Liza Bennigson

This story inspired HR Grapevine's March 29, 2016 article entitled, "Three Tips to Redefine the Exit Interview."  

The exit interview used to be a mere formality. Collect Susan’s keys and company credit card, cancel Paul’s cell phone account, ask Julie a few forced questions about why she’s leaving, and wish Andy well in his future endeavors. An awkward “cake in the conference room” celebration would be held at noon (despite the fact that Susan and Andy don’t eat sweets). Belongings were packed into boxes and fond farewells exchanged. 

Nowadays, when a beloved employee decides to move on, the process should look radically different. What was once just protocol should now reflect strategic and long-term thinking. Would Susan be a good brand ambassador? Might Paul’s new company be a potential client? Would you rehire Julie someday? Could Andy refer top talent your way? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then it’s time to redefine the exit interview. 

Not only is the war for talent at new heights, it can cost as much as twice an employee’s salary to recruit, hire and train a new worker, according to the New York Times. On the other hand, rehiring a former employee­­­­—or boomerang—can save the company an average of $20K in recruiting fees alone. Not to mention that boomerangs have higher retention rates and can hit the ground running twice as fast. 

"Boomerangs are uniquely valuable because they offer an outsider perspective combined with an insider’s knowledge of company process and culture," says LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman.

It’s imperative, then, to stay connected with your company’s alumni. But how? 

  1. Start early. Your employees should be well aware of the alumni network long before they become alumni. In fact, utilization of the network by current employees may even boost retention rates. Research shows that access to mentors, a culture of inclusion, and professional development opportunities all impact an employee’s tenure. And all can be leveraged by the alumni network.

  2. Make the exit interview count. Assuming your employees aren’t part of the network already, this should be standard procedure at the exit interview for those who leave on good terms. Instead of the uncomfortable “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” conversation, establish it an open-door policy where former employees feel welcome to return. It’s quite possible that your alumni are moving on to achieve big things (on someone else’s dime) and they could eventually come back stronger than when they left.  

  3. Offer value. “An ex-employee will be more interested in returning if the company stayed in touch and maintained a rela­tionship in the interim,” says Hoffman. But simply having an alumni network isn’t enough. There needs to be unique value to your former employees in order for them to participate. People have plenty of professional and social networks already, and are inundated with opportunities to connect. You need to stand out. 

The top 4 reasons former employees stay involved are networking, reconnecting with old colleagues, professional development, and jobs. Make sure your offering includes all of the above. Don’t have the bandwidth or budget to throw special alumni events? No problem, just invite them to workshops, speakers or trainings that you’re already hosting.

The more you can segment your audience and tailor your outreach, the more engaged your audience becomes. Tell your former Sales reps about openings in the Sales Team. Invite Marketing alumni to a “Marketing Monday” roundtable. Share exciting news of the company’s successes with all former employees who were a part of that growth. 

Between attracting top talent, acquiring new business leads, attaining industry insights and saving recruiting costs, the reasons to invest in a corporate alumni network are myriad. But it all needs to start at the exit interview, if not beforehand. After all, you never know your employees’ full potential until they’ve realized it.

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