Ask a Budtender: How Do I Get a Job in the Cannabis Industry?
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Since COVID hit, I have been employed by two companies. One I left in March for another I had hoped would become permanent. No such thing happened and in November of 2020 I was laid off and have been struggling to find work again. Not too many places are hiring and the places that are hiring for my skill set are places I sort of want to avoid.
That being said, how did you get your start in the cannabis industry? I have a friend who is a paralegal for a bud company here in Chicago and she's told me it's all about connections. I don't have connections and it's not like I can go to a social event anytime soon.
What would your advice be to get into the cannabis industry? I am knowledgeable about cannabis and I think I'm down to earth. Any advice?
Dear Down to Earth,
If you like smoking herb, that's half the battle. Like most folks working in the cannabis industry, the story really begins the first time I sparked a bowl. Having an affectionate familiarity with cannabis is one of the most important prerequisites for making bud your livelihood.
I got my start as part of a pilot program for medical cannabis, more than two years before Illinois made its first recreational sale. As a patient, I was able to visit my local dispensary and learn more about different cannabis products. I submitted a job application that emphasized my experience in writing and marketing, linking them to an article I'd written about a local cannabis chef. What started as a part-time gig — budtending on the weekends and managing an Instagram — evolved into a career.
I'll be honest: making personal connections doesn't hurt, no matter what industry you're in. But with the potential for the biggest 4/20 sales of all time looming on the horizon, plenty of hiring managers will be happy to take a fair look at any qualified applicants on the market. Your next employer is out there; you just need to know where to look, and how to market yourself.
The cannabis job market
According to a 2020 report from Vangst, one of the top recruiting agencies in the cannabis space, the demand to staff administrative and supportive departments like human resources and finance has grown as once-fledgling startups mature and merge into multi-state operations. Listings for top jobs like trimmers and budtenders have grown year after year, with plentiful entry-level job listings in cities like Detroit, Boston, and Tulsa. After a brief dip when the pandemic hit, revenue-generating positions like sales and marketing are back on track, and the future's looking brighter than ever. After landmark wins for cannabis legalization, five states with brand new recreational markets are on track to add 26,241 new jobs by 2025.
To snag one of those shiny new jobs for yourself, head to Google and search “cannabis jobs” and the city where you're hunting. A special search engine will open up which indexes listings from Indeed, LinkedIn, and all of the other major job listing platforms. From there, you can set up email alerts, but I like to be even more specific. My suggestion is to set up alerts for each specific local cannabis company that interests you. This can return more results than searching for a specific job title since you'll see every position they're trying to fill, not just the jobs for “growers” or “lab managers.” Plus, it'll help filter listings from legitimate companies out from obvious scams like “Cannabis Product Tester — Get Paid to Smoke Weed.”
Speaking of scams: don't let anyone pressure you into going to budtender school. A recent internet search for job training quickly turned up bogus (and expensive) diplomas like a Master of Marijuana Certification, which is as meaningless as it sounds. In reality, if your state requires registration or licensing, it's usually tied to your employer — it's not something a third party can sell you ahead of time. If your state requires a certain number of training hours, your new job will set it up through their preferred vendor.
Finding your niche
While most focus is usually on positions in cultivation, extraction, or retail, the truth is that the cannabis industry needs people with a diverse set of skills. I've seen plenty of jobs for graphic designers, programmers, job trainers, and security specialists alongside the more expected listings for delivery drivers and extraction technicians. Whatever you do now, there's a good chance that you can find a cannabis equivalent where your experience will be relevant.
While regulations vary by state, passing a criminal background check is a requirement for most on-grounds jobs at cultivation centers or dispensaries. If you have prior criminal convictions for cannabis on your record, you may qualify to have your record expunged. Organizations like Cage-Free Repair and their awareness campaign, National Expungement Week, can help clear your record so that you're able to participate in an industry that profits from cannabis, which has been criminalized in Black and brown communities for too long.
Most employers are looking for evidence that you are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the product they're selling. While you might not want to mention doing gravity bong keg stands in your interview, there are plenty of professional ways to demonstrate that you know your THC from your CBD. A blog, video channel, or Instagram where you review cannabis products is one way to show that you're tapped into your local market. Other options include joining networking groups, volunteering with nonprofits, and doing freelance work.
Crafting the perfect application
Taking the time to thoroughly explain your unique qualifications to a hiring manager will set your application package apart. Business consultant Kai Davis has great advice on writing cover letters and resumes, while Alison Green — author of the popular Ask a Manager blog, and one of my OG role models in this whole “advice columnist” venture — has assembled a truly colossal list of resources for job searchers. If you tend to freeze up when someone asks you where you see yourself in five years, you'll feel better after preparing with some of her writing.
I've specifically mentioned cover letters, even though many job applications don't require them these days. If there isn't any cannabis experience on your resume, the cover letter is where you can connect your job history to the demands of your prospective role. If your last position had you managing a stock room, balancing a cash drawer, auditing inventory for FIFO, or answering customer service questions, you already have job skills that are incredibly valuable within a dispensary.
While breaking into a new industry can be hard, now is a great time to cross over to greener pastures. Use the resources I linked above to tailor your application package to the cannabis industry and submit personalized versions of your resume and cover letter to every interesting job you see. Start interacting with the community via social media, virtual meetups, or masked-up visits to your local dispensaries. There's plenty of room to enter this growing industry and grow alongside it as you deepen your knowledge base and skill set. Best of luck!