A new job makes us feel lively and hopeful. The pursuit of this job, however, can feel tedious or arcane. Fortunately, poker provides experience and parallels for some of the trickiest points in the job-hunting process. If you haven’t played or learned poker yet, we’re here to help! So the next time you approach an interview or negotiation, reflect on these poker teachings.
The Application Process
In the preliminary stages of your search, it’s common to send dozens or hundreds of applications into the void of online job postings. Unfortunately, the most common response is no response, and it can feel deflating not getting anywhere.
However, this is very similar to playing multi-table poker tournaments where only a tiny fraction of entrants cash. Poker players simply get used to coming away empty-handed from these tournaments most of the time they play because the times you win, you win BIG!
The teaching here is to think critically about your expected results (ROI). Is a 1% chance to land the job worth the 12 minutes it takes to apply? At that rate, if you just spent 10 hours a week applying for jobs, you’d have two offers in hand within a month! If a new job is essential to you, that big win will more than makeup for the time spent applying for jobs you didn’t get. Use the law of averages as your motivation to soldier on amid rejection.
Finally, be sure you’re getting the most out of every “entry.” Tournament players are constantly working on their strategy to increase their chances of cashing from 18% to 19% – you should continue to maximize your chances of an interview. Can you utilize internal referrals or informational interviews to get an “in” at the company? Are your resume and cover templates as powerful as they can be? Small differences like these significantly impact the largely homogenous pool of applications that recruiters wade through.
You’ve made it to your first-round interview! Everything is going swimmingly until the recruiter asks for your salary expectations. Then, suddenly it gets awkward, and you don’t want to answer. This is like playing out of position in poker — having to act first.
The player who acts last has a massive informational advantage. If their opponent plays differently with strong hands than weak hands, they can counter the opponent’s action perfectly by folding against the strong hands and raising against the weak hands.
In poker, the best way to combat this positional disadvantage is to stay balanced. Take the same actions with all or large groups of hands to stay unpredictable and throw the ball in your opponent’s court.
When facing the salary expectations question, playing balanced means doing research in advance, anchoring at a high value, and qualifying your number around other pieces of the negotiation. Check the typical salary for someone of your experience at this company on Glassdoor or Payscale to ensure you aren’t lowballing yourself or coming across as out of touch.
Giving a number that shows confidence in yourself and knowledge of your industry looks much better than responding with a low number you’ll double back on in the final negotiation. You can even mention that factors like geography (including working from home,) stock options, healthcare, maternity leave, performance bonuses, and career mentorship will influence your salary flexibility to assuage any concerns that a high number may create.
You’re onto the interview rounds where you and your interviewer are determining fit. Unfortunately, you can’t quite tell what the nature of the work or culture of the company will be like, and you’re worried the job may not be for you.
A close poker parallel is navigating the flop (when three community cards are brought), where you’re given lots of information for who will end up with the winning hand. The flop contextualizes the relative strength of starting hands to help you start narrowing down what your opponent might have.
Preparation is key for utilizing the information that flops provide! Spend some time away from the table thinking about what bet sizes make sense for different groups of hands so you can glean useful information from your opponent’s bets and make the most out of your own bets.
Likewise, preparing questions to help you learn the nuances of the job and company will let you capitalize on your interviews. After all, interviews are a two-way street of information gathering. A best practice is to come with five questions about the job that can’t be found online. Ideally, these questions genuinely matter to you and allow the interviewer to speak to their personal experience.
Best of all, interviewers love to see candidates take the initiative to make the interview a conversation. You and your interviewer will leave the interview more confident that the job is for you if you ask smart questions.
You received an offer! But it’s less than what you feel you’re worth. In poker, this is like facing a bet on the river, your last chance to fold (walk away from the offer), call (accept the offer), or raise (counter with a higher offer.)
When poker players face river bets, they synthesize all relevant information from earlier in the hand. For example, they consider the story their opponent has told, the odds or “price” they’re getting on their call, and where their hand stacks up against other hands, they could have.
When facing an offer, reflect on everything you’ve learned from previous research and interviews to determine the value you can add and the scarcity of your skills. Can you negotiate frequent performance reviews to fast-track promotions for a job well done if the pay is standardized to the title? Can you leverage a competing offer?
It’s almost always best to counter the offer to see if the hiring manager is “bluffing.” If they won’t budge on pay, consider creative solutions like company-sponsored personal development (schooling) or access to internal resources like mentorship programs to sweeten the deal.
And if you can’t reach an agreement, it’s perfectly valid to decline. Poker teaches us to avoid attachment to sunk costs – sometimes the hand, or the offer, isn’t winnable, and that’s ok. A job is a serious commitment, and you should be excited to work at your new company for years to come.
Job hunting has always come with a learning curve – most people improve at applying, interviewing, and negotiating simply by doing. However, the critical reasoning skills you learn from poker can help you master your job search quicker to get the position you want at the pay you deserve. We offer poker lessons from expert teachers so that women get a seat at the poker table and executive board. Will you join them?