Contingency vs. Retained Recruiters |

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter explains the difference between contingency recruiters and retained recruiters.

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There is a certain air around retained search. It is perceived to be superior than contingency. Let's just analyze the differences.

A contingency recruiter is hired by company to fill a position. A retained search firm is hired by a company to fill a position and is paid an amount to retain them to do the search, another piece to deliver resumes to them and screen them and were for them and another piece upon completion. The percentages are irrelevant. It is how the money is funded to the retained search firm that will differentiate it from the contingency.

The contingency recruiter is only paid upon successful completion of the search. Everything else that they do is done on a speculative basis. Why does the firm hire retained firm versus a contingency? It is to buy the dedicated effort. There is the perception that the talent working for the retained firm is superior to that working for the contingency firm. That isn't always the case, but let's just accept the marketing here.

How does that affect you? For most of you, it won't matter. For most of you, you will be in the sector that is handled by a contingency recruiting firm. Retained search firms will work at a higher level than the contingency firms will. It. That's really where the differentiation is. How they are paid doesn't matter to you. It is the nature of the jobs that they are asked to recruit for.

If you are a C suite executive, I professional who is running a line of business or is the president of the chairman of an organization, obviously, you know, retained search firms are aware that retained firms are where you need to be. You need to do things to position yourself to be noticed by the retained firms in order to get on their radar.

It's not like you decide to look for a job and you reach out to retained firms. It doesn't work that way. They want to be reaching out to you. So what you do is put yourself in the position to be noticed and found. For most of you, you are at the contingency search levels. You are working on staff level positions, middle management jobs, direct director level positions... Nothing at an executive level. Executive levels of the balliwick of the retained search firms.

When I used to be asked, "Are you working on this position on retainer," I would take retainers for some positions. I would recruit for the most positions I was involved with were contingency searches. As far as the job applicant is concerned, it doesn't really matter except in the context of the nature of the position and the nature of the relationship that the firm or the individual recruiter has with that firm. If there's a good relationship, then it really doesn't matter. If there is no relationship, obviously it does.

When all is said and done, most of you live in the land of the contingency recruiter and you have to learn to evaluate and assess them in much the same way as you would if you are hiring them tooth to fill a position.


Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1300 episodes and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice.” He is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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