How Cigna used AI to revamp its internal recruiting system

The new system has been a “game changer” for internal recruiters, according to Cigna’s head of talent.
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· 4 min read

The Cigna Group, the healthcare company that employs over 70,000 people globally, says that on any given day, it’s hiring for 3,000–5,000 open positions.

But a few years ago, the firm’s vice president of talent acquisition, Amanda Day, realized those open positions weren’t on the radar of some of Cigna’s most promising candidates: its own employees.

“There’s no greater talent pool than your own,” Day told HR Brew. “And unfortunately, our ability to get out to the masses internally was not working well for us.” She said that employees had an easier time finding open positions at Cigna on LinkedIn than through their internal talent system.

Fearing Cigna would lose valuable talent to external competition, Day and her team decided to overhaul their internal talent management system using artificial intelligence. She said the new system has made career opportunities more visible to current Cigna employees and helped boost internal hiring.

Picking the right partner. When Cigna decided they wanted to update their internal management system, they put together a request and started by talking to 10 different vendors, according to Day.

Her team ended up selecting Phenom, an AI-powered HR platform, because, Day said, the company understood what Cigna was trying to do with the project. It also helped that Phenom could integrate its technology with Workday, the applicant tracking system Cigna uses.

Day’s team initially shared a pilot version with 5,000 employees and ironed out kinks in the system over a period of eight months. She said they wanted to make sure the system was recommending “roles that would be considered viable roles for that employee,” and that the tool was easy to navigate.

“If there’s too many clicks to go through, you lose people,” she said.

How Cigna’s new system works. The way Phenom’s platform works is akin to Netflix’s recommendation system, said John Harrington, director of product marketing. Just as a user might give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down so that Netflix learns more about their viewing preferences over time, Phenom draws upon user data to recommend employment opportunities.

A system like the one Phenom built with Cigna collects data on employees’ strengths, skills, duration in a certain role, and desire for growth at their company in the future, according to Harrington. This allows Phenom’s technology to “provide recommendations that are really tightly aligned with where a person is in…their career, pegged to their interests, and their qualifications,” he said.

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With Cigna’s new internal talent system, employees can create career profiles and indicate if they’re open to new opportunities, Day said. Not only does the system use AI to recommend open roles for them, it also helps them network with peers.

“It’s going to suggest employees that you might be able to talk to, to learn more about what they do on a daily basis, to see if maybe that’s a transition that you want to take in your career,” Day said. “So, it’s able to give employees greater visibility to the opportunities that exist within the walls of Cigna.”

Both Day and Harrington said the system becomes more effective as employees feed it more information. If an employee indicates they’re not interested in a certain job, for example, the system will learn not to suggest similar roles in the future, Day said.

A “game changer” for recruiters. More than one-half of Cigna’s employees have filled out profiles since they rolled out the new talent system, Day said, and it’s now much easier for her team of 200 internal recruiters to find employees who might be a good fit for open roles at the company.

“If we do 24,000 openings a year…and we have hundreds of thousands of applicants, to be able to go in and search a system for internal applicants based on skill set has been a game changer,” she said. Once the new system was up and running, 65% of Cigna’s roles were filled internally, Day estimated.

Now that the system is up and running, the next focus will be using it for talent management, so Cigna employees can learn about and develop the right skills to move into other roles.

Day admitted that it’s not easy to hold employees’ attention 24-7, and is aware that job offers from other companies do arise. By giving Cigna employees a platform to grow and navigate their career, the hope is that they understand all the opportunities that are available to them within the company.

“It’s my job to make sure that our employees have a robust career experience when they’re here,” Day said. “And part of that is giving them the ability to really learn all of the different avenues that they can take.”

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.