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What is Retained Executive Search?

Hiring executive recruiters can be costly to most organizations, especially since they are required to source top talent for senior positions. However, this can be the best decision for your business as you are guaranteed quality talent within a short time frame. Also, using an executive search firm makes you avoid multiple hires that are more expensive and time-consuming. Executive search firms can either be retained or contingency. So, why use retained executive search firms rather than contingency ones? Read along to learn more. 

Retained Executive Search Meaning

Retained executive search firms serve the same purpose as other ordinary recruiters —sourcing candidates. However, what differentiates them is that they charge an upfront fee before conducting the search. They can work for small and large businesses, but their job is all exclusive. This means that the positions vacant are to be filled by them only. 

How Retained Executive Recruiters Work

Retained executive search recruiters conduct a thorough search for suitable candidates. Once they have identified them, they will shortlist a few (probably between 3-10) and present the candidates to the employers for interviews. 

A retained search can also be referred to as headhunting. This is because the search process involves looking for candidates that are holding similar positions in other companies. Simply put, such candidates are not actively seeking job opportunities but are open to moving when presented with better offers. 

Note that an executive search is usually a partnership between a client (employer) and the retained executive search consulting firm. The main goal is to ensure the client hires top talent within a specified period. 

Retained Executive Search vs. Contingency

You probably must be wondering what the contingency executive search is now that you know the meaning of a retained executive recruiter. Well, a contingency executive search is whereby a recruiter is paid for their services once their tasks are completed, and a candidate is successfully hired. This is unlike the retained executive search, whereby you pay an upfront fee for the specified task.

If you want to hire a candidate to fill a position with specific qualifications, we advise you to work with a retained executive search recruiter. Since you will be paying an upfront fee for their services, they will prioritize your role and help you find the best talent with an agreed timeframe. Should they fail to present to you the suitable candidates, a refund is made. 

Unlike the contingency executive search, the retained executive search firm’s income is not dependent on its outcome. This provides a higher level of stability and certainty to most employers, making it a preferred choice.

Importance of Retained Executive Search 

A retained executive search has various benefits that make it a considerable choice for any type of organization. Here are the significant ones. 

Because the retained recruiting firms for executive search receive an upfront payment, they prioritize your tasks. This allows you to find suitable candidates fast compared to using commission-based executive recruiters. 

Retained executive search is mainly focused on quality talent. That is why they are ideally suited to source candidates for high-stake roles. 

They have a robust network and connections that make them reach out to even the already employed candidates. For this reason, you have an opportunity to find the best talent with the right experience for your firm. 

A retained executive search is more flexible to serve any type or size of an organization. You simply have to ensure they are fully knowledgeable of your niche and industry. 

Companies and retained executive recruiters can end up building a solid relationship. In addition, since they will be working together throughout the hiring procedure, a retained executive search can make you identify areas in your organization that require attention and act accordingly. 

Retained Recruiters’ Fee

Retained recruiters for executive search usually source candidates with salaries starting from $150,000. They also have a payment schedule which you must be fully aware of and decide if your company is comfortable with. Understanding their payment plan will also allow you to quickly find the most suitable retainer executive search firm. 

Note that a retained executive search firm will receive its first fee upon signing the agreement. This payment is 33% of the total agreed compensation. The second payment, which is also 33% of the compensation amount, will be made 30 days after the first has been paid or can take longer depending on your agreement. You will then release the final payment after a candidate they sourced for you has been successfully hired. 


A retained executive search is an excellent option for hiring top talent since its experts are fully focused on finding the best talent rather than the speed. This is unlike the contingency executive search that only pays the total amount after a candidate is successfully placed, leaving room for the process to be rushed. A contingency executive search also involves various agencies, and only those whose candidates are hired receive payment.  

Hiring a retained executive search firm means that you are sticking with one agency until the recruitment process is completed. They will keep you up to date with every procedure in the recruitment, giving the main focus to hiring top talent. Also, you have room to concentrate on other organizational duties while retained executive search consulting firms handle the candidate sourcing for you. 

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