Contingency vs. Retained Search: Which Recruitment Model is Right for You?

Contingency vs. Retained Search


When it comes to recruiting top talent, choosing the right recruitment model can significantly impact your hiring success. Two prevalent models are contingency search and retained search, each with its own advantages and suitable applications. This guide will compare contingency and retained search recruitment models to help you determine which one aligns best with your hiring needs.

Understanding Contingency Search

Contingency search is a recruitment model where agencies are paid only when a candidate is successfully placed.

How It Works:

  • Payment Structure: Agencies receive payment upon the successful placement of a candidate.
  • Non-Exclusive: Clients may work with multiple agencies, and only the one that fills the role gets paid.
  • Candidate Pool: Agencies source candidates quickly to beat the competition and secure the placement.


  • No Upfront Cost: Payment is only required after a successful hire, minimizing initial financial risk.
  • Motivated Agencies: Agencies are driven to fill positions quickly and effectively to earn their fee.
  • Flexibility: Suitable for urgent and high-volume hiring needs.

Example: A retail company needing to hire multiple seasonal staff quickly might choose contingency search to leverage multiple agencies and fill positions promptly.

Understanding Retained Search

Retained search is a recruitment model where agencies are paid an upfront fee to conduct a dedicated and thorough search for candidates.

How It Works:

  • Payment Structure: Clients pay an initial fee or retainer, with additional payments typically based on milestones.
  • Exclusive: The agency has exclusive rights to the search and dedicates significant resources to finding the best candidates.
  • Candidate Pool: Agencies conduct in-depth searches, often targeting passive candidates and high-level professionals.


  • Dedicated Effort: Agencies invest more time and resources into the search, often resulting in higher-quality candidates.
  • Targeted Search: Ideal for filling executive or highly specialized roles where precision is critical.
  • Partnership Approach: Clients and agencies work closely, often leading to better alignment with organizational needs.

Example: A tech startup looking to hire a new Chief Technology Officer (CTO) might opt for a retained search to ensure a thorough and targeted recruitment process.

Comparing Contingency and Retained Search

Choosing between contingency and retained search depends on your specific hiring needs and organizational priorities.

Key Differences:

  • Cost Structure: Contingency search incurs no upfront costs, while retained search involves an initial fee.
  • Search Depth: Retained search typically offers a more in-depth and dedicated approach compared to contingency search.
  • Exclusivity: Contingency search allows working with multiple agencies; retained search involves a single, dedicated agency.
  • Speed vs. Quality: Contingency search focuses on quick placements; retained search prioritizes thoroughness and fit.

Choosing the Right Model:

  • For Volume Hiring: Contingency search is suitable for filling multiple roles quickly with minimal initial investment.
  • For Specialized Roles: Retained search is ideal for executive and specialized positions requiring a meticulous and targeted approach.
  • For Budget Constraints: Contingency search reduces upfront financial commitments, making it suitable for organizations with tighter budgets.
  • For Strategic Hires: Retained search aligns with long-term strategic hiring goals and organizational alignment.

Example: A manufacturing company needing to hire both entry-level assembly line workers and a new head of production might use contingency search for the former and retained search for the latter.


Q1: What is the main advantage of contingency search?

Contingency search involves no upfront costs and allows companies to work with multiple agencies, making it a flexible option for quick hiring needs.

Q2: When should a company choose retained search?

Retained search is best for high-level, specialized roles where a thorough, dedicated search is necessary to find the perfect candidate.

Q3: How does the payment structure differ between contingency and retained search?

Contingency search agencies are paid upon successful placement, while retained search agencies receive an upfront fee and additional payments based on milestones.

Q4: Can a company use both contingency and retained search?

Yes, companies can use a combination of both models, leveraging contingency search for volume hiring and retained search for critical executive roles.

Q5: How does retained search ensure higher-quality candidates?

Retained search agencies dedicate more time and resources to understanding the client's needs and conducting targeted searches, often reaching out to passive candidates and conducting in-depth assessments.

Divino Business Solutions: Choosing the Right Recruitment Model

At Divino Business Solutions, we offer both contingency and retained search services to meet diverse hiring needs. Based in Cambridge and serving Southern Ontario, Divino provides:

  • Contingency Search: Fast and flexible solutions for urgent and high-volume hiring requirements.
  • Retained Search: Dedicated, thorough searches for executive and specialized positions, ensuring precise matches.
  • Tailored Strategies: Customized recruitment approaches to align with your specific goals and budget.
  • Expert Guidance: Professional advice to help you choose the best recruitment model for your business.

Ready to explore the right recruitment model for your needs?

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Call us: 1-844-693-5437

Let Divino Business Solutions help you navigate your recruitment options to find the best fit for your organization!