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Thinking about running an executive or retained search?

Updated: Aug 26, 2020


So you’re thinking about running an executive or a retained search? Then you have come to the right place.

In this article we will go over the pros and cons of choosing executive searches over contingent searches. We will also go over some of the pricing models that are often (and not so often) offered by recruitment or executive search firms.

Simply put, executive searches and retained searches are normally exclusive to one firm and can be used for any search at any level. However, executive searches are normally reserved for very niche, high touch, highly curated recruitment processes that will take significant time and energy from your internal recruitment team - not to mention sometimes it’s worth paying for the thoroughness, methods and network of a good agency recruiter or “headhunter”.



Pre-existing relationships

Executive recruiters have a deep network and pre-existing relationships with the candidates that you’re seeking

Retained = serious about search

By putting some skin ($$$) in the game shows the recruiter how serious you are about filling the vacancy

Experienced recruiters

Executive search firms are recruiters with proven success - it’s not a new grad on their first day in the workforce

Exclusivity = simplicity

Exclusivity simplifies your recruitment process to working solely with one agency instead of 5 contingent search agencies making the process more efficient

  1. By engaging with one firm and syncing your objectives and your company vision, you get a partner that’s a true extension of your business acting on your behalf

  2. Additionally, you don’t have to describe the opening 5 times and give feedback to 5 different recruiters

Free marketing

Executive search firms generate extra marketing for your company which is a great way to get your company’s name in the minds of top professionals in the industry


Confidential searches are available if you want to quietly find someone (replacements, stealth mode startup, new project that’s confidential, etc.)

It's guaranteed

It’s an assumed guarantee that they will succeed

  1. So look into their track record & references to validate this assumption

  2. You are free to add verbiage to a contract regarding expectations and subsequent refunds based on certain metrics or milestones


Choose wisely!

You will have one firm (or recruiter) running the whole search - so choose wisely!

  1. They are also representing your company to Top Talent in the industry, so you have to make sure they portray your company in the right light

Watch out for quotas

Sometimes recruiters will have a monthly quota and getting your retained business is an easy way for them to meet their quota with an upfront fee so be careful of an unknown recruiter calling on the 29th day of the month


Executive searches are expensive. For example, we’ve seen placements for one candidate over $900,000. Albeit that is a rare fee size, the return on investment for someone of that caliber is usually much higher

Less resources

Exclusivity to one agency will limit your influx of potential candidates

  1. But when there are a limited number of candidates at a certain level or in a specific space, this might make sense



Executive searches tend to get the most creative with their pricing structures when it comes to recruitment. It makes sense since it’s such a large sum of money and such a large undertaking. Here are some of the ways that they can be structured.

  • Fixed fee retainers: Oftentimes the agency will have a set fee depending on the level of the search. For example: “Flat $150K for a C-Level exec in the Engineering department for large-mid sized companies” or “200K for building out the entire C-Suite of a startup”. This is a set fee for engaging a search as you’re not paying for the candidate, you’re paying for the agency’s time. It’s safe to say clients would only do this on an exclusive basis.

    • Payment can flexible as well

      • E.g., a lump sum, 2 payments, weekly payment over 13 weeks, 4 monthly payments - you can get as creative as you like

  • Hybrid retainers: This is a multi-part payment that actually comprises making payments upon meeting certain milestones. Most people are familiar with a two part retainer, engagement/initiation fee & a final placement fee. But there are actually many more payment setups that clients/agencies can mix and match to create a mutually beneficial model depending on the need/project. Here are some common milestones:

    • Engagement & search initiation

    • When candidates are first received

    • When the first interviews happen

    • When second interviews happen

    • When the offer is made

    • When the offer is accepted

    • When the candidate starts working

    • When the candidate has been working for XX amount of time after accepting the offer

    • When the candidate hits a certain work milestone

      • Example: Candidate creates $1M in revenue, they create XX product, they finish construction on XX project etc.

Ask your agency if they would consider a different milestone than any of those listed above.


In all, I hope this helps you better understand how your recruitment partners function so you can make the most informed decision when it comes to picking an agency for your searches.

If you’re considering doing an executive search feel free to reach out to Josh Lopez to set up a time to speak further.

E-mail: Phone: 303-550-7588

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