What is Retained Search? – Educating the Industry

What is retained search?

James Clemens, Group Marketing Manager

A retained search assignment, also known as an executive search or retained executive search, is a recruitment strategy used primarily for filling senior-level executive positions. This method involves a more dedicated and consultative approach compared to other types of recruitment. Here’s how a retained search assignment typically works:

Initial Consultation and Agreement

  • Needs Assessment: The client (employer) and the retained search firm begin with an in-depth consultation to understand the company’s needs, culture, and the specific requirements for the role.
  • Agreement: A formal contract is signed. This usually includes a retainer fee, which is an upfront payment to initiate the search process. The fee structure typically consists of three parts: an initial retainer fee, a fee upon presentation of a shortlist of candidates, and a final fee upon successful placement.

Job Specification Development

  • Job Description: The search firm works with the client to develop a detailed job description and candidate profile, including qualifications, experience, skills, and attributes needed for the role.
  • Market Research: The firm conducts market research to identify potential candidates and understand the competitive landscape.

Search Strategy and Candidate Identification

  • Targeting: The search firm uses various methods to identify potential candidates, including networking, databases, industry contacts, and sometimes direct outreach to professionals in similar roles.
  • Sourcing: This involves discreetly reaching out to potential candidates to gauge their interest and suitability for the role.

Candidate Assessment and Presentation

  • Screening: The firm conducts initial screenings, interviews, and assessments to evaluate candidates’ qualifications and fit for the role and company culture.
  • Shortlist Presentation: A shortlist of the most qualified candidates is presented to the client, along with detailed profiles and assessments of each candidate.

Client Interviews and Selection

  • Interviews: The client conducts interviews with the shortlisted candidates. The search firm often assists in coordinating these interviews and may participate in the interview process.
  • Feedback: The search firm gathers feedback from both the client and candidates to refine the search if necessary.

Offer and Negotiation

  • Reference Checks: The search firm conducts thorough reference checks on the final candidate(s).
  • Offer Negotiation: The firm assists in the negotiation process to help finalise the terms of employment and ensure a smooth acceptance.

Onboarding and Follow-Up

  • Onboarding: The search firm may assist with the onboarding process to ensure the candidate transitions smoothly into the new role.
  • Follow-Up: Post-placement follow-up is conducted to ensure that both the client and the new hire are satisfied and to address any potential issues.

Key Features of Retained Search Assignments

  • Exclusivity: The client retains the search firm exclusively, meaning the firm is the only one working on filling the position.
  • Payment Structure: Payment is typically made in stages, with an initial retainer fee paid upfront, which demonstrates the client’s commitment and secures the firm’s dedication to the search.
  • Focus on Quality: Emphasis is placed on finding the best fit for the role and company, often involving an in-depth and tailored approach.


  • Dedicated Resources: The retained search firm allocates dedicated resources and time to the search, ensuring a thorough and comprehensive process.
  • High-Level Expertise: Retained search firms often have specialised expertise in recruiting for high-level positions and can provide valuable insights and advice.
  • Confidentiality: The process is usually conducted with a high level of confidentiality, which is crucial for senior-level searches.

As a business we have completed many retained assignments, so to discuss your retained search requirements get in touch with one of the team.

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