How Companies Identify Talent with Nichole Upshaw of Jushi & Kage Spatz

HR Strategy Series with Kage Spatz, Founder of

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Jushi Human Resources Hiring Strategies

People want to know how what they do connects to the bigger purpose. They cannot do this if you expect them to show up and stay in the silo of their day-to day-job. Take the time to explain how their role and the specifics of what they do impact the end game.

As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Nichole Upshaw.

Prior to Jushi, Nichole was head of Human Resources for RaceTrac Petroleum, a convenience store chain that operates over 500 company-owned retail locations with over 10,000 employees. Nichole was a founding member of RaceTrac’s Women’s organization, LEAD, and is passionate about scaling growing businesses.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?

I feel like everyone says they accidentally fell into Human Resources. However, I very intentionally chose it. I majored in Business Administration with a concentration in HR, and I’m fascinated by human behavior and how a workplace can be more productive and successful through understanding people and what motivates them to do their best. Both of the behavioral science studies I completed in high school were about how children perform in different scenarios. I’m obsessed with getting people to do their best in order for a company to succeed.

Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career and what lesson you learned from that?

When I started my first real HR job after college at RaceTrac Petroleum, they asked me to do store training before they trusted me to hire anyone for the stores. I didn’t have the best attitude about it. I had waitressed for 7 years and managed a retail store through college — I knew retail. The manager of the store I was training at was not happy that RaceTrac hired a college grad to take the newly created HR role. To him, and all the other managers, I didn’t earn it or deserve it more than them. Needless to say, he decided to torture me during training. I climbed the gas price sign to manually change the gas price — little did he know I was not afraid of heights (ha ha!). I swept the parking lot of the store, took out the trash, cleaned gas pumps and picked up cigarette butts from the landscaping. I called my dad after work that day and gave him an ear full (you’ll read about what he told me later). After working a couple weeks in the store, including third shift, I got to start my HR job. Finally, what I was hired to do.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized the importance this store training had on my career at RaceTrac. It wasn’t that I personally needed to be reminded how hard it was to work in retail. It was that I needed to show the people that I was willing to serve in a way that meant something to them. I’m grateful to have learned that right from the start because it set the stage for an amazing 14 years at RaceTrac and the importance of knowing exactly who I serve and how to build a culture that believes the same.

Wonderful. Now let’s jump into the main focus of our series. Hiring can be very time-consuming and difficult. Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?

We underutilize case studies and work samples. I know everyone says behavioral questions are the best, and they are great, but I am more interested in asking you about a problem I need to solve, and hearing how you would solve it.

At Jushi, we are a growing company that wants to attract someone who knows what “big” looks like but can get there in a measured way. Someone who thinks we should immediately adopt big company processes is not quite right, and someone who doesn’t move on from the small company habits isn’t quite right. I am really looking for a unique person who has proven they can do both.

Understanding people’s motivation is important. I ask people, “What can we do to add value to you while you are here?” If they ask for something that we are not prepared to deliver or describe something we are not, I know it isn’t a fit.

With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?

This isn’t an issue we really have in cannabis. We haven’t seen a dip in applicant quantity. There are people who want nothing to do with the industry and the other 75% are beyond excited to pick up the phone.

The bigger challenge for us is vetting through who can thrive in organized chaos and is really willing to solve problems at lightning speed while growing at lightning speed.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

No doubt it would be kindness. When you are kind, you are open to hearing and learning what impacts others. When you are kind, you think first about what will impact someone else before you take action. When you are kind, you do not judge people for the ways they are different. When you are kind, you fill yourself with joy by bringing joy to others.

We are very blessed to have some of the biggest names in Business, VC, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?

As amazing as that sounds, I choose my little brother who I lost last year. I’d give anything to take him to his favorite Red Lobster for cheddar biscuits.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your valuable insights with us!

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