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How to Effectively Transition Traditional Executives into the Cannabis Industry

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During FlowerHire’s five years of recruiting exclusively for the cannabis industry, we’ve noticed that most executives have an initial interest in working in cannabis. 

Ideal, the Ceridian human capital management company, reports that an average recruiter email response rate is about 30-50% (1). says the average LinkedIn InMail has a 10-20% response rate (2). When FlowerHire Senior Advisors reaches out to potential executive candidates, our response rate is about 90%.

But just because there’s a high interest in working as a cannabis executive, does not make it easier finding traditional executives who are actually a good fit for the cannabis industry.

To effectively transition a traditional executive into the cannabis industry, there must be:

  1. Candidate education
  2. Client education
  3. Specific traits and mindset of the candidate

Candidate Education

Understand the realities. At FlowerHire, we believe it’s essential that executives have a full understanding of all the realities of working in the cannabis industry before entering it.

When job seekers are considering joining the cannabis industry, there’s a big focus on all of the positive aspects (as there should be!). The camaraderie among cannabis industry members is often what attracts people to the industry, and keeps them here.

Cannabis is mission-driven, there’s uncapped opportunity for growth, and a strong culture. Win, win, win!

You might be wondering what the “problem” is then? 

Well… plenty of people in cannabis often diminish the realities of the industry. And while we’re all about positivity at FlowerHire, we’re also all about being transparent, candid, and completely open about all the realities of working in the cannabis industry – both positive and negative.

Education ensures a fit and stick. The education phase is critical to ensure the executive has the mindset and skills for cannabis and stays with the hiring company. If we’re not talking about the challenging realities, along with the positives, then traditional executives who enter the industry may be surprised once they get here… surprises that could make them want to leave.


Cannabis companies are often run differently than mainstream companies. In addition to educating the candidate on the cannabis industry, FlowerHire makes the extra effort to set expectations for what it may be like interacting with a potential employer.

For instance, we’ll prepare a candidate for an interview and leverage their expectations that they may go weeks without hearing from the employer. Although not fully different from other industries, in the cannabis industry, there are unique unexpected struggles that tend to pop up at the most unexpected times. This can result in some of the most well-run cannabis organizations being out of contact for weeks before coming back with an offer.

We also see hiring patterns like this in the “start-up” industry. Keep in mind, even though many of these companies are making revenues above $100M, they are all “start-ups.” The reality is, cannabis companies have a multitude of moving pieces and unpredictability which slows down decision-making, both strategic and tactical. 

For example, it’s challenging to make a strategic, executive hire knowing that the company can be bought and sold at any time. In this unpredictable, federally illegal market, those small considerations can create a “drag” on strategic decision-making and derail the hiring process. However, the hires are absolutely critical for company growth.


A fit on paper may not be an actual fit. A question we executive recruiters often ask ourselves is: Even if a candidate is a perfect fit on paper, if they know nothing about cannabis, is it still worth it to pursue them as an option for the role?

Our answer to this is a resounding it depends. It depends on the person, the company, and the other employees at the company. If we’re hiring a CEO who is a rockstar CEO but knows nothing about cannabis, then she may still be a good fit if the person directly under her has deep cannabis knowledge. Again, this answer is not the answer in every situation. Slight nuances in circumstances can make a big difference.

When FlowerHire reaches out to a potential executive, sometimes the person has been investigating the industry and is very responsive to our call. They’re eager to get into the industry. They’re up-to-date on news. Their passion is already shining through.

Other times, potential candidates are interested, but they’re not fully invested. They’re talking about the news, trends, and issues from three years ago. Cannabis industry members, know and respect that cannabis news from even just a few months ago is outdated. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not a good fit… It just means there’s more education that needs to be done to determine fit.

Education as a retention strategy. While this thorough education process can be risky and cause candidates to take a pass at working in the industry, we find it’s the ultimate weeding out strategy. Thorough cannabis industry education eliminates candidates who won’t make it and identifies the ones who will thrive. It supports your cannabis employee retention strategy

Once the candidate understands the realities of the space and expresses interest in a commitment to the industry and its nuances, then we use our industry expertise to assess if the specific opportunity is a good match for both the candidate and the company.

Client Education

Client education is equally important as candidate education. 

It’s also important to set realistic expectations for the client about the unique intricacies of the cannabis industry recruitment process. 

  • Does the client understand how to hire and work with someone who may have grown used to the benefits of working in a non-cannabis industry? 
  • Is the candidate the correct fit to bring their skill set to the cannabis industry, and, specifically, to the client’s role?

Candidates have high expectations. They expect security. They expect to be a part of something “special.” So if cannabis organizations are going to attract traditional executives, they need to figure out how to meet those expectations. Money and the love for cannabis may be insufficient motivations for some executives.


There’s no “typical.” The traditional order of operations in recruitment does not exist in cannabis. Cannabis clients understandably want to know what’s “typical” during the cannabis executive search process. For example, a client may want to know what type of role would a cannabis company typically hire next? But the answer greatly depends on the specific needs of the individual company. There’s no “typical” in cannabis because individual companies’ needs are so unique.

We are blunt and truthful with this – right from the start. Because when a concern comes up (which it always does in cannabis!), we want you to have been prepared. We want to make sure we already set the expectation for the client. We do this to support and prepare the client, like the candidate, for the realities of cannabis recruitment.

Adapting the recruitment process. We bring in best practices of traditional recruitment as appropriate, however, we adapt the process to specific circumstances. As a cannabis-specific recruiting agency, we have in-depth experience adapting to the nuanced challenges in cannabis.

Overall, cannabis clients are heavily involved in the recruitment process. We need commitment on the client’s end to provide the best level of service. Then, we bring the client options, coach them through the process, and bring them to the decision point. 

Specific traits and mindset of the candidate

Open-minded, no stigmatizing. For an executive to be successful in cannabis, they can’t stigmatize any part of the market. They can’t think that using cannabis for only medical purposes is more admirable than using it for recreational purposes. We must be supportive of all the cannabis markets. 

The best candidates really open up about their relationship with the plant and are open-minded about all the uses the plant brings. Successful executives must have a respectful relationship with the plant. 

Flexibility with job description. Executives need to have an understanding that they’ll be participating in areas and dynamics of the company that are not under the job description. For example, if a dispensary that is still under construction, has no employees yet, and gets burglarized, it might be the c-suite members who need to go help physically clean it up. If the construction workers are a part of a union, it is unlikely they are scoped for post-break-in cleanup. It’s quite likely that it’s going to be the executives who will be sweeping up broken glass or helping to rewire and reboot security cameras.

Pursue excellence. Cannabis executives need to genuinely care about putting out a good product. If they’re just in it for the money, they are in the wrong business. Money isn’t enough to make a cannabis company successful. Nor is it enough to make an individual executive successful.

Executives must have an intellectual curiosity to know that as knowledgeable as you are today, tomorrow you may know nothing. People in cannabis often claim their product is “the best” product. But the reality is that we don’t know exactly what a “best product” is yet. We’re all striving to reach the highest standard. The reality is that the product standard could completely change tomorrow. People who think they’ve already arrived at the top are about to be woken up when things change.

Create more value with your executive hires

Every hiring decision you make has a strategic impact on the company and the new executive. Ongoing learning and respect for the space and good, honest relationships are key in transitioning traditional executives into cannabis – and are two of the many benefits of partnering with a cannabis recruiting agency. A deep understanding of cannabis and a well-connected network provide thorough: 

  1. Candidate education
  2. Client education
  3. Understanding of the traits and mindset of the candidate


If you’re looking to strategically hire your next cannabis executive, see why so many companies are working with FlowerHire Senior Advisors to get the most value from their executive recruitment efforts.


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