Retained vs Contingent Recruiting Firms

By Allison Flitter 

When deciding what type of agency you would like to work with, you will probably be choosing between a retained or contingent firm. So, what is the difference between working with a retained vs contingent firm?

Retained firms get paid a fee up front to start the search. Retained firms may split up the fee into an upfront fee they charge to start the search and then they get paid the other part of the payment after the job is filled and the search is complete. They may also ask for the whole fee up front to start the search. Contingent firms work on positions and only get paid when the job gets filled with a candidate they are representing. Depending on who your organization is, either option could be a great fit. We will go more in-depth about what each firm does for the client (company looking to hire), for the candidate and how it changes the day to day for a recruiter.

To begin, neither is a bad option overall. There are benefits and downfalls to each type of search and depending on your situation one may be a better fit than the other.

From the point of a client (company looking to hire):


  • Firm is focused on your position and should know your company very well to sell the position better
  • Under contract to fill the position, usually in a set timeframe
  • Work with one company to fill the position, makes it easier to organize the search
  • Working with just one firm could mean less candidates, each firm has a different candidate pool


  • Firm will be motivated to fill the job and beat out their competitors to get the fee paid
  • Have the ability to work with many contingent firms at one time providing more candidates
  • Firm should provide a wide variety of candidates quickly to try and get their candidates seen and placed over other firms working on the role

From the point of a candidate: There should not be a difference from the perspective of a candidate. Both types of firms will work with candidates to find them the right role

From the point of the recruiter:


  • Must work until the position is filled or the search period ends
  • Motivated to fill the position based on their word
  • Motivated to fill the position to show the client they deserve more retained fees


  • Have the ability to start and stop working on a position when you see fit
  • Can speak with a wide variety of candidates to provide the client; provide the client with these candidates they might have not known they needed

These are just some of the reasons you should consider working or being a retained/contingent firm. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about our structure, please do not hesitate to reach out!