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Is Retained Executive Search in Malaysia a Dying Service?

Updated: May 26, 2019

As many in the recruitment industry will know, executive search in Malaysia is a specialized recruitment service where companies or organizations pay to find and recruit qualified candidates for senior-level and executive jobs. The true search service involves a thorough mapping of the candidate market to identify target candidates in both competitors and relevant target organizations. Commercially there have been two engagement models, contingency search and retained search. Although both methods can be successful in securing the right candidate, the retained search model has given way to the more popular contingency model due to the perceived low risk of an "on success" payment model.

Most employers in Malaysia are adamantly focused on contingency search, where there are no upfront costs and they pay the recruiting agency only if they hire one of their candidates. Simply put, contingent search firms are paid upon the successful completion of the search - typically when the candidate starts, rather than just accepts the position. Working on a retained basis means the recruitment agency will charge an upfront fee to the employer to conduct a search. They will operate on an exclusive basis, meaning the job will only be filled through that recruitment agency. Retained search firms are paid in advance to conduct a search that usually results in a hiring.

Whilst it would seem to be an obvious choice for employers to choose the contingent model, it also means the service provided has suffered. Over time, recruitment firms have reduced the level of service provided - and herein lies the issue. "Retainer" has become a dirty word in the recruitment industry due to cases where a service called "executive search" did not involve the full-service approach. Hence the bad experience many employers have felt when selecting the wrong recruitment firm and/or the wrong consultant.

Retained search is still a popular choice for senior executive positions or those roles considered mission-critical to the success of the organization. Retained executive search in Malaysia still offers a much higher probability than contingency methods of recruiting a well-rounded, top-quality executive who fits an organization's needs and culture. Most employers who utilize retained search recruitment still agree with the fact that retained search methods offer a planned, structured approach to the process of finding and evaluating the most promising candidates and successfully attracting them to their companies.

Although retained search may be declining, when the value is articulated correctly to an employer it makes compelling commercial sense. Recruitment and retention of the right employee is a vital investment that every organization must make in order to achieve or retain market leadership within the ever-changing and highly competitive environment in which firms in Malaysia operate. It just means selecting the right recruitment partner is more important than ever.