Retained Vs. Contingency Recruiting: Which One Is Right for You?

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You have important positions to fill in your organization. With every day that goes by, each open role costs your company hundreds or thousands of dollars in lost revenue. You need to fill that position in a hurry.

Let’s say you’ve already decided to give the job to a recruiter. Your first thought is probably to hire a half-dozen contingent agencies. This way, you get a lot of people working on the role and you only have to pay the agency that brings you the person you decide to hire. It just makes more sense that way, doesn’t it?

But compare contingent recruiters to retained recruiters. Whereas contingent recruiters are only paid contingent upon their filling of the role, retained recruiters’ services are retained for a specified fee. With retained recruiting, things work much differently. Instead of hiring several agencies and letting them compete, you pick one retained recruiter, pay them in advance, and wait for them to bring you the right candidate. The most basic difference is that a retained recruiter is committed to filling your position, while the contingent recruiter isn’t.

What does this mean for you, practically speaking? Well, it means a few different things:

A Retained Recruiter Has More Skin in the Game

Because a retained recruiter gets paid in advance, they’re committed to getting the candidate you need.

You might think because a retained recruiter has already been paid, they’d care less about bringing in the best. However, a good retained recruiter knows they’re putting their reputation on the line when they take you on as a client. They know that if they want your repeat business, referrals, or testimonials, they’ll have to earn it.

A contingent recruiter can take a client on the off chance they might find the right candidate. A retained recruiter knows the future of their business depends on finding the right person.

A Retained Recruiter Has More Time for Your Account

Let’s say you’re a contingent recruiter. You have six clients, and you don’t know which one is going to pay off. The best strategy for you is to put in a little effort on each account and hope at least one of them is a winner.

On the other hand, a retained recruiters is putting their full effort into your search. They’re not betting on multiple clients. This depth of engagement shows clearly in the end result: better-quality hires for you.

A Retained Recruiter Is More Attentive to Your Needs

Because they can spend more time on your account, a retained recruiter can afford to take the time to get to know exactly what you need in a new candidate.

A contingent recruiter has enough time to look at a job description and find somebody who fits it “well enough.” A retained recruiter can dig into the soft skills and intangibles that separate an okay hire from a great hire. They can learn about your business, not just your position. Over time, they can come to understand your needs as well as you do — something a contingent recruiter can never offer!

A Retained Recruiter Offers More Consistent Service

A retained recruiter has the wherewithal to offer you a consistently high level of service, because they have the incentive to do so.

A contingent recruiter can get lucky and score a perfect hire, but you can’t be sure of that. With retained recruitment, you know what you’re getting: a partner who can take the load off your hiring team, a knowledgeable friend who will get to know your business as well as you do, and service that ensures you get the hires you need most.

Jeffrey Audette is president of VMG Recruiting. Contact Jeff at

By Jeffrey Audette