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Retained vs. Contingent

Contingency can be extremely profitable. I promise. 

There are absolutely times when contingency work is more profitable than retained work. Personally, I fired a long term monthly retained client because the contingency work I was doing was so fruitful. If you have a client who needs to hire similar profile people, in quantity, and you can make multiple placements a month, it’s an extremely profitable situation. I did this with both Cognizant and Accenture for a total of over 150 placements and an average fee of over 40K. Individual retained searches couldn’t hold a candle to that revenue.

I’ve also been in situations where I was retained because the job wasn’t fillable. I worked for months looking for a needle in a haystack who didn’t exist, and the opportunity cost was intense.

I’m not sure where you’ve gotten your data that retained firms fill 90% of their roles. I think Korn Ferry, Egon Zender and Spencer Stuart would likely take issue with that stat. They’d LOVE it if you were accurate, but your numbers aren’t accurate.

There’ve been many times in my career where I’ve told a potential client I won’t accept a retainer from a company I haven’t successfully supported on a contingency basis. I only accept roles I’m extremely confident I can fill, and if we’ve never worked together, I don’t know how you’ll behave. How realistic are your expectations? How competitive are your offers? What’s your company’s reputation in the market? What’s the elapsed time for the interview process?

There’s way too much nuance to our industry to say retained is good and contingency is bad. If you make this assumption, you’ll leave revenue on the table.

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Tricia Tamkin, headhunter, advisor, coach, and gladiator. Tricia has spoken at over 50 recruiting events, been quoted in multiple national publications, and her name is often dropped in groups as the solution to any recruiters’ challenges. She brings over 30 years of deep recruiting experience and offers counsel in a way which is perspective changing and entertaining.

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