Something had to change!

The recruitment industry has always been tied up in a battle for faster and cheaper recruitment services and it is the employers and employees suffering from the reduced time available for recruiters to provide adequate care and attention.

Yet, when I shared my vision with our team of recruitment consultants that the firm was going to move from 100% contingency-based recruitment to 100% retained search, some of them thought it was a joke. Or maybe just wishful thinking.

Was such a quantum shift REALLY possible?

The answer, as it turned out, was a wholehearted “yes”!

Not only did this modest recruitment firm, GrassGreener Group™, with just a handful of consultants, move to a 100% retained business model, in the process we increased our average fees by 87%, and are currently trading within the top 5% of industry fees (REC Annual Trends Survey published July 2013).

In fact, since we began our adjustment to a retained recruitment business model, the firm has won over £1.6M of retained business.

The culmination of our efforts was realised when GrassGreener won the Recruitment Business Award, in the category of “Best Executive Search Firm in the UK”, against significantly larger and more illustrious competition.

How did we make this change from the uncertainties of contingency recruitment to the more stable and reliable, retained search?

Give me a call sometime and I’ll tell you the full story. In the meanwhile, here’s a brief overview of the steps we took.

Step 1: Create a True USP

Just experiment and gather a dozen recruiters and ask them to state their USP. You’ll likely hear a tired recitation of recruitment’s greatest hits…

  • Biggest database
  • Speed of delivery
  • In-depth industry knowledge
  • Competitive rates

Little help to the employer who has to pick a winner from a group of recruiters all promising similar, or even identical, services.

You must, must, offer your potential client something that no-one else is offering or you’ll quickly be lost in the crowd.

GrassGreener Group™ developed an online candidate delivery system (the system that eventually became i-intro®) that presented the candidate shortlist in an attractive, online format. While other recruiters were still emailing batches of CVs, GrassGreener Group™ had something truly unique to show to their prospective clients.

Suddenly, winning retained assignments, even against substantial competition, was becoming easier and easier.

Step 2: Offer Extraordinary Value

To convince a client to hire you exclusively, they must feel they are getting a more in-depth service than that provided by the average contingency-based firm. Additional layers of assessment are the key to this.

Let’s face it, when all is said and done, companies hire recruiters because they don’t have the know-how, they don’t have the time to recruit, or a combination of the two. If your retained recruitment service promises to increase the accuracy of clients’ selection by carrying out an in-depth assessment of candidates and, at the same time, considerably reduces their commercial down-time, you’re tapping into what the client most keenly desires.

GrassGreener Group’s online candidate delivery system was innovative but it needed to be more than just window dressing. To offer clients extraordinary value and seduce them to the point where they were willing to hire the firm on a retained basis, the system needed substance.

Behavioural profiling and competency-based assessments became an integral part of the process.

Not only did this provide the employers with greater depth of information about each candidate but, by asking the candidates to put some personal effort into the process, it demonstrated their commitment and interest in the role.

Step 3: Embrace Technology

Traditional recruitment, aside from spamming social media, is still stuck in the past.

However, if you can show your clients that you’re embracing new technologies, not for the sake of it, but as a means to improve the quality of your service, you’re yet another step closer to winning retained business.

For GrassGreener Group™ it was the addition of video introductions and video assessments.

Every candidate who made the shortlist was asked to produce a 2-3 minute video in which they introduced themselves and talked a little about their experience and what they could bring to the role.

Naturally some candidates performed better at this task than others but, for the client, simply being able to visually see and hear from every candidate had a powerful effect on their opinion of the process.

Clients were used to trying to get a feel for each candidate based on a densely-worded CV and some feedback from the recruiter.

Yet now, they could quickly get an overview and a feel for the character of every candidate, even before they met at an interview.

Video introductions were just one part of a comprehensive service but, in terms of their effect on people’s regard for this new system, they quickly became the crown jewel of our product.


Attempting to win retained business can’t be done on a whim. It requires careful planning, a concerted effort to change the minds of clients who may have become accustomed to recruitment being handled in a certain way, and the committed cooperation of everyone in your business.

But, like any successful venture, winning retained business has a snowball effect.

Because retained business invariably produces better results for the clients, the recruitment firm that embraces this model experiences…

  • Happier candidates
  • More satisfied clients
  • Better retention rates for placements

This inevitably leads to repeat business and new business referrals from both clients and candidates.

In other words, the more retained business you win, the more retained business you win.

Everybody wins in this scenario. In an industry rife with frustration and the sense that everybody is seeking purely their own advantage, retained recruitment is a genuine opportunity to redress the balance and deliver a service that benefits candidate, client and recruiter alike.

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