Finding your place in the cannabis industry can be a long and winding road. In a dynamic atmosphere, with reality shifting almost daily, it helps to be self-motivated and ready to don a few hats you never thought about in order to make it work.
Nothing on the Irie Weddings & Events
website suggests the Colorado-based company is hiring, but owner Bec Koop gets a good handful of emails from job seekers every week. That’s not terribly surprising, given that Koop’s company is the leader of a glamorous niche in the country’s fastest-growing industry and shows up on the reg in major media venues like Newsweek and CNBC. What is surprising is how many of those emails are written with terrible grammar and a clear disdain for punctuation and spellcheck. The best one ever simply had “R u …” in the subject line and “hiring? ” as the message.
“Are you kidding me? ” Koop says. “How lazy are you? ”
Salwa Ibrahim, executive director of Blum Oakland, a retail medical cannabis dispensary in Oakland, California, may be able to top that. She and her staff have been saving “Hall of Fame” applications since Blum opened in 2012. The winner? “This is a great job for me, I think, because it seems to be a very chill job, and as a stoner, this would be ideal.” A picture of the applicant smoking a joint is included.
Nancy Whiteman, co-owner of Colorado-based leading edibles manufacturer Wana Brands, is constantly amazed at how many people wanna job at Wanna. Among those who submit a decent résumé and cover letter with the company’s name spelled right and make the cut for an interview, a shocking number ask a question that takes Whiteman aback every time.
“They will ask me, ‘Do you think working in the cannabis industry will hurt my résumé long-term?’” Whiteman says, then pauses. “I tell them, ‘That’s a decision you need to make on your own.’”
They don’t get the job.
“THAT’S NOT KARMA. THAT’S POOR PLANNING.”
Anyone who has been building a career in cannabis for any amount of time—and for an industry born less than two decades ago, five years is a lifetime—is inundated with daily requests from friends, acquaintances, and, most of all, social media followers for advice about how to break in, even though every mainstream media outlet from Forbes to CBS has done that piece.
They have a great idea for a project (but never say what it is), would love to “pick your brain” over coffee (because you have nothing better to do and just love a good brain picking), or want to know more about what you’re doing (a backward way of finding out if you’re hiring and a dis to all the work you’ve put into your LinkedIn profile and social media posts).
Jane West has seen it all. Last year, West left Women Grow, the networking and education organization she founded in 2014, to focus on her luxury cannabis accessories business, Jane West Enterprises.
When West started her first cannabis company, Edible Events, in 2013, her search or other cannabis companies on LinkedIn yielded less than 10 pages of listings. Today there are more than 2,900 pages, and Jane—whose profile describes her as “the most widely recognized female personality in cannabis”—has well over 11,000 followers. Every day, one or more of those connections contacts West without any clear idea of what they actually want.
“They’re reaching out to the world to see what happens,” West says. “That’s not karma. That’s poor planning.”
If West responded to all the inquiries she receives from multiple platforms, she would do nothing else. Last year, she told a Women Grow gathering in Boulder she was responding only to people who could help her raise a million dollars. She was only half joking. If you want the busy entrepreneur’s attention, you’d better shoot straight: define what you want in one sentence, don’t kiss too much ass, and include a signature with a personal photo recognizable across social media platforms. Kendal Norris, who fields constant inquiries as the owner of Mason Jar Events Group, a company that draws people from all over the world to Colorado for cannabis food and yoga pairings, has had it with job and advice seekers who aren’t paying attention. They send résumés that “look ridiculous,” Norris says, and can’t follow simple instructions. She’ll send an email offering someone 15 minutes within a two-hour time window, and they will inevitably block out the entire two hours.
“I’m not having a two-hour meeting with you,” Norris says. “I don’t even know you.”
“I LOVE PEOPLE, I LOVE WEED, I LOVE LIFE, I’M ARTSY.”
Far too many people—like the Blum Oakland job applicant whose résumé read “I love people, I love weed, I love life, I’m artsy”—don’t understand that breaking into the cannabis industry requires more than being crazy for chronic. Candidates hurt themselves when they go on at length about how cannabis saved their grandmother’s life while failing to even mention how their professional skills could move a company forward, says Karson Humiston, CEO of leading cannabis industry staffing agency Vangst Talent, whose motto is “keep your career, change your industry.”
“Many candidates are super excited about cannabis and about the cannabis industry. That’s awesome. So am I. So is everybody,” says Humiston. “But like any industry, like any job, companies are looking for what you bring to the table outside of being passionate.”
Maureen McNamara, who teaches safe, responsible practices to cannabis professionals through her company, Cannabis Trainers, is appalled at how many people tell her they’ll do “anything, just anything” to get into the business. “That’s ridiculous,” she says. “I can’t introduce a job seeker to a potential opportunity with, ‘This person will do anything.’ It’s not a winning plan.”
It never works for Koop, who was deeply insulted when a job applicant said she didn’t care what Irie Weddings & Events did because she just wanted to work in the cannabis industry. “I was like, how dare you,” Koop says. “We’ve busted our asses to build this business. Would you apply like that to any other job? ”
The “pick-me” attitude is a shame, McNamara adds, because the industry can accommodate “almost every type of talent that exists in the world” if job seekers are specific about their aptitudes and desires.
Kara Janowsky, who worked in dispensaries before she founded Hired Productivity, a bookkeeping, accounting, and office administration company for cannabis businesses, says too many people aim low when breaking into the industry. “You don’t necessarily need to go for the minimum-wage budtending job, especially if you have a degree and a specialized education,” she says. “It’s a very, very long road if you start from the bottom.”
Conversely, says Sebastian Nassau, co-founder of cannabis networking hub Cultivated Synergy and business development firm Harvest 360, an inflated view of what you bring to the table will get you nowhere. “Having a home grow doesn’t translate into commercial cultivation with potentially tens of thousands of plants. An Instagram model is not a social media expert simply because that person has amassed a following,” Nassau says.
“TRADE A JOB FOR A JAR OF SEEDS? ”
If cannabis IS your area of expertise, selling your decades of experience—especially in cultivationcan be tricky. Vangst Talent lead developer Mike Olson, who created a job board that serves as a “safe zone” for cannabis companies and job candidates, points out that “some companies don’t want to know that you’ve been growing weed illegally in your basement for the past 20 years.”
Huminger advises applicants to withhold that information because “companies that come from traditional industries are uninterested in people who are bragging that they were a criminal.”
Flaunting your illegal activity puts cannabis business owners, who spend countless hours and thousands of dollars ensuring they comply with laws, in an awkward spot. Ibrahim tells of another Blum Hall of Famer, a grower of some experience who sent a long list of the reasons he hasn’t been able to get a job in the industry, including an abysmal credit score and a host of personal problems. He ended by offering “a nice jar of seeds.”
“Is he proposing I trade him a job for a jar of seeds?” Ibrahim asks in disbelief. “I don’t know how to work with that.”
“THE EQUIVALENT OF HAVING A VEGAN WORK AT A STEAKHOUSE.”
On the flip side, says Wanda James, CEO of Simply Pure, a popular Denver dispensary and edibles manufacturer, nothing is more bizarre than people who don’t consume cannabis seeking a job with her company. “It’s the equivalent of having a vegan work at a steakhouse,” she says. “It doesn’t make sense.”
James does not hire non-imbibers, period. “We’re so early in this that everybody who works for me has to be about the movement in some way, shape, or form,” she says. “Show me something in this industry that McNamara can spot people who could care less about the cannabis plant’s wellness and healing benefits and are strictly interested in “the potential or perceived financial windfall” a mile away. As soon as she senses they’re in that camp, she says, “I just dissuade them.”
People often weed themselves out with their own bad ideas. Philip Wolf, owner of Cultivating Spirits, a premier tour company offering cannabis pairing events and dinners in Colorado, recalls a recent conversation with someone he thought was a potential investor, a man who seemed to be getting it as Wolf described Cultivating Spirits’ elegant multicourse dinners designed to gently introduce the mainstream to cannabis’s healing benefits. Then the guy laid out his own vision of Wolf’s guests: blissful from indulging in fine food, wine, and cannabis, they board the bus, settle in, and pick up the strippers.
Wolf realized the guy could care less that his idea was miserably wrong for Cultivating Spirits’ clientele. This noninvestor figured that guests who spend $200 on a cannabispaired dinner would easily throw down another $250 on Crystal and Candy. When Wolf expressed dismay at the idea, the man explained that he was an “inandout guy,” someone who “goes in, gets the money, and gets the fuck out.”
“That’s exactly what is wrong with our industry right now,” Wolf says. “The in-and-out guys are coming in, trying to make a buck, and aren’t in this for the bigger picture. But those are also the people who are not lasting in the cannabis industry.”
10 Tips: What Not To Do To Get A Job In Cannabis
Get in it for the money.
“There’s a perception that we’re all printing dollars in the back room and that’s going to flow through to everyone we hire,” says Wana founder Nancy Whiteman. “The truth of the matter is, we have to watch costs and margins like any other business—perhaps more so.”
Write “looking for work” or “seeking opportunities” as your main identifier on LinkedIn and other career networking sites. Let people know what you’re great at and be specific about what you want.
Post a cannabis leaf instead of your photo on social media profiles and/or call yourself anything resembling Dank or Dabby.
Call yourself a “lifestyle brand.” Nobody knows what that means.
Parade your problems, personal or otherwise, in front of professionals on social media.
Relentlessly stalk potential employers and mentors online and in person. If and when you do meet your prey, bitterly tell them, “I emailed you.”
Show up for an interview wearing flip flops and smoking a joint. It happens surprisingly often, says Simply Pure CEO Wanda James. “Would anyone go to an interview at Coors with flip flops and a beer in their hand? You wouldn’t do it. So why would you come to us thinking, they get high, they’ll be cool with it? No. I am not.”
Show off your extensive knowledge of growing, selling, or consuming cannabis. Somebody who thinks they know everything will be difficult to train,” says Blum Oakland executive director Salwa Ibrahim.
Use slang terms for cannabis. “At this point, it should be common knowledge that the word marijuana was formed as a racially motivated tactic. There’s no excuse for it in an industry built on activism against the drug war,” says Cultivated Synergy and Harvest 360 co-founder Sebastian Nassau.
DO NOT make stoner jokes. It’s 2017.