Kyle BrownCannabis Retail Director
Kyle Brown is a cannabis retail expert who has worked with emerging medical & recreational dispensaries since 2010.
Retail cannabis is highly competitive, especially entry-level positions. It’s one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., and getting a foot in the door is not as easy as you might think. Why?
People tend to have this industry pegged wrong, so they focus on the wrong things as a job applicant.
Here, I share over a decade of experience in telling you:
- Exactly what dispensary managers are looking for
- How to take first steps
- How to set yourself apart from the hundreds of applicants managers receive daily
— all without prior cannabis experience. This is how to get a cannabis dispensary job.
Your Love for Weed Isn’t Enough to Get You In
The cannabis industry requires an incredible amount of tenacity, adaptation, hard work, and passion. And when I say passion, I do not mean, “I love smoking weed.” I mean passion to help people, to build a reputable industry, and to succeed against all odds.
I can tell you firsthand, one of the most tedious and off-putting parts of sifting through resumes is reading how much people love cannabis.
We get it— we do too. But think of it this way: how does that make you special?
Anyone wanting to work in this industry has a positive relationship with cannabis. Pitching that as part of your value immediately puts you in the rookie field. It illustrates that you don’t think about cannabis as a business; you think about cannabis for personal use.
While experience as a cannabis user is helpful to working in this industry, it means nothing to a dispensary if it doesn’t translate to real, applicable knowledge (see “Cannabis Knowledge” below).
I think I can speak for all dispensary leadership in saying, no we don’t care that you’ve been smoking since you were 13 years old or that your parents grew weed in Cali. We don’t care about how many strains you’ve tried, or how big of a dab you can take. These things simply make you a great customer—not an employee.
These skills will get your foot in the door
You’ve heard the saying: You need a job to get the experience, but you need experience to get the job.
Fortunately, it’s possible to have the right experience without having cannabis work history. And more importantly, it’s possible to show us that you have the right skills. I’ve listed five skills that we look for in job applicants new to the industry.
1. Customer Service
Customer service is, in my opinion, more important than a business’s product selection. Your clients can have differing opinions on how good any one product is, but they will all agree on a good service experience when you exceed their expectations.
The industries with the most competition and comparable products also have (by no incident) the best customer service.
Restaurant chains and cellphone companies in particular have invested millions of dollars in customer service training for their staff. They understand the need and vast potential to differentiate through the experience of their sales.
Have basic service training
Hiring managers in the cannabis industry look for this kind of trained experience.
Applicants with cash-handling experience, customer service training, and an understanding of POS systems are always favored. It saves time and money when management can directly focus training efforts on the specifics of cannabis sales.
To be successful in a new industry— especially one riddled with regulations that vary by state and change constantly— you must be prepared to handle a lot of new information and adapt to changes positively.
Be Adaptive to Technology
From POS system upgrades (see what touCanna is doing with their POS+) to state-mandated e-tracking of seed-to-sale, you can count on the technology in this industry to continue evolving.
Don’t Omit Your Past
Experts advise tailoring your resume specific to the job you are applying for, but be careful about omitting “unrelated” jobs from your work history.
For me, that’s a big mistake. Cannabis is always looking outside the box, and incorporating best practices from long-standing businesses.
This industry needs people with unique skills.
It’s your responsibility to make your experience relevant.
Work-Ethic Your Way Up
One thing I’ve noticed about the cannabis industry is how many people are willing to take a job below their current level in order to get into the business. Any good manager is always working to hire their replacement so they can continue moving up. If we find talent that is willing to take a step down and learn the business, they will generally receive priority.
As a dispensary employee, you gain insight to customer preferences, products and discounts trends, pricing, how the supply chain works, etc.
Plan to give yourself time in your first role to gain knowledge and become experienced in working with and selling cannabis. Then, you can start looking for opportunities to contribute to your company in different ways.
Advancement here is rapid, and companies often find themselves filling positions they didn’t know they needed last week.
Don’t shy away from starting in retail with a heart set on higher positions.
Consider it part of your versatility test. Like most endeavors, you’ll need to put in the groundwork first.
3. Cannabis Knowledge
It should be a given that you’ll need to know about the product you work with. I rank this just below the importance of versatile skills because, as the industry becomes more refined, cannabis knowledge is increasingly accessible (and therefore less unique).
Perhaps that’s partly why most companies focus interviews more on standard retail and customer service questions than cannabis knowledge.
Still, you’ll want to know the basics of cannabis. And the more you know, the more you separate yourself from your peers.
Companies have begun building strong training programs catered to the products they carry.
Some states include compliance and regulatory training as part of the badge application or worker’s permit process. This will probably become a requirement in the future as compliance becomes more standardized nationwide.
Cannabis Training Resources
It’s generally understood that this industry differs from the conventional career path. But that is changing.
Just this February, 2020, Colorado State University launched a Bachelor’s of Science in Cannabis Biology and Chemistry, joining several universities offering higher education in cannabis.
Accredited degrees are beginning to take over the previous certifications from other sources like Oaksterdam, Clover Leaf, and THC University. And it’s likely they will become a standard expectation in the future. A great way to separate yourself from the pack is to accredit yourself sooner rather than later.
Some may find the idea of standardized cannabis education worrisome. Particularly for someone wanting to know how to get a dispensary job, you might be wondering how one can hope to stand out if this unique industry becomes conventionalized.
I’m glad you asked…
Persistence is probably how you got your very first job. Think back to that…
Now— you want to know how to make yourself visible in the sea of resumes, against people with more cannabis or business experience than you?
Get off your rear! Yes, there are many online resources that may help you find an opportunity, but everyone applies to Indeed and LinkedIn job postings. Push further. Have you ever put in any face-time?
If you think simply applying to Indeed ads is going to land your dream job, don’t quit your day job.
No Job is Too Small
My first job in the cannabis industry? Part-time joint-roller. And I had several years of management experience under my belt. But I wanted in, so I did the work.
I went to the dispensary near my house every day. I’d buy something small to try, and talk to them about it the next day, swapping opinions.
This allowed me to learn from them, but it also built rapport and demonstrated my knowledge and personality. Eventually I offered to help with social media or chat forums, clean the store, grow… Anything to help out and get in.
I rolled joints for about two weeks before they had me on the floor when it got busy. Promoting them on all media platforms, I continued to increase business until I was managing everything for them within a few months.
From that point, I was able to find larger companies that saw my value; and I’ve had an amazing career in cannabis for over 10 years now.
Put Yourself Where You Want To Be
Landing that first job; opening a recreational store in 2014; progressing to where I am now– it’s all largely chalked up to my persistence.
I didn’t just apply or ask for the opportunity. I shook hands, asked questions, and put myself in the right spot to meet the right people.
Show up. That’s your biggest lesson in how to get a dispensary job, or any other.
Go to the industry events; talk to people. Find any opportunity to network with employees of your target companies. Dress up and go to the store with your resume.
Sure, maybe it feels awkward, but do you really want the job? Or will you let a little discomfort stop you from succeeding?
Are you outgoing and personable? Do you vibe with the company culture? Do you look me in the eye? Are you well-spoken and able to carry a conversation?
Confidence + Communication
As I mentioned in the beginning, we are a people-business. How you interact with people matters. It’s one of the things I personally judge most with entry-level applicants.
With confidence, you can turn a generally dry interview into a conversation.
Managers want employees they can build rapport with and develop. Get the hiring manager to engage with you, and your chance of being hired increases exponentially.
Tip: Being confident does not mean being untrue to yourself. Stay natural! Trying too hard often leads to rambling or veering off-topic.
This industry is about sales…
If you can’t sell yourself— well, you can expect to not sell anything.
People + Work Ethic
All of these skills are somewhat interchangeable depending on the manager, but all are vital to be a quality retail cannabis employee. There are many more that will contribute to your success, but the core of retail cannabis is based on these:
How you treat people, how well you can direct clients to what they need, how quickly you adapt to change, how hard you are willing to work, and how well you work with others.
- See cannabis as a business + educate yourself on the industry.
- Find your confidence.
- Put in face-time + be persistent.
Resume: Focus on unique, transferrable skills.
Interview: Prepare mostly for retail sales + customer service questions. Review your basic cannabis knowledge.