3 August 2020 | by Louise Archer

Many of the clients that I work with come from a contingent background. They are frustrated and exhausted by the way they are working.

So, I sit down with them and show them why highlighting where the contingent process falls down.

As it’s really important that we understand how working on a contingent basis differs greatly from other search methods and why it differs. To answer this question, I’m first going to highlight why the contingent process falls down.


A typical contingent recruiter works between 5-15 jobs at any one time.

Every contingent recruiter, working on a no win no fee basis has got to have some kind of grading system to help them prioritise and focus on jobs they are most likely to place.

For example, an ‘A’ grade job would tick these boxes:

  • A job at a fantastic company which has a great brand
  • In a vibrant and easily commutable location
  • A really sexy sought-after career path
  • The client would be easily reachable and prompt with feedback
  • Easy to fill or you are working on it exclusively

However, anything that isn’t as easy – in-demand skillset is required, the role is in an undesirable location or the company brand is non-existent – starts to go down the list of priorities.

If there’s competition involved, the job tends to move even further down the list because it’s an even higher risk to spend time on as it’s even less likely to result in a fee.


Usually, without realising, clients make the mistake of thinking that by sharing the vacancy between multiple agencies what they’re doing is duplicating effort.

But actually, what they’re doing is diluting the effort that they’re getting from each and every recruiter.

Then, when you realise that, 30% of any given talent pool is active. In much the same way that 30% of the iceberg is above the water.

This 30% are candidates who will apply to an advert, who will reply to a LinkedIn message, who will reply to an email.

So, on a contingent basis, with limited time to risk, every recruiter typically engages with that visible 30 or 40% of the talent.

The majority of candidates in any given talent pool are not active. They won’t reply to an advert or an email or a LinkedIn message. Unfortunately, in a contingent process, 60-70% of the talent pool go unspoken to, because they haven’t responded to initial approaches.

Furthermore, it’s often that SAME 30/40% that gets approached.

Imagine what impact this has.

Imagine you drive past a house and there are multiple for sale signs outside.

What does that make you think and what perception do you have of that house?

That’s exactly what happens when you have two, three or four different agencies working on the same assignment.


Then you also need to consider that contingent recruiters have to work fast. Really fucking fast. As soon as they come across a candidate that looks right and is a bit interested, they have to get their CV straight over to the client NOW before anyone else does, otherwise the competition will get their first, and they will get the fee.

How much time does that allow the recruiter to qualify and assess that candidate? How much time is there to make sure that the candidate actually has the right skills for the job and has fully explored and considered the opportunity. Fucking none. There’s no time for that.

When you consider these things, it makes you realise it is NO WONDER the contingent process falls down.

The definition of ‘Contingent’ means BY CHANCE.


In contrast, Retained Search requires financial commitment from a client, which allows us to apply a robust process, thus mitigating against all of the things that could go wrong, giving us an as near as a guaranteed result.

And not just any result, but the BEST result that is available to us all, in the market, at this time.

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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