Retained Search vs Contingency Search: Which Solution fits your Needs?


Finding quality talent can be a challenge, especially in the tech industry. Sourcing and hiring qualified people are time and labor intensive. Employing a recruiting firm allows companies to take advantage of the correct resources needed to locate skilled and interested candidates as well as access to larger candidate search networks for a much lower cost. Recruiting firms usually offer two routes for finding candidates: retained search and contingency search. For an efficient search, hiring personnel must take the time to not only properly understand the difference between these two methods, but the needs and wants of the client.

The main difference between retained search and contingency search is the payment structure. With a retained search, the hiring company pays the recruiting firm upfront and may only work exclusively with them. When the candidate is placed, a back-end fee is also paid. With the contingency search, on the other hand, the hiring company only pays the recruiting firm at the time of candidate placement.

The differences between these two solutions often leads to a difference in the priority and resources that a search firm will dedicate to the search. As a result, each recruiting solution lends itself to certain hiring needs.

Benefits of a Retained Search

Because of the payment structure, search firms usually give retained clients a more individualized focus and a higher level of priority. Because a retained search receives this focus and are accomplished with more specific information, a retained search can usually save time for the hiring company by providing fewer, more specific resumes. The client does not have to worry about working with multiple recruiters and sifting through numerous resumes. The retained recruiter has one focused voice and works together with the hiring company, like a recruiting partner. A search firm being retained by a client also adds a sense of credibility to the firm’s work, especially when dealing with candidates who are being pursued by multiple recruiters.

Benefits of a Contingency Search

A contingency search allows for a greater range and scope of search, which might mean reaching more potential candidates. There are often several contingency recruiting firms hired in the search, which creates more competition among recruiters. A contingency search also allows for a variety of different opinions from recruiters as well as different options of candidates. One benefit of using a contingency search is the payment method. A contingency search is usually less expensive, and the payment is conveniently delivered only after a client is placed.

When a Retained Search might be best for your company’s needs:

  • For high level positions – C-level, VP level, Director level
  • If you are very busy and do not have time to keep track of each step of the hiring process
  • When time is a critical factor for the hiring company
  • When the company requires a very specific skill set or cultural fit
  • When confidentiality is of importance to the client (the need for the hire can be revealing to competitors, investors, stakeholders, etc.)
  • When the position requires a higher caliber of talent
  • When the skill sets you are hiring for are scarce in the market
  • If you want dedicated resources to your hiring needs
  • If you want a strategy/plan for identifying, screening, evaluating, and hiring the proper candidate

When a Contingency Search might be best for your company’s needs:

  • When hiring mid or lower-level employees
  • When you are not familiar with a particular recruiting firm and would like to test out different options
  • If many people will likely be qualified for the position.
  • If you have multiple positions being filled
  • When you are considering upgrading talent on your team only if the right candidate is available
  • If your own network is not yielding qualified candidates
  • When you want to compare/benchmark candidates to the candidate you have identified (on your own) to ensure you have truly identified the right person
  • When the hiring manager wants to control processes of screening, interviewing and negotiating with candidates

It is important for hiring companies to identify the benefits of each solution with regards to the payment structure and the corresponding recruiting process. Differentiating between a retained search and a contingency search, and selecting the most beneficial method ensures an efficient and successful hiring process.

Millennium Search successfully places candidates using both Retained and Contingency models. Learn more about our Recruiting Solutions

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