No company is immune to the perils of employee turnover. But what if I told you that there was a way to recoup some of the investments made into former employees? While I’m sure each of us can easily recall those former employees that we were glad to part company with, it might not be so easy to recall those good employees that got away from us. Even the best of companies will from time-to-time lose good employees. Think about the number of employees that have come and gone over the years and you will quickly realize that some great talent (or great talent in the making) has slipped through your fingers.

Under the right circumstances former employees can provide fertile ground for present day recruiting efforts. Corporate “alumni” were good enough to hire the first time around so with more maturity, experience, possible business intelligence gained from working for competitors or fresh perspectives gained from working outside the industry they should certainly be good enough to invite back for an encore performance. More and more organizations are developing formal corporate alumni programs to take advantage of these types of benefits. If nothing else, those that have come and gone only to come again should require less training and ramp faster than the alternative of first time hires.

A management consulting firm that I worked for in the mid 80’s has sent me a recruiting letter each year on my birthday for almost 20 years. It is a professional yet friendly piece of correspondence reminding me of my former relationship, the many benefits associated with being a member my former firm and inquiring as to the possibility of me rejoining the firm. I have always had a good feeling about my former employer and the annual letter hasn’t hurt. While I have not yet taken them up on the offer to rejoin the firm I know many of my former colleagues have with some of them on their 3rd and 4th rounds of employment with the firm.

The fact of the matter is that former employees can not only make great re-hires on a full time basis, but they can also be called upon to fill interim needs on a contract basis. Following are the keys to creating an alumni program for your company:

1. Create a Talent Management Strategy: To maintain a competitive edge HR can no longer be a passive, reactionary, compliance focused department. A “real” HR group will have a strong hand in leadership development, training, team building and culture optimization. As early as the initial employee in-take interview the HR department must start creating a sense of corporate family and belonging. The company must win the hearts and minds of its employees and HR must be an active participant in this.

2. Make the Most of Exit Interviews: Most exit interviews are conducted with little strategic purpose and are nothing more than a formality to be concluded when closing a file. If HR is looking for anything it is usually looking to mitigate any potential future liability. But what about future opportunity? HR should be looking for specific talents, abilities, characteristics and leadership qualities so that the file can be appropriately noted as a potential source of information when looking to fill open positions in the future.

3. Convert Closed HR Files into an Active Database: As mentioned in number two above, a career history, personal profile and contact information should be entered into an alumni database that is kept current and that can be searched by specific variables. This database should be e-mailed frequently with company updates, news and information to foster the sense of “alumni” that will allow you to successfully mine this valuable source of talent.

4. Establish an Alumni Website: To go hand-in-hand with the alumni database you should create an alumni website where former employees can retrieve information and communicate with the company. Consider an alumni blog or hosting an alumni webinar to facilitate an even broader base of communication with your former employees.

The bottom line is that if you build the right brand and the right culture employees will take pride in being associated with your company both during their tenure of employment as well as after they have left the company. Creating this type of environment is a solid retention strategy that will make it more difficult for employees to leave the firm but it will also make it much easier for them to return to the company at a future date.