20 May 2022 | by Louise Archer

Is contingent recruitment that much different to Retained?

Retained search isn’t talked about that much in the recruitment industry, it’s enveloped in mystery and regarded as something that only SHREK firms can pull off. Therefore, there are lots of misconceptions about what it is exactly.  

Is it just commitment from the client?  

Money upfront?  

Do you drop everything else to work on one assignment?  

And ultimately, contingent vs retained – which is better?

Contingent Recruitment 

Retained Recruitment 

Average 25% fill rate  Average 97% fill rate  
Slave/master relationship with client  Work in partnership with the client  
No contractual obligation to produce candidate search results   Contractually obliged to structured terms & conditions regarding the retained search process 
Transactional and sales-led in nature, purely operational  Consultant/advisor status to the client with access to senior, confidential & strategic hires  
Stress on KPIs, targets and a focus on volume CVs Time spent on ensuring a rigorous, thorough candidate search to find the best candidate on in the market at any given time  
In a permanent race against other recruiters, which poorly affects candidate quality and ultimately the recruitment service   High level of service, time invested in candidate assessments, carefully mapped out search process  
Unable to access candidates who may be perfect for the role but aren’t actively job searching. The same active candidates could be contacted by multiple contingent recruiters, compromising the client’s image   Time invested in accessing inactive candidates, uncovering a market of quality, loyal candidates who may be perfect for the role. The client remains anonymity until further down the recruitment process  
The client is inundated with a stream of CVs for fear of a competing recruiter sending off a candidate CV first  The client is presented with a shortlist of candidates and can make the best decision available to them  

Contingent vs Retained: Fill rates 

If you work contingently, you average 25% fill rates. 25% is low. But 100% effort goes into securing the fee. The contingent model is not productive, and recruiters often work without getting paid. 

Time plays a huge factor in this: with the contingent model, recruiters take on many assignments in hope of landing some of them. They must grade which assignments to spend the most time on (often those easy to fill) whilst the more difficult roles get pushed down the priority list. Then, there are competing recruiters to think about. A recruiter finds a candidate who replied to their LinkedIn message and then sends off the candidate’s CV to the client immediately to beat the others to it. This leaves no time for a thorough candidate assessment, compromising the quality of service between the recruiter and the client. It’s frustrating. But it’s caused by the competition and pressure not to waste valuable time. This can be eradicated with a retained search model. By working with financial commitment, you can vet candidates, provide an excellent service to your clients and get paid for the work you carry out.  

A split colourful sketch style image of 2 men in 2 different situations signifying the differences between contingent vs retained recruitment. The first is an image of two men shaking hands reflecting their partnership like in a retained search. The other one man is pointing his finger and telling another man what to do. This depicts a master / slave or transactional relationship often found in contingent recruitment relationships.


Selling Retained Search as a Solution  

The current market requires recruiters to conduct a thorough candidate search. The best talent is harder to acquire than ever before and they need more than a LinkedIn message to pique their interest in a new opportunity. If the client is looking for the best candidate in the market at the time, they need to invest in a retained search.  

We have a duty to recommend the right solutions to our customers and in this market, retained search is often the right solution. But your customers will have questions and objections, we’ve discussed how to handle those on our YouTube Channel.  

Transitioning from Contingent to Retained 

If you want to provide a great service to your clients and undergo a thorough, rigorous candidate search process then choose retained. We have seen recruiters transition to 100% retained, or balance contingent and retained work equally. Don’t get us wrong, contingent still has its place. When it’s an easy or low-level hire with a deep talent pool, great location, attractive role and all the stars align then the contingent model can still – at times – work.

However, if the role presents a challenge, be it a niche skillset, tough location, bad employer brand or a critical/confidential search then we must apply a more rigorous process. Commercially, it doesn’t make sense for us to do that at risk. This is why financial commitment from our client is so important.  

Contingent vs Retained – although we’ve highlighted the pros and cons of both methods, ultimately it comes down to your preferred way of working. Some recruiters love working on multiple roles and enjoy experiencing the highs and lows of the contingent rollercoaster. Others are more methodical, enjoy building partnerships with senior stakeholders and working on lucrative retained projects. Many recruiters choose both ways of working and recommend the most relevant solution to their clients depending on their specific hiring needs.

At Retrained Search, we train recruiters to sell, pitch and consistently deliver retained search solutions, enabling you to forecast revenue, get paid for all of your work and invest time in projects without the chanceful nature of contingent.  

Learn more about why we do what we do here 

Or book a call directly with us 

Louise Archer

Louise Archer

Louise has worked on the front-line of recruitment for twenty years. Having been a contingent recruiter before transitioning to retained she understands the struggles that consultants and companies face, operating on a contingent basis. Louise started training Retained Search four years ago, and since then has taught hundreds of recruiters to move to Retained.

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