Executive Search vs Contingency Recruitment


What's the difference between Executive Search and Contingency Recruitment I hear you cry? This is a question we get asked a lot! Of course, you'd be forgiven if you've never heard of these phrases before, not many people have unless you're already in the know (hello vicious circle). Let me explain...


There are two ways of working with a recruiter; either on a retained or a contingency basis.


Retained recruitment, otherwise known as executive search, means that the recruiter is paid on a contracted fee basis and works exclusively to their clients needs. This means that they work on their client's behalf to actively search for a candidate who meets the best fit for a particular role. You may recognise it better as Headhunting.


Alternatively, contingency recruitment operates on a ‘no sale, no fee basis’ often when several recruitment agencies are each invited to put forward a number of candidates that suit the given brief. If the client decides that one of the candidates match what they're looking for, then a successful appointment is made and the team who represent the placed candidate, is paid. Much in the same way as a house sale works if you sign up to a multi-agency contract.


The Good the Bad and the Ugly


As with most things, there are pros and cons to each approach:


  • Executive search services are usually more expensive however this method ensures that there's a closer working relationship between both parties as there are less agencies involved, which in turn eases the burden on the client's time.


  • Executive search increases the opportunity for improved communication between the client and agent, and the ability to understand in more depth exactly what it is the client needs.


  • Executive search demonstrates a more professional approach, shows the client's commitment to find the best talent and is more exclusive. It shows candidates that the company is serious about them as a prospect.


  • Working on a contingency basis is undoubtedly more convenient and cost effective to dip in and out of for one off hires and, on the face of it, allows you to tap into a wider pool of talent.


  • If using several different agencies however, this approach can have some unforeseen surprises. Such as, a candidate being put forward for the same job by more than one recruitment company. In the world of GDPR this shouldn't happen - all ethical recruiters will gain the consent of the candidate before putting them forward for a particular role - but sometimes, candidates are submitted without their prior knowledge. Apart from being poor practice on behalf of the agency behaving this way, it wastes the client's time by having to deal with duplicate submissions.


  • From the candidate's perspective, if they're approached by several recruiters for the same role, it can run the risk of the employer appearing to be more haphazard.


  • Finally, the person or agency recruiting for you will, by default, be representing your brand, so it's advisable to use as few companies as possible if you go down the contingency route. That way, you can better manage the image an agency will portray of you. If you spend more time up front with them on the role brief, and on your company ethos and values you have a significantly greater chance of achieving this.


Choices, Choices!


Your decision regarding whether to use executive search services or contingency recruitment will undoubtedly be influenced by many things. Contingency often works well for more junior roles whereas executive search works best for senior or specialist roles.


Your budget, versus the cost impact to the company of carrying a key vacancy for a protracted period of time will also be an important issue to consider.


Get in Touch


If you need recruitment support and you'd like to discuss how we may be of assistance, please contact us on 01227 722022. We'd be delighted to discuss a flexible solution that suits your individual requirements.


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