With unemployment numbers continuing to trouble our economy, we spend a significant part of our day speaking with individuals looking for jobs and wondering if the cannabis industry is right for them. Many have pedigree Sales/ Biz Dev backgrounds from well-known healthcare, food & beverage CPG, tech, media & entertainment and ingredient companies, hoping to parlay their knowledge and experience into our exciting industry. They have a lot to offer the industry as running a cannabis organization becomes more and more similar to CPG, and the majority of available career opportunities in cannabis are focused on generating revenue via sales and business development and other organizational strategies.
Three years ago, when CPG, pharma, food, and beverage sales executives started to enter the space, there was an understanding that they needed time to learn the industry. They brought with them operational SOPs and CRM expertise that was severely lacking in the industry. These individuals were afforded the luxury of time to learn the business at its legal infancy. Fast forward a few years and the terrain is quite different. New entrants to cannabis are competing with their former colleagues who have been working in the space. These experienced colleagues have built a tremendous amount of knowledge and connections within the space, which secures them a far more advantageous position than those coming in from the cold.
We have one critical piece of advice for candidates looking to enter the cannabis economy that simply cannot be ignored: Do your homework. Gone are the days when companies spent a month or six educating new employees on the plant and the industry. New employees entering the cannabis 2.0 economy are expected to perform beginning Day 1! That means having a firm grasp of the plant, the company’s targets, the various channels and the overall landscape right out of the gates.
Those who have that unique combination of cannabis start-up and corporate experience will be better suited for the constant ebb and flow of the cannabis industry job. To be genuinely successful, identify your sweet spot and put your expertise into action in a real way with your new company so that you’re capable of immediately adding value.
Not all sales roles are created equal, and you should identify opportunities that marry up against your strengths. Are you someone with cold calling experience or have you mostly handled accounts? Bulk, wholesale, branded, account exec, and industry-specific sales are very different and require a specific skill set. Also consider the different channels such as retail, pharma, food and beverage, beauty, health and wellness, pets, nutraceuticals, tobacco and more. Where can you contribute best, given your network?
Take it a step further – are you a better fit in distribution, R&D, Sales, Fintech or tech in general? Take a critical look at your past experience, research companies who fit that mold in the cannabis space and learn everything you can about them and their competitors. The best candidates to fill these roles will have a unique specialization, but they will also need to be able to speak the cannabis industry’s language. Do you know what a cannabinoid is? Are you familiar with the endocannabinoid system? Do you understand how these different cannabinoids may affect an individual? Being a great or the best candidate means bringing your past world experience to the table and applying that to the world of cannabis, then taking it a step further and working to be truly knowledgeable in the basics of cannabis. If you’re vying for a sales position selling bulk CBD to health and wellness companies, you better be able to speak to R&D teams confidently about all aspects of your product and what they can do for formulations.
Don’t underestimate the community aspect of the industry. Be prepared to fit in if you want to succeed. We’re in this industry because we love the plant. We enjoy surrounding ourselves with other individuals who also love the plant, immerse themselves in the culture and are comfortable using the products. Obviously, the industry doesn’t condone peer pressure. Still, you will find yourself in a situation where your colleagues, supervisors, clients, prospects and more are winding down the day with cannabis. If you’re not cool hanging out in that type of situation, you may have some inherent challenges on your horizon.
At the end of the day, there is an entry point for all, but you need to research and find the most relevant jobs to your past expertise and educate yourself before any conversation. Take the time to research, read and learn about new topics. Real-world experience is invaluable, but without product knowledge that will allow you to speak comfortably across product lines, channels and verticals, you’re going to be behind the curve.
We at Hunter + Esquire have curated a list of books to help you get started.
Hemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution
by Doug Fine
The Cannabis Health Index: Combining the Science of Medical Marijuana with Mindfulness Techniques To Heal 100 Chronic Symptoms and Diseases
by Uwe Blesching, PhD.
Bong Appétit: Mastering the Art of Cooking With Weed
by Editors of MUNCHIES
Cannabis: A History
by Martin Booth
Cannabis: From Pariah to Prescription
by Ethan Russo
The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Cannabis: Concentrated Advice From 25 Industry Leaders
by Michael Zaytsev
Humboldt: Life on America’s Marijuana Frontier
by Emily Brady
The Pot Book: A Complete Guide To Cannabis
by Julie Holland
The Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness
by Steve DeAngelo
Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America
by Emily Dufton
Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana
by Michael Backes
Pot Culture: A-Z Guide to Stoner Language & Life
by Shirley Halperin, Steve Bloom
Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America
by Bruce Barcott
Too High To Fail
by Doug Fine
Cannabis Jobs: How to Make a Living and Have a Career in the World of Legalized Marijuana
By Andrew Ward
Marijuana Chemistry: Genetics, Processing, Potency
by Michael Starks
The Analytical Chemistry of Cannabis
by Brian Thomas, Mahmoud ElSohly
Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis
by Joe Dolce
The Little Black Book of Marijuana: The Essential Guide to the World of Cannabis
by Steve Elliott
Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know
by Jonathan P. Caulkins, Beau Kilmer, Mark A. R. Kleiman
Breaking the Grass Ceiling: Women, Weed and Business
by Ashley Picillo
Gone to Pot: Welcome to the Shit Show: 7 Dirty Little Secrets of the Cannabis Industry
By Dean K. Matt