Retained Search - The Pros and Cons

By Fernie Black

People are unique and diverse and for most businesses, represent the difference between success and failure. Then why would a company looking to add such an important asset, risk anything? That's the question underlying the major difference between contingency and retained searching.

With contingency search, professional staffing agencies are constantly struggling with the knowledge there are other agencies working against them. Instead of creating an atmosphere of support and client commitment, the agency has to juggle the very real fact its efforts may go to waste and be rewarded with nothing.

For the most part, contingency recruiting treats people like commodities and creates a combative environment where the focus is not entirely on selecting the best client candidate, the focus is also on filling and billing.

On the other hand, retained search represents the ideal scenario and supports the best atmosphere and environment for a successful search campaign. With a retained search an exclusive project is undertaken on behalf of a client whereby applicants are sourced, screened and ultimately selected for client consideration based on specific company culture and best fit.

With a retained search, the seeking company effectively partners with the search firm for the duration of the project. During this time the hiring company outsources the recruiting process to this sole service provider  - effectively making them part of the overall company function.

Since the search firm's focus is now 100% on the client's requirements there is no longer an attention divide between doing their job and avoiding being 'trumped' by another agency. This equates to a much higher quality of search campaign for the hiring company, which ironically counters the apparent gains of having many agencies searching for staff.

This apparent value inversion effect is caused by the fact that although perceptually 'more is better,' it is in fact a falsehood. This falsehood happens because there are only a finite number of suitable candidates available at any time for consideration, and all firms have to "drink from the same well”. Since the applicants know this, they often register with multiple firms using multiple resume versions. This can cause numerous problems for contingency agencies, especially when considering 'who owns' the applicant for billing purposes.

With retained search no such challenges exist and a company's best interests are served because the search firm has exclusivity. This exclusivity is attractive for the potential applicants too and brings added attention within the job market. It should also be noted that retained firms prefer launching fresh advertising campaigns when starting a new search. This 'newness' ensures the resumes and applications are the freshest possible whereas often times contingency agencies avoid this extra step because it incurs additional costs and requires more time.

Retained search firms don't cut corners because they can afford to execute the search campaign completely. This commitment also breeds a better relationship between client and search firm - and frankly only improves the process because the firm then has a better understanding of the client culture, environment and intangibles.

In fairness, if you have a job requirement that is temporary in nature and where there are clearly defined pools of candidates, the industry parameters are quite static, and the salary cap on this type of role is stable, then using a commodity acquisition model (contingency searching) might work for you.

However, if you are seeking a long-term staff member to join your business who will be an excellent match for your requirements and company, bring their own individuality and uniqueness and help raise your company to new levels, then consider a retained search. The rewards far outweigh any misconceptions you might have about the process.



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