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Contingent vs. Retained Engineering Search: A Side-by-Side Analysis
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Jan 25, 2024

Contingent vs. Retained Engineering Search: A Side-by-Side Analysis

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Navigating engineering recruitment models can be challenging for companies looking to expand their tech teams. Should you choose a contingent, retained, or hybrid search approach? What are the trade-offs of each method?

In this guide, we’ll explore some core differences between contingent and retained recruiting to shed light on common pros and cons.

How Contingent Search Works

With contingent search, companies typically partner with multiple recruiting firms and are generally only required to pay fees if they successfully hire a candidate presented by the agency. 

Contingent recruiter fees often range around 20-30% of the hired candidate’s first-year base salary, although this percentage can vary based on the specific industry, role, and geographic region. Since fees in contingent recruitment are usually based on successful placements, employers often do not face upfront costs, offering them a degree of financial flexibility. 

Engaging multiple non-exclusive partners in a contingent search could potentially lead to divided attention from recruiters and a less customized understanding of the company's specific hiring needs. In some cases, contingent recruiters handling many concurrent searches might not be able to dedicate in-depth efforts towards every individual role.

How Retained Search Works

In a retained recruiting partnership, companies generally pay an upfront fee to secure an exclusive agreement with the recruitment firm. Retainer fees typically range between $15,000 to $30,000 or more, subject to factors like the seniority level of the search and market conditions.

Retained recruiters, motivated by upfront investments, are likely to invest considerable efforts into understanding clients’ specific requirements for each search. They typically engage in a thorough process that includes detailed job profiling, extensive market mapping, and proactive headhunting.

Retained recruitment strategies may often enable recruiters to more effectively engage with passive candidates, though this can vary based on the recruiter's expertise and network. The retained model is also beneficial for strategic hiring, where the focus is on long-term fit and potential rather than immediate availability.

Key Takeaways Evaluating Search Approaches 

When deciding between methods, consider factors like:

- Available in-house recruiting bandwidth

- Total open positions needing recruitment  

- Need to access passive candidates

- Desire for a strategic talent advisor 

- Willingness to pay fees upfront

- Cost management goals  

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Hybrid models like those offered by Weekday Works are designed to combine the flexibility of contingent recruitment with the focused accountability of retained services, with an orientation towards performance. Their platforms aim to measure and enhance recruiter performance across various critical metrics.

The above aims to illuminate common engineering recruitment models' parameters. The intent is to equip companies to determine alignments with their present hiring needs and constraints. Understanding these dynamics lays groundwork for more informed search strategy decisions.

Moreover, it's crucial for companies to understand the implications of each model on their employer brand and candidate experience. In conclusion, whether opting for a contingent, retained, or hybrid model, the key is to align the recruitment strategy with the organization's overall goals, budget constraints, and the specific nature of the roles to be filled. By doing so, companies can not only find the right talent but also enhance their reputation as an employer of choice in the competitive tech industry. 

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