4 tips for leveraging alumni networks for recruitment

4 tips for leveraging alumni networks for recruitment

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to review how we expand our global reputation and visibility. Our networks of alumni have always been vital players in achieving this, helping to reinforce our proposition and bolstering our message of community beyond the campus. But with international office staff facing travel prohibitions at a pivotal moment during the recruitment cycle, our alumni and their interactions with prospective students have never been so crucial in helping to shape the start of the student experience.

Working with alumni as ambassadors in this way not only helps humanise each point of contact with prospective students – it also allows us to earn their trust. Furthermore, it can help generate positive and authentic word-of-mouth news stories and ensure that institutional values are reflected in our work overseas. Deploying alumni in a genuine way allows their support to have a meaningful impact upon our recruitment activities.

The future of international alumni relations in the UK is an exciting one, but one which requires thought and investment. Do we follow a North American model of utilising fundraising and philanthropy to support our operations? Certainly, there have been examples of some alumni networks leveraging their strength of feeling and community to help create and donate to hardship funds designed to support current students affected by the impact of the pandemic.

What friends are for

With increasing talk of a coming seismic global recession, calls for institutions and alumni to come together and support what’s being termed the ‘crisis cohort' are laudable, particularly if it helps to assist new graduates into the labour market. Integrating international alumni relations and employability strategies to help students with career preparation is a win-win model, although one which still requires extensive management. Similarly, mentoring satisfies the dual purpose of enabling alumni to ‘give back’ to the university while creating an environment in which long-term international alumni connections can be nurtured.

The benefits of working with our best friends and ambassadors to augment our international efforts and achieve strategic goals must not be undervalued. Many institutions were already familiar with the idea that alumni networks can complement and enhance an international recruitment strategy, supporting us in our quest to convert the right students and helping us generate institutional resilience in the face of adversity. Failure to collaborate in this way would lead to missed opportunities to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and gain market insight.

There’s a lot that alumni can do, if they feel able, to help support international recruitment and mitigate the current challenges we face. A global alumni engagement policy running parallel to both recruitment and employability strategies will go a long way towards ensuring long-term success. Such a policy should focus on four areas in particular.

1. It’s not all about the money

Donations towards scholarships and hardship funds are welcome, but not all alumni are able to make such philanthropic gifts. The gift of time is equally valuable and will also help students in challenging circumstances pursue their studies.

Quality interactions can result in alumni remembering those they engaged with and establishing professional bonds that continue to exist long after registration. In return for making a positive impact on the future of today’s students, an alumni mentor develops leadership skills and opportunities to reflect on their own career path to date.

2. Champion communicators

In speaking positively about their university experience, alumni help communicate confidence in the student experience. Put simply, their voice carries weight and can help galvanise interest with relative ease.

Alumni of UK universities have been readily championing the #WeAreTogether campaign, amplifying a message of solidarity in response to the Covid-19 crisis and helping prospective students and parents validate their decision that the UK is a safe and welcoming study destination. In activating our prime supporters, we can design ethical recruitment plans characterised by conscience.

3. Click and connect

Investment in technology that facilitates a network hub allows us to engage more intuitively with alumni whilst launching professional and regional special interest groups based on fellowship. An accumulating pool of support can then be mobilised to help showcase the enriching and sustaining community that prospective students are about to join, all the while promoting the concept of 'global graduate skills' that new students must become familiar with and develop.

4. Show gratitude

Showing gratitude is vital if our alumni have in any way helped to support our international recruitment efforts. This might be by offering alumni tuition fee discounts and specialist short courses designed to aid upskilling, or the sharing of new knowledge via exclusive webinars. Recognising that success is due to the contributions of everyone – past, present and future – helps solidify the friendship between alumni and alma mater. It is also gratifying for practitioners to maintain good contact with their students of old and hear their life stories post-graduation.

International recruitment remains pivotal to the ambition of many an institutional agenda, but creative solutions are now needed to ensure the traditional and expected face-to-face interactions that frame a student’s university journey can be experienced in new and innovative ways. Our alumni represent an extension of ourselves. Actively seeking to strengthen our bonds with them will enhance our performance and the student experience we seek to offer. In these troubled times, this will help us survive and, ultimately, thrive.

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Laura Spencer
Canterbury Christ Church University, United KingdomLaura is International Development Manager at Canterbury Christ Church University.