When to Use a Retained Search Versus a Contingent Search

By Catherine Lang-Cline

If you are in a position to hire a person and feel that you need to engage a recruiting company, there are a couple of things you will want to know when you are connecting with that recruiting team. Based on the type of company you are using and the level of search, you could be offered the option of a retained search or a contingent search. If you are not sure about the definitions of either, you can catch up by reading my post, “What is the Difference Between Retained Search and Contingent Search?

Since you know the difference between the two, let’s talk about when it is the best time to use each of these options. Let’s start with a retained search.

Since a retained search is a money-down and typically exclusive to one company agreement, it will work best when:

  1. The search is for a higher-level, executive role.

  2. The search is for a hard to find skill set. 

  3. Your search is highly specialized and you need a firm that really understands your role and/or your company’s needs and culture.  

Contingent search is a better fit when:

  1. The role is not an executive or director level. 

  2. You have exhausted all of your options and personal resources.

  3. You need to tap into as many other resources as possible, i.e: job boards, HR specialists, a various number of staffing and recruiting firms.

One reason you would choose a retained search is to get a more focused, rigorous search. The recruiter is going to reach far beyond even their own database to get you a perfect fit. It will be a search that may include people that are not currently looking for work. These candidates are great and they already have a job and a fantastic recruiter can convince them to at least consider your opportunity. You will be presented with fewer candidates because they have been thoroughly vetted, all are perfect in skill set, location, and salary, and they are very interested in the role if it were to be offered to them. Since this is an exclusive arrangement, the process is simpler and much more personalized to your and your company.

Contingent search works if the search is not going to be as difficult or as specialized. It may be a more common role, but one that you have had a difficult time filling. A contingent search gives you access to other companies databases without a money-up-front commitment. Bear in mind, you will receive an invoice if someone is hired, but if it is the right candidate, the time you save in getting that person is completely worth it. Your arrangement gives you access and with luck, they have the exact person you need.