Why Executive Search Retainers Make Sense

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Why should I sign on for retained search and commit to paying a fee prior to hiring when I can just pay on a contingent arrangement?

This is a great question and it’s one I’ve encountered many times in the last 20+ years in the executive search field. Today I want to speak to this topic clearly and succinctly. Here goes.

The decision to go with a retainer or contingency model is the fork in the road when it comes to talent acquisition. Many companies have large talent acquisition teams (i.e. in-house recruiters) and a fine track record with many positions. However, at times they struggle filling key positions – often as a result of being stretched too thin (too many open recs per recruiter) and are simply unable to devote the time a search of this type demands. As this becomes clear to senior leadership and the time comes to decide about putting the search in the hands of an out-of-house solution, the question inevitably rises as to which path to choose.

For me, the discussion distills down to this: Retained search is about partnership.

When your company is filling critically important roles and you absolutely need to find top tier candidates at critical leadership levels, you need someone completely focused on the effort. You need a firm that’s engaged beyond the fixed parameters of a single search; you need a firm that’s part of your organization, that gets your brand, that can communicate your unique value proposition as an employer, and that’s able to perceive a fit far beyond a resume.   You need a partner.

In addition to digging deep to understand the company extremely well, a top notch retained search firm will dedicate substantial man-hours to each project, something that in-house recruiters are spread too thin to do as they simply have too many projects. For example, where my researchers are responsible for one or two projects at a time, many in-house recruiters have 25 to 50 open recs on their plate at any one time (or more). Contingency firms, while not necessarily having that many recs in play, are in the same boat in terms of resource limitation and simply can’t summon the kind of attention and dedication to a given talent need that a retained firm will. The retained solution generates the kind of focused resources and acute attention that best fits an ongoing search strategy as opposed to a single search and ultimately integrates an out-of-house team into an organization’s hiring fabric as a whole.

Retained search is an across-the-board strategic tool, and although it may not be right for every organization, it’s a solution that makes a lot of sense from a strategy standpoint.

Whether you’re a nonprofit, start-up or well-established business, the formula is the same.

To hire the best talent – engage the best solution.