Contingency vs. Retained Recruiting – What’s REALLY The Difference?

Recruiting, Contingency, Retainer...

Let's start with what most people think a recruiter does! Funny enough, a lot of hiring managers think recruiters just post a job on LinkedIn and message random people to hopefully find a couple ‘good enough’ candidates that they can send over. For some, this may be the case. However, for the elite recruiters who work on a retained basis, this could not be further from the truth.


This is when a manager has multiple firms competing to send the best candidates over. A contingent recruiter knows that speed is the most important factor because they are competing with other firms to “cover the role” (meaning they have at least 3 candidates submitted).


  1. The recruiter will start working on the role quickly. In almost every case, contingent recruiters will take any role because it is an opportunity for them to hopefully fill a role.


1. Elite Recruiters Prioritize Their Work/Time Based on How Fillable a Role Is.

If a really good recruiter knows that the candidate pool is already limited and that 5 other firms are all calling the same candidates, it slides further down the priority list. That means the recruiters who really knows the market, the candidates, the industry will not be motivated to work on your role.

2. It Can Damage your Company Brand.

Put yourself in a candidate’s shoes who gets 5 calls on the same day about the same role about the same company. 

What is going through your head? Probably not “I really want that job!” That is not necessarily how you want the best candidates on the market to get a first impression of your company and team.

3. You are going to get a lot of candidates who don’t line up with the criteria you have for the role. 

This is the case for 2 reasons:

  • You’re going to be dealing with more amateur recruiters who are not a market specialist in any particular industry. They are a jack of all trades and a master of none (meaning they recruit Java Developer, Analytics, BI, and any other tech role they can get their hands on).
  • Since they are not a specialist, they do not know the industry jargon. Meaning when they take a job spec from you and you start giving them specific skills that you want, they may not fully understand what you are talking about or what those skills are.


This is when the recruiter has a contractual agreement with the manager stating they will be working together exclusively. It is backed up by putting a ‘retainer’ forward as a commitment to the recruiter. This can range from $2500 to 1/3 of the first year salary of the potential hire.


1. There is commitment on both ends.

The client has shown exclusivity is fully given by backing it with a retainer, and the recruiter has agreed to delegate all resources and time to make this role a top priority. 

2. Since recruiters prioritize work based on how fillable the role is, they know 100% they will fill the role. 

When they know this, and they have been paid a small portion up front, they are highly incentivized and motivated to fill it as quickly as possible to get the rest of the commission. 

3. You will keep a reputable brand.

By only allowing one recruiter to present this role in the marketplace you will ensure that candidates do not get over-saturated or annoyed by your role by having multiple people call about it. 

4. You will get those ‘hard to get’ candidates that only want the exclusive jobs.

There are candidates that are so sought after in the market that are only interested in the roles they think will be hard to get. If someone calls a  top candidate and says they have an exclusive role that nobody knows about they are more eager to hear the recruiter present the role.

5. Your role will get filled faster.

I cannot stress this enough! The more commitment you have between you and your recruiter, the faster and more efficient everyone can work. 


  1. You actually have to commit to your role as much as you expect your recruiter too.

  2. You may have to get the retainer approved.

  3. It may cause a 3-5 day delay at the very beginning to get the retainer payment approved, but it will save you weeks or months on the total recruitment time.

Working on a retained basis can be nerve-wrecking the first time. However, once you do it with the right recruiter you will never go back. Afterall- time is the most precious commodity. Don’t waste yours by doing the same thing over, and over.
-Adam Weiss