How to use a search firm to fill roles in an uncertain market

With the current outbreak of the Coronavirus, markets are unstable and details about the immediate future are unclear. In such an uncertain environment, many companies are turning to consultants to fulfill their interim, project, and overflow needs.

However, the fact remains that many businesses will still need to make new hires. So, should you still use a search firm in an uncertain market?

Here at CCN, we have a unique direct hire model with an hourly pricing structure that provides distinct advantages over traditional contingent search models. CCN is perfectly positioned to save you time, money, and risk in your next direct hire search.

The Traditional Contingent Direct Hire Search Model

Contingent Searches are the most popular means of bringing in employees through staffing agencies or search firms. You, the client, only pay the firm or agency if they produce a candidate that you hire. Fees are usually 25-30% percent of the employee’s first year compensation.


  1. Limited risk – You only pay if you hire a candidate. This gives you the ability to see a wide range of candidates without ever being obligated to pay an agency.
  2. Multiple firms – Ultimately you will only have to pay one staffing firm, so you can engage multiple firms to conduct the same search if you wish.
  3. Fast results – When search firms compete against each other, they know that the first one with a solid candidate wins the deal. You can often get an employee identified within 3-4 weeks of starting the search.


  1. High cost – 25-30% of first year compensation gets really expensive. Particularly for senior level positions, you might have to dish out 30, 40, or 50 thousand dollars just to bring someone onboard.
  2. Recruiter turned sales person –  The contingent model tends to create a culture of selling which can impede an open an honest dialogue to find the best candidate. When you wave $30,000+ in front of a recruiter, you just turned that recruiter into a salesperson. To get paid, they must produce the candidate who gets hired first — not necessarily the one who is the best fit for your company. Recruiters ooh and ahh about the barista in the breakroom, the vacation policy, and all the great things that make a position, “the best job ever!” This doesn’t happen at every search firm, nor for every opening, but recruiters must often take a sales approach to get the candidate across the line.
  3. Long-term success – What happens if a candidate doesn’t work out? Especially if the candidate was rushed through the hiring process (see above) it’s possible that person won’t be a great fit for the requirements of the position or the culture. Sometimes hiring agreements include a limited-term guarantee period, but if you lose or have to terminate a new hire down the line, there’s no way to get that contingent fee back. You will have to start all over again and pay yet another contingent fee for a new candidate.

The CCN Hourly Direct Hire Search Model

At CCN, we offer our direct hire or “permanent placement” services based on a new hourly pricing model that puts your needs first. Think of us as your outsourced recruiting department. We find you top-notch, experienced talent and simply bill you for our time. Our fees are limited by both a modest minimum amount and maximum amount — if we hit our upper limit, we’ll work for free until your position is filled.

For a simple comparison, consider a new accounting manager with an annual salary of exactly $100,000. With a contingent search model, you would pay an average of $25,000 just to get that person on your team. With hour hourly model, you could pay as little $10,000. At the very most, you will pay our maximum of $20,000. Either way, you’re saving on every hire!

These savings aren’t just a nice idea, they are based on actual data. We are currently saving companies 50% versus a traditional contingents search. See the chart below for the breakdown using real CCN numbers for our last five direct-hires:

PositionDollar SavingsPercent Saved
Finance Manager$14,62557%
Finance Manager$18,62561%
Senior Accountant$7,50050%
Supply Chain Manager$16,00064%


  1. Low Cost – The financial savings of our hourly model can be tens of thousands of dollars! At the end of the day, our hourly search fees typically equate to between 10 and 12%.
  2. Long-term success – We’re not motivated by a quick payout. This means we can take the time to get to know you and personally select talent to match your unique requirements and culture. This results in a higher success rate of new hires who love their jobs and want to stick around. This can save you huge amounts of time and a big headache later on.
  3. Low risk – Our lower cost means that in the rare case your new hire doesn’t work out, you’re not out too much money. We can simply pick up where we left off, leveraging the work we’ve already done to produce a replacement.
  4. We’re experts in finance and accounting. We can leverage both connections and experience specific to the industry in order to produce exceptional candidates.


  1. You pay as you go – We have a check-in call with our clients every 15-20 billable hours to go over results of our search, candidates we’ve submitted, and ones you’ve interviewed. Each call we “take the temperature” of the search to make sure we all feel confident in the process. The call ends with a “go” or “no-go” decision. If we conclude to not continue, you keep the candidates we’ve submitted, and we’ll invoice you for our time. If it’s a “go”, then we invoice you and keep moving forward with the plan! The disadvantage is that you do have to pay either way.
  2. No refund – since we’re billing by the hour, there is no refund for the candidate you hire. As we mentioned above, you will more than likely have paid only half of a traditional fee, so we think this is a fair trade, but you should be aware that this is a possibility. We’ll gladly pick up the search where we left off if needed. This is very rare, and to date, we have never had to find a replacement candidate!

You can get started on the journey towards a great candidate today. Contact us to learn more about CCN’s direct hire services and how they will work for you.

The difference between freelance, bench, and project consulting jobs

At Cox Consulting Network, we focus on equipping and connecting consultants in the business of finance and accounting. Many companies (and consultants) get confused with some of the lingo in the consulting world. With so many firms offering varying levels of consulting services to the market, it can even be unclear to those of us who have been in the industry for many years. In this article, we’ll break down some of the differences between freelance, bench, project, temp staffing, and contract-to-hire consulting jobs.

Freelance consulting jobs

Freelance consultants generally are self-employed contractors (1099’s) who work for many companies instead of one employer. Often, freelancers have multiple clients at one time,known as fractional work, so that they may maximize their utilization and billable hours.

Freelancing provides the greatest amount of freedom and flexibility, since you are essentially your own boss. Note, however, that this comes with higher risk too. Since, freelancers are self-employed, they don’t usually get great benefits (group health coverage and PTO). They are also responsible for their own networking and business development, which represent a serious time investment.They could wind up without a project for weeks, or even months. This sometimes presents such a challenge that these folks end up taking a permanent role back in the workforce to find stability … and a paycheck.

Bench consulting jobs

If freelancing is hang gliding, bench consulting is more like flying a kite. Bench consultants usually work for a consulting firm as a permanent employee and then are loaned out to clients for projects. They often get a salary, or they are guaranteed a minimum number of hours per week so they have some stability in pay. They usually get the same benefits that they would get working in industry such as accruing vacation, sick time, and health benefits.

This is consulting, but with many of the comforts of a traditional permanent role. The upside on bench consulting is a steady paycheck, employee benefits, working with many clients, and stability. The downside for some is the lack of freedom and flexibility (usually no summers off with the kids as a bench consultant), and no ability to pick the clients that you engage.

Project consulting jobs

Project consulting is like freelancing with one difference. Project consultants generally are not self-employed. Most of the time, project consultants are employed as W2’s by the consulting firm, or temp agency, that placed them on the engagement. But — and here is the kicker — they are only employed as long as they are working on an engagement. When the engagement is over, there is no obligation on the consulting firm to find them an additional project.

In a great market, with a marketable skill set, this is not usually an issue. If the consultant doesn’t get another engagement from their current consulting/staffing firm, then a competitor will gladly swoop in and present projects at a comparable rate. Project consultants rely heavily on multiple firms competing for their talent in a good market.

The perks of project consulting are being able to work in many different industries, organizations, and exposure to many types of software. Project consultants also may have the advantage of getting paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours per week in most states.

The pitfalls of project consulting are lower pay than freelancers (the agency/firms takes half the bill rate), lack of solid benefits (most agencies offer minimal health and no PTO, or high threshold PTO), and uncertainty about future engagements. We call project consultants who make a career out of consulting career consultants.

Temporary Staffing Jobs

Temp staffing is almost synonymous with project consulting (although this doesn’t make the term interchangeable). Temp staffing agencies often don’t bring all of the components of a project (deliverable, tools, methodology, and the resource), just the resource (people). Thus, many staffing agencies wouldn’t consider themselves to be consulting firms. These firms also typically focus on the transactional roles and not more consultative senior level positions.

Candidates who rely on temp staffing can be in transition between permanent roles, or enjoy picking up projects as they choose just like project consulting. The downsides are the same as project consulting too: lack of good health and PTO benefits, uncertainty about future engagements, and many times, uncompetitive pay rates.

Contract-to-hire consulting jobs

Contract-to-hire roles are in existence for a couple of reasons and are used for all levels from clerk to CFO. When a company has lost an employee and pays a consultant to come in on an interim basis, they will often also have the interim consultant in the candidate pool for the permanent role. This is quite useful since the person is already doing the job. It gives both the employer and employee a chance to “test drive” the permanent position.

Companies may also use the contract-to-hire method because they were perhaps “burned” on a previous position that they had hired directly. In these situations, the company could have even paid a fee to a hiring agency only to have the employee quit after the guarantee period (many agencies guarantee their candidate will stay at least 90 days). Alternatively, the new hire might have simply not lived up to the expectations set during the interview process.

The real disadvantage on this type of engagement is that the company has now limited itself to a very small percentage of the total employment pool (those that are currently not employed and hoping to find permanent work). In many markets this is less than 2% of all finance and accounting professionals. Another risk is that they could lose the consultant during the trial process to a company who is willing to direct hire.

Where does Cox Consulting Network fit in?

At CCN, we’re focused on equipping freelancers and project consultants in the finance and accounting industry. We’re networked with great consultants and employers all around Austin, and we want to connect you to your next gig! We typically categorize our consulting engagements in three ways:

  1. Interim – when companies leverage our consultants in a temporary capacity while they search for a permanent solution. This may include contract-to-hire opportunities.
  2. Special Projects –when companies need help on specific projects like systems integration or implementing new guidance such as ASC 606 or ASC 842. These engagements fall under project consulting.
  3. Staff Augmentation –when companies need to boost their teams during busy times like year-end or before an audit. This is a kind of temporary staffing or project consulting, and it may include either part-time (fractional) or full-time work.

What makes us different?

When you work with CCN, you’ll quickly see we’re a little different from traditional consulting agencies. We don’t answer to investors, and we keep our overhead extremely low. This means our consultants actually get paid above market rate AND our clients get incredible talent at an extremely competitive price. Simply put, we believe “happy consultants = happy clients.” Isn’t that the way it should be?

We hope this helps you understand some of different ways individuals can become engaged on projects and interim roles in the consulting world. We specialize in finance and accounting, so would love to hear some of the differences in your industry!

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