iCIMS’ chief people officer wanted to know why employees were leaving, so she interviewed 30 former staffers in 30 days

September 23, 2022, 11:37 AM UTC
Laura Coccaro
Laura Coccaro, chief people officer at iCIMS.
Courtesy of iCIMS

Good morning!

iCIMs is first and foremost an HR and recruiting platform. But dig deeper and you’ll find it’s a gold mine for the latest people insights. Just ask Laura Coccaro, the company’s chief people officer. She’s spent her six-month tenure as the company’s CPO fervently scraping data to find gaps in talent strategy and, ultimately, solutions to some of iCIMS’ most pressing people problems. That task hasn’t been easy, requiring her to study the talent market, assess the company’s attrition rate, and overhaul its exit interview process. (She spent her first 30 days in the role calling about 30 former employees to learn why they left.) 

Coccaro spoke with Fortune about the top talent market indicators HR executives should pay attention to and how that’s led her to transform the way iCIMS thinks about former talent. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Fortune: Can you make sense of what’s going on in the talent market right now?

There’s this whole narrative around a recession that’s happening—this economic weakness. Yet we’re still seeing hires up, we’re seeing applications up, we’re seeing openings. The narrative is not really matching what we’re actually experiencing in the talent market. This is more like a transition point into what I refer to as stabilization. The pendulum shifted so far, especially in areas like tech where the market was booming, and a lot of organizations did a lot of unnatural things to recruit and retain their talent. Now we’re starting to see that normalize a little bit.

While nothing we’re looking at from a hiring data standpoint indicates that we’re trending toward a recession, we’re seeing talent start to shed from organizations that maybe did more things to attract and retain them over the past couple of years. I’m hopeful and also excited that we’re hitting the next leg of the journey where organizations start to figure out that there’s never going to be ‘a normal’ again and what stability will look like.

What are the most distracting narratives and data when it comes to the talent market and recruiting?

It really is that the market is shedding jobs. We’re starting to see some of that across certain industries, but other industries are really continuing to grow. I think that is distracting. The market is not freezing for hires. That’s not what our data is saying. Our data is saying openings are up 17%, applications are up 31%, and hires are up 21%. The market is still there, people are still making moves. There’s also a bit of a narrative that people are staying put because of some of the uncertainty. We’re also not seeing that in our data.  

The September iCIMS workforce report finds that part-time hires are up. What does that signal to you as an employer? 

People are being more selective in terms of the opportunities they are going after, and organizations are being more open-minded in terms of how they’re sourcing talent, whether that be internally, externally, part-time, gig, or consultants. This blended workforce is here to stay, and it’s not shocking in the follow-up to the Great Resignation where people left and maybe aren’t willing to come back full-time. 

What internal data points are you keeping an eye on?

We regularly look at our attrition analysis. That’s something that’s really important to us because we’ve made a concerted effort around retention. One of the data points we’ve started to gather is the next level of information about why an employee left us. And not the surface-level career advancement answer either, but truly, what was that reason? So we revamped some of our exit reporting to be able to go one level deeper and really provide an answer when somebody asks us this. 

How have you restructured that process?

We tend to just put one reason when somebody leaves. For example, this person left because of this personal reason—new career opportunity, more compensation—very generic. Our HR team now has to complete a survey that allows them to go one level below. If somebody says they are leaving for more compensation, we’re digging into the range of compensation. Was it 10% more? Was it 20% more? We put ranges in there to be selected. Instead of saying that somebody left over compensation, we can report that somebody left because we were off on our total comp offering, or we’re finding the market for this type of job is 40% more—whatever it is. From there, we can marry it with what our recruiters are hearing, which allows us to ensure we’re readily reacting to what’s happening in the market. 

That was my biggest pent-up frustration stepping into this role: Why are people leaving, and why can’t I articulate that to anybody? And so the first 30 days as chief people officer, I actually met with every person that resigned from our company. I used that to help frame some of those buckets that we knew existed, then thought of how we could get to one level below.

How many of those “post-exit” interviews did you hold? 

Probably 20 to 30 at all levels of the organization and all tenures. It really was just an additional touchpoint to start to frame this concept of thanking people for any time they’ve spent with our organization, and that concept of ‘red carpet in, red carpet out.’ We want to keep the door open for people who are leaving us and may boomerang. 

We’ve actually started to build out an alumni group and alumni talent pools because, especially in the market that we’ve had, I don’t want to leave that to chance anymore. I want us to be more programmatic about thinking about how we bring people back. Some of those drivers are obviously coming through in how we’re collecting this data.

Amber Burton

Around the Table

- Citibank announced new diversity targets, including hiring more Hispanics in the U.S., more Black and Asian employees in the U.K., and a greater number of LGBTQIA+ people globally. Financial Planning 

- The employment rate for people with disabilities rose during the pandemic thanks to the rise of remote work. As companies bring workers back to the office, those with disabilities are fearful that lingering COVID cases will put their health at risk. Time

- Annual performance reviews are almost universally loathed. Here’s a better strategy: regular check-ins that focus on how people work, not what they’ve worked on. Bloomberg

- Unemployment claims rose last week after five consecutive weeks of declines. However, they still remain below pre-pandemic levels. Wall Street Journal


Everything you need to know from Fortune

Data, not dogma. Managers could learn a thing or two from scientists about leading, writes Microsoft's vice president of modern work. Leaders should be curious and gather data to help find solutions. They also need to ensure they’re getting the right data by tracking employee outcomes rather than activity. —Jared Spataro

30-day list. Meta is eliminating some roles and giving employees 30 days to find new jobs internally, or leave the company. It also reportedly used an algorithm to lay off 60 employees outright. It’s the culmination of a process that started in July when CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company would be “turning up the heat” as it looked to cut costs by roughly 10%. —Chloe Taylor 

Unemployment vs. inflation. The Federal Reserve’s interest rate increase will likely lead to higher unemployment. “I wish there were a painless way to do that. There isn’t,” said Fed Chair Jerome Powell. —Christopher Rugaber

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