Don’t Let Farewell be Forever: Leverage Your Alumni as a Secret Brand Advantage

Your Big Industry is a Small World

As law, accounting, engineering and other professional services firms deliver increasingly specialized offerings, the number of qualified professionals can be limited. Which means that people who have worked for you in the past – your alumni – matter for four key reasons:

  1. Candidates trust them. What are the chances that your employment candidates will want to talk to former employees? Pretty good. In fact, according to studies cited in Inc. Magazine, job seekers are two-thirds more likely to make a decision about whether to work for a company based on feedback from former employees.
  1. Their reviews may be more candid. Current employees may “self-censor” their reviews on sites like, avoiding negativity for fear of being recognized and punished. By contrast, former employees have no reason to phrase their reviews so carefully – and may therefore be more open about their experiences.
  1. They’re likely to stay connected to your industry. Whether they go to work for a customer, competitor or partner, their knowledge and skill sets are unlikely to take them too far away. Stay friendly and connected, and they may be able to open doors to new partnerships, connections and even “co-opetive” opportunities for your firm.
  1. They may come back. You’ve seen the “boomerang trend.” Someone leaves a company, then, as they’ve acquired new skills and experience, they become newly desirable and return – often at a higher level. This is especially common at professional services firms because there are only so many professionals who truly understand your industry niche, customers and the way you do business.

In short, just because someone is a “former” employee, they can still play an important role in the way your firm is viewed by everyone from customers to competitors – and especially by potential new employees. Which is why alumni engagement can – and should – be a critical part of your organization’s employer branding strategy.

How to Engage Alumni

Staying engaged with people who have worked for you in the past has its own challenges. Here are five things you can do to keep your alumni network energized:

  • Build and reinforce connections. Establish a directory that allows former employees to reach out to you – and to one another. Build an alumni social network where former employees can keep each other (and you) informed about their work and lives. Consider creating a regular publication that shares profiles of key alumni and keeps former employees informed of firm-related news.
  • Get some face time. When asked what they liked best about any former employer, answers often include “the people.” Connecting in person reinforces those good, person-to-person feelings. Events that bring former employees together with key current team members are great ways to engage and continue to show them some love.
  • Own the process (or define who does). Alumni engagement could realistically be the purview of many different functions within your firm – including HR, Marketing or Corporate Communications. To keep outreach activities strategically focused, involve stakeholders from all relevant departments in alumni engagement planning and execution – but clearly define one stakeholder to drive and manage the process and deliverables.
  • Measure your success. Define how you want alumni engagement activities to benefit your firm – be it in terms of brand awareness, talent acquisition, business referrals or industry influence. With those goals in place, you can identify the right metrics to measure how well your efforts are paying off and where to invest further.
  • Do it yourself (or not). Alumni engagement can be a streamlined component of your overall HR communication efforts. But it can also strain in-house resources, especially while getting your initial efforts up and running. Don’t be afraid to tap into the creativity and experience of a partner who can help you – whether with advice, support or full-scale program development and implementation.

The truth of any professional services firm is that employees will come and employees will go. Use that truth to your advantage. That way, even when people leave your company, they can continue to positively reinforce your brand, support talent acquisition efforts, possibly return with new capabilities and contacts, and enable new opportunities.

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