Retainer snobs…..don’t be one.

There seems to be a bit of snobbery creeping into the recruitment world – a class system of sorts where contingency is viewed by some as the shit sibling to retained. In fact, an agency owner told me yesterday that if you’re not doing all retained then you are not really a recruiter.

Enough of this bull!

There is nothing wrong with contingent recruitment. Whilst it has its flaws, the contingent recruitment model makes a lot of business sense. Take me for example…last year I billed around $300k in contingent fees. For the vast majority of those assignments, a retainer was always going to be very difficult to get. There are a whole host of reasons why, some were valid and some not.  But if I had decided to walk away from those opportunities because a retainer wasn’t going to happen, I would never have seen that $300k. Instead, I took an educated guess that I could still make some money working these vacancies on a contingent basis. In fact, most of those fees came when there wasn’t necessarily a live vacancy, but through floating a good candidate. No mention of a retainer.

Don’t get me wrong. I am by no way anti-retainer.. Along side the contingent work, I also completed a number of lucrative retained assignments. I understand its benefits, both to recruiter and client. And often I will refuse an assignment if I am not retained.  But to have a hard and fast set rule that I will only work retainers would be stupid when there is so much potential to make easy fees in other ways. Why would you ignore that revenue stream?

The reality for the majority of recruiters is that retained is not really a valid option in the market they work. Sure it is absolutely the right approach for a specialist search assignment, but is it really more beneficial to a client recruiting an office junior that they needed yesterday? If I was that hiring manager, I can definitely see the benefit in briefing a few agencies to ensure I covered the market quickly and then pay a fee to the successful one.  This would make more sense than putting all my eggs into one basket and paying for that privilege up front.

And as a recruiter, is it such a bad thing to have a number of contingent assignments on your books? Well, if you pick and choose where to put your efforts, then I would say no.  If it means your chucking a load of mud at the wall and hoping some of it sticks then yes.  But, contrary to the view a lot of retained snobs, this is not how the majority of recruiters in the contingent world work.

In response to this blog, I fully expect the usual comparisons of recruitment with other industries.  Something like…”You don’t go to 5 accountants to get your tax done and then pay the one that gets you the most back”. No…but I don’t pay them until they have done the job either. Similarly I didn’t pay the estate agent to sell my house before they had actually done it…or the car dealership just for the pleasure of looking around his showroom. Comparing recruitment to other industries in this way is largely irrelevant.

The point is, in my opinion, that both models work and this wholesale knocking of contingency recruiters that some of our retained colleagues seem to enjoy is a bit pathetic.  Good for you that you only do retained assignments and you will never tarnish yourself with the dirty world of contingency ever (…although I doubt most that make this claim actually live it). But for a large majority of our industry, it works very well thank you.

Luke Collard


3 thoughts on “Retainer snobs…..don’t be one.

  1. Kevin Geerin on Reply

    Like you Luke i have worked both retained and Contingency, contingency more than often getting me over the line in relation to my targets.

    Contingency has also lead to repeat business on the success of initial placement resulting in a 25 year partnership with a large Multi faceted business, i wonder if i had pressed for a retainer at that initial meeting what would have happened.

    Contingency in my opinion teaches you to be quick off the mark and very committed to filling the job quickly. The side benefits are building a relationship and credibility with your client ensuring your Candidate obtains every opportunity to be interviewed..

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