90% of recruiters fall into one of two categories, they are either retained or contingent. The difference is significant and a candidate should know the difference so that they know what to expect from each. Granted there are other types, but they are few and one rarely encounters them.
Since September of 1980 I have been an executive recruiter. I still run an executive search firm, IMPACT Hiring Solutions. For the first 13 or 14 years I was a contingent recruiter and since then have been a retained recruiter. Having worked both sides of the street, I will explain the difference and why it is so critical as a candidate that you know which type of recruiter you are working with so you can properly set your expectations. I hope this will reduce some of the frustration in dealing with recruiters. I know it will not eliminate it.
As a starting definition:
1) Contingent recruiters get paid when the candidate starts working. Until then they are working for free. Think of them as a 100% commission sales person. No sale no income.
2) Retained recruiters get paid by progress in the search. This payment stream varies by agreement between the company and recruiter, however, as a general rule it is the first third of the projected fee to begin the search, the second in some period of time usually 30 – 45 days, and the final third when the person starts or in some agreed upon time frame. The retained recruiter is guaranteed, if not all of the fee, at least two thirds regardless of whether a person is hired or not. Much like a lawyer or tax accountant, the fee is independent of the results.
One is no better than the other and both serve a purpose and market. Either type of recruiter can be professional and unfortunately unprofessional. There is no rule that guarantees that you will get a highly skilled and professional recruiter with either type, anymore than you can with a lawyer, accountant, counselor, or any other profession. There are good and bad in all professions.
So what should you expect from each of these and how does this differ in the real world and the day-to-day workings of each type of recruiter?
First some ground rules: 1) This is “Recruiters 101” so I will not be able to cover every aspect and every situation. 2) This is an overview, so I will be discussing generalities. There are exceptions to everything. 3) Unless otherwise specified, I will be assuming a professional recruiter and not the flakes that are out there. 4) Don’t confuse recruiters with career counselors or coaches, resume writers or outplacement consultants. There is a big, big difference in all of these. 5) When possible I will try to contrast the two to help you understand what to expect from each.
Since they are basically 100% commission sales people, closing the sale is critical and so is time. When a company uses contingent recruiters, most of the time they engage more than one. Depending on the discipline and geographical area, that could be up to 10 recruiters working the same position. The company is also attempting to fill the position so the recruiter is not only competing against other recruiters but also the company.
Time is critical to contingent recruiters. The first recruiter to get the resume to the company is considered the recruiter of record and the one that will get the fee if that candidate is hired. Since candidates send their resume to multiple recruiters, having an inventory of candidates is critical. A good contingent recruiter wants active candidate’s resumes on file so that the minute a company calls with a job opening the recruiter can email resumes before another contingent recruiter working with the same candidate can. This makes them the recruiter of record. From a candidate’s perspective, don’t send your resume to just any recruiter if you don’t want it sent out to companies without your knowledge. Contingent recruiters don’t want to take the time to call or email you, wait for a return call or email, to find that while they are waiting some other recruiter emailed your resume to the company.
Over screening resumes is the worst thing a contingent recruiter can do.
Contingent recruiters may or may not meet the company and hiring manager. This is not a requirement for contingent recruiters. Some will and some won’t. I always met every candidate before sending them out to a company. They may not have even been to the company, or ever met the hiring manager, so as a candidate you may not be able to expect all of your questions about the company, position, and future boss to be answered.
Since retained recruiters get paid regardless of the outcome, they aren’t as driven by time as much as match. Retained recruiters generally have much longer guarantees so it is very important that the candidate is successful. For example, we have up to a year’s guarantee.
Retained recruiters are expected to be very selective. This is frustrating to candidates that think they are qualified, but the retained recruiter isn’t impressed. A big mistake candidates make is that they assume retained recruiters are looking for qualified candidates. Retained recruiters aren’t looking for qualified candidates. The company can do that on their own. Retained recruiters are looking for exceptionally qualified candidates that the company can’t find. As close to perfect as we can get.
Most retained recruiters have a very close working relationship with the company and hiring manager. They generally have spent a fair amount of time with the hiring manager, they should have a complete understanding of the position, and know what type of personality works well in this culture and with the hiring manager. Also, most retained recruiters will have an extensive screening process before the candidate moves on to meet the company.
A candidate should expect to be one of 4 or 5 candidates presented to the company for any one position.
The retained recruiter is not competing against other recruiters or the company. They know that if the candidate fails, this may be the last time they work with the company. Generally, they have a long relationship with the hiring manager and that is the person that hired them.
That is Recruiters 101, I welcome your thoughts and comments.
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