Sometime, during an otherwise ordinary work day, you receive a call or an email from someone who wants to have a conversation with you. They want to speak with you about a potential position at a different company; conceivably, they come dangling a title that is more senior than yours currently. You haven’t had a lot of experience with being recruited. Perhaps you connect recruiting with campus recruiters who have visited your college and that’s the extent of your knowledge. You’ve found your current position (and maybe others) through your own resources, friends or family. So, this is new. You feel flattered and special, but wonder what you will be getting yourself into if you continue the conversation? It sounds like a nice position, but how will this interviewing process be handled? Is all hiring the same?

retained_executive_searchThe first thing you should consider, is the caller or emailer an internal recruiter who is working for this particular company with this specific opening, or is the recruiter from an outside company?

You got that one answered: Turns out it’s an outside firm. There are two different kinds of outside firms: a retained search firm and a contingency firm. A retained search firm, by definition, has an exclusive engagement to fill this open position. It has been officially hired, retained and secured under contract by the client company. This means that you will not have any other person at any other firm contacting you about that specific position. A contingency firm may or may not have an exclusive on this position for a period of time, but the client company hasn’t committed to working with this firm on an indefinite basis. Therefore, it’s common that a number of different contingency firms are trying to recruit for this same position, even if it may not always be at the same time.

What are some other differences? A client company makes a strategic and financial investment when they hire a retained search firm from the very beginning of the process. A client company is not wedded to a contingency firm and does not have to pay them until the very end of the process when that firm successfully fills the position.

Anything else? The guarantee for the person placed usually varies between retained and contingency. Most retained search firms guarantee their placement will remain in the new position for at least a year and will work with, or coach, the person placed, their direct boss and the company to insure that everything is going well during that year. If for whatever reason the person placed leaves within that first year, the firm has to find a replacement at their own expense. A contingency firm doesn’t usually have this kind of guarantee. It may have some kind of guarantee, but it is usually for a short time frame such as three months.

How about the length of the search or hiring/interviewing process, does it differ between the two kinds of firms? What can I expect if I go through the process? How long will it take? This is usually dependent more on the client company and how quickly they can move to interview, reach a decision and make an offer/negotiate, and if there are unusual circumstances involved, such as a green card, a non-compete, or an employment agreement.

However, since the retained firm has the guarantee mentioned above, it needs to make sure all details are covered. The contingency firm may or may not take all the steps of a retained firm; that will depend upon how the firm operates and its philosophy.

Does a company exclusively work with one kind of search firm? No. If they work with both kinds of search firms, it’s usually when the decision maker at the company feels the position is unique, very competitive or is confidential that they will work with a retainer based firm. Of course, they may also have a preference for working with a retained or a contingency search firm and may have strong relationships with the people working at specific firms, which will impact their choice for either.

Back to your situation…Now you understand there are differences in hiring, you can ask the person who contacted you what kind of firm they work with. You can also conduct research on their firm to discover that. In addition, many retained firms are members of the AESC (the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants) and you can go to their website (www.aesc.org) and look to see if that firm is a member.

With that knowledge in hand, you have a better understanding about what you can expect from working with this person and their firm if you decide to go through this hiring process. Ready to find out more? Throw your hat in the ring and go for it!

To learn more about executive search and your career, register today for our next webinar “Advancing Your Career: Executive Search”.

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