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August 2020

Retained or contingency? Insect or lion? AGILIUM WORLDWIDE’s member TULA Executive Search talks about both options!

bernard vanderlandeIn the executive search business, clients face a choice: retained or contingency?

In a contingency search, the search firm is paid by the job. They generate as many candidates as they can and hope that an suitable choice and match can be found somewhere in a pallet-load of résumés. Clients will often hear and use the phrase “it’s a numbers game.” One hopes that a multitude of candidates will result in a high-quality choice.

If we look closely, we can identify here a biological analogy in classic reproductive strategies. Numerous species, such as insects, are known to use an energy wasting “r-strategy”. This means that their offspring are abundant, weak, short-lived, less intelligent and fast-maturing. As a result, the insect parents invest as little as possible in their young.

Then there is the energy efficient “k-strategy” used by humans and lions, for example. The k-strategy produces offspring which are strong, live a long time, are very intelligent, and who mature slowly. Lion parents and human parents invest in their young for the long-term, and investment pays off for decades.

This bears a strong resemblance to the retained search process in which the firm is paid regularly, no matter how much work is required, to fill a position. The retained search firm invests heavily in assessing candidates and in studying client companies first-hand.  A retained search may produce only five or so candidates for a given position, but each candidate will fit the job description very well.

If the candidates you seek lend themselves to the “numbers game”, then contingency search makes sense for you. The more responsible and high-level the position you are searching for, the more appropriate the “k-strategy” becomes.

You have to rely on the strategy that produces the best results. For executive positions, you’re looking for lions.

Contact: Bernard van der Lande, Managing Partner, TULA Executive Search
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Founded in 1984, AGILIUM WORLDWIDE LLC ( is an international executive search group of independent, owner-managed retained executive search firms, with members who are active in virtually every market. AGILIUM WORLDWIDE ranks among the world’s top 25 executive search organizations.

AGILIUM WORLDWIDE’s member firms offer personalized, specialized, client-oriented services. By eliminating the formally structured, pre-programmed approach they can remain proactive and secure prompt, skilled and expert service to their clients, to help them find the “Perfect Fit” – the right person for the right position, at the right time, at the right location.

AGILIUM WORLDWIDE member firms are trusted advisors to companies from the Fortune 500, as well as to upcoming and start-up companies around the globe. Clients get the best of both worlds: an entrepreneurial approach with global reach and local perspective.


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