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Ask the Cannabis Expert – Max Resnik: How does working with an experienced cannabis industry recruiter help operators with staffing challenges?

Bridge West Consulting had an opportunity to speak with Max Resnik, Cannabis Practice Leader with Direct Recruiters, Inc. We learned about his cannabis industry expertise and how cannabis operators can benefit from working with an experienced cannabis industry recruiter to address staffing challenges.

What is your background?

Max Resnik, Cannabis Practice Leader with Direct Recruiters, Inc. has an interesting background leading up to starting his career in cannabis industry recruiting. Before becoming a recruiter, Max spent ten years as a news anchor and reporter for NBC News affiliates across the country. He worked in small, medium, and large markets, and covered everything from wildfires, to crime, and elections. 

Max Resnik Cannabis Practice Leader Direct Recruiters, Inc.

For Max, cannabis had always been a constant in his life. He grew up in a household where cannabis wasn’t stigmatized – he was educated about cannabis and learned that there were more positives than negatives.

Max was a reporter when Prop 64 was passed in California, and he saw the industry develop. He connected with dispensary owners, lobbyists, reformers, and legislators who were working to advance this space. At the time, he didn’t know this would be an option as a career path in his future but working around the developments in the cannabis industry made Max want to get involved.

After nearly a decade in television, Max knew his future would be in another industry. He took some time away from work during the COVID-19 pandemic to focus on his family and spoke with several contacts about recruiting and researched the industry. His future colleagues at Direct Recruiters, who’ve been in the executive search space nearly 40 years, had been interested in starting a recruiting practice focused on the cannabis industry. After creating a business plan, Max and his partners were proud to launch their practice in August 2020.

Where is your target market, and is it geographically based, or are you more focused on the stage or size of the cannabis business?

Max said, “We recruit across the country, and we don’t place a lot of restrictions on ourselves regarding the geographic region. We typically work on sales, operations, retail, and marketing opportunities in the C-Suite through the director level, mostly with plant-touching companies, and occasionally, we’ll work on some contributor-level opportunities. The roles each client wants to fill could differ depending on the long-term goals they hope to achieve. For us, we’ve thrived thus far with startups, early-stage cannabis businesses, some middle growth companies, and companies looking to expand into new markets as well as strong single state operators.”

How do you get to know your clients and the roles they are looking to hire for?

Max pointed out that when they first meet with a new client, it’s important to try to get a feel for their culture, environment, development stage, and career development opportunities for their people. It’s important to understand what their processes are like. Max stated, “This is the most important thing you can identify from the start, so you can really get a feel for the organization. This helps a lot before you start to perform your searches.”

Max expressed the importance of culture in the cannabis industry. He said, “I think in this space when it is as tough as it is, particularly now, the importance of having a good culture goes a long way with candidates.” When asking about the culture of their clients, Max speaks with more than just one person to get a sense of what their culture is really like. “We don’t just want to have the conversation with the hiring manager. We want to have someone who is also on their level, such as another director or somebody who works under them to get a sense of their culture from someone more internal. We always remind clients that it’s largely been a candidate-driven market for the last two years and we know that good people want to work for good people.”

Max said that typically leads to discussions about how your company demonstrates the work culture and how this is communicated and shared beyond a mission statement. These questions are essential when it comes to working with new clients and understanding their goals and objectives when it comes to hiring staff for their cannabis business. When assessing a new client and researching their culture, Max focuses on these main points.

How does working with an experienced cannabis industry recruiter help operators with staffing challenges?

Having a recruiter with cannabis industry experience will allow you to have a designated person who will advocate on your companies’ behalf, build a narrative around your businesses, and market the company to quality candidates.

Max explained, “We’re there every step of the way. It’s not just presenting a resume; it’s not just finding candidates from the client’s perspective. We help with everything from the job descriptions to the salary ranges. It’s vetting candidates and recruiting passive candidates who are actively employed and doing great in their current roles and are the best at what they do. Then, we look for possible issues with the culture at their current employer, or something else that makes them less than completely satisfied.”

The next step after finding the ideal person for the role is preparing them for interviews. Max would start by telling the candidate everything about your company so that the candidate is educated about the company before the interview, so they are knowledgeable before they even interview. Part of that is by ‘preaching the brand,’ which also plays into a true partnership. When Max works with clients and begins his research, he puts himself in the team member’s shoes to get a genuine feel for what it’s like at that specific company. He stresses the importance of learning how the business runs and how to differentiate companies from one another.

During the debriefing with candidates, it’s crucial to figure out their concerns. The recruiter can then bring these up to their client and work as a guide throughout the process. When they come to an offer, the recruiter can negotiate that offer. Max states, “We’re helping to ensure everybody’s expectations align with what the market says.”

After hiring for the new position, the recruiter is there through onboarding. It’s imperative to keep connections with the client and the new employee by having both answer a few essential questions after hiring, including:

  • What’s going on in the first 90 days?
  • Are you enjoying the job?
  • Is the position living up to the expectation set by the recruiter and the employer?
  • What feedback and any concerns do you have?

The main focus throughout this process is communicating with both the candidate and the employer. It is important that the focus isn’t just on recruiting and attracting candidates but ensuring that the employees are retained for the long term.

What are the challenges in recruiting for the cannabis industry?

Max stated, “Right now, there is a funding issue because private equity money is not coming in, and venture investors have hit the brakes on this. The economy is also not in great shape, and we see states such as Arizona, California, Colorado, and Massachusetts, having a dramatic price compression, and it’s affecting people in these areas.” Max explained, “The most pressing challenge now is this feeling of uncertainty. However, I would venture to say that cannabis is probably recession-proof. That doesn’t mean companies won’t contract or seek a merger or people won’t be laid off, but the space as a whole will continue to grow and thrive despite the current economic conditions.”

Another challenge Max is currently seeing in the cannabis industry is early-stage companies having a difficult time determining their hiring needs. Sometimes companies want a specific position created or filled, and they want it immediately, but then they find they are having difficulty filling the position after some time. Max states the importance of asking and defining a few questions when considering the position you want to fill, such as:

  • What positions do you need?
  • Why do you need those positions?
  • Why do you need them filled now?

What advice would you give to a C-level executive who wants to get into the cannabis industry but doesn’t have existing experience?

Max said, “Regardless of level, if you really want to get into this space, you must determine what is transferable, but I think it is helpful to narrow your focus a bit.” He suggested asking the questions, ‘How do I market you?’ and ‘What’s the narrative I’m building around you?’ to determine what you are really good at and what problems you can solve for this space.”

Those with no prior experience in the cannabis industry can have a difficult time figuring out how their skills can be applied to the cannabis industry.

He also finds it easier for people who are passionate about the plant to become passionate about being in the industry. Sometimes being passionate about the plant doesn’t mean consuming it, but Max expresses, “It’s also understanding what the last 100 years have been. It’s understanding that people of color have suffered because of the policies set in place years ago. If you don’t recognize that or are unable to speak to that, this might not be for you. It’s a conversation occurring in most companies, and you need to be comfortable speaking about it and potentially working with programs geared toward correcting the harms of the past and present.”

Who do you think is in the driver’s seat these days? Is it more the employer or the employee?

For the last 20 months, Max says that candidates haven’t just been in the driver’s seat but have owned the assembly line. He states that, to some degree, it exists, but it’s changing. Companies themselves are retaining some of that power which is the result of where the economy is, and they’re not in a rush to fill positions. But we are seeing this in every industry, not just cannabis.

Companies’ willingness to bend backward is changing, and candidates need to recognize that when searching for a job, it’s essential to go through the steps of asking yourself important questions after you are given an offer, including:

  • What is most important that they are offering me?
  • What is a deal breaker?
  • Is it the title I wanted?
  • Is it the base salary I wanted?
  • If you get a certain number of those things, you are asking for, can you take the position?
  • If you get none of the things you were asking for, what are you going to do?

Max also said, “It’s vital for candidates to change their style of thinking as the job market begins to change.”

What do you like to do in your free time, and do you have any hobbies?

For Max, family is number one and when he isn’t working, he spends time with his family. Max and his wife have two young children, and he loves spending time with them, especially outside in nature. He loves introducing them to new things as much as possible. In addition, Max and his wife are both huge music fans, and he loves collecting vinyl. In fact, his personal collection includes over 450 vinyl records!