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Retained Search



Retained Search represents a premium, consultative recruitment service where a client company pays a retainer fee upfront to secure the exclusive services of a recruiter or search firm. This model is typically used for filling senior-level positions, specialized roles, or when a dedicated search effort is necessary.

What is a Retained Search?

A Retained Search is an executive search agreement where a recruitment agency is hired on an exclusive basis and receives payment in the form of a retainer to commence the search process. This partnership signifies a committed relationship between the client and the recruiter, focusing on a thorough search and selection process to identify and recruit the best talent for high-impact roles.

Key Benefits

    • Focused Search Effort: Recruiters dedicate significant time and resources to understanding the client’s needs and market, ensuring a targeted search.
    • Higher Level of Service: Clients receive a comprehensive service, including deep market insights, competitor analysis, and candidate assessment.
    • Guaranteed Support: The retained model typically includes a commitment to continue the search until the right candidate is found, providing clients with assurance and reliability.
    • Access to Passive Candidates: Recruiters use their networks and expertise to reach passive candidates who are not actively looking for new opportunities but might be the perfect fit for the role.

Considerations for Recruiters

    • Risk of Non-Delivery: In a retained search, the agency is paid upfront or in installments regardless of whether the position is ultimately filled. If the agency fails to deliver a suitable candidate, it can harm their reputation and result in the client feeling they did not receive value for their money.
    • Higher Expectations: Clients typically have higher expectations from retained searches due to the upfront commitment. This can lead to increased pressure on the recruiting agency to deliver high-quality candidates quickly, which may not always be feasible depending on the market conditions and the specific requirements of the role.
    • Resource Intensive: Retained searches often require a significant investment of time and resources from the recruiting agency. They involve thorough research, comprehensive candidate vetting, and a more strategic approach, which can strain the agency’s resources and affect its ability to manage other contingent search assignments.


    • Q: Is Retained Search suitable for all types of roles? A: Retained Search is most effective for senior-level, executive, or highly specialized positions where a dedicated, comprehensive search strategy is crucial for finding the right talent.

      Q: What happens if a Retained Search does not result in a hire? A: Most retained search agreements include provisions for this scenario, such as extended search efforts without additional cost, or partial refunds, ensuring clients still receive value from their investment.

      Q: Can I switch from a Retained to a Contingency Search if I’m not satisfied? A: This depends on the terms of the agreement with the client. While flexibility varies, most firms are committed to fulfilling their retained obligations and may adjust strategies to ensure client satisfaction.


While Retained Search comes with a higher level of investment, both in time and cost, its focused approach and dedicated service offer substantial benefits for filling critical roles. Companies considering this search model gain from a partnership that extends beyond recruitment, incorporating deep market insights and strategic advisory services to secure top talent.

For organizations looking to navigate the complexities of executive search with confidence, Top Echelon provides the right tools and insights necessary to support both Retained and Contingency Search strategies effectively. Enhance your executive recruitment strategy with Retained Search services—where quality meets commitment.

Discover more about how Top Echelon Software can optimize your retained search efforts. Contact us for a demo or more information today.

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Enhance your executive recruitment strategy with Retained Search services supported by Top Echelon Software—where quality meets commitment.


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