Retained search involves a significant upfront financial commitment from the client, typically paid in three instalments: one-third upfront, one-third upon interviewing, and the final third upon hiring. This commitment signifies a strong dedication to finding the right candidate and ensures that the recruiting firm allocates substantial time and resources to the search process. In contrast, contingent searches require no payment until a candidate is hired. While this may seem like a lower-risk option, it often results in less commitment, time, energy and resources from the recruiting firm. Contingent searches are typically deprioritized in favor of retained searches, and resources are allocated accordingly.

Contingent searches are ideal for those seeking speed and volume in the recruitment process, typically in more transactional environments. They are recommended for filling entry-level or mid-level roles that can be filled within 30 days. On the other hand, a retained search represents a true partnership between the client and the search firm. It entails a firm commitment from the recruiting company to fill the role effectively. Executive searches, a type of retained search, tend to have a higher success rate, ranging from 80% to 95%, compared to the average success rate of around 15% for contingent searches.