Retainer Or Contingency – Which Is Better For Recruitment?

Dec 16, 2022

When it comes to recruitment, there is no one-size-fits-all option. It’s all down to finding the right recruiter and arrangements for you and your business. However, most recruiters will work in two ways – on a retainer basis, or contingency. Both have their pros and cons, so how do you know which is the best option for your business? In this blog, we’ll take a look at the key differences between retainer and contingency recruitment, and help you decide which is the best option for you.

Contingency Recruitment

Contingency recruitment is essentially a basic vendor relationship. If you have a role to fill in your business, you go out and find a recruiter to fill it for you as needed. Sometimes you might even find a couple of different recruiters, so they are in competition to find someone for the role. While this might seem like a good thing on the surface (after all, it gives more chances at finding a good candidate, right?), really there are a lot of drawbacks.

For example, some recruiters tend to rush the recruitment process if they know they’re in competition. After all, the first “good” candidate presented can become the front runner in a search. Good is in quotes for a reason. When there is serious time competition to present viable candidates to a client, good can become the enemy of great (see Good to Great by Jim Collins).

Other recruiters in competition might submit candidates who aren’t a perfect fit for the role, but they put them forward to see if they get anyone attention. You tend to get a lot more ‘long shot’ candidates when working with recruiters on a contingency basis, which means a lot more work for you to sift through all of those CVs and interview all of those people to find the right person. Which if they are all great candidates is wonderful – but if they all miss the mark then it can take up a lot of valuable time that you just don’t have.

How Is Retainer Recruitment Different?

Retainer recruitment is different because you have a more long-term relationship with your recruiter. You keep them on retainer to act as an extension to your internal team, so we become part of your HR function. This means that when a company utilises a retainer relationship with a recruiter they build more of a trusted partnership with them, and they often see better results from it.

With this type of arrangement, recruiters are constructing a dedicated search and process to find the right candidate. The focus is on quality and appropriateness for the position, and the best interests of the client are at the forefront – where they should be. A retained recruiter will always be trying to get the word out that your company had positions available, and thanks to the exclusive working relationship they have with you they’re protected from predatory recruiters trying to poach candidates from them. So your recruiter is more likely to take their time in researching and finding candidates who are right for the job, rather than the wrong people turning up at the right time.

So Which Is Better For You?

That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Unfortunately, without knowing you, we can’t tell you for certain which approach would work better for your business. It all depends on what you’re looking for, your budget and your time commitments. What we can say is that there are some key indicators.

For example. A contingency relationship might work well for you if:

  • There are lots of high-quality candidates available in your industry
  • Your need is less urgent
  • You have more time to interview and vet candidates who might not seem like the best fit

On the other hand, taking out a retainer with a recruiter might be the perfect option if:

  • You have an urgent or mission-critical need
  • There are already front-runner candidates in mind, but you want to compare those candidates to other possibilities
  • You’re looking for a recruiter who is accountable to you and will provide extensive documentation to recommend a candidate
  • You’re willing to pay an expert recruiter for their time and expertise to seek out the best candidate

At Wildcat Careers we work as a retained recruitment partner for IT support and cyber security roles. Because we can build a relationship with you and your business using this model, we are able to find the best fit for your team not only in terms of skills, but also in personality and culture. If you’d like to know more about our retainer services, just get in touch with the team today.


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