Interview with Liz Gehl, Executive Recruiter in the Alcohol & Cannabis Industries

In this interview, Renier Fee, the Senior Director of Marketing at CULTA sits down with Liz Gehl, an Executive Recruiter and Headhunter in the alcohol, beverage, cannabis, and hemp industries. Read on to learn more about cannabis recruiting and how smart hiring decisions can promote strategic growth and increase market share.

Hi Liz. It's nice to meet you.

Hi Renier, it’s great to meet you! I appreciate the opportunity to contribute. 

We've never met before so I'm curious to learn a little about your background. Tell me how you got started in cannabis recruiting?

I’ve been in human resources and talent acquisition almost as long as I’ve been a medicinal and recreational cannabis consumer, going on 20 years. However, up until 2016 when I opened my consulting company I was unable to make my passion for the plant known due to fear of being judged and losing my job and a career path that I am equally passionate about. 

Given my years of experience, passion and background in the alcohol industry, pairing the two highly regulated industries together made sense. This was prior to Canopy Growth/Constellation investment, but it was clear that was the direction the industries would move in. Thus, the beginning of Gehl Search Partners!

What are the best platforms to place job openings? Should employers be thinking wide like Indeed.com or narrow like Vangst.com? 

This is a tough one as I’m personally not a big believer in posting jobs as a recruitment firm, although from time to time it is necessary or requested by the client. Recruitment fees are paid for many reasons, mostly it is for our ability to network and to headhunt from your direct competitors, not to “post and pray”. However, for employers who have the time to sift through scores of resumes and to post on numerous job boards, and are extremely organized with their tracking and communication with applicants can have success. 

But there isn’t a “one size fits all” job board. There are niche boards for the cannabis industry but none of them are going to be the best job board for each role needing to be filled, nor for each candidate searching for their next opportunity. For example, the job board you utilized to find your last salesperson isn’t necessarily going to attract qualified candidates for the compliance job you now need to fill, or for the head grower.

What are some tips in selecting the right recruiting agency to help fill jobs?

What is their background in recruiting; what is their success rate in not only placing candidates but the retention rate of the candidates they have placed? If the recruitment firm cannot give you stats and details about how many of their placements have been successful in the long term, ask more questions. Even in a nascent industry such as cannabis, companies retain their key and core staff. If times are tough but the candidates that have been placed by that firm largely remain employed, you can feel confident that due diligence is being performed both on the intake side with the hiring company as well as with the candidate being presented the opportunity.

Filing jobs quickly and for the lowest cost possible is typically what many companies focus on, which is short sighted. To be most cost effective, invest in hiring the right person the first time who truly can affect your bottom line and allow you to gain market share.

What interview questions should every cannabis company ask, no matter the position?

Always ask candidates their reason for leaving their past jobs. Many will say “for a better opportunity”. Which is the obvious answer, however, there is a reason why they answered the recruiters call or sent in their resume in the first place. 

So, a good follow up is “what happened that made you consider looking at other opportunities?” You can learn a lot about someone when you hear what their “final straw” moments are. Then reflect on your own company culture and environment. Will they fit in or get frustrated?

Are there any off-limit questions?

Absolutely. Anything that could be deemed discriminatory, in any way. Off-limit questions include sexual orientation, gender, race, religious beliefs, family situation. This includes “what part of town do you live in?” It seems innocent enough; you may be worried about commute times, however, there is a socio-economic undertone there as well. 

My best advice is to keep the questioning professional. People openly share what they are comfortable with in time on a personal level. Don’t force it.

The cannabiz world is still young. Policies are still being developed. I can say the same for onboarding and training. Do you have recommendations for employers on how to set up new employees for success?

Absolutely! This is a big miss for many companies, not just in the cannabis industry. Part of our consulting practice is to provide this guidance because it is SO important, especially in an industry where just about everything being done is a new experience. 

When strategizing for the open role, the hiring manager should have an idea of what they would like to have accomplished in the first 30-60-90 days, 6 months and 12 months. Once the successful candidate is hired, the hiring manager sits down with them very early on and reiterates the expectations (it should not be a surprise as it was discussed during the interviewing process). Together they discuss KPIs, timelines and goals; there is continued and regular progress check-in’s both live and in writing.

The strategy should be open to tweaks as the company is likely experiencing challenges and successes and this cannot always be directly reflected onto the employee if a goal is not met. Creating a relationship based on honest and open communication is key, even when the employee is telling you things you don’t want to hear. 

The company culture is just as important. No matter the size of team, people tend to want to feel a sense of belonging. What are you doing to ensure that genuine relationships are able to be built? Ask your employees if there are areas outside of their current role that interest them. You may find that your marketing person wants to learn more about finance and now you have them working together on a project to deliver fact based data to help your sales team be more effective out in the field. I’ve seen so many amazing things get done at cannabis companies that make it look like there are 100 employees, when in reality, there are less than 15, because of this type of collaboration and communication. 

If companies have more questions, how should they get in contact with you?

We love to help, and I’d be happy to answer any questions companies may have. I can be contacted either through our general mailbox info@gehlsearchpartners.com, or by calling our office 707-368-3625. 

That's all I got. Thank you for your time Liz.

I enjoyed it! Thank you, Renier!