3 Graduation Secrets to Attract and Retain the Best Talent

It’s that time of year again when graduating students are the largest population entering the job market. For recruiting, this is a great opportunity to access untapped talent. While the graduation experience is very different this year, recent university graduates aren’t the only alumni to consider. This month inspired us to take a peek inward, and look into the talent pool that can completely transform your recruitment pipeline (and win back employees you may have lost during the global pandemic).

It’s that time of year again when graduating students are the largest population entering the job market.  For recruiting, this is a great opportunity to access untapped talent.   While the graduation experience is very different this year, recent university graduates aren’t the only alumni to consider.  This month inspired us to take a peek inward, and look into the talent pool that can completely transform your recruitment pipeline and win back employees you may have lost during the global pandemic (or even hire candidates who you interviewed in the past).   

It’s no secret that when an employee leaves, it’s expensive. No matter what the season or reason is, hiring and talent recruitment will always come with a large cost. A recent study found that the average cost to hire a new employee is more than $4,000, and that doesn't include the time it takes for a new hire to get up to speed and be productive! On average, companies spend $20,000 (and depending on the type of position or level within the organization it can be much higher) to recruit and onboard new employees. Because of these new hire costs, it’s important to not overlook the incredible advantage that rehires can bring to your business. Many refer to these rehires as “Boomerang Employees,” but we like to call them “Company Alumni.”

Just as the educational system effectively stays connected with high school and college alumni to increase fundraising, student applications, school resources and more, an alumni strategy can be just as powerful in business. We’re sharing our Company Alumni strategy, which was designed to help you capture the benefits of boomerang employees to save time and costs while elevating your competitive position in the market.

Who Qualifies as a Company Alumni?

Until recently, the idea of rehiring a former employee was frowned upon. Many employers felt that once an employee left a company, even if the “break-up” was cordial, the door was shut. They may be concerned that a rehire could cause some discord in the office, depending on the nature of the separation, or that too much has changed in the interim for a seamless transition. However, just because an employee leaves, it doesn’t mean that they leave their loyalty behind as well.

Your company alumni is a talent pool that can save you valuable recruiting time and retention costs when you bring them back - and it’s not just limited to traditional resignations. You may have employees who left because an internship or contract ended, or they may have left due to unplanned layoffs. Others may have left because they wanted a promotional opportunity that didn’t exist, or they needed workplace perks like a flex schedule that met their family’s needs. Or you may have even interviewed an excellent candidate and the timing and fit wasn't right then, but it may be now.  There are so many reasons outside of your control, but things continuously change. Over time, you may have new positions open up, internal policies updated, and a variety of other shifts that can now meet the needs of those employees you lost.

So, who qualifies to be in the alumni program? We broke them down into two different categories: boomerang employees and brand ambassadors. Let’s start with the boomerang employee.

The Boomerang Employee

As a recap, a more formal definition of a boomerang employee is an employee who leaves a company – for another job or personal reasons – and returns some time later as a rehire. Currently, 15% of employees have boomeranged their way back to a former employer (and this number will inevitably jump significantly during the COVID-19 recovery)! That means that there are 85% of the boomerang talent pool that is completely untapped. So, who is most likely to come back? Let’s first get a pulse on the generational trends.

Recently, we discussed the multi-generational makeup of today’s employees. We mention this because when it comes to boomeranging, millennials account for 46% of rehires, gen xers account for 33%, and baby boomers account for 29%. This is a great place to start as you look at your current workforce and uncover what opportunities you have with your company alumni.

Though only a small percentage of employees have made their way back to their previous employer, this strategy is increasing in popularity as top talent becomes more difficult to attract. According to the Corporate Culture and Boomerang Employee Study, 76% of HR professionals now accept rehires and 40% say they’ve hired back more than half of their former employees. Rehires are much more cost efficient than a new hire because their onboarding and training takes far less time.

These boomerang employees are hidden gems. You already know that they are a cultural fit if they are eligible for rehire, retention rates will be higher because there are no surprises for them, and they may even be familiar with the job responsibilities and can jump right in. But reduced onboarding and training costs aren’t the only benefit. These rehires can increase innovation within your company; rehires also bring newly acquired skills, perspectives, and ideas to support your business objectives and goals!

But don’t just take our word for it - many professionals agree that rehires have a positive impact on the company. In fact, nearly 60% of HR professionals and over 50% of managers give priority to boomerang applicants because of these added benefits. Get ahead of the curve because this is a trend that will only continue to grow. Top talent will always be in high demand, regardless of economic standings.

Brand Ambassadors

So, what if your employee “graduates” and doesn't return? Not all former employees will be a rehire, but qualified alumni can still be very valuable for your organization as brand ambassadors for talent recruitment. If your “graduating” employees have a good exit experience, they can drive qualified candidates your way. Word-of-mouth is a powerful advantage, and who knows your company better than your employees?

For alumni to be brand ambassadors, it’s important that no bridges are burned when an employee leaves, particularly when a great person decides to leave. Your company may have a strong reputation, but passive or active job seekers often want an insider’s story, and your former employees can be great storytellers. But the stories they tell are influenced by the experiences they had. So before we conclude, we wanted to leave you with some tips to keep that bridge intact. After all, you can’t cross a burned bridge!

Three Ways to Build Your Company Alumni Strategy

Boomerang employees can bring valuable skills and perspectives when they return, and former employees can become a great network to reach new talent. Here are a few ways you may want to promote an ongoing relationship with graduating employees to encourage them to boomerang or become an asset to attract new quality talent.

Tip: We’d be remiss if we didn’t note that it takes more than someone just leaving the company to qualify for your alumni strategy. Good candidates are those employees who left on good terms. After all, you might want them back and, as they say, “birds of a feather flock together.” So this also serves as quality control for future referrals.

Solicit Feedback with an Exit Interview

Conducting an exit interview can provide valuable insight into what is and is not working within your company. Employees are more likely to express an honest opinion if they know that their answers will not negatively affect their continued employment. This also communicates to them that you care about what they have to say. This information will not only help you with internal retention strategies, but uncover why each person is leaving for future recruitment opportunities.

How-to Tips:

  • Ask for an exit interview. Even if you think you know why an employee is leaving, ask if they want to share. You may be surprised and this information can be used again later to recruit a rockstar employee back. It could save you a lot of time and money and may even reveal trends that you weren’t aware of. For example - perhaps they are leaving because they want the opportunity to work remotely. Now that a lot of the workforce is remote, could this be an opportunity to bring them back?
  • Be proactive (before they exit). Get a pulse on engagement and what’s most important to employees to prevent them from leaving. Check our our FREE #BeHeard Engagement Survey as a resource.
  • Implement the exit interview data. The information you learn from exit interviews can also be used to shift internal practices. If 30% of your workforce is leaving because you can’t offer a flex schedule, then you may want to address this with the executive team as a retention strategy.

Personalize Experiences to Show Appreciation (and Support)

Showing your appreciation and sending an employee off with genuine wishes for their continued success can leave a memorable impression, which may result in a future rehire (or at least a great referral). Thanks to the recency effect in psychology, the “graduation” of your departing employees should be celebrated in a way that the employee would appreciate most and be a positive last experience.

How-to Tips:

  • Respect personal preferences for the departure. Depending on personal preferences and reasons for separation, some employees want their departure announced and some may want to slip quietly out the door. Regardless, make sure that you support their wishes and express your support for their continued success.
  • Offer a letter of recommendation. If internal policies allow, and the candidate qualifies, offer to provide a letter of recommendation or LinkedIn testimonial for their work. This will allow you to continue to show appreciation and support and promote a company alumni.
  • Clearly communicate that they’re welcome to return! If they are an eligible boomerang employee or a brand ambassador, let them know that the door is always open. Taking the time to communicate this can keep those lines of communication open and let them know they are appreciated!
  • Ask to stay in touch. It seems simple, but take the time to ask. They will feel valued and you’ll know where they stand. This also tees up the final portion of your alumni strategy.

Leverage Relationships to Stay in Touch

Just because an employee leaves, that doesn’t mean you can’t continue an ongoing relationship. Make them an official company alumni! As their former employer, be open to being a referral (if applicable) and check in with them occasionally. Ask how they like their new job and if appropriate, ask about their family and hobbies. This will keep you top of mind in the event they decide to make a career change (or have a great candidate to refer)!

How-to Tips:

  • Incorporate your alumni into your company recognition program. For example:
    • Recognize and/or reward them for new hire or candidate referrals
    • Recognize them if they boomerang back, celebrate this reunion and make it part of your culture
    • Recognize their important moments. In 6 or 12 months from the anniversary of their exit, see how they are doing. Celebrate their birthday or other milestone event (e.g. wedding anniversary). If they are going back to school, check in around graduation.
      Happy endings are important
  • Create a company LinkedIn channel where alumni can stay in touch and connect with company policy changes, open positions, news, events, and more to capture ongoing recruitment opportunities.
  • Invite them to company events, if appropriate.
  • Communicate this initiative and how important it is to current employees. This will not only have a positive impact on retention but also on the employee’s experience when they leave. Remember, your alumni are your storytellers once they go out into the world again. Make sure it’s a story with a happy ending.
  • For candidates you've interviewed and didn't hire, ask if you can keep in touchIf you felt they were a good fit for your culture and had potential with your company, it's worth it to stay in touch and see if there is an opportunity later down the road.


While many organizations are starting to see the benefit of rehires and the positive impact former employees can have as brand ambassadors, there is still a good portion of managers and executives who haven't embraced this emerging trend. With any new concept, it takes a bit of convincing, but the numbers don’t lie. Who doesn’t want to save $20,000 on each new hire? We certainly do! This will get anyone's attention while also increasing your talent pool, boosting your employee retention, and elevating the skills, innovation, and employer brand of your company.

Especially during COVID-19, having an Alumni Strategy will be critical as the economy begins to recover. Stay connected with the employees you may have furloughed or laid off during this uncertain time, and select an alumni tip or two that works best with your culture. Universities from around the world have been using alumni strategies to increase their impact and reach their goals. There is no better time than now to build your Company Alumni Strategy to rehire employees you may have lost or capture new talent that have been forgotten as we begin to come out of this pandemic.

The time is now to capture your graduates!


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