Retainer or Contingent: Which type of search meets your needs? | This or That?

30 Jun 2021

Hiring talent is straightforward, however, it could be a lengthy process. Our article on Talent Acquisition vs Agency gives firms like yours an idea of when to leverage the expertise of an agency. Now that you have decided that engaging an agency works best for you, which type of search is in your best interest? 

*The above information is based on our 15 years of experience understanding which option works the best for our clients.


Retainer: For that perfect fit.

Hard to fill jobs, specified roles, suitable candidates are scarce


A retained search is paid in advance to the agency to conduct a search that is either confidential, a specific profile, or to simply search for the best candidate in the pool. Retained searches are typically long, exhaustive, and involve a very close working relationship with the client

  • Benefit

    • Guaranteed exclusivity throughout the search duration does not only mean that the agency wins your money upfront, but it also prioritises and commits the agency to put your hiring needs first
    • Rigorous methodology and due diligence conducted to ensure a qualified shortlist of candidates are presented, resulting in more fruitful discussions between you and the potential hire.
    • Access to a larger pool of candidates – both passive (80%) and active (20%).
    • Market insights and mapping against your direct and indirect competitors.
    • Great for senior position hirings
    • Ultimate employer branding speaks volumes when you choose to work with just one agency to get the best hire in the market, versus working with multiple agencies which potentially dilutes your firm’s branding.
  • Drawbacks

    • Exhaustive process that requires slightly more time to comb the market.
    • Fees are only marginally higher as more resources are dedicated to your search.

Contingent: For the fast results. 

Multiple similar positions to fill, and candidates are needed quickly


Conduct a contingent search for non-critical roles in a firm – this allows you and your recruiter to explore different avenues of sourcing potential candidates that can do the job. Contingent searches are great when you require fast results especially during mass hirings for entry to junior level positions, or temporary headcounts. The quick turnaround timeframe will work best when you work with specialist agencies in their market. Contingency searches are paid only when your organisation decides to hire the candidate presented by the agency.  


  • Benefit

    • Access to a wide variety of candidates that may not traditionally fit the mold 
    • Quick turnaround time and great for multiple hirings for a similar position
    • No payment upfront necessary, pay upon delivering
    • Great for non-critical roles (entry to junior level positions)
  • Drawbacks

    • Agency recruiters work towards roles that are fastest to fill and pays the most in the shortest time frame possible. If your hiring needs are particular, contingency searches may not be the right approach!
    • Higher chances of discrepancies between your expectations and the proposed candidates since not much time is spent understanding your needs.
    • Pitting multiple agency recruiters against each other will not give you the absolute truth that you have combed the market. Rather, you have engaged multiple recruiters to fish from the same limited, active job-seeker talent pond.

Can you meet me halfway? Right at the borderline.


Feeling the pinch? Do you want the best aspects from each search but know that you are unable to give in to the drawbacks? 

What if there is a plausible solution to engaging an agency and having your role prioritized without money upfront? Let’s meet everyone halfway

  1. Exclusivity. The idea of exclusivity is in the interest of both parties’ where downside risks are covered: Clients’ hiring needs are prioritized with a quick turnaround and a consultative approach. Recruitment agencies are able to confidently delegate resources to find good candidates who are passively and actively in a new job search.
  2. The biggest benefit to both parties: Commitment from both sides to make this hire a success. One client and one recruitment agency to find the best candidate for your firm; now, that is probably the best deal anyone can ask for.

Got more questions to ask? Ready to find the talent you need? Get in touch with Daphne at or Ayyaz!