Contingent recruitment is killing the candidate experience

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment

My colleague Sophie wrote about the candidate experience recently (click here) and following some recent first-hand experience I felt compelled to write this blog. I don’t expect it to change anything but could do with getting it off my chest!

There have been a lot of blogs recently about how the agency-led candidate experience is deteriorating and to his credit, Mitch Sullivan (visit his blog here) is waging a one-man social war on Contingent recruitment. Mitch talks about this in a far more eloquent manner than me but I thought I would share my own thoughts on why it is having a detrimental impact on my own area of specialism in Retail.

For those not familiar with recruitment terminology, Contingent recruitment is, in essence, recruiting without guaranteed payment. No win, no fee. The alternative is Retained recruitment where traditionally a client will pay a third of the expected fee upon commencement of the assignment, a third upon production of a shortlist and a third upon completion. Retained recruitment is often thought to be the preserve of Executive Search but this really isn’t the case. There are of course other derivatives, including exclusivity (is it ever really?), mapping, project fees, the list goes on.

So why is Contingent recruitment killing the candidate experience?

  • Contingent recruitment is basically working for free…unless the recruiter is successful. So recruiters who only have a portfolio of contingent work will pick and choose what they believe will deliver a result. Consequently, some agencies will take a volume approach to the assignment and cover every candidate on their database regardless of suitability. Candidates will receive calls (or emails…) about roles that are either not of interest or they have no hope of ever securing an interview for.


  • Contingent recruitment often equates to the client using multiple agencies. Using multiple agencies will often generate a multitude of problems for candidates, recruiters and clients. The biggest issue that often arises is arguments over candidate ownership. Unscrupulous agencies, and we all know there are many, will send CVs to clients without the candidate’s knowledge or bully them into agreeing that they ‘covered’ them on the vacancy first. The end result; candidates are often forced to lie and are left feeling deeply uncomfortable with the whole process.


  • Savvy candidates are increasingly asking whether the recruiter is retained, exclusive or one of many. They are in essence, analysing their prospective employer through the manner in which they are conducting their recruitment. Multiple agencies – not placing trust in one supplier – what does this say about the culture of the business? Not retained – not serious about hiring the position? There are many other conclusions that could be drawn.


  • Contingent recruitment does not encourage an agency to go the extra mile when representing their client. It does not ensure the recruiter researches the business and can talk passionately and knowledgably. It will often lead to at best a half-hearted or at worst a misleading brief for the candidate.


  • Many agencies will do a great job when recruiting on a contingent basis and to retain some balance, Retained searches don’t always leave the best impression. However, where there is a Retained search there is genuine accountability. The recruiter has been paid in advance to provide a great service for all parties and as a result clients can manage that relationship accordingly. If the client briefs multiple agencies it is very difficult for them to manage performance in a measured and constructive manner.


Not every agency that works on a contingent basis does a bad job and indeed I will happily admit that I often work on a contingent basis with some of my clients (sorry Mitch). You hope in these situations you are rewarded for doing a great job but as we all know sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.

However, I always do a much better job when retained. In fact I have filled every single brief that I have been retained on and ultimately, isn’t that the result that everyone wants? The candidate experience becomes crucial in this instance and when retained you have full ownership. You are also able to fully engage your internal resourcing function, you can write a good quality brief, you can meet candidates and spend time getting to know them. There will be some mistakes made, as in any job, but they will be mistakes not deliberate attempts to create unnecessary problems.

PS. For those recruiters that are contributing to a poor candidate experience – it will catch up with you and sooner than you think.

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15 thoughts on “Contingent recruitment is killing the candidate experience”

  1. Love the final statement Jez. And very true, I am constantly up against agencies that spec CV’s out without discussing the vacancy with the candidate.  Fortunately in all the cases I have experienced this year, the candidate has made it clear to all parties that we are representing them in their application.
    We have no KPI’s to work towards, targets yes but no KPI’s, I haven’t even made a single sales call this year, and why is that because we have a reputation for acting with great integrity, and that breeds recommendation after recommendation, and also candidate loyalty.  I have put many candidates into a great position for no fee even when we have not been instructed on the vacancy, that’s because as a recruiter I have an obligation to get the best for what the candidate wants, and in turn those clients remember that and the positive cycle starts again.

    Unfortunately though we still get tarred with the same brush, and I do wish more candidates would find a recruiter that works for them, rather than the other way around.

  2. Nothing new here this has been going on for as long as I can remember and that been a while! There has to be a better way to obtaining a fee for service then contingency. Technology is kinda forcing new business models upon the recruitment industry – we have to adapt or else. Companies like Recruitloop are setting the pace with a kind of retained business model. Change comes slowly and I’m sure things will continue as is for some time to come.

  3. Lance Harvie I completely agree. I know all this has been stated thousands of times before but hopefully a few people that don’t frequent recruitment blogs will see this. Recruitloop looks interesting.

  4. SimonRecruit Thanks for your comments and great to hear that your model is working well. 
    I think candidates, depending on their personal circumstances, will generally do what they think need to do to secure a role. Many perceive the whole industry negatively. The only way their experience will change is if the paying customer, the client, pays for a specific service which is service centric. Unfortunately, contingent recruitment just reduces the barriers to entry for recruiters regardless of experience, capability, delivery, ethics or values. Clients can raise this barrier anytime they choose. The question is, will they?

  5. Just for clarity, I don’t think working on contingency is a bad thing and it does have its place.  
    I think it’s an essential first step in a logical sales journey that recruitment agencies could (or should?) be taking some of their clients on.  Once a recruiter has developed enough clients who work with him/her on a more exclusive partnership basis, they can reduce the amount of contingency work they have to do.  
    Contingency is essentially a place where a recruiter and a new client can get to know each other better, with a view to it leading to a more meaningful relationship further down the road.  It’s also the most logical starting point for trainee recruiters to cut their teeth.
    The aspect of retained that most agency recruiters have a problem with is HAVING to fill jobs.  It’s a level of commitment they’re just not used to and is the key differentiator between them and their inhouse counterparts.  Inhouse recruiters have to be good at recruiting, contingency recruiters have to be good at an entirely different skill – namely trading candidates around the fringes of other people’s hiring initiatives.
    I guess a lot of it comes down to whether agency recruiters want to evolve and become good at actual recruitment, rather than the spot-trading they mostly currently do.
    Jez, I have developed a 5 Stage Recruitment Sales Journey as part of a training course I’m developing on how to evolve an agency desk from contingency to one that is predominately retained.  If you’d like a copy, feel free to ask.

  6. mitchsullivan All valid points Mitch. Contingency is a great way to cut the mustard and to build long term relationships. Clients will keep buying if the trust was based on good communication and delivery. Sourcing is central to future success in recruitment. The window of opportunity from job spec to quality resumes out is getting shorter due to our obsession for instant gratification driven by digital media. Sourcing tools are getting smarter and delivering more accurate and faster results then ever before. Recruiters have to embrace such tools then layer their excellent interpersonal skills on top to continue to stay ahead.

  7. I tried to comment on this article within Linked In, however my comment was never published for some strange reason. Could it be that the article publisher wished to censor this bit of media for some reason? 

    My question is: Jez, do you fall in to the pitfalls that you describe when you recruit on a contingency basis?

  8. Sam Sanderson Not sure why your comment would not have been published on LinkedIn, it might be worth following up with the group administrator.
    To answer your question, I have made my fair share of mistakes! I do try to avoid multiple-agency scenarios where I can these days though.

  9. IMO, the problem, pure and simple, is that it is too easy to get into the Search business so we have people doing this work who have no class, style, ethics, business sense and so on. And since their managers are likewise classless, the situation is a like a Mobius Strip of Mediocrity. The only structure we have to go against this is the Retained Search and I’m sure we have a share of similarly deficient people on that end of our business as well.

    I don’t offer a solution, just stating the obvious.


    Paul Forel

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