10 December 2020 | by Louise Archer

Diagnosis: Think of your meeting with the client as a little bit like a doctor’s appointment. Your doctor will always seek to fully understand the situation before suggesting treatment. Understand your clients challenges with contingent before you pitch retained search.

Here is my favourite line of questioning before I pitch retained search:

  • The person How are they getting on? Do they like what they do?
  • The Business What’s going on?
  • Talent Acquisition in general ‘How is it going?’ Easy/tough
  • Current talent acquisition needs What do they need? Have they hired someone like this before?

Do they know the market for this type of talent? Is it critical? Might it be challenging?

Ascertain if a retained search is the right solution

NB: If they face any kind of challenges in the talent acquisition process or it is a critical hire, a retained search approach is often the best way to handle the project

Segue like a Pro

Now turn the conversation round so you get chance to speak for a bit:

  • Feedback “That’s really exciting. It’s really good to hear all about…”
  • Empathize “You’re not alone in the challenges you face…
  • Reassure you can help “I can absolutely help you with x, I am confident in my ability to…
  • Ask permission to talk for a bit, “I’d love to share my thoughts on how I’d like to approach it, is that ok?”

Build credibility 

In order for your client to make a financial commitment to you, they need assurance that you are capable. So, before you launch into recommending solutions, give them the confidence in you and your experience and capability.

Tell them:

  • Who you, and your business are
  • What you do
  • Who you serve and how

Walkthrough your services – Lead your retained search pitch with circumstance

For example:

“For every day, easy to fill hires we offer a contingent service, you’ll probably be familiar with it, it’s the no win no fee service, usually in conjunction with other suppliers. It can be relatively effective for easier to fill positions.

When things start to get more criticalwhether it’s a niche skillset, senior, confidential, strategic, or there are multiple hires to make. we apply a Search Methodology. This is our Headhunting service.

Explain why you recommend a retained search solution for this project

In many cases, contingent recruitment works.

However, in the case of a more challenging position, whether it’s time-sensitive, a niche skill set, it’s a critical or senior hire, or there’s more than one appointment to make, it’s necessary to apply a more rigorous methodology.

Essentially some financial commitment from you enables me to apply a robust search process.

And importantly to commit to working with you until the position is filled.

Reinforce with evidence

Tell a short but relevant story about a client you have done a nice piece of work for, talk through using the STAR method:

  • Situation – What was their challenge
  • Task – What needed to be done
  • Action – What you did
  • Result – The outcome

Pre-close by asking for the opportunity to work with them in this way

Then ask for the opportunity to show them:

I.E. “So I’d really like to show you how effective this way of working is. Can I show you on this project’?” 

Objection handle 

Be ready to talk through the difference in the approach you will take, focus specifically on exactly what you will do to overcome their challenge by working in this way.

Explain how working on a contingent basis doesn’t allow you to deliver the same service or commit to achieving a result, because you have to balance your risk, in the same way as every other contingent recruiter, by working on multiple other positions.

Be ready to explain that working ‘exclusively’ is not enough. They could still decide not to go ahead with the hire after you have invested your time and efforts.

Know what pricing model you are going to recommend – don’t use the words ‘upfront’!

Try ‘on commencement of project’ instead ?


Then close again:

“Because this is a scarce skill set/ very competitive market/ critical hire the impression we make on every single candidate is really important. I’m confident, by making sure our strategy is right, our message to the market is clear, and we are able to commit time to carry out a targeted headhunt, that we will achieve a great result on this project. Can I show you how?”

Follow up with a well-written proposal

Once the client is keen to proceed, you should issue a proposal which formally covers everything you have agreed and includes the terms of your engagement:

Give them the full background, who you are, what you do, why you’re great, the services you offer.

Then, demonstrate you have understood their requirement by explaining what you understand it to be.

Finally, explain your recommended solution and exactly how you will deliver it, followed by how long it will take, who will be involved and finally how much it’s going to cost.

Realise that it might land on someone’s desk, or inbox that has not been part of the conversations/doesn’t know who you are. So, make sure you fully inform them. This is a sales document not just for now, but for future opportunities to pitch retained search.

Retrained Search Training that works!

The contingent recruitment model is unpredictable, it causes unreliable forecasts and demotivates talented consultants.

So why don’t agencies do more work on a retained basis?

Usually, they lack experience, and most retained search training doesn’t work.


Our 6-week Training course gives your team the skills, techniques and tools to build a successful retained search service and consistently win retained business.

Contact us today for more information

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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