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Recruitment agencies often offer a variety of search models tailored to the needs and preferences of their clients. Among these, "retained search" and "engagement" searches are two of the most common approaches, especially for executive or specialised roles. Here's a breakdown of their differences:

Retained Search

  • Payment Structure: In a retained search, the client pays the recruitment agency an upfront fee to initiate the search process. This is typically a percentage of the candidate's expected salary. Additional payments are often structured in stages, with portions of the fee paid at defined milestones (e.g., after shortlisting, after an offer is extended, or once the candidate starts).
  • Exclusivity: Retained searches are exclusive. This means the client agrees to work only with the retaining recruitment agency for that specific role during the contract period.
  • Commitment Level: Because the agency receives an upfront fee, they are often more dedicated to a thorough search and are committed to filling the position.
  • Typical Uses: Retained searches are most commonly used for senior-level, executive, or hard-to-fill roles where the stakes are high, and the cost of a mis-hire can be significant.
  • Duration: These searches might take longer because of the depth and thoroughness of the search process, but the agency is incentivized to ensure the role is filled with the right candidate.

Engagement Search

  • Payment Structure: Engagement searches blend the retained and contingency models. The client pays an upfront fee (smaller than a retained search) to begin the search, with the balance due upon the successful placement of a candidate. This model provides some commitment from both parties.
  • Exclusivity: While engagement searches often imply a higher level of dedication from the agency compared to pure contingency searches, they may or may not be exclusive.
  • Commitment Level: The initial fee provides agencies with some security, so they might prioritize these roles slightly more than pure contingency roles. However, the commitment might not be as intense as in retained searches.
  • Typical Uses: Engagement searches are used for a variety of roles, often middle-management or specialist roles that are important but not at the executive level.
  • Duration: The timeframe can vary widely. While there's some level of commitment due to the upfront fee, the process might not be as exhaustive as a full retained search.

In summary, the choice between retained and engagement searches often hinges on factors like the level and specialization of the role, budget considerations, the urgency of the hire, and the desired depth of the search process. Clients should discuss their specific needs with recruitment agencies to determine the best approach for their circumstances.

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