Retained search versus contingency search – what’s right for your marketing vacancy?

What is retained search and is it the right choice for your marketing vacancy?

‘Retained search’ or ‘retained recruitment’ is the exclusive engagement of one recruitment agency to deliver a tailored shortlist of suitable marketing candidates that results in a successful hire.

The recruitment agency fee is normally split into 3, with the first fee due on commencement of the search, the second on presentation of a shortlist or at interview stage and the final balance when the successful candidate starts.

It differs from ‘contingency recruitment’ whereby one or more recruitment agency is briefed on the same vacancy. The fee is paid to the agency who successfully places the candidate once their employment starts.

Which option is right for your vacancy and business, and is retained search only for senior or executive appointments?

Retained recruitment

There are many benefits to retained recruitment and this approach can be applied to any role, not just executive or senior appointments, where you want the recruiter to dedicate their time in finding the right candidate.

With the initial retainer fee paid, a recruiter working on a retained basis is highly motivated to begin the search and build a shortlist of relevant candidates for interview.

Working with one recruiter, hiring managers or HR teams don’t need to brief and manage multiple agencies saving time. The retained recruiter will have the time to get to know their client’s business and culture ensuring those candidates that make the shortlist are a good match on company culture and values as well as experience.
Retained search is often the best option when discretion and confidentiality are required, a specialist recruiter can be chosen who is likely to best represent your brand during the search.

Building a relationship with one recruiter also makes for many more successful hires in the future, they will already have detailed knowledge of the organisation and preferences around candidate qualifications, sector experience or soft skills.

Contingency recruitment

Contingency search can also be the right choice in some circumstances. It is often the preference for junior or entry level roles whereby it’s acceptable to reach out to a wide pool of candidates, or where specialist experience isn’t required.

It can be cheaper on a purely fee basis, but consideration should be given to whether the hiring manager or HR team have the resources and time to read through and interview a large selection of candidates from multiple agencies.

More than one agency could also approach the same candidate, this can sometimes have a negative effect on the candidates’ opinion of the potential employer.

Should you opt for retained or contingency?

What’s right for one employer isn’t necessarily right for another.

Selecting retained or contingency will depend on many factors, it’s also important to factor in the candidate experience.

A retained recruiter is likely to deliver a targeted and accurate presentation of the role and representation of the employer to candidates, this should attract and secure higher quality candidates, especially in today’s competitive market. A retained recruiter could be the difference between a candidate selecting a role over one offered by a competitor.

If time is of the essence, contingency recruiters will work quickly knowing they are competing against other agencies but may not demonstrate the staying power if candidates are hard to find.

Kindred Recruitment can work on both a retained and contingency basis, offering advice on which option is best suited to your marketing vacancy, budget and timescales.

To discuss your hiring needs, please call 020 3488 1855 or email



About the author

Katie Jackson, founder of Kindred RecruitmentKatie Jackson is the founder of Kindred Recruitment and has worked in fast-paced B2B marketing teams and within the sales and marketing recruitment industry for almost a decade.

Her goal is simple – to connect the brightest marketing talent with brilliant businesses in London and beyond.

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