Entrepreneurship Mar 09, 2016

How Gradujuana Is Helping Cannabis Companies Hire

Karson Humiston’s early interest in a career in cannabis came not from her appreciation for the plant, but because it was the family business.  Her father, a founding member of the International Cannabis Association, asked for her help running the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo, the organization’s annual conference.  Humiston, a brazen go-getter who had started her own outdoor excursions company on multiple college campuses during her time as a student, used the opportunity to investigate the companies’ needs in the space.  She approached exhibitors and asked them, “what are your biggest problems?  What are your pain points?”  She told us, “The response that I heard over and over again was ‘we have really high turnover, we’re not having good luck with our employees, we need to build a really strong team.’”  It gave her an idea: she would build a talent agency using the same business model as those found in many other industries, but with a new formula tailored to cannabis.  

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Humiston seeking new talent with Gradujuana at a cannabis expo.

So, in June 2015, she founded Gradujuana and started headhunting on her own.  She developed a three-step process to vet each candidate, beginning with a screening call.  Next, she interviews the candidate to identify how their experience will fit their new role.  Last, she calls the person’s references to ensure that their resume is accurate.  Then, if the candidate is a good match for the client, she will refer them for an interview with that company.  For Humiston, the best part is what comes next.  “The most rewarding part is when we make a placement, hands down.  When you find an awesome candidate, who is super excited who is going to do a great job at that company… when they go in, they interview, and they get the job offer, and then you talk to them three months later and they tell you all the things that they’ve done.  It’s completely changed their life, and it’s awesome.”

While this is a tried-and-true model that exists in other industries, Humiston’s secret sauce is how she determines who is qualified.  While many employers may hire based on a candidate’s interest in the cannabis industry, she believes that can actually lead to an employee that’s more passionate about the plant than the actual work.  For example, if an employer is looking to fill a retail position at a dispensary, “you need retail and customer service skills,” she explained.  “Sure, it’s great to know about every single type of cannabis strain, but if you can’t articulate that to the customer, it doesn’t really matter.  Maybe [the candidate is] the top salesperson at Urban Outfitters, and maybe they don’t know everything about cannabis, but they can learn it.  We’re looking for those skills, not necessarily hard core knowledge on the plant and passion for the plant.”

Using this method, Gradujuana had instant success.  After only nine months in business, the company now has five employees, including one in Seattle.  It has placed direct hires at companies such as O.penVAPE, Canna Advisors, Cannabrand, and Ajoya.  They even helped place some of LeafLink’s own team.   

Gradujuana currently recruits in four areas: “the plant”, ancillary, extraction, and tech.  “The plant” division includes job titles from trimmer to master grower, and ancillary roles include roles such as accountants and marketers.  Extraction refers to chemists or extraction technicians, and tech is a broad category related to any positions in the digital space.  Gradujuana offers placements for direct hires as well as temporary staffing.  For example, if a grow needs a trimmer for a few days, they can hire a contractor through Gradujuana.

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Humiston at Southwest Cannabis Conference & Expo.

The next step for Gradujuana will be the launch of its digital platform, Cannext, in April.  It will allow job hunters to create profiles and employers to post pages, so they can find each other virtually.  Employers will be able to search hundreds of qualified candidates when they’re in need of a direct or temporary hire, and Gradujuana’s team will be able to focus on executive-level placements.  Humiston will leverage this strategy so that Gradujuana becomes the staffing agency of choice for cannabis companies as legalization sweeps other states.

With direct intel from employers, we couldn’t help but ask Humiston: what is your advice for people looking for a job in the cannabis industry?  She told us that flexibility is key.  “Keep in mind that this industry is completely in startup mode.  If you’re coming from corporate America, this is going to be different.”    Humiston said that employees at cannabis companies may be asked to wear many different hats and perform tasks outside their job function because of the nature of the industry.  “The industry changes every single day, so if you’re someone that’s used to that 9-5 structure … and not going through a lot of bumps, and hurdles, and thinking outside of the box – then I would say that this industry isn’t for you,” she said.  “Tomorrow, the federal government could come in and tell us we all have to do something different.  Be prepared and flexible and excited to be a part of it.”