What is a retainer in recruitment?

The hunt for top candidates

In recruitment, a retainer refers to a fee paid to a recruitment agency or headhunter to initiate and conduct a search for qualified candidates for a specific position. This fee is typically paid upfront or in installments before the successful placement of a candidate.

The retainer ensures that the recruitment agency commits dedicated time and resources to thoroughly understand the client's needs, search for suitable candidates, and present qualified candidates for consideration. It also signifies a level of exclusivity, as the agency will prioritise the client's search over other projects during the retainer period. Typically, retainers are used for high-level or specialised positions where finding the right candidate may require more time and effort.

Retained recruitment agreements often involve a more collaborative and thorough approach between the recruiting agency and the client. Here are some additional details:

Commitment & priority

By paying a retainer fee, the client signals a serious commitment to finding the right candidate for the position. This commitment often translates into the recruiting agency giving the client's search a higher priority compared to non-retained searches.

Dedicated resources

Retained searches usually involve dedicated resources from the recruitment agency, including specialised recruiters, research teams, and access to a broader network of potential candidates. This comprehensive approach allows for a more exhaustive search and screening process.

In-depth understanding of client needs

With a retainer in place, the recruiting agency invests time upfront to thoroughly understand the client's organisational culture, specific job requirements, and long-term goals. This deep understanding helps in identifying candidates who not only have the necessary skills and experience but also align well with the client's values and objectives.


Retainer agreements often come with exclusivity clauses, meaning the client agrees not to engage other recruitment agencies for the same position during the retainer period. This exclusivity ensures focused attention and prevents conflicts of interest.

Quality candidates

Because of the rigorous screening and vetting process associated with retained searches, clients can expect to receive a smaller pool of highly qualified candidates who are carefully evaluated against the criteria set forth by the client.

Long-term partnership

Retainer agreements can foster long-term partnerships between the client and the recruitment agency. Successful placements through retained searches build trust and credibility, encouraging clients to turn to the same agency for future recruitment needs.

Overall, while retained recruitment may involve higher upfront costs for the client, it offers several benefits, including a more tailored and comprehensive approach to finding top talent for critical positions within the organisation.

You may want to check out the Recruitment & Consulting Services Association (RCSA) for more resources, guidance, and insights into various recruitment practices, including retained recruitment.

What is a retainer in recruitment?

Top Talent

Want to recruit top talent?

Now that you better understand what a retainer in recruitment is, you may be interested in learning more about 11 Recruitment's permanent recruitment services.

11 Recruitment is the leading perm and temp recruitment agency for white-collar staff. We source high achievers for jobs in Perth and throughout Australia.

At 11, we typically get involved in the recruitment process when a client is either seeking a high achiever to elevate their business, recruiting for a role that is hard to fill, or having difficulty sourcing or attracting suitable candidates.

We provide the following recruitment services.

Click the button below to learn more about how 11 Recruitment sources top talent for businesses throughout Australia.