Many of my clients initially indicate that they would prefer to have their resume put in front of retained recruiting firms only, as they are under the impression that it is only these firms that handle senior executive and C-level recruiting assignments.
While it is true that many companies do retain these firms for their important high-level candidate searches, contingency firms, properly used, can be of great value as well. Nick Corcodilos in a recent Ask the Headhunter e-newsletter addresses just this question. He points out that it is a fact that more $100K+ level searches are done by contingency firms than by retained firms. He cites some of the reasons for this, which include the flexibility that a contingency firm enjoys, their lower internal costs, and the resulting reduced cost to the employer. The savings derived by using a contingency instead of a retained firm for the average $100K position range from $15-20K, or between 29%-60%!
The upshot of all of this is that, as in most things, the quality and reputation of the recruiter – whether retained or contingent – is your primary concern. It is also wise to determine whether there is more than one firm working on the assignment and whether the position has been advertised, as your odds decrease rapidly as the number of competitors and headhunters involved increases.