What is the Difference Between Retained Search and Contingent Search?

By Catherine Lang-Cline

Businesses have always struggled to find the perfect person to fill a role. This becomes especially difficult when the market switches to favor candidates. It seems like no one is looking for work and the ones that are looking are not a match for your role or culture. When it becomes dire you choose to engage an outside Recruiter to help you find that perfect fit. You speak to some companies that offer retained search and some that will do a contingent search, some will do both. What is the difference?

Let’s start with defining a retained search. If you are engaging in a retained search you are typically entering an agreement that gives your search firm exclusivity to finding you the right person. It is also typical for the search to be more specialized. You will have to agree to pay a hiring fee that is calculated from a percent of the starting salary of the role with half of that money being paid up front and nonrefundable. You should only receive a few candidates that are a perfect match for a role, as the Recruiter’s efforts should be rigorous and very fine-tuned on what is going to be a perfect addition to your company.  

A contingent search means that the recruiter only gets paid if you hire their candidate. Again, this fee is based on a percent of the starting salary for a role. Since it is a no-money-down, winner-take-all sort of search it typically means that the recruiter is potentially competing against an internal HR department, self-submitting candidates, job boards, as well as a few other recruiting firms. May the best person win. While a little more frenzied, having all of that input can get you a wide selection of candidates. Your biggest tasks would include making sure you keep track of where all of the candidates come from and possible a deeper dive in vetting those candidates.