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Recruiter Commission Structures

When it comes to hiring top talent, companies often engage external recruiting agencies to help them find the perfect candidates. These agencies use various compensation structures, including contingency, retainer, container, and hourly models. In this guide, we will discuss these compensation structures in detail, highlighting their advantages and disadvantages, as well as average rates in the US, so that companies can make informed decisions when engaging external recruiting agencies.

Contingency Recruitment Model

Average US rate: 20% to 25% of the candidate’s annual salary

The contingency recruitment model is a “success-based” commission structure, where the recruiter is only paid if they successfully place a candidate in a job. In this model, recruiters typically earn a commission of 15% to 30% of the candidate’s annual salary.

ProsCons
No upfront costs for the companyThe risk of receiving a high volume of unqualified candidates, as recruiters may prioritize quantity over quality
Recruiters are highly motivated to find the right candidate, as their payment depends on successful placementRecruiters may prioritize placements that offer higher commission percentages, potentially overlooking other suitable candidates
Companies can work with multiple agencies, increasing the chances of finding the right candidate

Retainer Recruitment Model

Average US rate: Upfront fee of 1/3 of the projected placement fee, with the remainder paid upon successful placement

In the retainer recruitment model, companies pay a fixed fee upfront to engage the services of a recruitment agency. The remaining payment, typically a percentage of the candidate’s salary, is paid upon successful placement.

ProsCons
Recruiters prioritize your search, as they receive a portion of their payment upfrontUpfront payment is required, even if the agency doesn’t find a suitable candidate
Higher-quality candidates, as recruiters can focus on finding the best fit without worrying about competing agenciesCompanies are usually limited to working with a single agency, which may reduce the candidate pool
More control over the recruitment process and a stronger partnership with the recruiting agency

Container Recruitment Model

Average US rate: Upfront fee of 1/6 to 1/4 of the projected placement fee, with the remainder paid upon successful placement

The container model is a hybrid between contingency and retainer models. Companies pay a portion of the fee upfront, and the remaining fee is paid upon successful placement of a candidate.

ProsCons
Provides a balance of commitment from both the company and the recruiterRequires an upfront payment, though smaller than in a retainer model
Encourages the recruiter to prioritize the search, while still maintaining a performance-based elementMay still have competition from other agencies, depending on the agreed-upon exclusivity
Reduces the risk of unqualified candidates compared to the contingency model

Hourly Recruitment Model

Average US rate: $50 to $150 per hour, depending on the recruiter’s experience and expertise

In the hourly recruitment model, companies pay recruiters based on the number of hours they spend on the search, rather than a percentage of the candidate’s salary.

ProsCons
Companies only pay for the time spent on the search, potentially reducing costsLack of a performance-based incentive may lead to a less motivated recruiter
Recruiters have no financial incentive to prioritize higher-paying placements, ensuring a focus on finding the best fit for the companyCompanies need to closely track and manage the time spent by the recruiter

Tips for Engaging Recruiting Agencies

Choosing the right compensation structure for engaging an external recruiting agency is a critical decision that can significantly impact the hiring process and overall success in securing top talent. By understanding the different compensation models available, such as contingency, retainer, container, and hourly models, companies can make informed decisions that cater to their specific needs and goals. With the average rates for each model now outlined, companies can better gauge the potential costs involved in each approach.

For companies that are looking to work with recruiting firms, we recommend considering the following factors when selecting a compensation model:

  1. Budget and Financial Commitment: Assess your company’s budget and financial commitment towards the recruitment process. If you prefer not to pay upfront fees, the contingency model may be the best option. However, if you are willing to invest in a more focused and dedicated search, a retainer or container model might better suit your needs.
  2. Exclusivity and Competition: Determine whether you prefer working exclusively with a single agency or are open to engaging multiple agencies simultaneously. Working with multiple agencies can increase the chances of finding the right candidate, but it may also lead to a less focused search. In such cases, the contingency model may be suitable. However, if you prefer to have a more exclusive partnership with an agency, the retainer or container models can provide that level of commitment.
  3. Desired Level of Control and Involvement: Consider how involved you want to be in the recruitment process. If you prefer a more hands-on approach and wish to closely manage the recruitment agency’s efforts, an hourly model might be a suitable choice. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more hands-off experience and trust the agency to manage the search, the retainer, or container models might be better options.
  4. Quality of Candidates and Speed of Placement: Analyze your priorities regarding candidate quality and the speed of the placement process. The retainer and container models tend to yield higher-quality candidates, as recruiters can focus on finding the best fit without worrying about competition from other agencies. The contingency model can lead to a faster placement process but may come with the risk of receiving a high volume of unqualified candidates.

Ultimately, the decision on which compensation model to choose should be based on your company’s unique requirements, priorities, and financial capabilities. By carefully evaluating these factors, you can make an informed decision that will help create an effective partnership with a recruiting agency, ultimately leading to the successful hiring of top talent and contributing to your company’s growth and success.