How do Recruitment Agencies Make Money?

In this article, we’ll explore the different ways recruitment agencies generate revenue. From traditional contingency fees to on-demand services, each approach makes recruitment agencies a lot of money.

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Introduction: Understanding How Recruitment Agencies Make Money

The contingency recruitment model is the most common approach. Agencies earn a percentage of the placed candidate's annual salary. This performance-based fee rewards successful hiring outcomes and allows recruiters to earn income only when they make successful placements.

Retained search fees allow for executive-level recruiting with upfront payments and success milestones.

Temporary staffing markups provide volume-based revenue for filling interim gaps.

The recruitment landscape continues to evolve. Recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) enables agencies to manage ongoing hiring functions through long-term partnerships. On-demand recruiting offers project-based support. These signal a movement toward agencies becoming strategic talent advisors.

The focus is on aligning financial incentives with hiring results to the benefit of both clients and talent. Savvy monetisation allows recruitment firms to deliver access to in-demand skills and fulfilling careers.

How Do Recruitment Agencies Make Money: Fee Structures Explained

Recruitment agencies and the recruiters who make placements utilise strategic compensation models aligned to hiring needs:

  1. Contingency Model: The most widely used structure. The recruitment agency earns a fee if they successfully fill the role, typically 15-30% of the hire's first year base pay. This performance-based approach incentivises matching the right talent and allows recruiters to make money only when they deliver results.
  2. Retained Search: Used for complex executive and specialised searches. Includes an upfront fee and milestone payments to secure dedicated recruitment agency resources towards hard-to-fill roles. This allows recruiters to dedicate greater focus.
  3. Temporary Staffing: The agency manages payroll as the interim employer, earning a markup on bill rates. Conversion fees apply if the temp candidate accepts a permanent position. This balances investment in the temp-to-hire process.

Temporary vs Permanent Staffing Agencies

Temporary and permanent staffing agencies have distinct payment models:

  • Temporary staffing agencies have a distinct payment model from permanent staffing agencies to make money for their recruiters. Temporary agencies charge markups on hourly rates (e.g. £25 bill rate vs £20 worker rate) to make a profit by covering costs. This is how recruiters for these staffing agencies make money. Temporary staffing requires the agency recruiters to quickly fill fluctuating roles and maintain a large candidate pool for the agency to make successful placements.
  • Permanent staffing agencies instead operate on contingency or retained fee structures for their recruiters to make money. The contingency model involves the agency recruiters earning a percentage fee only if the candidate is successfully placed – this can be quite lucrative but high risk for the agency. Retained searches include upfront retainer fees for the agency, plus additional fees at later milestones. Retained searches provide more predictable revenue for agency recruiters but require higher commitment of resources.

Each model poses unique challenges and opportunities. Temporary staffing requires agility and a broad talent pool, while permanent staffing demands deeper market insights and a knack for long-term relationship building.

How Do Recruitment Agencies Make Money Beyond Traditional Models

Recruitment agencies are finding new income streams beyond traditional models, including:

  • Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO): Agencies manage the entire hiring process for companies through long-term contracts. This provides steady revenue.
  • On-Demand Recruiting: Agencies supply recruiting expertise for specific projects or peak periods. This is more project-based.
  • Volume Recruitment: Agencies become a preferred supplier for filling high volumes of roles, especially in large organisations.
  • Recruitment-as-a-Service (RaaS): Agencies offer recruiting as a subscription service. This provides consistent cash flow and flexible scaling.

These innovative models diversify agency revenue while cementing their role as vital talent acquisition partners. For businesses, understanding these approaches helps select an agency suited to organisational hiring needs and goals.

Legal and Ethical Considerations: Rebates, Candidate Charges, and More

In the UK, legal guidelines prohibit the practice of charging candidates fees or sending them a bill for placement services. This establishes vital safeguards to uphold fairness and transparency in the job market. Any recruiter or agency that fails to align its financial earnings with these important regulations not only risks significant legal repercussions but also severely damages their reputation and client trust.

If an employee leaves, rebates or refunds do not fall under legal mandates, it remains an ethical grey area that responsible recruitment agencies must carefully balance. Offering rebates in cases where a placed candidate leaves shortly after starting in a new role is typically not required legally but can be used as an ethical gesture for agencies to continue building goodwill and positive partnerships with clients. Of course, agencies must weigh such decisions against their own financial interests and sustainability as a business. It becomes an intricate balancing act – protecting revenue streams while also adhering to ethical codes that prioritise credibility and professionalism in the eyes of both clients and candidates.

In contrast, internal recruiters employed directly within an organisation typically draw a regular salary rather than relying on commissions or fees. But they still face ethical dilemmas around areas like providing transparent feedback to candidates.

Ultimately, employers and job seekers stand to gain useful insights on an agency's integrity and principles by understanding these intersections of regulations and ethics that shape their practices and fees. Reputable recruitment agencies aim to craft income strategies that align with legal guidelines and ethical commitments to trust and transparency.

Real-world Examples of How Recruitment Agencies Make Money

  1. Picture a tech startup was growing quickly and needed to fill multiple positions with a specific blend of talent, efficiently. A recruitment agency operated on a contingency fee model - they filled the positions, earning a percentage of each placed candidate's first-year salary. This provided flexibility and no upfront costs for the rapidly expanding startup.
  2. A corporation was searching for a new CEO, requiring discretion and a rare skillset. A recruitment agency used a retained fee structure, receiving an upfront payment to dedicate resources to this high-stakes search. Additional milestone payments motivated the agency to find the ideal candidate. This provided predictable revenue while ensuring focused efforts on this crucial leadership role.

The adapted fee structures in these examples demonstrate how recruitment agencies tailor their strategies to meet clients' hiring needs, creating a profitable and sustainable talent acquisition business model.


Recruitment agencies have a diverse array of methods for making money, each tailored to different hiring needs and situations. From the agility of contingency fees to the stability of retained fees, and the innovation of RPO and RaaS models, these agencies have mastered the art of turning recruitment into a successful business.

If you're intrigued by the world of recruitment and keen to learn more or need guidance in navigating this dynamic industry, don't hesitate to reach out to recruitment experts. They can provide valuable insights and solutions tailored to your specific needs, whether you're an employer seeking talent or a job seeker looking for your next opportunity. This is an opportunity you don't want to miss!

FAQs for how recruitment agencies make money

How do recruitment agencies charge for permanent placements?

They typically charge a contingency fee, about 15-30% of the candidate's first-year salary, only paid if the candidate is successfully placed.

How do agencies make money from temporary staffing?

Agencies earn by adding a markup to the hourly rates of temporary workers they place.

How does retained recruitment work for agencies?

Agencies receive an upfront fee and additional payments at certain milestones, like creating a shortlist or successful placement.

How do recruitment agencies profit from Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO)?

They manage the entire recruitment process for a client, often under a long-term contract, providing a steady revenue stream.

How does on-demand recruiting benefit recruitment agencies financially?

Agencies provide support to internal teams for specific projects, getting paid for the project duration.

How do recruitment agencies use volume recruitment to generate income?

By being on Preferred Supplier Lists for large organisations, they get consistent work, offsetting discounted rates with the volume of placements.

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Geoff Newman has dedicated his entire career to recruitment. He has consulted for many well-known international brands, and worked with over 20,000 growing businesses. He has helped fill over 100,000 jobs.

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We literally wrote the book on...

The secrets of great recruitment

The Secrets of Great Recruitment is a top-seller. It is easy to read and wastes no time in giving powerful actionable strategies you can use straight away.

Book cover for The Secrets of Great Recruitment