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Poker & Job Hunting: Why poker is a better bet

Poker and the Psychology of Uncertainty

The game has plenty to teach about making decisions with the cards we’ve been dealt–on and off the table.

Source: Wired
By Maria Konnikova

pokerOutside the realm of games, accurate probabilistic thinking is a rare skill. The betting in poker forces you to pay attention. If you keep following your hunches instead of the mathematics of the thing, you’re doomed. Sure, you might get lucky a time or two. But eventually, variance will catch up with you.

When Chicago economists Steven Levitt and Thomas Miles looked at live play and compared the ROI, or return on investment, for two groups of players at the 2010 WSOP [World Series of Poker], they found that recreational players lost, on average, over 15 percent of their buy-ins (roughly $400), while professionals won over 30 percent (roughly $1,200). Poker isn’t just about calibrating the strength of your beliefs. It’s also about becoming comfortable with the fact that there’s no such thing as a sure thing — ever. You will never have all the information you want, and you will have to act all the same. Leave your certainty at the door.

In many ways, poker is the skilled endeavor. The job market is the gamble. How did my job talk go? Where did I go to college? To grad school? Did I rub someone the wrong way in an interview? These details, all subject to a big dose of chance, can make or break me. At the table, I play how I play. And I rise or fall on my own merits.

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Nick’s take

I think job seekers are so consumed by job applications and accustomed to losing that they actually forget they’re gambling with real money! This Wired article explains why it’s smarter to play the job market like a professional poker player. This means boosting your odds by applying sound probabilistic thinking. This means stop betting on every job posting!

Is job hunting a crap-shoot? Who or what controls your odds of winning a job? Maria Konnikova hints at how to apply poker skills to job hunting. Okay, let’s deal some good ideas of our own! How can we actually improve our probabilities of success?



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  1. A good first step for finding a job is following steps as Nick recommends: Learn all you can about the company, the job, and the manager. Get to know people affiliated with that company. In poker, you learn to optimize the hand you are dealt, and how to interact with other players to make the best educated decision you can.

    One can send out copies of their resume at random just as a recruiter or potential employer can send out a blast e-mail to a lot of people. To truly build up a team, however, is hard work. One also needs to learn from others what contributes to success.

    I have had many a great interview that resulted in either a rejection or worse yet, ghosting (even after taking days off my then-current job for an out-of-state interview). In my current job, the interview did not go so well, but I got an offer anyway. Before I accepted the position, I had a frank talk with my manager – who I had been interviewed by 1 1/2 years prior – he had already decided then that he wanted to hire me (different key players were out of town, and proceeding kind of got delayed). Maybe the interview was more probing due to the high level of interest. My manager thinks he did a great job in hiring me and has said so.

    Like the game of poker, then, you need to have as much information as possible, and it can’t all be googled. I should know as I am married to a librarian who is great at extracting information. (My wife can out-google me any day.)

  2. One of the lessons is knowing when to fold: when you encounter a significant red flag in the hiring process, end it, don’t chase it.

    That was a great article, thanks for posting it. I may buy the book (or at least read it).