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Retained Search vs. Contingent Search

It seems that everyone has their own individual observation of/about Executive Search., and how it differs from that of contingent recruitment. I would like to highlight to you some of the reasons it is more cost effective to choose a firm like Redline Executive to be your recruiting partner moving forwards.While many people understand the concept of a “recruiter”, misunderstandings arise when terms like Retained Search vs. Contingent Search, or non-exclusive vs. exclusive get added into the discussion. From my experience in the industry the truth is while many talent acquisition professionals are labelled as “recruiters”, the various disciplines and methodologies involved are often very different and so more importantly are the results!

On the surface it may seem that having a non-exclusive relationship with many “recruiters” sounds much more productive (not to mention more economical) than paying an upfront retainer to a single Executive Search firm. Or how an agency with a “database” of existing talent might sound more efficient than hiring someone to conduct a “search” on behalf of your organisation. But sometimes that “deal” you thought you were getting can sometime turn out to be more of an “ordeal”. So if you are the HR Director or the MD or the CEO and your Chairman or CEO or Board have asked you to start researching options for finding the right talent for that critical opening you have, the question is just where do you start? Redline Executive are here to help, and below are some of the answers to some key questions you should understand prior to deciding on the type of recruitment process you should select to fill a key role in your organisation.

What’s the advantage in hiring a Retained Executive Search firm, why not use a contingent recruiter who does not require an upfront fee?

By nature, contingent recruiters (professionals who work without a retainer and are paid 100% of the fee upon placement) are not structured to be loyal to a client long term or even to the end of a recruitment drive. As the contingent search model is based on speed, they focus primarily on the front end of the process, and they often “get going” (as in away) when the going gets tough. Contingent recruiters usually obtain a cursory understanding of the role through a job description (and often simply copy your description and re-post it under their name) and attempt to quickly find resumes that match keywords rather than real requirements. Their loyalty is relative to the assignment; as they’re taking the most risk in essentially working for free, their primary goal is to fill jobs as quickly as possible and move on, not taking the time to truly understand your business and who represents a good fit. As the search becomes more involved, many contingent recruiters have moved on to “greener pastures”.

Typically for the client the most valuable part of an executive search and where most of the work gets done is at the beginning of the search. By retaining Redline Executive Search you will be ensured that we will spend the early stages of a search learning about your culture, your competitive landscape, and where you are trying to take your company. This attention to detail ensures that our focus is on solving the company’s challenges and outlining the criteria to move the company forward, and subsequently accomplishing that through finding and introducing the right talent for the job and the company.

Why commit to having an exclusive agreement with an Executive Search firm, why not hire multiple recruiters to work on a search?

It may seem logical that the more resources/recruiters you use, the better your result will be. But actually the result is more often than not the exact opposite. Using multiple search professionals on a single position can cause more problems than it solves.  First, the higher level, more experienced retained search professionals will not agree to engage in a free-for-all arrangement. That automatically limits your choices to lower level, less experienced contingent recruiters. And as you’ve set them in competition with each other, their focus is going to be on how fast they can provide you with as many resumes that might get them a placement, not on how they can find high quality talent that fits the stringent standards of the role you’re seeking to fill. And as the initial “thrill of the hunt” wears off fairly quickly, they’ll quickly move on to other things and you may find yourself with multiple recruiting contracts and no viable candidates. Or worse, dozens of irrelevant resumes from candidates who will all invariably be described as “premier candidate or the best in the market”.

Why should I invest in a Retained Search?

Because Retained Executive Search firms are consultative in nature, you receive far beyond a simple list of candidates or resumes. For example at Redline Executive, you will receive a short list dossier containing the facts and figures of the search assignment including any relevant market information.You will receive for each of the candidates a full resume, a copy of the of competency interview notes, a full reference check report, a psychometric evaluation report and a full Board Advisor validation report. 

Retained Executive Search firms can offer value in their objective look at your organisation and hiring process. In utilising a Retained Executive Search firm, your organisation will learn critical details in how your organisation is perceived, how your hiring process might be pushing away the best talent, and areas of improvement that can make your organisation an employer of choice which can be utilised by your in-house recruiting team moving forward. 

And as their expertise will bring your opportunity to the attention of the best candidates, great executive talent bring great results and typically brings a huge upside to your organisation’s profitability. Thus Retained executive search in a sense pays for itself. Great executive talent are an investment, not a cost. If your organisation has been looking at procuring top executive candidates as a cost, it’s because you’re not hiring the right people. Working with a Retained Executive Search firm can turn that around effectively.

If the person doesn’t work out, can I have my money back? 

Almost all recruitment contracts offer a guarantee in some form or another. But another difference between contingent recruiters and retained executive consultants is with contingent you are paying for one executive candidate, while with Retained Executive Search firms you are paying for a methodology that results in an executive candidate as well as a process improvement that can be utilised time and again. 
Not only that but you will receive a shortlist of candidates so should have more than one candidate to select for each position should you require.

Retained executive search focuses on the fit and then sets out in search of the talent, not the other way around. In the end, the financial commitment works out equally as both contingent and Retained Executive Search firms base their fees on a percentage of the candidate’s salary. The difference is that the consultative aspect and diligent research that Retained Executive Search firms provide enable your organisation to save time and headaches by avoiding pitfalls and delays often associated with contingent search. Having said all that, often we here at Redline Executive are called upon to (mop up) after a poorly executed recruitment campaign, therefore as we understand that sometimes cost and value are often confused, we are able to offer a 100% refund on the retained section of our fees, however we are proud to say that we have never in our 35 year history had to return a fee as we currently still operating with a 100% placement record on all executive search campaigns.
Do you have a database/network of executive candidates? 

Every experienced Retained Executive Search firm will have a detailed list of talent and sources they can draw on in the course of an executive search. But your organisation has specific needs and aspects that are different from even your closest competitor. It’s a common delusion that the perfect candidate is sitting in a database somewhere. You are hiring a person, not just a set of skills and your company culture and how that executive fits with your team are as important as the skills and experience any candidate may bring. 

A Retained Executive Search firm will seek out passive talent who make the most sense for your team both in terms of skills and culture fit. It is rare that “database” candidates will be the perfect fit for an organisation. Additionally, many databases are updated infrequently and as most database candidates are active job seekers they may have already found another role. A database is only as good as its data.
If you are currently seeking to add new talent to your team or would like to conduct a confidential research or market map of your sector, please contact Andy Raymond Search Partner at Redline Executive for a confidential and informative chat by emailing or call 01582 878907



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