July 11, 2017

Contingent vs. Engaged Recruitment

By Matt Lewis, Partner and Practice Lead, Banking

Defining and managing expectations is critical for every client-recruiter relationship to ensure that the objectives for every search are reached. As such, clients and recruiters typically agree to either a contingent recruitment or engaged recruitment plan in order to define and manage those expectations.

Clients managing costs would love to conduct each and every search under a contingent arrangement. What most don’t know however, is the statistics around actual completion of a search. Searches done on a contingent basis have about an 18% success rate; when a search is worked contingent-exclusive (meaning no other firms involved), that number rises to about 50%. When you actually put any money down on a search (engaged or retained) the success percentage jumps up to a staggering 92%. If a role is critical to fill, money down and a workable partnership (i.e., engaged recruitment) tends to guarantee the best results. To further understand these statistics, we have to understand the nature of contingent recruitment vs. engagement recruitment, and why each is uniquely suited to particular situations.

Contingent Recruitment

This type of recruitment is aptly named because it means that the recruiter only receives compensation on the condition that a position is successfully filled. Contingent searches typically require a broader level of participation from all of the parties involved, as searches are not constrained by aggressive schedules or exclusive, hard-to-find skill sets. Contingent recruiting usually focuses on lower to mid-level positions where multiple recruiters seek candidates from a much larger pool of potential candidates.

The open nature of contingent recruitment often means a lower general fulfillment rate for recruiters due to increased competition (among other factors) — and that also means a lower remuneration percentage of the annual salary for filled positions. And that makes sense: jobs that are filled by contingent recruitment don’t necessitate the level of exclusive, granular focus and customized vetting because the skill sets match a larger pool of available candidates. After all, recruiting is defined by the same supply and demand principles that govern every other businesses. Contingent search firms know they have a low likelihood of success and tend to not give full effort but rather skim the surface and refer low-hanging fruit. Contingent is sometimes the sensible way to go from a cost stand point, but the least likely method to have success in a timely manner.

Engaged Recruitment

The parameters of engaged recruitment, on the other hand, are determined by a variety of factors. In every recruitment effort, expectations are built on a client’s needs — and of these needs, timing and job type are often the most impactful. These factors characterize the relationship between the client and recruiter because they impact the degree of participation invested by each party.

Timing: The sooner a job needs to be filled, the more resources the recruiter must dedicate to meeting time-sensitive deadlines. Urgency requires recruiters to focus the bulk of their talents, expertise, and networks on one purpose. Clients, in return, also invest more deeply into the process by guaranteeing a portion of the compensation upfront. Every search is inherently different and is subject to particular time and scheduling stresses. In essence, engaged recruitment is a relationship between the client and recruiter based on a mutually agreed upon need to expedite the hiring process.

Job Type: Just as engaged recruitment involves a deeper investment of resources into meeting unique time constraints, it also typically involves finding candidates who possess more exclusive sets of skills and proficiencies, as well as more experience work backgrounds. As such, engaged recruitment is sometimes reserved for filling higher-level jobs, such as C-suite positions, that require a sophisticated and intensive search strategy. Desired candidates are often happily employed at other high-level positions in different geographic locations, so engaging these prospective employees requires thoughtful strategy.

Recruiters must identify these valued candidates, carefully vet them, and build relationships to ensure they are not only ideal for the responsibilities of the job, but also a good fit for the culture of the company in question. Needless to say, this level of searching and screening is a full-time commitment. Savvy clients acknowledge the importance of demonstrating faith in both the recruiter and the process by investing a portion of the total compensation in advance. This type of down payment allows recruiters to allocate the full force of their resources toward a clearly defined and singular goal — which is the same goal as their client. Engaged recruitment is the strongest version of the client-recruiter relationship because it involves a strong, clear commitment based on the most important elements of any relationship: respect, trust, and shared goals. There also seems to be much more collaboration between client and recruiter when there is some shared skin in the game.

The next time there is a need in your organization to partner with a search firm, talk through the various options for structuring the search. Your need may just be priority enough to warrant a committed approach with some up-front money to secure a much greater likelihood of success. If an open position is priority enough, it will actually end up saving you time and headache along the way and be a greater value financial than the small discomfort of an up front installment.