Choosing between an executive search partner or database contingency recruiter

Learn the importance of choosing between an executive search partner or database contingency recruiter in this article that looks at these two solutions.

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Choosing Between an Executive Search Partner or Database Contingency Recruiter

In today's candidate-driven market, companies are often faced with the challenge of identifying and securing the best possible talent for their teams. An important decision in this process is whether to engage an executive search partner or to rely on a database contingency recruiter. While both offer their own unique benefits and are applicable in different situations, understanding the nuances of each can help businesses make an informed choice that aligns with their hiring needs.


What is an Executive Search Partner?

An executive search partner, also known as a retained search firm, is a professional entity specialised in sourcing candidates for senior, executive, or other highly specialised roles in organisations. They are typically retained by the hiring company and work closely with them to understand not just the role but also the company's culture, ethos, and strategic goals. The aim is to find not just a candidate with the right skills, but someone who aligns seamlessly with the company's vision and values.

Some key features you’d expect to find in an executive search partner includes:

  • Exclusive and dedicated search process for the client.
  • Deep understanding of the client’s industry, challenges, and needs.
  • Emphasis on passive candidates who aren't actively job hunting but might be open to the right opportunity.
  • High-level of confidentiality in the search process.


What is a Database Contingency Recruiter?

A database contingency recruiter operates on a different model. They are not retained exclusively by the hiring company and are typically paid only if and when a candidate they present is hired. They have access to vast databases of potential candidates, which they leverage to find potential fits for multiple client roles simultaneously.

Some of the hallmark features of a database contingency recruiter includes the following:

  • Transactional and volume-driven approach.
  • Faster turn-around time owing to the access to extensive databases.
  • Typically more suited for mid-level or roles where immediate filling is more urgent than finding a highly specialised fit.
  • No upfront fee; payment is contingent on successful placement.


How to Choose Between an Executive Search Partner and a Database Contingency Recruiter

Although executive search partners and contingency recruiters perform similar duties for their clients, the way they do it differs significantly. So to help you decide which option is right for you, let’s look at their core differences:

  • Depth of Relationship

One of the more compelling aspects of an executive search partner is the depth of their relationship with the hiring company. They take the time to understand the company's culture, values, and specific needs for the role. This deep understanding allows them to identify and engage with candidates who are not just qualified on paper, but who are also a good cultural and strategic fit.

The model used by database contingency recruiters is primarily transactional. While they may have some understanding of the company's needs, their primary focus is on presenting a large volume of candidates quickly, with the hope that one will be a match.

  • Specialisation and Industry Knowledge

Another important difference to consider between executive search partners and contingency recruiters is their industry expertise and specialisms. So consider what you need them to do to help guide your decision about who is more suited to cover these needs.

Executive search partners are typically specialists in particular industries or functions. Their deep industry knowledge allows them to understand the intricacies of specific roles and to identify passive candidates who may not be actively looking but are perfect for the role.

While some database contingency recruiters may specialise in specific sectors, many operate across various industries. Their strength lies in their access to a vast number of active job-seekers rather than deep industry expertise.

  • Time Commitment and Urgency

Given their detailed approach and focus on passive candidates, executive searches can take longer to get the job done. Companies that opt for this route should be prepared for a more extended engagement but can expect a thorough and highly tailored search.

If speed is of the essence, then contingency recruiters can be a good choice. With access to a large database of candidates, they can present potential matches quickly, though they might not always be the perfect fit in terms of company culture or long-term strategy.

  • Cost Considerations

The upfront retainer fee of executive search partners can be a deterrent for some companies. However, the potential value derived from securing a perfectly fitting executive can far outweigh the initial cost.

In contrast, the pay-on-success model can seem more attractive, especially for companies on a tight budget. However, it's worth noting that the rush to fill a position might lead to a less-than-ideal match, potentially resulting in higher turnover and associated costs in the long run.

  • Confidentiality and Discretion

For sensitive roles or replacements, discretion is paramount. Executive search firms excel in maintaining confidentiality, ensuring that the hiring process remains under wraps until the company is ready to make an announcement.

While contingency recruiters can also operate discreetly, the nature of their broad-reaching search might mean less control over confidentiality.

  • Long-Term Partnership

Many companies develop long-standing relationships with their executive search partners, ensuring consistent quality in leadership hires over the years.

While companies might engage with the same contingency firm for multiple roles, the nature of the relationship is often more transactional than partnership-driven.


The Right Choice Depends on Your Needs

The nuances of today's hiring landscape require a strategic approach to talent acquisition. By understanding the distinct advantages and methodologies of executive search partners and database contingency recruiters, companies can align their hiring strategies with their overarching business goals, ensuring long-term success and growth.


If you would like to learn more about how executive search partners can help you, please get in touch with our team at Collingwood Executive Search today.

About the author
Doug Mackay
10 min read

Having started his career in Executive Search in 1998, Doug set up Collingwood in 2005 alongside his wife, Claire Mackay.

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