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What Is The Difference Between Contingency And Retained Recruiters?

You will often hear recruiters referred to as Retained recruiters or Contingency recruiters. Whilst the literal meaning may be obvious, the key differences in what to expect need to be fully understood.


Firstly, the retained recruiter will have often agreed an upfront fee with the client to conduct a search. Usually, they will have an exclusive agreement so that they will be responsible for finding someone for the vacancy. These types of recruiters work very closely with their client, take their time and use an agreed methodology to find the best person for the job. The process is usually rigorous with the agency conducting all the pre-interviews etc. and, ideally, they will only present a few preselected candidates and all with the perfect skills, location, salary expectations etc. so that all the client has to do is pick the one they like the most.

Typically, the client will pay a percentage of the annual salary of the successful candidate. Whilst this may appear expensive, this is actually a sensible investment for companies who are looking for senior or long-term employees, who will stay and grow with the business over time. The Return on Investment is actually substantial as getting the right person to fill the vacancy is designed to move their business forward dramatically.


A Contingency search, on the other hand, could be seen as the agency selling their candidates to the employer. Contingency is sometimes described as No Win, No Fee and is a service performed by a recruitment company for free until the day a candidate represented by them takes a position with their client. Recruiters working on this basis often have to compete with the client's internal HR department, advertising, direct applicants and typically one or more other recruitment companies.

The challenge for the recruiter here is to represent the best candidate or candidates and to do this faster than these other channels. If, for instance, the vacancy is hard to fill, the chances are there will only be a few candidates out there qualified for the position. Getting to these before everyone else is vital for the successful no win, no fee recruiter.

Whilst the No Win, No Fee may initially sound attractive to the client, they are failing to spot that the upper hand is held by the recruiter. If the position is too onerous, the recruiter can simply abandon that client and sell their candidate to someone else. So this recruiter is far less interested in a long-term partnership with the client but is driven by the desire to complete the transaction, to achieve an easy win and to move on to placing the next candidate.

Sometimes, a contingency recruiter is best described as a solution looking for a problem rather than a retained recruiter who represents you (not the candidates) and will take the time and trouble to get to know you and your culture properly OVER TIME.

So, which approach do you choose?

In our opinion, it depends on whether you're looking for a quick fix - often for temporary staff to solve a seasonal shortage, for example, or whether you are looking to grow your company over the long-term.

The contingency recruiter may help by filling a vacancy at short notice, solving an immediate problem. The retained recruiter is able to take their time to get things right using agreed processes and methodology, knowing they will eventually fill the position thanks to their exclusivity terms. The employer is far more likely to find the right person, both in skills and attitude, to add to the long-term prosperity of the business.

Whether you are looking for a short-term fix via our temporary and contractors desk or you are interested in growing your company, call us for a chat on 01793 762026 or email Jackie and her team at:


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