Retained Vs Contingency Executive Search:
Choosing The Right Approach

Retained Vs Contingency Executive Search:
Choosing The Right Approach

Finding the right executive talent is crucial for the success of any organization.  Executive Search firms play a crucial role in assisting companies in identifying and hiring top-level leaders. There are two primary approaches when engaging with executive search firms: retained and contingency executive search. Both methods have pros & cons, and understanding their differences is essential for making an informed decision. In this blog post, we will explore the retained and contingency executive search approaches in detail, highlighting their benefits and providing examples to help you choose the right one for your organization’s needs.

Retained Executive Search

Retained executive search is a comprehensive and personalized approach to finding executive-level candidates. In this method, an organization exclusively partners with an owned search firm to conduct a thorough search for the ideal candidate. The search firm is retained for a fixed fee and works closely with the organization throughout recruitment.

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Benefits Of Retained Executive Search

  1. Commitment:Retained search firms are dedicated to finding the best-suited candidate for the executive position. They invest significant time and resources in understanding the organization’s culture, goals, and requirements, ensuring a tailored search process. For example, suppose a multinational company is searching for a CEO to lead its global expansion. In that case, a retained search firm will deeply understand the company’s vision, strategy, and cultural nuances to identify a candidate with international experience and the ability to drive growth across diverse markets.
  2. Extensive Network:Retained search firms typically have extensive networks and access to passive executive candidates who may need to seek new opportunities actively. These candidates are often highly qualified and possess niche skills and experience. For instance, when a technology company wants to hire a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) with expertise in artificial intelligence, a retained search firm can tap into its network to identify top AI professionals who may not actively looking for a new role.
  3. Deep Assessment:Retained searches involve in-depth candidate assessment, including interviews, reference checks, and comprehensive background screening, ensuring a rigorous evaluation process. This thorough evaluation helps mitigate the risk of a poor fit or inadequate performance. For example, a retained search firm searching for a publicly traded company’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) would thoroughly assess candidates’ financial acumen, regulatory compliance knowledge, and experience in managing investor relations.
  4. Customized Search:The retained search approach allows for customization, considering the organization’s unique needs and the executive role’s specific requirements. The search firm collaborates closely with the organization to develop a detailed candidate profile, ensuring the Search is tailored to the organization’s values, goals, and strategic direction. For example, a retained search firm working with a healthcare organization to find a Chief Medical Officer (CMO) will consider the organization’s specific medical specialities, patient demographics, and future growth plans to identify candidates with the right clinical expertise and leadership abilities.

Contingency Executive Search

Contingency executive search operates on a “no win, no fee” basis. Multiple search firms may be engaged simultaneously to identify suitable candidates. In this model, firms compete to present potential candidates, and the organization pays a fee only upon hiring a candidate introduced by a particular search firm. 

Benefits Of Contingency Executive Search

  1. Cost-Effective:Contingency search firms do not charge a fee unless a candidate they present is hired. This model can be more budget-friendly for organizations with limited resources. For example, a startup company with limited funds may opt for a contingency search to find a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) within a specific budget, as they only pay a fee if they hire a candidate from a search firm.
  2. Speed:Contingency searches often focus on filling positions quickly as firms compete to present candidates. This can be advantageous when time is a critical factor. For instance, a company experiencing sudden leadership gaps due to unexpected departures may engage contingency search firms to identify interim executives or fill the positions urgently and quickly.
  3. Broader Pool of Candidates:Engaging multiple search firms in contingency search widens the candidate pool and exposes the organization to a larger talent pool. Each search firm brings its network and expertise, increasing the chances of finding suitable candidates from diverse backgrounds. For example, a retail organization looking for a Chief Operating Officer (COO) may engage multiple contingency search firms to ensure they can access candidates from various industries and retail segments.

 Choosing The Right Approach 

Selecting the appropriate executive search approach depends on several factors, including the criticality of the position, the organization’s size and resources, and the urgency to fill the role.

Retained Search is typically recommended for senior-level and mission-critical positions. It ensures a thorough and tailored search process, in-depth candidate assessment, and a committed partnership between the organization and the search firm. It is particularly suitable when the organization requires a customized search, access to passive candidates, and a comprehensive evaluation of potential executives.

Conversely, a contingency search may be suitable when speed and cost are primary considerations or for less critical roles where a broader candidate pool is desirable. It works well when organizations need a faster turnaround time and want to explore options from multiple search firms simultaneously.

Ultimately, a decision should be based on the organization’s unique needs, resources, and the importance of finding the right executive candidate.


When selecting the right approach for executive Search,  Right Advisors understands the unique needs of organizations seeking top-level talent. As a trusted executive search firm, Right Advisors leverages its expertise in the industry to help companies make informed decisions.

Executive Search, a personalized and committed approach offered by Right Advisors, ensures a tailored search process that aligns with the organization’s culture, goals, and requirements. With an extensive network and access to passive executive candidates, Right Advisors can tap into a diverse talent pool that may need to be actively seeking opportunities. Through in-depth candidate assessment and customized searches, Right Advisors delivers exceptional candidates with the skills and experience to drive organizational success.

Whether opting for Retained or Contingency Executive Search, partnering with Right Advisors ensures a strategic and tailored approach to finding executive talent. By choosing Right Advisors, organizations can make confident decisions knowing that their executive search needs will be met with professionalism, industry knowledge, and a focus on delivering the right leaders to drive their success.