoting an organization’s brand and attracting new talent.

By developing a robust and formalized alumni program, companies will give themselves a competitive edge on attracting talent as the labor wars heat up.

Staffing Supplier Expertise Plays Pivotal Role

The increased demand for skilled or experienced talent has also created opportunities for staffing industry technology providers to transcend the limitations of ATS or VMS systems and create thriving marketplace ecosystems. New generations of online hiring platforms emphasize a more robust recruitment process that incorporates ad campaigns, candidate experience, relationship management and social networks, with specific functionality for alumni -- tracking rehire eligibility, creating virtual benches of qualified candidates, and more.

Forward-thinking staffing companies are investing in these new sourcing innovations and platforms. They also know the audience. For example, older professionals may feel uncomfortable posting personal information on Myspace, Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook. To locate talent of this caliber and experience, staffing recruiters realize greater success by utilizing professional networks such as LinkedIn and by using their datasets to develop engagement systems for former workers.

And savvy staffing professionals know how to use social media expertly to connect with alumni who have demonstrated experience, deep understanding, and a genuine interest in returning to serve their former businesses and industries.

Utilizing an Alumni Talent Network

When re-engaging former employees as contractors or other types of indirect labor, clients must be cognizant of issues related to IRS employment classification, benefits, Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) laws, breaks-in-service and tenure policies, fair employment standards such as Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA), and intellectual property considerations; alumni brought in as contingent talent may be supporting other clients, even direct industry competitors. Many staffing providers have specific expertise in these classification and compliance issues, which can significantly mitigate exposure to the risks or potential liabilities associated with rehiring former workers as contractors.

Some agencies have created worker classification and/or alumni sourcing teams that help transition returning employees back to their previous companies as qualified and compliant contingent talent: agency temps, SOW contractors, freelancers, and independent contractors.

By outsourcing an alumni program to an experienced staffing curator, clients can capture economies of scale and industry best practices, measured and managed against defined benchmarks and metrics. Outsourcing also offsets the overhead associated with internal build-outs, becoming one of least expensive ways to leverage alumni into future business results.

So while the world and its varied experiences may change us, the journey back home is possible, especially when experts step up to provide us with clear directions and well paved paths.

Casey Enstrom
Casey Enstrom
Casey is one of the staffing industry’s household names, specializing in sales and operations leadership. He brings extensive knowledge of business development and sales strategies, predictive analytics, leadership, and human capital solutions. Prior to Crowdstaffing, Casey served as the Vice President of Technical Sales, North America, for a Fortune 1000 staffing firm.
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