Retained & Contingency Recruiting: The Differences

Retained Vs Contingency

When it comes to recruitment, there are many important decisions that need to be made. One of these includes the choice of retained vs contingency recruitment, and which is best for your business.

However, if you are not familiar with the recruitment process then this decision can seem arbitrary or uninformed. That’s why we’ve put together the following blog, to explain the key differences.

Retained Recruitment – Occasionally referred to as Executive Search, retained recruitment involves a contractual agreement between the client and recruiter where an up-front fee is agreed upon. This arrangement guarantees that the recruitment company will work for the client exclusively, until the role has been filled by a suitable candidate.

Because of the bespoke nature of these services, retained recruitment usually takes place at the higher end of the market and often incurs a significant cost. However, the fee is typically justified as this model of recruitment aims to fill niche roles for candidates with specialist qualifications and high salaries.

Contingency Recruitment – Sometimes called high street recruiters or contingency firms, this service is generally undertaken for free. With the knowledge that multiple recruitment companies will be vying for the same role, in addition to the clients internal HR department and advertising budget.

Contingency recruiters will only bill once their client accepts a position with their proposed candidate – often leading to highly competitive environments. This also means that the methods of high street recruiters are typically far less thorough than that of retained firms. More specifically, they primarily canvass CVs from a large database, focusing on certain phrases provided by the client in their job description.

Benefits of Retained Recruitment

Provides a better guarantee that the recruiter is committed

Due to the exclusivity and high-end nature of this service, the recruiter will be greater motivated to find the best candidate to suit the role. Not to mention making your role a top priority moving forward.

Can vastly reduce your internal workload

As a result of their consultative approach, retained recruiters will carry out extensive research on each potential candidate. Often compiling a shortlist of possible applicants, approaching them individually and creating reports, before presenting their findings to the client.

Will improve communication with the candidate

An executive search consultant will not only maintain communication with clients and candidates, but they will also make a conscious effort to preserve confidentiality. What’s more, the exclusivity of this correspondence will reduce the chance that the candidate is inundated with calls from multiple recruitment firms.

Limitations of Retained Recruitment

Typically, a slower and more expensive process

Because of the specialist requirements for each candidate, a significant percentage of the annual salary is paid to the recruitment firm before they even begin their search. Moreover, due to the niche qualifications of these roles, the retained recruitment process can take longer than usual to identify the ideal candidate.

Benefits of Contingency Recruitment

Usually, a quicker and less expensive option

Because high street recruiters don’t take any up-front fees, and only make commission once they have filled a role, they are more likely to deliver a greater number of CVs in a much shorter space of time. Although this can sometimes add to the administrative work of the internal HR department, it also gives you the freedom to reject any unsuitable candidate – free of charge.

Limitations of Contingency Recruitment

Can be Less thorough

Whilst the focus of contingency recruitment on filling a role can often lead to an increase in the quantity of candidates presented, it can also result in a decrease in the standard of these applications. More specifically, the keyword-based methodology is a far less bespoke and tailored service that does not consider all the applicants’ potential requirements.

Could potentially damage your reputation

As was previously mentioned, the fact that multiple contingency firms will be competing for a single role can often lead to the best applicants receiving multiple calls about the same position. This can create a bad impression of your business and sometimes discourage the candidate from pursing a career with you.

Contact Us

If you are considering a career in recruitment industry and would like to learn more about our current vacancies, please get in touch and one of our helpful and friendly team will be happy to discuss your application. You can contact us by telephone on 03300 586 057 or via email at

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