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How Cannabis Companies Can Attract Best-In-Class Executive Talent

It wasn’t long ago that using retained executive search to recruit high-performance executives to the cannabis industry was unheard of.

Now, with 2 out of 3 Americans supporting the legalization of marijuana use, cannabis companies of all sizes are looking to take their executive acquisition processes and human investment to the next level.

However, the executive search capabilities of many cannabis companies is still in its infancy – much like the cannabis industry itself.

With the fight against federal illegality rapidly gaining strength, the industry is professionalizing quickly. Soon, attracting top-tier talent will become a “must” for any cannabis company that’s serious about staying ahead of the curve.

The challenge is, recruiting for the cannabis industry is different than recruiting for other, more established spaces.

Since the cannabis space is still developing – candidates need extensive education and vetting, and companies have limited past reference points to create benchmarks for qualifications and performance.

The logical approach would be to recruit your leadership team from a more established industry…

… but with most cannabis companies living in a “startup” phase of professionalization, how do you attract best-in-class talent away from the security and legitimacy of other industries?

Recruiting Top Talent In the Developing World of Cannabis and Hemp

Recruiting executive talent in the cannabis industry is different than recruiting for any other industry, primarily because the space is so new.

This is why education is absolutely critical when recruiting best-in-class talent from a more established industry.

Education – Transparency – Clarity

Educating each candidate thoroughly about your company, the role, and the industry as a whole, can make the difference between hiring a passionate and experienced leader, and someone who is attracted to the industry for the “cool factor” of “working with weed”.

We advise all of our clients to deeply understand the “why” when vetting new candidates. Why are they interested in working in this industry, and with your company in particular?

There is no right answer, but you’ll see a big difference between prospective candidates who are excited to work as pioneers in a world-changing industry, vs candidates who want to play in the industry for the novelty of it, or are more interested in a plant-touching role.

This is why transparency is key when educating candidates and partnering with an executive recruitment agency.

All companies in the industry (including publicly-traded companies which appear to be large and established) are still in the “start-up phase.”

This is due to the ever-evolving nature of the cannabis space, and the lack of federal guidelines to set a regulatory cadence for all.

That could equate to less cash compensation than what your target candidate is currently earning, so being transparent about what your company can truly afford, and what the candidate truly needs, is crucial to managing expectations.

It’s also critical to vet any industry objections a candidate (or their personal network) may have about the industry. While many objections are due to lack of education, asking simple questions about their personal viewpoints can save both parties a lot of headaches down the road.

Clarity is also key when recruiting from more established industries. As pioneers of this industry, many cannabis companies are creating new roles and establishing success metrics without the luxury of having prior benchmarks.

Many executive level candidates are used to the red-carpet treatment from companies in established industries. This means that clearly articulating company culture, performance metrics, job descriptions, and what’s involved in the candidate experience provides a level of professionalism these candidates expect when exploring new opportunities.

Having a buttoned-up approach to recruitment will not only attract top-tier talent, but since the industry is constantly under intense scrutiny, the continuity will also elevate the legitimacy of your company (and the industry as a whole) overall.

The Challenges of Recruiting Executive Talent in Cannabis

One of the biggest challenges cannabis companies face when hiring executive talent is finding the right mix of candidate experience, vetting each candidate thoroughly for company and industry fit, and offering an attractive compensation package that allows for room to grow.

Being a start-up, many cannabis companies do not have the experience or established recruiting processes needed to attract top-tier executive talent.

When companies do have recruitment processes in place, they’re often more suited for general staffing needs, such as budtenders or trimmers.

Recruiting for high-level executive positions requires a much higher level of touch.

For example, a budtender is accustomed to being thrown into an interview and hired on the spot. There’s no big fact finding mission or interview preparation. This is not the case when finding a COO or VP of Marketing, which is why we speak to our executive candidates at length before moving forward with them.

We often see companies make mistakes such as abusing the candidate marketplace, offering inappropriate compensations packages for the role (on both ends of the spectrum), and downplaying the vetting process to ensure both company and industry fit.

Many companies also forget that building their corporate brand in the candidate marketplace is critical to attracting best-in-class talent down the road.

Treating candidates well, and establishing your brand and corporate culture in the marketplace, will create brand ambassadors that help you attract the BEST applicants long-term, rather than simply putting bodies in seats.

Here’s How Cannabis Companies Can Gain The Competitive Advantage When Recruiting For Top-Tier Executive Talent

The companies who task someone with a deep experience to own the recruitment and vetting process will gain the the biggest advantage in attracting best-in-class executive talent.

Whether internally or by partnering with an outside expert, having a dedicated recruitment professional is the best way to professionalize your approach.

Of course, recruiting is hard and time-consuming work. Casting a wide net, and then putting those candidates through a rigorous vetting process is the best way to find the best long-term hire.

This is why many companies prefer to partner with an executive recruitment agency rather than dedicate internal resources to this process.

If you’re thinking of partnering with an external recruitment agency, make sure to interview potential search partners at length. Consider more than just cost, but also how they will represent you in the candidate marketplace.

Does their style fit within your hiring team?
Does their knowledge, passion, and focus on the cannabis industry pair well with their past track record recruiting in more established industries?

Do they have experience recruiting executive candidates in other highly-regulated industries?

Understand how they work, their value proposition, and get clear on what you are looking for in terms of support.

Getting to know the executive search firm and understanding how they work will help you find a recruitment partner that takes a long-term relationship approach rather than a transactional approach.

The industry is quickly moving away from poor hiring standards that lead to high turnover and missed company goals. As the space continues to become more legitimate, any company which doesn’t elevate their own recruitment standards could be left behind.

At Hunter + Esquire, we not only believe in the professionalization of recruiting in the cannabis industry, we also believe in the humanization of finding the right people for the job.

We focus on big-picture growth and finding the best fit, rather than short-term numbers or putting bodies in seats.

If you’re looking to partner with an executive recruitment agency focused on relationship-based, long-term success, then contact us here.

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