As a professional recruiter, the terminology of ‘headhunter’ and ‘retained search’ gets used quite a lot. But are the true services of working with a retained executive search consultant being fully utilised? I personally don’t think so, especially in the world we live in now where recruiting the best talent in an ultra-competitive environment becomes even more challenging, considering the talent pool available continues to get smaller and smaller as time goes on.

Over the years of working in this field, I have continued to see the shifts in the industry whereby now a lot of recruiting is done online and through various media platforms. This is great for uncovering talent world-wide and means great things when you are a global executive search consultancy like Hamilton Mayer. But what about working on a retained manner to uncover the best talent for positions organisations are failing to fill? This then has a knock-on effect where the business further suffer from now reallocating staff internally to cover roles outside of their job description, which in its own right, might ‘rock the apple cart a bit’.


I am a massive supporter and strong believer in working with me and any member of Hamilton Mayer retained. Why, it’s because of the processes and network needed to find the best candidates for clients. The approach is targeted and conducive to all parties involved with a respected timeframe of when and how results are going to be met. Not working retained i.e. contingently, leads to a free for all type candidate wild west show of which recruitment companies can send across a resume the quickest, and to be honest, I find this approach, quite frankly, disheartening and I just want clients to realise this and hopefully appreciate the efforts a lot of recruiters are doing behind the scenes. Such as 1) find talent/assessing market and mapping out best talent 2) pre-qual 3) in-depth interview to understand their background and suitability to a role 4) discuss job role in more detail 5) explain process moving forward once resume has been submitted and reviewed by client 6) take candidate and client feedback 7) negotiate offers/notice periods 8) issues with counter offers if more money/different opportunity is presented by the current employer trying to persuade the candidate to stay.

What I have highlighted above is just a snapshot of what recruiters do behind the scenes, but it’s the recruiters working on a retained manner that know they have client commitment and therefore, you have mutual interest from both sides to work in partnership to source top candidates and ultimately fill the vacancy at hand. Surely, working in a proactive manner knowing the service at hand and an understanding of what companies/candidates are being approached will help clients to appreciate the work at hand when agreeing to a retained search? The value of working retained never goes away as a goal is set, timeframes are given and then it’s down to the skillsets, resources and wider network of the headhunter to fill the role, not the opposite of being bombarded by lots of different recruiters hoping the resumes sent across hopefully we be the one – this leads to clients getting frustrated by the lack of clarity of resumes being sent across and wastes time sieving through endless piles of paper which could be time better well spent.

Working with Hamilton Mayer on a retained basis means our firm will ensure businesses have a piece of mind knowing a team of dedicated search consultants are fully understanding of the brief at hand and know what you as the ‘client’ are looking for.


Typical objections put forward by clients about not working on a retained basis tend to be the following:

  • We don’t work retained
  • Expensive
  • We are happy working with our current suppliers contingently
  • No real urgency or commitment to fill a role

If my network has highlighted any of the above objections, my response would be this – you don’t work retained? Why is this? Have you not worked on a retained basis in the past? If not, let me tell you how it works, alternatively, if the client has, how was the experience? Generally speaking, what happens when companies have had a bad experience this will need to be explored further to get a better understanding of how our firm differs and not repeat/reassure clients of how we work and differ to previous dealings with other companies.

Every company across the world will have a budget to recruit staff. Recruitment fees are part of this process and working on a retained basis will clearly show the client what costs are associated with the recruiting of the brief at hand. The service is no more expensive, just a relocation of the overall recruitment cost which would be confirmed by the client and search firm agreeing a % fee. A 1/3 of net fee is paid as the ‘retainer’ payment, which effectively pays for the time of the agency to draft up job adverts/descriptions, start market mapping, collating shortlists before any calls/interviews have been conducted. This process can take a couple of weeks, therefore having some commitment from the client is deemed necessary in my eyes.

How has this gone? And how long has the other agencies been trying to fill the vacancy at hand? What’s been the quality of resumes being sent over? Have many interviews been set up? If this process has been on-going for more than three months, then it’s time for a change of direction because evidently, working contingently isn’t working.

Working retained would not be a viable option here. A call back to the client over the course of the next 4-8weeks to see how the role has progressed would be the best route to take.

A large majority of the work conducted at Hamilton Mayer is on a retained basis. We strongly believe that finding the best talent in whatever sector is may be, really does need the dedication of a specialist recruiter acting as an account manager/advisor on behalf the client.


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