Contingency Recruitment versus Retained Recruitment, which one is best?


Recruitment is quite often one of the biggest sources of frustrations and problems for growing companies.  The search for talent is very competitive and if not managed correctly can lead to excessive amounts of time and money being spent with no ideal outcome.

Simply placing an advert online via a job board or on a free government portal will not always suffice and therefore other strategies need to be considered.

One such strategy is using a recruitment agency or employment business.

With most recruitment agencies delivering their recruitment service through a ‘contingency’ model, most companies might shudder at the thought of parting with any sum of money prior to a successful hire.

So why would you, an employer, consider using a retained service where you would pay a sum of money to the recruitment agency prior to the start of a recruitment assignment?

The difference

If you are not familiar with the Contingency and Retained terms here is a short explanation.

A ‘contingency’ model is where you (the employer) engage with a recruitment agency, or agencies, where you only pay a fee if that agency successfully fills your vacancy and you employ a candidate who the agency introduced.

Whereas, during a ‘retained’ service, you pay the agency part of the fee ‘upfront’ prior to them starting their assignment to find you your ideal candidate.  There are various retained models and I touch on this at the end.

Reasons for choosing a retained model

So, here are my reasons why you would seriously consider using a retained recruitment service compared to the contingency type:

Greater focus and ownership

When you engage with an agency on a retained model you are showing your commitment to supporting that agency in their quest to find you your ideal candidate.  Your problem now firmly becomes their problem as, by parting with a sum of money ‘upfront’, the agency now must take ownership and the pressure is now on them to deliver.

The agency will therefore place a greater emphasis on your account.  This could include your account being managed by one of their top-performing recruitment consultants along with more search and advertising resources being allocated, all at an additional cost to the agency.


Communication is always key to a successful assignment which is all too often watered down when more than one agency is involved.  The employer becomes tired of fielding agency calls and becomes reluctant to answering them falling back on communicating via email.

During a retained search, the employer will be keen to hear and speak with the agency as they have a vested interest having parted with an initial sum of money.


Through this strong communication the agency becomes very knowledgeable about the company often leading to multiple site visits and, in some cases, leading to the agency becoming personally involved in supporting the employer at on-site interviews.

The more the agency understands your business the better they are at introducing relevant, quality candidates who match your requirements but also have the right personality and fit for your business.

Relationship and trust

All the above, providing the agency delivers results, leads to a stronger and more trusted relationship which is extremely beneficial to both parties.

Going the extra mile

All the above will often benefit the employer by the agency willing to go the extra mile.  This could include the agency using additional budget to use new resources to find and attract relevant candidates along with becoming more flexible in resolving problems (if and when they occur) in order to retain your business as a preferred partner.

Removal of noise

The retained relationship enables the agency to go through their search & selection assignment with no noise being generated by other agencies.  This allows the agency to have open conversations with candidates knowing that other agencies have not spoken with that candidate about the same role.

The benefit of this is not to be underestimated and has a strong positive impact on the agency successfully finding, interviewing and introducing your ideal candidate.

Is retained right for you?

Retained is not always the best solution and the employer must be confident that the agency is the right fit for their business.

Completing your own due diligence is essential prior to starting a ‘retained relationship’.  Does the agency already possess a demonstrable history in delivering the type of candidates who are right for your business?  Ask the question and gain the evidence.

Ensure you are happy with the agency’s terms of business.  If the agency is not being transparent about their fees just walk away.

Likewise, a professional agency will take their time to engage with you, gain details of your vacancy prior to agreeing to deliver a retained service.

Retained models

There are a few retained recruitment models.

A typical model is where the ‘total fee’ is split into three.  A third is paid upfront prior to the assignment starting, 2nd third paid when a candidate(s) has been invited to a client (employer) interview and the remaining 3rd paid on the candidate starting their new job.

This could ultimately mean that 2/3rds of the fee has been paid prior to you having your new employee in your business and, in some cases, could be financially painful if no one is appointed.  Some agencies will offer some form of protection on these initial payments so, as mentioned above, gain all the detail.

Remember if your business is a good fit for the agency, they will want to both secure and retain your business.


If you have any questions on this subject or any other recruitment related matter, please just get in touch as I am always happy to give you advice and guidance.

Adrian Cheesman

Tel: 0333 3445577