How to get a job in the cannabis industry

The cannabis industry is hiring. To date, more than 211,000 people have full-time cannabis jobs in legal states, and more than 64,000 of those jobs were added in 2018, according to a special report from the resource site Leafly. This number will only continue to grow as new companies enter the industry and more states legalize. But having sold weed in high school doesn’t make you a shoo-in for a job. In fact, as the cannabis business has taken off, it’s also gotten much more competitive. If you’re heading for an interview, here are the mistakes to avoid — and the opportunities to take advantage of.

MISTAKE: Winging it.

Surprisingly, many candidates assume they can cruise through the interview, according to Regina Rear-Connor, a talent acquisition leader at cannabis marketing agency Mattio Communications. People show up late, unprepared, and with no résumé, she says: “They think that because we’re promoting cannabis, we’re not serious business­people, so they approach the interview like it’s a casual, ‘I’m going to meet friends’ type of thing.”

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Her advice? “This is not a Cheech & Chong industry,” she says. Treat a cannabis job interview like you would any other kind of employment opportunity. Educate yourself on the company ahead of time, have a résumé in hand, and prepare a list of questions to ask your interviewer. “If you don’t, that’s how we expect you will also treat our clients,” Rear-Connor says, which is a total deal breaker.

OPPORTUNITY: Show you’re a quick study. 

What does make applying for a job in cannabis different than in other kinds of businesses is this: It’s a whole new industry — and you can take advantage of that. Because things are changing so fast, employers are looking for people who can get up to speed quickly and are eager to learn.

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Often, you don’t need experience in cannabis, or even to be a consumer, to get hired, as long as you show a willingness to learn the ropes. To make a good first impression, do some homework before you walk into an interview. Read up on the status of legalization laws and regulations in your state, and try to get a general feel for the cannabis lifestyle. “Understand the difference between hemp and marijuana,” says Josh Wand, founder and CEO of HerbForce, a cannabis job placement service. “Know what hemp-derived CBD is and what marijuana-­derived CBD is.” Maybe don’t refer to it as “pot” and “weed,” he adds. “Cowen does amazing research. Arcview has incredible industry data. And New Cannabis Ventures provides excellent information that keeps you current and relevant.”

The same thing goes for applicants who’ve already got cannabis work experience. Expressing enthusiasm for keeping up with the industry can go far. “There are different rules and regulations in every single market, and there’s just a lot to learn,” says Karson Humiston, founder and CEO of Vangst, a cannabis recruiting company. You can score points by showing your interest in attending trade shows and educational conferences — and by displaying a commitment to increasing your network so you have people to call when you’re thinking through a challenge.

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MISTAKE: Thinking your passion for pot is enough.

This may sound obvious, but you’ve got to have the skills required by the position you’re going for. Humiston sees people applying for a marketing manager position saying, “I’ve never been a marketing manager, but I just really want to get into the cannabis industry.” While this might have worked five years ago, she says, businesses are now able, and determined, to hire the most qualified candidates they can find. To snag a job, you need to go to the interview “prepared to talk about the relevant skills, experience, and ideas you bring to the table,” Humiston says. A passion for the product is only icing on the cake.

OPPORTUNITY: Be willing to go beyond your job description.

Because the industry is so new, a lot of companies in the cannabis space are startups that are still figuring it out as they go. This means employers are looking to hire people who are enthusiastic about jumping in and willing to wear a lot of hats. “If you can share experiences of where you’ve helped grow a business and rolled with the punches, I think that’s huge,” Humiston says.

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She points to her CFO, who has a 10-year finance background in various industries and handles budgets, creates financial models, and manages the financial team. When the company was short-staffed at a recent trade show, he signed up to work the booth. “He’s not a recruiter, he’s not a salesperson, but he’s willing just to roll up his sleeves and do whatever,” says Humiston. That counts for a lot.

MISTAKE: Assuming you’ll mix weed and work.

“Please don’t ask, ‘What is your smoking policy?’ ” says Ryan G. Smith, cofounder and CEO of the wholesale cannabis marketplace LeafLink. The same rules apply as for any other business. “We want to bring an awesome product to our clients. To do that, having a clear head is important.” The only exception might be for those who use the plant for medical reasons.

OPPORTUNITY: Come armed with questions.

Like Mattio’s Rear-Connor, job coaches across the board recommend arriving to an interview with intelligent questions. In cannabis, that’s easy — in fact, it’s hard to ask a dumb question — because so many companies in the industry have such complex business models. “They’re cultivating, extracting, producing, and distributing their own products, and they could very well have their own retail dispensary,” says Wand. “There are very few industries where there’s vertical integration like this.”

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He suggests asking questions like: “Are you a distributor? Are you a cultivator? Are you involved in multiple sides of the supply chain?” Showing your interest in understanding how the business works tells the interviewer that you are both knowledgeable and willing to figure out where you might fit in.

Again, some prep helps. If you’re in marketing, for instance, just knowing that there are a lot of restrictions in cannabis goes a long way. Say you’re applying for a job as a brand manager. “You’re going to have to be much more experiential out there in the field because you don’t have the ability to promote your products on Instagram and Facebook,” says Wand. So the questions in that situation might be: “Tell me some more of your marketing strategy. How do you plan on connecting with consumers? What’s a creative flexibility we have within the organization from a state-by-state basis to actually build brand awareness? What type of field marketing activation plans are you guys looking to do to create some excitement and awareness?”

With smart questions that showcase your skill set, the willingness to wear many hats, and an enthusiasm to learn on the fly, you’re more than ready to take on the cannabis job market.

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Nicole Pajer