May 22 2020

Retained Search or Contingency Recruitment: 3 Things to Consider


Being faced with the difficulty to fill a particular position, you make the decision to turn to an external recruiting service to help in your search. Good recruitment agencies and headhunters can both provide a valuable service. But before jumping in and choosing your service provider, it is crucial to take the time to evaluate which service will be best tailored for the needs of your company. 

retained search or contingency recruitment

Retained Search or Contingency Recruitment?

1. Status of the position: Full-time or Part-time

If you’re looking to fill a temporary position, contingency recruitment is what you would typically be looking for. This method of recruitment is used by employment and staffing agencies. They work with a wide bank of candidates that are ready and available to work and therefore can rapidly fill most of your temporary needs.

If you’re looking to fill a permanent position, the nature of the position, the level of seniority and the number of years of experience required will help you determine if retained search (headhunters) or contingency recruitment (staffing agencies) is what you need.


2. The nature of the position

Staffing agencies will be particularly efficient to fill positions requiring more generic skills like ones requiring manual or clerical work.

However, if you are looking to recruit someone with an intermediate, senior or executive profile that is diverse and complex, with specific skills and years of experience, retained search provided by headhunters will be better suited for your needs.


3. The level of seniority

A headhunter will have a lot of success if the position represents a real career opportunity for the candidate. Therefore, it is usually not necessary to ask for a headhunter’s services for entry-level positions. Staffing agencies should be privileged in that situation.

For intermediate, senior or executive positions, a headhunter will give you a competitive advantage allowing you to access candidates that you wouldn’t have received through job postings only.

Nature of the service: Headhunters vs Staffing Agency

Both headhunters and staffing agencies offers recruiting services, but usually a staffing agency doesn’t do retained search, meaning they will not approach applicants who haven’t applied or that are not already part of their bank of internal candidates. Their approach is therefore less active than that of a headhunter.

On the other hand, headhunters carry out very detailed research in various databases to identify relevant candidates, often already employed, in order to validate their openness to consider new opportunities and present them with your opportunity. Headhunters will usually plan a phone interview and sometimes even face-to-face interviews with the candidates they find before they introduce them to you, ensuring that the relevance and quality of each candidate submitted are up to the best standard.


Headhunters and Staffing Agencies Rates

The rate for headhunters is often higher than what you would find for a staffing agency because their work involves several dozen hours of research, getting in touch with candidates, reminders and follow-ups, and interviews with candidates to only present you the ones who will specifically meet your criteria.

Another difference that you will encounter is in the method of remuneration, which will depend on the status of the position. Working with a lot of temporary positions, employment agencies rates will usually involve recurring invoices on the candidate’s hourly wage according to the length of the mandate. The client pays a “premium” on the employee’s hourly wage to the staffing agency, which in turns pays the employee. There is therefore no formal employment relationship between the employee and the client.

When working with headhunters, they mostly work permanent mandates and don’t have any employment relationship with the then placed candidate. There is therefore no reoccurrence of payment in retained search, but rather a single amount to be paid upon hiring.


  • The profile you’re looking for is rare or atypical
  • The position ask for higher seniority
  • The position requires specific knowledge and skills
  • The position requires experience in management and team leading
  • The candidate will have a strategic position and will have to make a real difference in the organization


  • You’re looking for temporary position
  • The position requires more generic skills
  • The task associated with the position are mostly manual or clerical

Head over to the Directories for Headhunters or Staffing Agencies

Staffing Agencies Directory

Headhunters Directory

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