What do cannabis recruiters look for when hiring a candidate?

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Being your dream job in the cannabis industry doesn’t mean being a stoner. Perhaps unexpectedly, taking care of weed isn’t necessarily important, industry officials told HR Dive.

Christina Odom, senior manager of talent acquisition at cannabis staffing firm Vangst, does not perform keyword searches for “cannabis” or anything similar when recruiting. “I’m not looking for how much knowledge you have in the cannabis industry — if you come on board with a client, they’ll help you get up to speed on what that’s like,” Odom said. In their own company, employees regularly attend hour-long training sessions on everything from cannabis science to compliance with relevant laws. “Learning about the industry will come as you go, especially if you care about what you do,” she added.

What she’s looking for, she said, is how a candidate’s background fits the needs of specific companies.

In the meantime, Socrates Rosenfeld is focused on whether a candidate has the best chance of being successful at Jane, the business-to-consumer cannabis company where he serves as CEO. He told HR Dive that his approach to staff is reminiscent of a chef. Great meals aren’t just the result of difficult or flashy culinary techniques. According to Rosenfeld, chefs “always say they have really good ingredients and let the ingredients speak for themselves.”

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He added: “We don’t necessarily find the best people, but we do find the right people who are a good fit, who are aligned with our mission and, ultimately, are just special people. And we put them on a plate – in one scenario – where they can shine.”

Rosenfeld’s culinary analogy might not be so far-fetched: cannabis devotees often attract talent from the hospitality industry. Restaurant workers apply their hands-on skills and their customer service skills to jobs like trimming plants and budding (like bartenders, but for cannabis). This phenomenon has been documented in Kansas City, Missourias well as throughout Michigan. Colorado, the historic weed center of the United States and home to an ever-growing restaurant scene, is a battlefield for this tug of war.

According to Sonia Riggs, president and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association, the influx of restaurant talent into cannabis is steady. Anecdotal accounts of what Riggs called the hospitality exodus date back to late 2012.

“Study participants attributed this to higher pay at cannabis production facilities, along with employees’ perceptions of less work stress at those facilities,” she said via email, adding that some local operators say workers at the Gastronomy leaving for cannabis, returning to the restaurant industry. “The move isn’t as rewarding as expected,” she explained.

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To counteract this, restaurant owners in Colorado have increased wages for their employees — especially since the pandemic began. Health insurance, educational grants, and health and wellness programs are “increasingly common as part of restaurant compensation packages,” she said.

Due to the “start-up” nature of the industry, many have cannabis Talent acquisition professionals emphasize adaptability. Additionally, black and brown recruiters in the room continue to be vocal about the need for greater racial inclusion. As Odom, who drew inspiration from her time at BeyondMeat, put it this way, “Anyone can eat a plant-based product. We’re not just trying to identify vegetarians or vegans.” The goal was to get everyone with plant-based meat on board. In her job, which matches talent with cannabis companies with open positions, she tries to help clients understand that their cannabis users are “a mixed bag”.

HR Dive spoke to Odom in the early days of her appointment in Vangst. From the start, Odom’s approach has been to set up client interviews with all sorts of qualified candidates. Eight weeks later, she said, “I don’t really give them a choice about who they want to date. It’s been my strategy for years.” Vangst clients were receptive and new hires were made over those two months through Odom’s efforts.

That ethos comes from a personal place – she spoke about her experiences of being the “only one” in many rooms. “I’m sitting in a Zoom meeting and I’m looking at all the faces across the board, and I’m like, ‘Where are the other mes?’ The LGBTQ people, women in leadership positions.”

Odom expressed her belief that business leaders want to “shadow” their competitors and innovate as the market grows. One way cannabis companies can “take it to the next level,” she said, is by hiring diverse talent.

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At Jane, DEI is even embedded within the framework of the site: users can filter by dispensaries or weed services owned by veterans, Black and Indigenous entrepreneurs, or other people of color, women, and queer people.

An important part of Rosenfeld’s inclusion approach is also the cultivation of psychological safety. What do you think are the outstanding qualities of a candidate who can help create such a positive work environment?

“Love for yourself. Love for others. You know, if they love the industry or the factory, that’s wonderful, if they love their craft, like engineering or design, that’s wonderful. There has to be some love, a sense of self […] Not necessarily: ‘I know exactly who I am,'” he continued, adding that life is about coming back to yourself. “But the willingness, the courage and the curiosity to explore yourself – to be part of something bigger than yourself.”

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