Types of Executive Search Firms: Pros and Cons

March 25, 2020
March 25, 2020 TruPath

Types of Executive Search Firms: Pros and Cons

(Originally posted September 2017, Updated March 2020). 

According to numerous recent surveys, companies find that their time to hire ranges anywhere from 15 days to 4 months!

When a company has an urgent hiring need, it can overwhelm your current resources; however, with the help of a recruiting company, a quick and reliable placement is easy.

Recruiting companies are multifaceted and employ numerous services to help you find a candidate.

For more information, we’ve compiled types of executive search firms below, as well as the pros and cons of each to aid you in your decision.

Table of Contents:

Types Of Executive Search Firms: Pros and Cons

Retained Search Firms

One of the two major types of executive search firms you’ll find is retained search firms. These are firms that focus on locating and placing executive positions.

Additionally, these firms differ from other types of search firms based on their fees, when those fees are due, and how many clients they potentially work with.


  • Retained search firms offer search services for senior-level positions.
  • The reason a retained search fits executive searches best is due to their narrow focus.
  • These firms limit the number of clients so that they can ensure that you receive exclusive customer service and get the most qualified candidate.
  • This exclusivity gives retained search firms the flexibility to work with the company through the onboarding process after candidate placement.


  • These firms usually charge 30-35% of the position’s salary. Depending on your budget, this may be more of a pro than a con for you.
  • While these are high-end agencies, retained search firms require an upfront fee for specialized searches. So, even if a hire doesn’t work out, you are still required to pay upfront.

Contingency Search Firms

As the second major type of search firm, contingency search firms are different from retained search firms.

These types of firms differ in several ways, such as when the firm is paid, how much is paid, and the type of search contracts the firm offers clients.


  • Usually, a contingency firm requires payment after a candidate is recommended and hired.
  • Their search fees typically amount to 20% of the candidate’s salary. Again, depending on budget, this may be less of a pro or more of a con for you.


  • Unlike retained search firms, Contingency agencies do not necessarily have an exclusive agreement with clients.
  • With no exclusive agreement, a contingency firm may have less time to focus on your search than other types of executive search firms.

Firms With Both Contingency and Retained Services

Again, it is likely that you’ll come across a search firm that offers a mix of these two types of services.


Some searches are a better fit depending on the job that needs filling.

Let’s say you need a new VP of Sales, and you’ve decided to partner with the search firm TruPath.

As we said previously, a retained search fits the needs of an executive search best. This is also true for other management and leadership positions as well.

Luckily, the team at TruPath specializes in specialized retained searches for executive candidates.

Conversely, if you need some technical candidates, a contingency search might be the better fit for you.

Since TruPath offers both contingency and retained search choices, its team can recommend which search best fits the unique needs of your search.

Other Types of Executive Search Firms

While retained and contingency search firms are the main two types of firms, they aren’t the only kind you might find!

Additionally, you might find a firm that offers those two kinds of services along with any mix of the following executive search services.

Full-Scale RPO

The Recruitment Process Outsourcing Association defines large-scale recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) as someone that acts in a company’s internal recruitment role for some or all open job searches.


  • Full-scale RPO can be useful if you’re looking to transfer recruiting to an outside service provider.
  • The RPO is in control of the recruiting process for the client.
    • So, if you find your employees overwhelmed with roles that need to be filled, full-scale RPO services can be helpful by taking the stress off your shoulders.
  • Both types of RPO can reduce costs for clients.


  • RPO is utilized when a company experiences high volume staffing needs that internal HR can’t cost-effectively handle, along with their core responsibilities.
  • Additionally, RPO is used when there is no HR function in the company.

Thus, if you need smaller scale staffing solutions, the value of full-scale RPO may not outweigh the cost and resources it requires.

On-Demand RPO

On-demand RPO offers recruiting, sourcing as well as coordination on an as-requested basis — rather than through long-term contracts.

Companies utilize on-demand RPO firms for full-on recruiting or just the areas they need help with.

These areas include the coordination of interviews, candidate management, candidate communications, as well as reference and background checking and onboarding.


  • On-demand RPO contract length is usually short term.
  • On-demand RPO boosts recruiting quality while also saving money compared to full-scale RPO.
  • Companies reap the benefits of experienced recruiting service providers, but they solely pay for the smaller scale services they need.


  • If you need a long term RPO solution, on-demand RPO may not fit your needs.
  • As the name says, on-demand RPO is usually utilized as needed. Thus, though it is not common, an on-demand RPO can add or drop services at any time.

As a trusted recruitment source for more than a decade, TruPath has the industry knowledge and a proven model to help our partners feel comfortable in their search for a candidate.

Through our TruProcess, we can consistently deliver exceptional candidates that help organizations continue down successful paths.

Contact TruPath today to tell us about your staffing needs.