Who Is Going to Help You?


You are looking for a new job. Who will help you? Do you contact an employment agent, a contingency recruiter, a retained search consultant? What do all the titles mean and which one will prove to be the best resource? You’ve heard the terms, but you may not know the difference between the titles.

Here is a primer so that you can learn the job-search vocabulary. It’s a list that defines each term and explains when you should contact each expert and who is responsible for paying for their services. This list should make it easier for you to decide which professional you should contact for your particular situation.

Employment Agent

An employment agent is usually a person who places individuals in non-professional positions. A non-professional, in this sense, is a high school graduate or a recent college graduate with little or no work experience. The agent works with many contacts at various organizations and tries to find the candidate possible job openings. The employment agent may be paid by the applicant, the government, or the organization looking to hire.

Staffing Professional/Internal Recruiter

This recruiter is an employee of a business. Her job is to specifically staff positions for that business, often juggling a large number of hiring projects, or open positions to fill at any given time. The staffing professional reports to the organization’s human resources department and is trained to screen for individuals who will fit the corporate culture, environment, and individual department looking to fill the job. An internal recruiter will only recruit for those positions that are open and may only service specific functional areas, departments, or levels of an organization depending on the size of the business.

Contingency Search Firm

A contingency recruiter is paid by an organization only when a successful placement is made, whether senior or junior in level. The organization with the job opening will probably enlist more than one firm at the same time to increase the chance for finding the right candidate for the job. In other words, this is not an exclusive arrangement. Contingency firms are most often used by organizations in two situations: to fill junior level positions, or for senior level positions for companies not willing to agree to a detailed consulting arrangement to find their executives. If you are looking for a job and have three to five years of professional business experience, you are in a position to contact contingency recruiters. Understand, however, that the recruiters can only help you if they have an appropriate open position that specifically fits your background, education, and experience.

Retained Search Firm

A retained search firm/consultant is hired by an organization in an exclusive contracted relationship. The consultant is paid by the client organization to scour the marketplace, uncover the best executives for a particular executive position and introduce them to the decision maker or makers at the organization. The decision makers interview the potential candidates. In most cases, the end goal for the organization is to hire one of the candidates that the consultant presents, but not all the time, which is why the firm is paid on a consulting basis and not a contingency basis. Alternative goals may be: to compare internal talent to external talent; conduct research on whether a hire is actually necessary; or, for research in anticipation of a future hiring need. (If you visit my website at , you can read about the breadth and details of the average retained search assignment). Retained search assignments are usually only conducted if the base compensation of the executive position is at least $125,000 to $150,000.


An agent is generally employed in the entertainment field as the business representative for a creative talent: an actor, producer, director, writer, entertainer or professional athlete. This professional will be the “business developer” and negotiator for the talent and receives a percentage of the talent’s compensation for the deals they negotiate on behalf of their clients. The agent represents the best interest of their clients and is the supreme marketer for their clients.

While this article may not include everything you need to know about whom to contact for a successful job search, hopefully, it answers some of your questions. Should you have any additional questions or if you have found this article to be useful, please let me know at .

Susan Goldberg’s company, SGES, conducts retained executive searches for businesses that truly value their people as its number one resource and provides career coaching for individuals who are determined to change their career path. Her website is, and Susan can be contacted at . She can also be followed on twitter@suzebizcoach

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