When it comes to making hiring decisions for top professional and executive roles, most companies only have a few options. This is why companies need to invest in their human capital.

Some employers may make promotions from within, use the skills of their in-house recruiters, or get the service of an executive search firm which they believe would help them in their processes.

There are different kinds of search firms. They differ not just in terms of how fees are paid, but also on how the entire process is conducted.

Sometimes the best candidate is not actively looking, or not ‘on the market.' Click To Tweet

An executive search firm, otherwise known as a retained search firm, provides recruitment services to find top quality, highly qualified, and professional candidates for senior roles.

With these firms also come different kinds of recruiters who, in their own little ways, challenge the status quo. They inspire candidates and other people in the industry to make the most out of their potential by learning and practicing more of their growth strategies.

In the same way, managers and recruiters who are poorly hired and given a poor rewards system could bring an organization down. Since capital given on talent recruitment is crucial, learning and applying an effective search model will always be worth the time and effort

The very first challenge, then, in recruitment, is to determine and understand the method of search that will be used. The three primary models are retained, retingency (“container”), and contingency firms.

What is Retained Search?

Retained search firms work on a “retained basis,” which means that the recruiter charges the client a fee at the onset to begin the search. 

Often referred to as “headhunting,” it is seen as a proactive recruitment method since most candidates already hold executive positions and are not actively looking at job listings.

Also popularly known as executive search consulting firms, they rely upon mutual trust, confidence, cooperation, and professional business practices among the search firm, the client, and candidates.

A good definition and description of the retained search recruitment model is provided by the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants:

“operate on an exclusive, client-centered basis and work on a limited number of assignments at one time. Executive search firms often find candidates with diverse backgrounds and have access to candidates who are not actively seeking a new position. They are engaged in all aspects of the process, from defining the search through candidate integration. They charge a consulting fee (retainer) for the assignment, consistent with their in-depth advisory work. Executive search consultants deliver high-quality service, a slate of highly qualified candidates, and develop long-term relationships built on trust.”

While many headhunters believe that there are only narrow differences among the recruitment models, the differences could not be oversimplified.

Executive search or retain search consultants have tools that allow them to perform competency-based interview practices. They assess whether or not the talent is a match for the business culture and needs of the company.

Multiple interview channels are used with candidates over time, such as telephone calls, video conferences, and face-to-face assessments.

Unlike contingent search firms that mainly rely on supplying resumes from their database as quickly as possible, retained executive search aims to reach potential candidates who are not found in databases they have. Most of the time, the main difference lies in the matter of quality and speed.

With various advantages of a retained search, here are some of the reasons why a company employs an executive search firm to allow them to do the groundwork for getting notable hires at the senior level.

More credibility. Retained search consultants are professionals. They are dedicated to providing you with the results of their best practices and by doing their job right. They work very closely with the clientele and keep a transparent methodology, action steps, and timing that is realistic to all parties.

Exemplary commitment. Retained search managers manifest intelligence by providing you with exhaustive research not only on possible candidates but also on the industry, and competitors.

Competitive advantage. By getting a firm’s retained search services, you will not just get great hires but also complete briefings on the search process, competitors, the market, and of the talent pool.

When to Retain a Search Process

Knowing when to hire a retained search firm is also very important as it costs more than an output based contingency search. You can ask yourself the following questions to know when you actually need the service.

Is hiring the best candidate critical for you and your firm?

Sometimes the best candidate is not actively looking, or not ‘on the market.’

A retained executive search firm is one recruitment body that is most likely to locate and persuade executives who are not really looking for other jobs. Most often than not, some recruiters believe that the best talents are those who are not looking for jobs.

This allows such firms to deliver candidates who have the right skill set for their clientele. For example, he or she may have just the right experience, skills, knowledge, and cultural fit.

A contingency firm, on the other hand, presents candidates who are most likely to be found in their pool of previous applicants or even within their partner’s databases. They find those who have responded to the ads they have posted, with little chances of finding the best and most successful executives.

Are you seeking a candidate with a rare mix and set of skills?

There are very few people who are qualified in terms of having a position that requires a very rare mix and set of skills. In finding the perfect fit, retained executive firms directly approach potential senior candidates who are employed at the moment, and are successful at target companies.

Since contingency firms usually only represent candidates who are actively looking, people with a rare mix of skills that would be helpful for their client’s company is not likely to be found among the pool of candidates in their database.

Is confidentiality an issue that needs stricter implementation?

Confidentiality and discretion are essential issues in every executive hiring decision. It is only practical to keep things inherently confidential from the client’s competition while assuring that customers and other important shareholders will not be alienated.

Moreover, the executive to be replaced in this instance should not be rashly concerned. While contingent search managers often talk to more people about the search and rely heavily on several channels for recruitment (e.g., online, print media), retained search firms talk only to candidates who have carefully gone through the process.

For the utmost discretion of the client, their identity is revealed only at the latest possible stage in the recruitment process – a strategy appreciated by both candidates and clients.

Does the position require a new skill set?

As an executive manager, not all searches will fall under your area of expertise. When this happens, it is crucial to bridge the knowledge gap to someone who is an expert and has a notable familiarity with the area of the job search.

A retained search manager would out and invest a significant amount of time and effort to be familiar with your organization and its culture, the responsibilities, and requirements of the position before beginning the job search.

They would also work with you to develop the right skill set and provide comments to candidate profiles and ensure the long-term success of the new hire.

Are you looking to increase the diversity of the senior leadership team?

If you want to increase diversity within the senior team, you need to conduct the necessary research to ensure that equal opportunities will be given to candidates.

The available list and pool of candidates who are in search of a position are often comprised of candidates who often have the same skills and experiences, making them a homogenous group.

A retained search consultant will do more than reach out to possible candidates who are already on the list. They will broaden that pool by identifying, approaching, and convincing candidates who are sometimes employed, but also fit the required skills and bring more diversity to your team.

Do you have the time to do your own executive search?

Be it time or resources; sometimes these are very limited, especially if you already have too much to do.

Unlike a retained search firm, contingency managers would rely more on the HR department or general management department of the client. Retained search managers, on the other hand, engages in most, if not all, aspects of the due diligence process.

Going beyond identifying and presenting candidates, retained firms usually assess candidates with more sophisticated methodologies including but not limited to referencing, psychometric testing, and using broader assessments.

They also support the integration of the candidate to the client company to ensure the long-term success of the hire. In the long run, this greatly saves you and your team the time to adapt to a new member of the group. This allows you to focus more on the possible strategies instead.

Does a strategic advantage sound great for your company?

A fair advantage over the others is always a good thing, but retained search firms would give you a competitive advantage by giving better hires.

Retained search firms are in the business to deliver you the top performers in the industry. In fact, over 20% of them are so effective that they are responsible for 80% of the results.

Since they operate on an exclusive, client-centered basis and work on a limited amount of assignments, they are in the best position to get you top performers who actually deliver results.

Interested in Retained Search?

At Sysgen RPO, we think of staffing companies with exceptional executive candidate quality.

We offer services ranging from offshore sourcing and offshore recruiting services to staffing companies all over the world.

As a recruitment process outsourcing company, our goal is to provide recruiting efficiency and cost efficiency that will add value to our client’s bottom line.

Contact us now! 



Alder Koten. (2018, January 8). Types of executive search firms: Retained vs. Contingency search. Retrieved from https://alderkoten.com/types-of-executive-search-firms-retained-vs-contingency-search/

IRC Global Executive Search Partners. (2018, April 6). 10 reasons why retained search is the most effective. Retrieved from https://www.ircsearchpartners.com/thought-leadership/10-reasons-why-retained-search-most-effective/

Matthews, M. (2018). 7 reasons for retained executive search. Retrieved from https://www.stantonchase.com/7-reasons-why-companies-retain-an-executive-search-firm/