Executive Search vs Contingent Recruitment

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Executive Search vs Contingent Recruitment

Is it really essential for you to engage an executive search specialist in this current era of sourcing talent?


Executive search often carries a significant cost. To maximise value and effectiveness, it is advisable to involve a specialist with expertise in a specific field or industry. Opting for collaboration with a reputable contingent recruiter under a well-established brand is generally more cost-effective and efficient, in contrast to partnering with a renowned 'Search' organisation that lacks specialisation and resources in the relevant industry.

There are businesses such as ours that spend their whole life ‘headhunting’ and building networks – similarly to what search firms do but for the fraction of the fees. As contingent recruiters we have become far more adept to working to an ‘Exec Search Methodology’. Contrastingly, we no longer rely on databases that are often out of date before you can even access them. We work on sourcing candidates who are interested, fresh and open to opportunities ‘now’. We access these candidates via our own network of individuals, via LinkedIn, referrals, social media, and job boards. We focus on current, interested, and available talent.

Fundamentally choosing between executive search and contingent recruitment depends on the specific recruitment needs and goals of your organisation. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to consider your circumstances before making a decision.


Here is a breakdown of the key factors to consider:

High-Level Positions:

Executive search is typically used for top-level positions such as C-suite executives, senior managers, and specialised roles that require a specific skill set and experience.

However, many specialists’ contingent recruiters have just as good a network for senior level execs and managers that can be accessed quickly and effectively from their network.

Specialised Expertise:

Executive search firms specialise in identifying and recruiting candidates with very specific qualifications and experiences. They often have an extensive network of high-calibre professionals, but this is only if they specialise in specific industry talent.

Many organisations will only engage with exec search as they believe this is the only route to source senior level employees. They do not appreciate that many specialists’ contingent recruitment organisations have a better network of individuals within their specialised industry than many well known Exec Search firms who trade on their brand and not necessarily on their ability to source talent in niche industries and positions.


When filling sensitive or confidential roles, executive search firms can conduct searches discreetly, protecting the reputation of both the client company and potential candidates.

Contingent organisations can just as easily conduct confidential and discreet searches, this is not a specific skill to the executive search industry.

Deep Candidate Assessment:

Executive search firms usually invest more time in thoroughly evaluating candidates, including assessing their cultural fit, leadership qualities, and potential for long-term success within the organisation.

Contingent recruiters can also provide selection and evaluation methods as part of their service offering, but this is where time and expertise does require a ROI and an up-front fee is required for these services.

It could be argued that if an external recruiter, whether a search or contingent consultant, can really add the value and input into sourcing senior leadership talent? Can an external consultant really understand and get under the skin of the nuances of culture, people fit and long-term success, which is required to ascertain the absolute right fit or are company employees still better equipped to make that decision?


The cost structure of contingent recruitment is based on a success fee (a percentage of the candidate's salary) upon successful placement, and more often than not also offers a rebate structure.

This is a far more cost effective and protected route to a retained fee model of executive search, which is usually a third of the fee up front, a third on shortlist and a final third on start date, most of which is un-refundable!


Contingent recruiters can help with urgent or short-term hiring needs without requiring a long-term commitment.

Larger Pool of Candidates:

Since contingent recruiters are paid based on results, they are more likely to cast a wider net to find suitable candidates quickly.



In summary, executive search can be the preferred model for high-level positions where specialised expertise and a tailored approach are crucial. It offers a more comprehensive candidate assessment and can be beneficial for organisations seeking long-term leadership solutions.

On the other hand, contingent recruitment can offer much better value for money, can access a wider talent pool (if you engage with a boutique specialist recruiter), can source talent in a fast moving, talent short market due to its faster and more flexible approach and can provide a much better insight into talent suitability due to a better knowledge of senior talent within a specific industry.

Ultimately, the decision depends on factors such as the seniority of the role, the level of specialisation required, the urgency of the hiring, and the resources available to your organisation.