Alumni groups help ex-employees find jobs, new biz opportunities

Thanks to the economic downturn, former employees of high-tech companies are staying in touch by joining alumni groups to find jobs, business opportunities and to socialize.

The sophistication of these groups varies but not their main mission: it’s all about networking.

The Microsoft Alumni Network, with its 10,000 members, charges membership fees and offers a range of benefits. The PeopleSoft Alumni Network makes its money exclusively from job ads on its Web site. It has about 3,800 members on LinkedIn, the social networking site for professionals. They are chiefly people who worked at the company before it was acquired by Oracle Corp. in 2005 .

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For those who join because of job loss, alumni groups provide a “psychological safety net,” said John Verrochi, who founded the Sun Microsystems Alumni Association Inc. in 2001 and is its president.

Members can use their connections to an alumni group to search out former colleagues at companies they’re interested in working for, to brainstorm and perhaps learn the name of a hiring manager, said Verrochi, a former product development executive at Sun and now an energy consultant. “My experience is most alums are willing to help out,” he said.

This year, to help its members cope with the recession , the PeopleSoft alumni group brought together about 50 volunteers to work on improving market intelligence and access to connections, said Steve Tennant, who started the group and is its president. He was formerly a vice president at PeopleSoft and now works as a private consultant.

Former PeopleSoft employees who now work as recruiters volunteered to look at resumes, and those now working at outplacement firms offered coaching and assessment. There were also people willing to do webinars on the latest PeopleSoft product enhancements to prepare job seekers for interview questions, Tennant said.

The Microsoft group was founded in 1995 by Tony Audino, a former Microsoft executive and director of product management for DOS, who today is the alumni group’s chairman. He saw so much value in these alumni organizations, that he later co-founded and works as CEO of Conenza Inc., in Seattle, a company that builds and manages private online communities.

The Microsoft Alumni Network appears to have a close relationship with the parent company, which posts job ads on the group’s board and helps validate prospective alumni to ensure they previously worked at the software maker. The benefits flow both ways.

Microsoft taps into the alumni group to help with recruiting, and ongoing connections with former employees can help lead to new business relationships, all of which can deliver millions of dollars in value, Audino said.

Former employees run stores on the alumni site selling services or goods they provide. Microsoft has also tapped into some of the group’s intellectual capital, such as former engineers, to vet ideas. For Microsoft, it’s recognizing that these former employees are an asset. “This is all about relationships and networking at the end of the day,” Audino said.

Most alumni groups have looser relationships with the parent company. In Sun’s case, an outgoing employee may be informed of the alumni network by human resources but that’s about the extent of the company’s involvement. The Sun alumni group has about 7,500 on its LinkedIn group and another 5,100 on a Yahoo e-mail list, although there is overlap. It doesn’t charge membership fees.

Sun has laid off employees over the past several years and is now about be acquired by Oracle. In 2008, more than 800 people joined the alumni group, with about 400 joining through August, the group said.

Tennant said the people involved in the PeopleSoft alumni organization have a variety of goals and interests. Some are trying to transition to the growing clean tech industry, others have moved to software-as-a-service, and some have totally left the tech world and are running small businesses such as yoga studios. When they hold occasional networking events, “it’s just like going back to a high school reunion,” Tennant said. “There is usually a lot of laughing and silly stories.”

Source: CIO

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