A Contingent Search Versus a Retained Search Explained in Fifteen Words Or Less

Your company has an open position that needs to be filled. You need help finding qualified candidates for the job. You’ve decided to work with a recruiter to help expedite the process, access their pre-screened network of qualified job candidates, and find the best candidate out there. Now to decide whether to engage in a contingent search or a retained search. Ultimately, it will come down to what your company’s needs are at the time, but here’s how we explain the options to our clients at Building Careers.

Effective Hiring | Hiring Resource | Retained and Contingent Recruiting


In Fifteen Words or Less…

  • A contingent search is a no risk/obligation search process under a limited-scope agreement
  • A retained search is a priority search process under a full-scale hiring resource agreement

The Hiring Process


  • Recruiting firm complements a search process your company already has underway
  • Search is conducted under a limited scope of work, which means the recruiting firm is only involved in select aspects of the recruiting process
  • The process is a volume-based search approach; The recruiting firm works on many job openings for multiple clients concurrently
  • Your company takes a more hands-on approach to reviewing and evaluating the candidates
  • Does not require that recruiters meet set accountability milestones


  • Recruiting firm/ retained search firm acts as an extension of your company’s internal hiring team and takes on all of the hiring process responsibilities
  • Scope of work starts from defining a tailor-made search strategy and culminates with successful candidate integration into your company
  • Search firm prioritizes a limited number of searches at a time to ensure quality candidates are presented; Recruiter has access to the full spectrum of active and passive candidates available and apply targeted search tactics
  • Recruiter is more heavily involved in assessing and vetting how candidate attributes will contribute to your company culture and ultimate success
  • Accountability milestones are predetermined in the initial scope to require executive search firms to meet and exceed your company’s expectations

Fee Structure


  • The fee is due when the executive search firm finds your company a qualified candidate who you ultimately hire
  • The fee may cost less than a retained search fee depending on the level of service a recruiter provides


  • There are multiple types of retained searches, which determine the fee structure. They also allow for more accountability and transparency in managing investment and fee expectations. Retained searches can be;
  • Fully-engaged
  • Performance-based
  • By an engagement fee
  • The fee may cost more than a contingent search fee based on accountability hurdles, search practices, and greater scope of service

In the commercial real estate industry, companies tend to go with a retained search process for hiring senior level positions – the larger the role in the company the larger the search investment – and a contingent search for hiring entry-level or non-specialized positions. Contact us if you have any other questions or want to brainstorm on how to make your search for the right candidate a success!

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