Industry Insights


The Power of Exclusive Search

May 7, 2024 | Industry Insights

As businesses navigate the ever-evolving landscape of talent acquisition, the choices between recruitment methods often boil down to two options: contingent and retained searches. However, nestled between these two lies an approach that combines the benefits of both while offering a unique value proposition—exclusive search. Today, we unravel the enigma of exclusive search and its potential to redefine how organizations engage with recruitment partners.



Unlike Retained and Contingent Searches, Exclusive Search embodies a hybrid approach. This relatively new concept fosters a symbiotic business relationship, sparing clients the hassle of engaging multiple firms, as seen in contingent models. Moreover, it allows clients to leverage internal recruiting teams, professional networks, and career pages to support the search process. The exclusive model requires an engagement fee to be paid at the beginning of the search. This ensures both the client and the search firm are equally motivated in the search’s success, resulting in expedited placements, attention to detail, exceptional quality of service, and a truly vested partnership.



When deciding between the contingent, retained, or exclusive search models, it’s crucial to understand their differences and their benefits.

Contingent search allows you to oversee the search process from beginning to end. This model is widely popular because it allows the client to engage multiple recruiting partners to identify relevant candidates. At first glance, this arrangement seems beneficial as more recruiters may lead to more candidates. In reality, the multitude of recruiters are canvasing the same candidate pool for the same position. This often results in a negative candidate experience and subpar service delivery as recruiters know they’re competing for the same candidates, and the likelihood of a successful search is diminished. The primary benefit of this model is the contingent nature of the fee; it’s only incurred upon a successful placement.

Retained search, on the other hand, is commonly used to fill senior-level, high-profile positions or confidential searches. It involves hiring a trusted recruiting partner to handle the search process from initial screenings through the offer stage and beyond. Regardless of the sources, all candidates are vetted by the search firm. Companies opt for retained search, despite the required investment, due to the level of dedication from the search firm and the ability to maintain focus on their business objectives. Retained searches are the opposite of contingent searches.  A fee is paid whether the placement is made or not.



Exclusive search represents more than just a transaction—it signifies a collaborative partnership. The main benefit of exclusive search is that it offers the dedication of a retained search paired with the flexibility of a contingent search. Other benefits of this hybrid approach include:

  1. Equal investment. The client pays an engagement fee at the beginning of the search, which is then deducted from the final fee once the placement is made. This ensures both sides are equally invested in the search’s success. You do not have to pay the full fee if the placement is not made. Although the engagement fee is non-refundable, if the placement is not made by the search firm, you are not responsible for any additional fee.
  2. Dedication level. If retained search does not make sense for your company or if the position is not a significant leadership role, you still receive a similar level of dedication as you would in a retained search relationship.
  3. Eliminates repeat candidate submissions. The exclusive search model particularly holds value in local searches, shielding you and your candidate pool from redundant submissions often encountered when working with multiple search firms. It also protects the candidate experience and your employer brand. In an exclusive arrangement, the search firm is your single dedicated partner.
  4. Trusted recruiting partner to return to for future hires. Because of the unique partnership previously developed, your recruiting partner will already be familiar with your company values and the type of employee that would best fit your culture. When needed, this expedites future hiring processes.


“Is exclusive search more expensive than contingent?”

No. You’re not paying more than you would for a contingent search.

“What if the position isn’t filled?”

If the position is filled through your own network or resources, you will not be responsible for any additional financial costs. However, the engagement fee paid at the beginning of the search will be retained by the search firm for the search efforts already invested into filling the role.

“What if a placed candidate leaves or we’re required to reduce our workforce?”

If a candidate leaves within 90 days of their start date for any reason other than a reduction in force, change of company ownership, or unforeseen economic crisis, our service guarantee states that we will replace them.

“How does the engagement fee relate to the total fee after the placement is made?”

The engagement fee is deducted from the total fee when the placement is made. For example, a client pays a non-refundable engagement fee of $5,000, and the salary of the placement is $100,000; if your agreement is for 25%, the total fee would be $25,000. With the exclusive model, you are only responsible for paying the remainder of $20,000.



Exclusive search may be the most appealing option, but it is important to consider that each search solution addresses the unique recruitment needs of our partners. Once a search firm understands your organization’s goals, immediate needs, and hiring processes, they will suggest the best approach to expedite the search process and uncover the best talent.

Contact us to learn which search solution is right for your company –