In the midst of shrinking budgets and staff, HR professionals at colleges and universities can take advantage of an often overlooked resource to help accomplish their goals.
Consider working with alumni—they typically possess a wealth of campus knowledge and skills. And they’re often eager to assist human resources in many areas, ranging from recruitment to employee coaching.
However, after contacting more than 20 schools nationwide, I’ve learned that not many form such relationships. In some cases, the schools are suffering from silo syndrome—the key symptom of which is that no one crosses borders, resulting in disconnects or missed opportunities.
That’s unfortunate. Alumni’s value to HR as recruiters, university advocates and in other capacities can be immeasurable—whether they return to the institution as employees, strike out on their own or become corporate gurus. Alumni are loyal to their alma mater and want to help it thrive.
Take a look at some different ways that higher ed HR departments are partnering with alumni.
Lebanon Valley College
Every spring and fall, three alumni who have been employees of the Pennsylvania-based school for a combined 96 years take turns presenting the history portion of the new employee orientation, says Ann Hayes, director of HR. The presentations often include personal experiences.
“Our new employees absolutely love it,” Hayes says. “It really is the high point of the day.”
HR also works with the college’s director of alumni affairs to hire skilled trainers to conduct employee workshops, says Hayes, adding that alumni have a vested interest in the college’s success. This type of goodwill also helps boost the school’s recruiting efforts and reinforces its brand as one that grows and hires its own.
The University of Utah
HR partners with career services and the school’s alumni group to reach out to graduates interested in volunteering to mentor current employees, says Jeff C. Herring, chief HR officer at the university, which employs nearly 19,000.
The coaching sessions range from lunch meetings to phone calls. HR helps facilitate the match, he says.
The office also works with alumni to host six career affairs on campus each year and pays particular attention to young alumni. Each quarter, HR organzies “Lunch ’n Learns” where university seniors hear from alumni who are business professionals that also often hold university positions.
Herring says HR needs to transition from passive to active recruitment.
“We’re going from ‘post-and-pray’ to being hunters. The alumni are a resource that we really haven’t focused too much on. It’s an internal resource that has the ability to reach outside of our traditional boundaries.”
Bard College at Simon's Rock
A graduate moderates LinkedIn for the school’s alumni group and has generated a following of 800 graduates, says Rich Montone, annual fund and alumni affairs manager for Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, Mass. HR forwards job openings at the college to Montone so he can posted them on LinkedIn.
Although less than 10 percent of Bard’s 150 employees are hired through social media, many alumni understand the skills needed to succeed in those positions and often make quality referrals, Montone says.
“No one else knows the college as well as alumni do,” Montone says. “It’s a place where they spent some of the most formative years of their life. It remains special to them.”
Carnegie Mellon University
The university’s advancement division, which includes alumni relations, uses specialized fundraising, alumni and marketing recruiters to serve as liaisons to central HR, explains Andrew Shaindlin, associate vice president for alumni relations and annual giving at the Pittsburgh institution.
Central HR also conducts “listening tours,” to identify ways to improve its processes, especially recruiting.
“Our division has recently provided input to central HR on ways the alumni angle could be incorporated more effectively in the overall recruiting process,” he says.
One suggestion is to encourage alumni to serve as advocates who will recommend the university as an employer to their peers and others in the job market. “All of the valuable opportunities are in recruiting. Alumni can bring talent to the university’s attention and extend the reach of [HR’s] radar.”
Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer.