When we launched Viridian Staffing back in 2013 no other firm was holding themselves out as “cannabis industry recruiters,” next-to-nobody was touting cannabis industry experience on LinkedIn, there weren’t even any industry job boards of note. Aside from a couple rag-tag traveling trim crews in Colorado, third-party HR-related services weren’t even an after-thought to most. Fast-forward to today where, due to mounting “green rush” hysteria, there are now a dizzying number of websites and firms holding themselves out as recruiting solutions for the cannabis industry. And while it’s always nice to have options, over-extended cannabis industry executives are having an increasingly difficult time distinguishing knowledgeable, experienced cannabis recruiting firms from slickly-marketed rip-offs and far too many are getting burned.
So how can you identify a truly qualified cannabis industry recruiting firm?
1. Interview your recruiter like a member of your own executive team
The most valuable trait to look for in a recruiting firm is the same as you would look for in a key hire: relevant experience and demonstrated competence. Start by identifying the person responsible for heading the firm’s recruiting practice, or at very least the person who will be actively overseeing your account and interview that person as if you were hiring them as your Director of Talent Acquisition. If you are trusting this individual to verify the experience and reliability of people you will be placing in key roles, you had better trust that they actually understand your business and know what they are doing. While a firm might engage multiple recruiters on a single search, there should always be a single point of truth: One person who is responsible for signing off on any candidate that gets forwarded for your consideration and where the buck stops if any issues arise. Don’t even consider the services of a firm that doesn’t give you direct access to this individual! While interviewing this person you will want to focus primarily on two things, their professional recruiting experience and the extent of their cannabis industry recruiting experience. Everything else is secondary!
• Recruiting Experience
If the firm’s head recruiter has less than seven solid years of recent recruiting experience or the person handling your account has less than three and you’re considering engaging them for anything other than an entry-level role, run the other way! You owe it to your company and investors to identify a firm that is headed by or at very least employs experienced recruiters who know what they’re doing. Because just like a good attorney or CPA, it takes years of practice, trial and error to become a true recruiting professional. Any recruiter who hasn’t paid their dues in this way is likely learning on your time at your expense with your company suffering the consequences of rookie mistakes that a more experienced recruiter learned to guard against years ago. It takes time to learn how to competently source and vet top talent. As a general rule of thumb, the recruiter you’re working with should have approximately as many years of experience in recruiting as your desired candidate has in their field. The more experienced the desired candidate, the more experienced the recruiter should be. In other words, don’t trust an amateur to find you an expert and if anyone with less than seven years of recruiting experience holds themselves out as an “Executive Recruiter” you can reasonably assume they’re selling you something.
• Industry Experience & Specialization
Once you are confident that you are talking to recruiters who actually understand recruiting, the next thing you will want to find out is how well they understand your industry and niche. So first you will want to understand how long the recruiter you’re speaking to has been actively serving clients like yours in the cannabis industry and your particular niche, be it horticulture, biotech, biochem, food & beverage, consumer packaged goods, pharmaceuticals, extraction technology, retail, software, etc. If they can’t make a powerful case for their experience or expertise in your industry and niche, find another firm that can. Just because a firm has a track record of delivering entry-level budtenders doesn’t mean they’re necessarily qualified to find you a qualified lead grower, Chief Operating Officer or someone who is prepared to head up your R&D lab. While the current incarnation of the cannabis and hemp industries have only been around roughly four to five years, the value of the experience gained by firms that have been in it for the majority of that time is hard to overstate. Every industry has its unique quirks and challenges, but this is especially true of the rapidly changing cannabis industry with its increasingly complex patchwork of regulations and requirements. Needless to say, if the recruiter you’re speaking to clearly doesn’t understand the basic lingo regarding your particular growing or extraction methods, how can you expect them to identify the kind of specialist you’re looking for? When in doubt as to whether your recruiter really understands what you’re talking about, double down. They will either demonstrate that they understand what you’re saying or crack under the pressure.
• Knowledge of HR Best Practices
While secondary to industry and recruiting experience, it is also important that any firm you work with has a good working knowledge of basic federal, state and local employment laws and the HR best practices necessary to keep you from getting slapped with a fine or lawsuit. Needless to say the rules in Colorado are different than in California and the interview questions you can ask in Las Vegas are different than what you can in Seattle. Same goes for when you can and can’t run a criminal background check. If the firm you’re working with isn’t headed by someone who has an intimate understanding of these things and it’s a priority for your company not to be implicated in a violation of employment law before a hire has even taken place, you would be better off to seek out a firm that can demonstrate that they understand these things. While much can be learned from years on the job, you can be even more assured of professional competence in this area if your recruiter or recruiting firm has someone on staff with a degree in human resources or a professional certification issued by one of the nation’s leading HR organizations.
2. Research the Recruiter and Firm on Google & LinkedIn
Once you know who the lead recruiter is for your account, look them up on Google and LinkedIn. If they don’t appear to have much professional recruiting experience in the industry or niche and a healthy number of people willing to vouch for their skills as a recruiter or HR professional, RUN the other way! Google allows you to search the web by date. If they claim they or the firm they represent has been serving the industry longer than you can find evidence for online, chances are very good they haven’t and are claiming a level of experience or expertise they don’t actually possess, putting the health of your enterprise at risk.
3. Scrutinize the Firm’s Terms & Fees
Even if you’re reasonably certain that a firm has the industry expertise and recruiting bona fides to deliver the kind of talent your company is looking for this is still no guarantee that you’re going to get what you paid for, unless of course, the firm in question has set up their terms and fees in such a way that all but guarantees it. Any firm that demands a large upfront fee that may or may not be refundable (depending on the specific wording of their contract), is essentially asking you to bear the risk of the transaction, even if you have never worked with them before. In all but the most extraordinary of circumstances, no rational business owner would accept such terms when there are qualified firms like Viridian Staffing, which are so confident in their ability to deliver on their client’s needs that they assume the risk themselves, charging no up-front fees on the vast majority of engagements. These are firms that are easier to trust because they have demonstrated confidence in themselves. If they don’t deliver, they don’t get paid. Any firm that insists on taking or keeping your money before a hire takes place is clearly more interested in their own profitability than yours. And best of luck demanding a full refund if you’re less than satisfied with the results! Most firms should also observe some sort of probationary period for their placements before charging you. Even if the interview goes well and everything looks good on paper, you won’t know who you actually hired until you’ve had several weeks to observe their performance on the job. If it turns out they aren’t living up to your expectations or are proving to be a bad fit for your culture, you should have some period of time to figure this out before being charged a fee.
If you evaluate a cannabis industry recruiting firm according to the methods outlined above, you will most likely be in good shape. But for those who would like to go deeper, we have included additional considerations and red flags to watch out for.
4. When it comes to results and overall value, bigger rarely equals better
As the cannabis industry matures we have seen an increasing number of firms attempting to distinguish themselves by vying for the title of “largest” according to one metric or another as if that makes any difference to the quality or value of their recruiting services. One way newer entrants to the industry have tried to distinguish themselves in this way is by the sheer number of entry-level recruiters or salespeople they have on their payroll. While this may or may not be good news to these companies’ investors, it is a meaningless metric for any company considering their services. McDonald’s may be the largest hamburger franchise by number of locations or employees, but no one assumes this means they make the best burgers overall. The number of recruiters or brick and mortar locations a firm has tells you next-to-nothing about the quality or value of their services, especially seeing as most firms employing this strategy are hiring small armies of amateur recruiters with little-to-no prior experience or industry expertise. What this does tell you is that these firms have enormous overhead costs to contend with and recruiters who are under enormous pressure to move units, even if it means cutting corners or over-selling candidates. This is why these are often the same firms that will try to hard-sell you into paying large up-front fees because they’ve got so many bills to pay and mouths to feed. When faced with a choice between one highly experienced and specialized attorney and four entry-level paralegals for the same price, the discerning executive is going to choose the seasoned attorney every time! The same principle applies in professional recruiting. What matters is the amount of experience and expertise your company is getting for its recruiting dollar. Wise executives prioritize their talent acquisition budgets on proven recruiters as opposed to covering the cost of another firm’s bloated payroll, rent or advertising budget.
5. Don’t take any cannabis recruiting firm’s marketing at face value
This should really go without saying, but don’t take any firm’s website or marketing language at face-value, regardless of how well-executed it appears to be. A superior web-designer or marketing team doesn’t equal a superior service. Think critically and approach extraordinary claims with a grain of salt. If a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is. For example, if a two-year-old firm is claiming 100,000+ industry placements, or something similarly outrageous, you can reasonably assume that isn’t the only thing they are lying to you about. An increasing number of firms entering the niche have begun engaging the services of slick public relations firms to create the appearance of authority and experience where little-to-none actually exists, so don’t allow a couple well-placed fluff pieces rob you of your critical thinking skills. Learn to identify a well-executed astroturfing campaign when you see one. You will also want to be on-guard for meaningless weasel words like how many professionals a firm has “connected,” or ones who try to pass off every company they’ve ever had any interaction with as a client, even if that firm has never utilized their recruiting services. This is an increasingly common marketing tactic among firms that host public events like training sessions, job fairs or maintain job boards. Everybody gets passed off as a consumer of the firm’s core services even if the majority aren’t. While this may be a clever marketing tactic it is also incredibly misleading.
6. Don’t confuse a glorified job board for a professional recruiting service
If you’re reading this chances are good that you have already tried and failed to find the talent you’re looking for on the leading job boards, be they general or industry-specific. Job boards are frustrating because while they tend to result in a great deal of resumes and inquiries, very few applicants tend to have any relevance to the position posted or the experience required. This is especially problematic in the cannabis industry where so many people are eager to get their foot in the door one way or another. And even when you do come across the rare application of someone whose resume appears to reflect your requirements, your work has only begun because, unfortunately, people claim all sorts of things in order to land a higher paying job than they are actually qualified for, especially in the cannabis industry! You want to use the resume as a starting point for a deeper conversation about a candidate’s experience to ensure the accuracy of their claims. Unless a member of your team is highly experienced at cross-referencing and fact-checking applicants resumes to distinguish honest applicants from the ones overstating their experience, your company would benefit greatly from the services of a professional recruiter who has honed an incredibly sharp BS-detector and knows the tell-tale signs of a pretender when they see one. With the explosion of cannabis industry job boards an increasing number have attempted to market theirs as somehow different or special. We’ve evaluated them all and can assure you, they are not. There is an argument that they have their place, especially when it comes to low-risk entry-level talent, if you’re willing to put in the hours to scrutinize applicants; just don’t get duped into paying double the price of the Internet’s leading job boards because some new website that didn’t exist a year ago claims to have stumbled upon a better technology or has a greater reach than the established ones. We assure you, they haven’t. So if you would like to try your luck with the job boards we would advise you to keep your postings to the FREE job boards or well-established and technically superior paid services like Indeed. Unless of course you just like paying more for inferior technology and results.
7. Beware cannabis certification mills offering “recruiting” on the side
If you poke around the web you will notice an ever-increasing number of websites for companies offering specialized cannabis training, education and certifications. And while some of these schools are credible, have been around for a great deal of time, with established campuses or units that are transferable to accredited universities, there has also been a proliferation of fly-by-night weekend crash-courses charging industry hopefuls $200+ a pop for a certificate that may or may not mean anything to an actual industry employer. It’s a low investment, high-return business with a seemingly inexhaustible pool of willing participants and people are making easy money hand-over-fist! The problem for industry employers is that that several of these same roaming certification mills are now attempting to squeeze even more money out of minimal work by offering “recruiting services,” to pass these weekend warriors onto you for yet another fee. And while this might represent an equitable exchange for entry-level talent, its another matter entirely when these same “schools” claim they can find you the right person to head up your industrial grow operation, extraction facility or C-suite. No number of entry-level budtenders trained adds up to the experience necessary to recruit at that level. And if you evaluate these companies’ supposed recruiters according to the standards outlined in this article, you will find the vast majority of them woefully unqualified.
In summary: Do your homework, vet and research your recruiter, think critically, and don’t take a firm’s marketing or PR at face-value, including ours!