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  • Writer's pictureBrenda Armstrong

Decoding Retained Search vs. Contingency Search: Understanding the Distinctions

When it comes to hiring top-tier technical professionals, businesses often face the challenge of choosing the right recruitment strategy. Among the most popular methods are Retained Search and Placement Services and Contingency Search. These two approaches have distinct characteristics and are designed to cater to different hiring needs. Let’s dive into the key differences between Retained Search and Placement Services and Contingency Search and take a look at their benefits, drawbacks, and what situations determine which solutions should be deployed.


What is Retained Search?

Retained Search is a specialized recruitment approach that involves hiring a professional search firm like ITEOM, to identify and attract niche skilled, high-level, top-tier, leadership or executive candidates. With this method, the search firm works exclusively for the client and is retained contractually to identify the best candidate for the opportunity. The client pays a predetermined commencement fee, allowing a search firm to dedicate all of their resources to your company’s needs.


Advantages of Retained Executive Search:

  • Commitment to Quality: The retained search firm focuses solely on the client's needs and conducts an extensive, in-depth search to find the most qualified candidates. In this scenario, you won’t see dozens of resumes, rather - you’ll receive qualified, interested and available candidates that meet your requirements and are open to considering a new opportunity.

  • Access to Top Talent: Search firms that provide retained search services have extensive networks and can tap into passive candidates who might not be actively seeking new opportunities.

  • Confidentiality: The confidentiality of both the client and the candidates is maintained throughout the process.

  • Thorough Evaluation: Each candidate is rigorously evaluated, both skills assessments and competency based interviews evaluating functional and behavioral competencies, ensuring they align with the client's requirements and organizational culture.

What is Contingency Search?

Contrary to retained search, Contingency Search is a recruitment model where multiple agencies or recruiters compete to fill a position. In this method, recruiters are only paid if their candidate is selected and hired by the client. The competition among recruiters often generates a pool of similar talent from all agencies involved, typically identifying the top 30% of talent that is open or actively looking.


Advantages of Contingency Search:

  • Speed: With multiple recruiters working simultaneously, the hiring process may be expedited, making it ideal for urgent hiring needs. A hiring manager may need to act quickly, therefore justifying a quick, less rigorous selection process.

  • No Upfront Cost: Clients only pay a fee upon successful placement, reducing initial financial risk.

  • Contractor Candidates: Many clients opt to “try before you buy.” This allows clients to move faster on hiring candidates, while eliminating the investment in a full-time resource before they are able to identify fit from a cultural and skills perspective both.

Drawbacks of Contingency Search:

  • Focus on Quantity over Quality: Recruiters have to prioritize assignments with higher chances of success, potentially overlooking challenging roles, in other terms - they prioritize filling positions that are closest to the money. If other roles are retained, they’ll focus their efforts there. And, rather than conducting a thorough evaluation of candidates, they’ll send multiple candidates that meet the general requirements.

  • Candidate Representation: Because the same pool is being assessed by multiple contingency agencies, candidates may be presented by multiple recruiters, leading to confusion and potential conflicts.

When Do You Deploy These Solutions?

The choice between Retained Search and Placement Services and Contingency Search depends on the specific requirements of each hiring situation. Retained Search methodologies are becoming more commonplace because there is tremendous investment in representing clients, their journey and being able to effectively appeal to talent in this market. It’s best suited for critical roles, niche skill sets, highly competitive and in demand talent as well as strategic hires, leadership and executive-level positions where a comprehensive and tailored approach is necessary.


Contingency Search may be more appropriate when your roles require immediate fulfillment, especially when time is of the essence. Contingent search also works very well for roles that are very straightforward, where there is an abundance of talent, or for when clients want to pursue a Contract to Hire approach.


By understanding the differences between these two recruitment strategies, businesses can make informed decisions by deploying the right strategy to achieve long-term success. We at ITEOM would welcome setting up a discovery call to understand your needs and implement a solution that is best suited to your situation.

We understand all clients are different and have unique offerings. By gaining an in-depth understanding of your challenges and environment, we can better position our solutions to help you acquire the best technical professionals in the market. We encourage you to learn more about ITEOM’S Search and Placement Services by visiting us here.

Alternatively, schedule a discovery session with Brenda Armstrong, our Founder and CEO.

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