It’s a big world out there, so finding the right person for a healthcare job can be tough. Recruiters can help locate potential candidates for jobs ranging from supervisory roles up to chief executive officers. But proceed with caution: All recruiters are not created equal. Understanding the difference between contingency recruiters and retained recruiters can have a big impact on the success of the person who takes the job.

The fundamental difference between the two types of recruiters is their incentives: Contingency recruiters only get paid if they are the first to offer up a candidate who is subsequently hired, while retained recruiters are hired by the healthcare organization to locate, pre-screen, and suggest several candidates.

In most cases, contingency recruiters do not have an exclusive contract with a healthcare organization so when a job becomes available, there may be several contingency recruiters racing to be the first to present candidates.  On the other side retained recruiters do have an exclusive contract and typically are the only ones privy to the job opportunity and the only ones working to fill the position.

Contingency Recruiters
Contingency recruiters typically help fill non-executive jobs such as supervisor, management or director-level positions. Some specialize in clinical jobs, such as clinical specialists, O.R. nurses or CT scan technicians. Some do administrator searches, primarily for investor-owned hospitals. Other contingency recruiters specialize in placing physicians and may split their fees with an exclusive recruiter who is listing the job, much like real estate agents share their fees with other agents.

The competitive nature of contingency work leaves less time for learning about the organization’s culture and structure, as well as for in-depth screening and referencing of candidates. If another recruiter beats them in with the same or another candidate, or if the organization finds the right person on its own, the recruiter loses the chance to make a fee. It is about having a credible candidate – not necessarily the “right” candidate – and getting him or her to the client before any competitors.

The contingency recruiter may tell a client that a candidate is “perfect” or “a very nice candidate,” but provide little information to back up their recommendation.  In-depth interviews and background checks simply take up too much time, often resulting in a mis-hire – the candidate who takes a job, only to leave or be let go because he or she is just not the right fit for the job.

Statistics show that half of the candidates placed with contingency recruiters are gone within two years, and replacing them is expensive. In the end, most healthcare organizations would actually save money by retaining their own qualified recruiters and getting the right candidate the first time.

Retained Recruiters
Retained recruiters are typically paid more, and expected to deliver more, than contingency recruiters.  They are most often hired to identify candidates for executive and senior-level positions,  A good retained recruiter becomes a trusted partner with a deep understanding of an organization, its people, and the challenges they face.

How do these recruiters build that high level of trust? By being accountable for their work. Most retained recruiters offer a one-year tenure guarantee for the candidates they place. Personally, I offer a 36-month guarantee, because I know that my in-depth screening techniques and the time I put into understanding an open job are very likely to result in a good match.

While a contingency recruiter might provide a brief summary of their short candidate interviews, I offer my clients comprehensive candidate dossiers that include 15-minute video summaries of my three- to four-hour interviews. No candidate dossier makes it to my client’s desk unless I can personally verify that the individual is a perfect match for the job, the organization and its culture, and that there are no skeletons in the closet that may cause problems down the line.

Unlike high-speed contingency recruiting, digging this deep takes a lot of time and effort. But in the end, it’s the client’s satisfaction that matters. If for any reason my client is dissatisfied, I will discount my fees accordingly. Sharing the financial risk with a client is the test of a true partnership, and healthcare organizations would be hard-pressed to find a contingency recruiter who is willing to put his own money on the line.

Of course, not all retained recruiters dig as deeply or work as hard as I do. But the best recruiters are those who develop a true understanding of the client’s culture and decision-making process, and accept accountability for their work and the candidates they recommend.

While contingency recruiters are typically paid less for their services than retained recruiters, clients get what they pay for. A quality executive search by a retained recruiter may take up to three months, but when a candidate becomes a valued, long-lasting member of a healthcare organization’s executive team, it’s well worth the investment.

© 2012 John Gregory Self