October 10, 2023

Retained & Contingent Search: What’s the difference?

Creative Niche
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Chances are you already know that the hiring process can be quite a journey filled with challenges and uncertainties. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, rest assured that it’s completely normal.

However, this pressure can often slow down the process of finding the perfect team members and, in turn, hinder business growth. One of the best ways to reduce stress and business risk is by partnering with a recruitment company.

Knowing what to look for in a recruitment firm, when it comes to the needs of your growing business or team, is a great first step in identifying the perfect partner for your candidate search. Whether you’re looking for a new CEO, where the process needs to be discreet, or you’re looking for a new member on a team, knowing the key differences between Retained and Contingent Search firms offer is important.

How To Find Qualified Candidates: Retained & Contingent Summarized

In a nutshell, these are the two types of search:

Retained Search, also known as Executive Search, is for when you need to fill an executive role, where privacy and being discreet is at the forefront of a search. A firm that specializes in Retained Search can recruit for every role from Creative Director to CEO.

These firms will provide advice on how to define the role and its requirements, which can include the job description and how to position the company to appeal to candidates. Executive Search firms will also advise on how to speak with candidates when seeking top-tier talent.

Retained also refers to the partial fee upfront that is required by these firms, which is usually a percentage of the successful candidates yearly salary. These relationships operate on an exclusive basis, because of the time required to find your ideal candidate.

Contingent Search is focused on identifying ideal candidates for challenging job openings. Contingency search firms work to identify your candidate criteria, search their talent network, and offer a shortlist of potential hires. The "contingency" aspect relates to payment, with search fees typically contingent on successful candidate placement.

This means no upfront charges and potential cost savings. However, if they don't find a suitable match, you'll need an alternative approach to continue your search.

If you want to learn more about the intricacies of Retained & Contingent Search, keep reading. Depending on the role you’re hiring for, there are several differences between the two recruitment types.

What is Retained Search?

The purpose of Retained Search, also known as Executive Search, is about searching and finding potential leaders that fit with business needs. For the company engaging with a Retained Search firm, you'll typically be charged around 20-25% of the hires yearly income. Upon signing usually 10% is due, with the rest being paid once someone has accepted an offer.

Before starting with a firm, think about how crucial the role is to the growth of your company. Is it a leader who will be managing a vital team? An executive whose decisions will affect an entire product or service? Or a new CEO who will lead the direction of the company as a whole? These are complex questions to ask on behalf of your business, but they’re vital in defining who the ideal candidate will be.

The executive search process takes time, so it's important to be realistic with your expectations and listen to the advice from the firm you've engaged.

Challenges & Complexities of Retained Search / Executive Search Services

No one knows your business as much as the people involved in running it and growing it. That’s why, working as partners in the recruitment process, Retained Search firms goal is to understand the complexities of your business, so it is able to look for the candidate who has skills that would augment and improve what’s already occurring, or find a leader who is able to bring something entirely new to help you drive growth.

There are always a wide variety of complexities for any given business, industry, or age of an organization. Retained Search firms frequently focus on four areas to make sure the hiring process for an executive is thorough and provides confidence:

Exclusivity: Retained Search firms require the hiring of an executive to be an exclusive process. The resources, research and process involved, on top of being a highly involved hiring partner, ensures they can spend the time to find the ideal potential candidates your business is after.

Confidentiality: One of the core focuses of Retained Search is the confidentiality involved in the entire process. Are you replacing a current executive? Looking to move your business in a different direction with new leadership? Executive search firms ensure any reason to keep the hiring process quiet is always at the forefront of the search process.

Risk of misalignment & turnover: The last thing an organization wants from a new leader is for them to quickly jump ship because of a better offer. Retained Search firms focus on providing the hiring business the knowledge they need to feel confident a new hire discloses outside offers before getting to the final stage.

Time: The hiring process for executives is time-consuming—it requires extensive research, sourcing, and vetting of candidates. So, it’s crucial that you have a solid understanding of the timeline in your partnership agreement. 

Part of working with a Retained search firm is knowing the financial commitment to get the process started. A portion of the agreed upon rate is due upon signing the exclusive agreement. This enables the recruitment team to get started immediately so top-tier talent can be reached out to quickly, and the process can begin to interview and hire your ideal candidate.

Best Roles for Retained Search

The Retained Search recruitment method is ideal for finding great leaders who play a vital role in the company’s future. It isn’t just about finding someone with a certain skill set; it’s about discovering a candidate that aligns with the company’s values and goals—someone who can guide the company in the right direction. Executive positions and major leadership roles require the Retained model for successful placement.

While it might be a more detailed process, the Retained model ensures that the presented candidates aren’t just good but exceptional potential hires.

The success of a recruitment agreement is significantly impacted by selecting the appropriate search model for the positions in question. Retained search performs best when sourcing and securing top-tier executive and leadership talents. So, if you’re looking to fill roles such as Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), Vice Presidents (VPs), Executive Vice Presidents (EVPs), and Executive Creative Directors, make sure to opt for a Retained recruitment engagement.

Related: Executive Search Is More Than Just Headhunting

Retained Search with Creative Niche

Hiring for a senior-level position is no small decision; it’s full of complexities, so selecting your search partner is one of the most essential parts of the process. It’s important to look for firms that have deep industry knowledge and offer white glove service. Luckily, Creative Niche Executive Search is recognized by Forbes as one of the best executive search firms, boasting a 97% success rate, placing top-notch candidates in high-profile roles.

At Creative Niche, our Retained Search services are built to support your business goals and help you acquire valuable executives and senior positions who will help your business grow. It isn’t simply about filling a vacant role; it’s about forming a partnership that helps produce measurable results for your business through a vetted and robust hiring process.

With an exclusive Retained partnership agreement, you get unparalleled expert-led support and the most comprehensive market assessment in the industry. With our decades of experience placing executives, department heads, and founding teams, you can rest assured that your team will gain exposure to unmatched leadership and be set up for exceptional growth.

Whether you’re looking for professionals in marketing, design, digital strategy, or something else, the recruitment team at Creative Niche has access to the best creatives in the business, which means working with us will make you more competitive in the marketplace.

Rather than viewing our firm as simply completing a job, we consider it a partnership where both parties are equally invested in positive results. At the end of the day, our long-term success depends on your long-term success, so it makes sense to develop that closer working relationship.

When you work on a Retained basis with Creative Niche, you can expect:

Expansive talent network: With talent spanning across all North America (and active teams in Toronto and New York), you’ll never be short of worthy & suitable candidates. Our pool of candidates are always geared to your specific needs.

Emphasis on diversity: You’ll always get the best person for the job, and we ensure everyone gets a chance to be seen. We take pride in developing diverse shortlists and incorporating important values and perspectives in our discovery process.

Recruitment focus: Our company is completely focused on recruitment services, and we specialize in recruiting executives from various backgrounds, including design, marketing, product, creative, strategy, and digital.

Founding and early-stage friendly: We partner with founders, venture capitalists, and venture studios to help with hiring for critical positions.

Tailored process: Identifying the right leaders for your organization is essential, and we understand the significance of that responsibility. Our thorough and committed process ensures that only the most aligned candidates reach your organization.

Expert knowledge: As your Retained partner, we will collaborate with you and use our expertise to design a customized recruiting plan for your organization and for specific vacant roles.

From discovery to placement, Creative Niche takes care of it all:

Discovery: We take the time to gain insight into your mission, culture, values, and business objectives to identify your needs and explore growth opportunities. From developing candidate profiles and skills criteria to building job descriptions, we consider all the relevant factors and assess risks and challenges as we design your unique white glove service.

Design: We will use our extensive networks to identify suitable sourcing channels and conduct a comprehensive market analysis. During this step, we also develop communication strategies to help attract the right people and evaluate the various candidate pools.

Delivery: Once a plan is set in place, we conduct targeted outreach on a high-volume basis and provide regular feedback throughout the process. Ongoing collaboration is provided via bi-weekly phone calls and correspondence on Slack or similar platforms. Additionally, you have the option to include personality assessments and evaluations.

Post Placement: Even after the successful offer, we will continue to support you during the onboarding process for any additional hiring needs your team may have. You’ll also receive regular check-in communication to ensure you and the candidate are satisfied in the initial months of placement.

What is Contingent Recruitment?

If you’re looking to grow a team to take on new challenges, or you’re looking to fill a role that was recently vacated, Contingent Search firms work with businesses to find leads that fit your desired role, and provides a flexible framework on how to get top-tier talent to join.

Everything from a Graphic Designer to Marketing Manager, Project Coordinator to Account Manager and beyond are perfect candidates for contingency recruiters. The goal of a Contingent recruiter is to discover talent who fit the requirements of your role, with an emphasis on quality and speed.

Contingent recruiters are paid once they have completed a search for a role, where someone has been interviewed and an offer is sent and accepted. In terms of cost, how Contingent works is that once the search is concluded and a candidate is hired, the business will pay the recruitment firm in full, which is typically a percentage of the role's income for the year. Unlike with Retained where a portion is due upfront.

Best Roles for Contingent Search

While executive roles might be more pressing to fill, non-executive roles are just as important to your organization, but they require a different style of hiring process. At the end of the day, these employees are the backbone of your business and an essential part of your growth.

From marketing managers and project coordinators to software engineers and graphic designers, Contingent search is perfect for identifying candidates with those special niche skills that you need to fill certain job functions. Basically, you’ll use a Contingent search strategy for anything that isn’t an executive position.

The Contingent strategy shines when adaptability is a concern. Some industries are always going through transformations, and being able to swiftly respond to changing consumer and market demands is crucial. You're already positioned to outperform your competition when you’re set up to quickly source the most valuable candidates with the latest skill sets.

Contingency Recruiting at Creative Niche

Our team of contingent recruiters work with a large network of highly skilled professionals currently working in their chosen industry but are open to the right opportunity. We don’t believe anyone deserves to settle—so we operate on the premise that our candidates and clients are equally deserving of the best fit possible.

We proudly offer our clients a true white glove service, providing competitive results and hiring long-lasting matches. Unlike other firms, Creative Niche’s Contingent service requires an exclusive agreement, which is due to our top-tier industry connections looking for opportunities. We’re so sure of getting you results, that an agreement shows our investment in time, energy and speed to find the perfect candidate for your business.

It’s important that you feel like we’re invested in the results, which is why we consider expertise an essential part of our recruitment process and only allow the best and most experienced recruiting professionals to work for our organization. We provide the same tailor-made effort to our Contingent search efforts as we do for our Retained search service.

When you work with our recruiters, you’re working with people who possess deep industry knowledge and have allotted time to give you the focus you deserve. By tapping into our extensive network, you’ll always have access to exceptional talent before the competition.

Collaboration is key at Creative Niche, so our consultants are industry professionals in marketing, design, and other creative roles. They are experts in recruitment in their field, which allows them to generate the best results for our clients. From seed-stage startups to Fortune 500 companies, we always have a great fit within our network for any organization working towards growth. Our process includes:

Recruitment strategy: Identify competitors, aspirational brands, and lesser-known companies so that all the best candidates are considered. Only suitable candidates will be presented, so there is no wasted effort on your company's behalf.

Communication plan: You only get one shot at making a great impression on top talent, and we’re here to set you up for success.

Presentation: We will present our top picks with key career insights, updated resume, portfolio, and any comments on why we believe they’d be a great fit.

Offer: We will work alongside you to ensure a smooth offer process is successfully completed.

Capture and curate your ideal team with Creative Niche

With a proven track record spanning various industries and roles, Creative Niche's expertise transcends traditional boundaries, ensuring the perfect match between organizations and top-tier talent. Working with over 700 clients and filling over 14,000 placements, you can count on Creative Niche to help you curate the perfect team for your business—from entry-level talent to C-suite executive roles.

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