Executive firms will fall into either the retained, contingency, or in-house categories. Understanding how they work and how their motivations and incentives differ is important in choosing the type with which you desire to work. The retained firm is generally working on an exclusive contract to find a candidate with specific qualifications and abilities. The contingency recruiter, however, is essentially an independent broker who works for a fee paid when a successful match is made between a company and a candidate. This means they have a broader reach and interest level in placing quality clients.
The in-house recruiter is normally an employee of the specific company and works to fill specific needs for their firm. Understanding these differences is important to understand what jobs and opportunities you will find with different firms. Ryan Smith of the Career Management Center has posted this video to provide helpful tips when using executive search firms. The video starts with a clear description of the three types of executive search firms.
A point of advice is to ensure any contingency recruiter you work with does not interfere with any existing contacts you have with a company. That company may not want to pay a fee and thus exclude you from consideration. Smith closes with solid advice to develop relationships based on trust and goodwill with the recruiter you choose for both current and long-term benefits. Above all, use your own networks and relationships to gain referrals and contacts..