Why Boomerang Rehire Programs Rank #2 in Producing High-quality Hires

Other than referrals from your top-performing employees, it’s hard to find a corporate recruiting source with a higher quality of hire (i.e. on-the-job performance) and a higher ROI than boomerang rehire programs. If you’re not familiar with the term, a “boomerang rehire” is a former top-performing employee who you rehire after an absence of a few years. I rank them No. 2 in new hire quality and they also produce significant volume of hires (CareerXroads ranks them N0. 6 in volume, after college hires).

Although boomerang programs have been around for years. In the past they were a bit of a burden because if you wanted to find and keep in touch with your former top-performing employees, you had to put together and maintain your own corporate alumni group. Fortunately today with the tremendous growth of LinkedIn, you can now easily find out where any former employee works. That makes this source among the easiest to find candidates. Updating their LinkedIn profile can also signal to you that they are probably once again considering a move to their next firm, which provides you with an opportunity to reach out to them and ask them to consider returning.

Other firms now build a simple online talent community group and maintain relationships through text or e-mail. The benchmark firms in boomerang rehiring programs include Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Booz Allen, Bain, and DaVita, which has reached as high as 16 percent of its hires coming from its impressive “you are always welcome here” boomerang program.

Why Boomerang Rehires Are Such High-quality Hires

Referrals from your high-performing employees produce high-quality hires because top performers continually interact with the very best talent and they wouldn’t think of referring anyone who doesn’t meet their high standards. Boomerang rehires have a high ROI because they bring in high performers, and because cost wise, candidates are cheap to find, assess, and sell. Boomerang rehire programs produce high-quality rehires for a variety of reasons, including:

  • You get proven top performers – if you focus your boomerang effort and target only individuals who were consistent top performers over the years, your only risk is that somehow they became a slacker after leaving your firm.
  • You fill key positions – if you focus your boomerang effort and target only those alumni who can now fit into your key high-priority jobs, you ensure a higher impact than if you sought boomerangs for every job.
  • A proven track record – because you have their performance records, you only target individuals for rehire who excelled in output, quality, innovation, and attendance.
  • You know their skills – because they are former employees with years of performance appraisals and perhaps leadership assessment, you know in advance pretty much what skills and competencies you are obtaining when you rehire them.
  • A low new-hire failure rate – unlike most new hires, boomerangs have an almost zero chance of complete failure (and having to release them) because they have already successfully adapted to your culture and you already know their performance capabilities and their ability to produce results (especially if they quit your firm recently)
  • They are likely to stay – turnover rates among boomerangs are almost always extremely low because they have already seen and experienced the so-called “greener grass” at another firm and now they are ready to “come home.”
  • They fit your culture – obviously you target boomerangs who were the perfect fit for your culture as it is today. And because you know the individual well, it is unlikely that you will rehire someone who is an improper fit.
  • They get up to speed quickly – because they already know your organization and its culture, they are likely to get up to speed and reach their minimum expected productivity levels faster with little onboarding and coaching. Traditional new hires experienced a longer ramp-up time because they have to learn an entirely new set of politics, culture, and processes as well as develop new relationships.
  • A fast hire – if you have an immediate need, boomerangs offer an opportunity to acquire a top person quickly. This is because you know them and they already know you, and as a result, the search, assessment, and decision-making takes little time.
  • They may also bring some new customers – boomerangs who have built up a new customer base while they are away may bring some of those customers and relationships with them when they are rehired.

Additional Reasons for Recruiting Boomerang Rehires

In addition to their on-the-job performance, there are numerous additional reasons why you should develop a formal effort to re-recruit top employees who left your firm. Some of them include:

  • They can serve as “brown-grassers” in retention efforts — boomerangs will likely stay for long time after seeing the “color of the grass” on the other side. But in addition, they are almost always willing to help in out in retention by telling negative stories to specific employees about their less-than-pleasant experiences at the firm that the employee may be considering.
  • They can provide competitive intelligence — because boomerangs have worked at competitive firms, they can provide competitive intelligence, new ideas, best practices, and a fresh perspective from their previous firms.
  • They may provide additional rehires — because former employees often stay in touch, they may encourage other corporate alumni to return with them when they come, especially after the message spreads that you are “welcoming back” those who left.
  • Employer brand value may be increased — if even a few key people return, the message may spread on social media that your firm is on an upswing, and as a result the boomerang program may help you strengthen your employer brand image.
  • A targeted effort may increase diversity – if you target former employees who are diverse, you may be able to improve your diversity among your employees and to increase diversity thinking.
  • Value can be added even if they don’t return – even if you’re recruiting is unsuccessful, reaching out to these alumni may strengthen the relationship, which could lead to both recruiting and new business referrals.

Action Steps — The Top 13 Action Steps for Recruiting High-quality Boomerangs

If you want to take advantage of a boomerang program, here are some action steps to consider.

  1. Make a strong business case  work with the CFO’s office to quantify the dollar impact of having back former employees who perform at __ percent above the average.
  2. Create a great slogan – create a compelling slogan like: “It’s time to come home,’ Once a teammate, always a teammate,” “Don’t you frequently think back to how great it was,” or “HP alumni … phone home.”
  3. Tag the best when they quit – as part of the offboarding processwork with hiring managers to identify those top performers who they would like to eventually hire back. Use post-exit (delayed) interviews to find out any negative factors that drove them away. Also go back at least two years to identify those individuals in key jobs who should be put on the boomerang target list.
  4. Search LinkedIn – when someone leaves who you would like to return, find their LinkedIn profile and have a recruiter or former team member begin a “customer-like” relationship with them for a period of up to three years. If you notice that their LinkedIn profile is being updated, or something negative has happened at their new firm, contact them immediately and ask them to consider returning. Of course use other social media to maintain relationships with these targeted alumni.
  5. Take advantage of reference calls as warning devices – when a “desirable” former top employee decides to consider a new job, they will invariably provide their former manager as a reference. If you properly prepare the HR reference checking staff and your managers, you can use those job reference calls as an alert that the former employee is currently in the job market. You might have to move quickly but you can then contact the former employee and ask them if they would consider returning to your firm. It is your choice whether you let them know how you found out that they were seeking a job.
  6. Create a dedicated corporate boomerang alumni group  the very best boomerang programs build an alumni group. You can use Facebook or operate separately as a talent community would. Keep those who are invited to join interested by including boomerang-related features covering forums, FAQs, blogs, learning wikis, podcasts, videos, and an alumni directory that can be sorted by name, location, and interests. Also prioritize your targeted alumni based on who you would like back, who could fit into a key job, and who is most likely to want to return.
  7. Be inclusive in your definition of alumni – in traditional programs, participants were exclusively full-time employees who voluntarily left. However, the best programs realize that there are a wide range of individuals including those who were laid off, and retirees, as well as former part-timers, contractors, and interns.
  8. Develop an onboarding boomerang component – firms that want to excel begin educating employees during orientation about the firm’s expectation that this be a “lifelong” relationship. They build on that expectation by involving current employees with alumni. And should they leave the firm they participate in a “welcome to our alumni group interview” that welcomes them to the next phase of their relationship with the firm.
  9. Consider offering a “no-fault” return policy – consider offering top individuals who left the option to return within two years without losing their seniority (as Apple once did). This incentive can serve to further convince alumni to return if they are unhappy at their new company.
  10. Target a 10 percent or greater rehire rate  the very best programs produce exceptional results, which means that more than 10 percent of all hires should be boomerangs.
  11. Use metrics to continually improve – tag boomerang rehires and use metrics to track their on-the-job performance, time to productivity and retention rates. Convert each of those into their dollar impact on revenue to help support further boomerang hiring.
  12. Assign a dedicated manager – the best firms have a dedicated staff person that allows for continuity and allows the firm’s program to become a competitive advantage. Obviously reward them if they produce excellent results. Also use their former employee friends to maintain relationships and to convince them to return.
  13. Identify and proactively improve the individual’s reasons for leaving rather than paying lip service to the underlying causes that convinced some of the top employees to leave, the best programs confront these issues head on. By postponing exit interviews until well after separation, firms can identify the “real causes” of turnover and develop a formal process to fix the identified problems in order minimize future turnover and remove obstacles that may inhibit former employees from returning.

Final Thoughts

As corporate turnover rates continue to increase (they went up 45 percent last year) the number of individuals who voluntarily quit will obviously increase. Unfortunately, many firms still treat those who voluntarily left as “disloyal untouchables.” More firms would realize the value of this departing resource if they systematically measured the on-the-job performance improvement percentage of new hires (the quality of hire) from each source. And unfortunately, even fewer firms take the time to convert that percentage of performance improvement into its dollar impact on corporate revenue.

If recruiting leaders do these two things, your metrics results will force you to focus on the sources that are not the cheapest but instead those that produce the highest quality hires. And almost without exception, firms that I have dealt with that accurately measure source effectiveness (a rarity) find that boomerang rehires score near the top of the quality-of-hire list every time.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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