Anyone following the cannabis industry will tell you that it’s quickly going mainstream. It’s a sector offering a broad spectrum of employment opportunities, from hands-in-the dirt harvesting to quality control; logistics; and the always-critical marketing, sales, and accounting roles essential to any commercial industry. In addition, this is an industry that’s growing aggressively—on its way to hit over $30 billion by 2025. And unlike many other industries, the COVID-19 pandemic is not slowing it down, nor is the related recession.
The optimism of those watching or working in legal cannabis is not due to it being an easy industry to navigate. Maintaining “aboveboard” status means abiding by aggressive regulations that are still very much in flux, both at the federal level and from state to state. There is fierce competition with which to grapple, driven by increasing demand, and propelling all these dynamics is a broad community of cannabis insiders—on both the production and consumer sides of the equation. There also is the challenge of battling stigmas within the general community and helping to enlighten, encourage, and nurture widespread acceptance.
Have I scared you off? I hope not. Finding employment in the cannabis sector may seem intimidating if you lack direct experience or the means to demonstrate the worth of your abilities. In truth, however, there is a surprisingly long list of skill sets that translate from more traditional industries into cannabis—without completely re-writing your resume.
The first, and perhaps the easiest win if you can claim it, is presenting experience in another industry heavily regulated by state or federal guidelines. Any position you have held that involved audits or other scrutiny by third-party supervisory bodies is exceptionally valuable. We’re talking about industries like food and beverage, medical, pharmaceutical, military, or high-tech manufacturing. In pitching yourself, make sure to throw around words like “regulations,” “policies,” and “procedures,” and other indications that you are used to playing by the rules and recognize that a business’s success depends upon adherence.
Even a successful, flourishing cannabis company is still, in many ways, a startup in an industry that still is defining and refining itself. As such, many of the dynamics of a startup company remain relevant: creative marketing, working on a shoestring budget, readiness to pivot with both product and sales processes, responding to regulatory zig-zags, and working with a team of often nontraditional colleagues who come from industries of their own or who have little or no relevant experience. Simply put, an employee who is flexible and exceptionally responsive to change is incredibly attractive to cannabis employers. Cannabis company culture, even for the more formal departments like sales and accounting, rarely requires true mastery of “best practices.” In fact, in this business that claim is hard to back up.
The next smoothly transferable skill set is experience in sales. Sales expert Omar Periu said, “sales success comes after you stretch yourself past your limits on a daily basis.” It takes a very specific type of personality to work in sales, and employers know it. It’s a field in which most human resources departments demand experience and will be hesitant to hire employees who “thinks it sounds interesting.” Whatever rung you stood upon in your previous position—from a junior sales associate to managing a department—explaining sales is in your DNA will go far in the interview process. The product is different, the consumer base is new, and the value proposition is certainly a change from other commodities. Most open-minded employers realize that this is the norm; in an industry flooded with products of all types and price points, driving your company’s offerings to market is a skill not many have. Your confidence is what could land you the job, and just as that confidence will close a sale, it should be able to close the job interview.
The eternal student
As discussed, the cannabis industry is still in its early growth stage, and even the big players are learning as they go. Ego isn’t an asset here. Be open to learning the ropes, keep an eye on both the greater industry and internal company dynamics, and be humble enough to admit that you don’t have all the answers. These traits will help convince a potential employer that you are ready to adapt and improve as you go along. As early as your first interview, you should be prepared with questions and ask them openly. This will demonstrate that you have done some homework of your own, but also recognize that you have a lot to learn and are eager to do so. This confession won’t be seen as a sign of weakness, but as a sign of readiness to find your way when the answer isn’t apparent.
This next factor obviously only applies to a very specific segment of the working population: Experience in finance and accounting is always prized. Each stage of cannabis growth and sales must be tracked, measured, and charted to assure profitability. Entire strategies can change based on a couple of percentage points, whether in cost of goods, personnel overhead, equipment maintenance costs, pricing, or many other stages in which data can be extracted and conclusions drawn. If you’re a spreadsheet enthusiast, shout it from the rooftops.
Finally, this industry is coming of age in the early twenty-first century. That means digital marketing, social media, web development, and all the various forms of “geeky” tech work take center stage in getting products to market. Especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, online marketing and sales drive the good majority of business. It’s no exaggeration to say that managing online customer engagement is perhaps the most critical step in cannabis sales today. There are so many categories in this area, some of which may not even be on a company’s radar: app development, statistical analysis and reporting, website optimization, and even affiliate marketing. Don’t be afraid to mention skills you possess that weren’t listed in the job description; they may be exactly what an employer recognizes as a differentiator between you and others in an effort to help, in turn, differentiate the company from competitors.
In short, while many view the cannabis industry as cutting-edge, offbeat, or still in its infancy, the dynamics that run it—and the professionals required in every department and at every level—really are similar to those found in other industries. Making a case for your ability to migrate into this new environment should simply be a matter of connecting the dots and demonstrating your eagerness to refine and focus those skills.
Karson Humiston is founder and chief executive officer at cannabis recruiting platform Vangst. Since launching in 2016, the company has connected thousands of people with jobs at leading cannabis businesses around the world. Humiston was featured on the 2018 Forbes 30 under 30 list and Vangst was featured in Entrepreneur’s 100 Brilliant Companies of 2018. Prior to founding Vangst, Humiston founded On Track Adventures, a student travel organization based out of St. Lawrence University.