6 May 2021 | by Louise Archer

One of the main objections we receive from contingent recruiters who are interested in our Retained Search programme is, “I’d love to do the programme, I’m just too busy right now.”

They are too busy working on jobs which may or may not result in a fee. They are too busy to learn how to secure work on a retained basis.

Sound familiar?


When working contingently, have you ever looked at the number of jobs you are sending CV’s to? Versus the number of jobs you fill?

Our experience of working with contingent recruitment firms suggest that this figure is around 1 in 5. We have seen it as high at 50%, and as low as 15%. So, let’s say that on average you fill 20% of the jobs you work on.

That means you’re spending 80% of your time on jobs which aren’t resulting in a fee.

Therefore, 80% of your time is being spent unproductively.

From a recruiter’s perspective this is frustrating to say the least. But have you ever thought about how it must feel from a client’s perspective?

It must be immensely frustrating as a client to be promised the world by an agency and, regardless of the circumstances, the job doesn’t get filled. It must be even more infuriating if it is the recruiter who initially approached the client, and then fail to deliver.


There are multiple reasons why we may struggle to successfully fill a job when working contingently:

  • Competition
  • Lack of candidates
  • No line contact
  • Poor location
  • Poor brand
  • Unrealistic salary expectations
  • No feedback
  • No time
  • Client changes the parameters
  • Client wants to see more CV’s
  • Candidate pulls out
  • Client pulls the job


All of these reasons can make the role more difficult to recruit for, but how can you overcome these obstacles?

  • Competition – If a client wants to work with more than one agency on the role you could explain to them why its counter-productive to do this.
  • A poor location or a poor company – There’s usually a USP somewhere which you can use to sell the role to candidates.
  • Unrealistic salary expectations – You could gain salary information from every candidate you speak to and provide it to the client as evidence to help them see what they need to pay.
  • No line contact or struggling to gain feedback – Before you start, insist that there is contact with the line manager and regular feedback is given.
  • Not enough time – You could make the role a priority.
  • Parameters change – you need to work with the client, but they also need to work with you. It needs to be a partnership.
  • “We just need to see more candidates.” – This classic can be overcome by showing your workings. Do you think the client would be asking this question if they knew you’d reached out to 80 people, managed to speak to 44, 10 of which weren’t right, 25 which weren’t interested, 6 that changed their mind part way through the process which subsequently led you to your shortlist of 3?
  • What about if a candidate pulls outs? – Sometimes this is inevitable, but you can have a backup. If you have a shortlist that means that even if your number one drops out it won’t stop you from filling the job.
  • Client pulls the job – only work with committed clients.

As an experienced recruiter, although it may make the job harder to fill, you should be able to overcome these obstacles.

All, except for one.


And that’s this:

You can do all the things we’ve discussed, and the client could still say, “Actually, I’ve decided not to recruit this after all.”

It’s not commercially viable to commit the time and effort needed to mitigate these obstacles without the guarantee that you will secure a fee.


So, next time you’re busy working multiple jobs think about this:

When you work on a retained basis, you have a 97%% fill rate.

If you spent just a fraction of your time, learning how to work on a retained basis and secure those fees…

You could double or treble your revenue, with the same resources.

Now that would be time well spent.

Want to increase your productivity and profitability? Find out more about our Retained Search programme.

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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