Retained Search: Why and When to Get It

by | Nov 15, 2019 | Local Recruitment

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

IRC Global Executive Search Partners. (2018, April 6). 10 reasons why retained search is the most effective. Retrieved from

Matthews, M. (2018). 7 reasons for retained executive search. Retrieved from

Jo Rebustillo


Jo started her recruitment career in 2007. Since then, she has worked with several RPO and BPO companies in different capacities. She has worked as a Recruiter covering requisitions in US, AU, EU and APAC handling volume, non-IT and IT. She has led several teams as a Recruitment Manager, Account Manager, Service Delivery and Business Development. She has also led teams in different industries such as Media and Advertising, IT, Outsourcing, BPO, Manufacturing, Military, Healthcare and Sciences. She has built teams based on their strengths and developed leaders with strong ethical values as well as aiming to beat the average. She strongly believes in integrity, strive for growth, persistence and kindness as hallmarks of a successful person and company.

Nikita Magpantay


Niki is a dynamic human resource professional with a focus on talent acquisition and HR business partnership, bringing her extensive expertise gained over 6 years. She is a versatile Recruiter specializing in diverse sectors including technical, banking and finance, logistics, sales, healthcare, and volume hiring. Niki, as an experienced HR Business Partner has proven success in aligning HR initiatives with business objectives, contributing to organizational growth. She seeks to foster positive employee relations and implementing effective engagement initiatives and business strategies while ensuring adherence to labor policies. Adept at combining a friendly demeanor with a dedicated result-oriented approach helps her bring a unique blend of empathy and strategic acumen to the workplace.

Intejar “Ram” Julkiram


With 9 years of background in RPO, Ram is adept at managing and optimizing the recruitment process for clients, ensuring a seamless and efficient experience. His skills include a deep understanding of both the IT and non-IT industries, enabling him to provide tailored recruitment solutions for the team.

Shara Jane Bonifacio


Shara Bonifacio boasts a rich and diverse career spanning more than 10 years within various industries in recruitment. As a highly skilled and effective communicator adept at engaging with people across multiple platforms, her passion lies in building lasting relationships. She excels not only in connecting with candidates but also in fostering strong ties with clients and stakeholders.

Throughout her career in industries such as Financial Services, Insurance Brokerage, Information Technology, Pharmaceutical, and Healthcare, Shara has showcased her results-driven mindset. Her penchant for challenges motivates her to continuously strive for excellence and growth.

Shara's leadership experience is a testament to her ability to guide and inspire teams, ensuring collective success and achieving organizational goals.

Evangeline “Gigi” Tilaon


Gigi, an inspiring leader, possesses nearly 5 years of expertise in the art of Talent Acquisition and boasts a distinguished 15-year legacy of visionary leadership. She is renowned for her unwavering dependability and boundless supportiveness, qualities that radiate through every endeavor she undertakes. Gigi's leadership style is characterized by remarkable transparency and hands-on engagement, underlined by a profound trust in her team's exceptional talents. She confronts challenges with fearless determination, inspiring her team to achieve greatness. As a passionate outdoor enthusiast and a nurturing fur parent, Gigi advocates for a work-life equilibrium with extraordinary grace and enthusiasm.

Randy Owen Roman


Randy brings extensive experience in the recruitment industry, spanning over 5 years. During his tenure, he has successfully managed a diverse portfolio of clients across multiple sectors, including IT, Financial, Retail, Light Industrial, BPO, Market Intelligence, and Healthcare. Randy is passionate about the outdoors and finds joy in activities like hiking and exploring nature. Equally, he appreciates the arts, indulging in music, movies, and series. As a leader, Randy exemplifies fairness and empowerment, consistently guiding and inspiring his team to surpass expectations.

Avielle Bernardino


Avielle, with 7 years of Healthcare Recruitment, is not just a leader. She is a mentor and an architect of streamlined offshore program planning. She has an innate ability to optimize processes, ensuring they align seamlessly with our clients' and program-defined standards. She empowers her peers, nurturing exceptional performance and maintaining a high level of service quality. This dedication to efficiency has set a new benchmark within our organization. She actively participates in strategic planning initiatives, driving a culture of continuous improvement. This proactive approach ensures we stay ahead in a rapidly evolving industry.

Kris Florblanco


Kris, with over six years in IT Recruitment and three years of team leadership, is known for dependability and supportiveness. Transparent and hands-on, she places trust in her team. An outdoor enthusiast, Kris faces challenges head-on to keep her team up and running.

Grace Marasigan


Grace, an empowering leader with six years in Talent Acquisition, is passionate about innovation and improvement. Balancing work quality and agility across various industries, her compassionate approach extends to her personal life as a committed vegan.

Ly Poticar


Ly brings 2 decades of expertise in the Recruitment and Staffing industry, covering various business verticals in both local and global recruitment. He has successfully led growth projects for SMBs and offshore expansion initiatives for Shared Services and other global enterprises. He seeks to continuously evolve his recruitment practices and client partnership agenda to provide innovative solutions and be a step ahead of the market trends. Ly has recruitment experience in the talent market for the following majors, as well as emerging industries: Tech – hardware/software/mobile/consulting/Web3, Online Gaming & Media, Digital Marketing, Finance – corporate/banking and fintech, Construction & Engineering, Energy, BPO, Manufacturing & Logistics.

Lara Belo


Lara brings a decade of invaluable experience in the field of IT recruitment, catering to diverse and niche IT roles. With adeptness in team management, she has led successful recruitment teams. She guides her team in effectively sourcing, tailoring recruitment strategies, and connecting top-tier IT professionals with optimal career opportunities nationwide.

Her extensive background in business development and client relations has not only led to the acquisition of new accounts that have expanded over time but also positioned her as a trusted partner for numerous clients.

Ezalyn Caberto


Eza is an accomplished RPO leader. She has a proven experience in building and leading high-performance recruitment teams.

Eza is also experienced and active in offshore RPO's management, recruiting, and consulting aspects. She has implemented several successful offshore recruiting accounts that have grown over time.

Eza is also a successful mentor who has produced budding leaders in her field. As a mentor, she has a strong focus on supporting emerging millennial team players.

Candy Poblete


Candy has been an HR Practitioner for 10 years. Her extensive experience in managing end-to-end HR facets came from various industries. She’s a champion in handling employee relations and labor relations. As a strategic thinker, she is adept at aligning HR policies and practices with the company’s goals and objectives, safeguarding the organization from legal complications, and providing employees with a secure and fair environment.

Anna Katrina Roa


Katrina, a De La Salle University graduate with a BSC in Accounting, plays a vital role in maintaining the company's financial health. She generates reports, manages budgets, and oversees the accounting department.

With over two (2) decades of experience in the recruitment industry, she is well-versed in its financial dynamics. Her expertise allows her to adeptly address the unique financial needs of recruitment businesses, making her an invaluable asset to the organization.

Jimmy P. Roa


Jimmy is a business executive in the field of BPO, RPO, IT Staffing, Technical Recruiting, Virtual Recruiting, Remote Staffing, and CAD Outsourcing. Having been involved in these industries for the past 30 years, Jimmy knows what works and what doesn’t. Aside from being the CEO of Sysgen RPO, he is also CEO of Sysgen – an IT Staffing firm which he founded in 1991.

Keen to working with clients who are willing to practice the “One-team Concept”, Jimmy has been mainly responsible in growing the Sysgen Group to what it is now.

He believes that clients are partners and that a true alliance is essential in achieving overall goals of cost savings and process improvement.