The Interview: Use Poker Skills to Get a Job

To be a successful poker pro you have to employ elements of skill, psychology and intuition to best your opponent. While many of us might not venture in to the high roller room of the casino, we can still use the skills we learn in poker to help us in other high stakes situations, like a job interview.

A job interview can run the same way as a game of poker. To come through successfully you can't just rely on your experience. You have to assess your opponent and the situation to get what you want, even if it means a bit of bluffing along the way. Here's how can you channel the poker pros and ace your job interview.

Rehearse your game


As with many pursuits, the best route to success is practice, practice, practice. Amateur poker players spend hours playing small stake and free money games. By taking part in tournaments and friendlies without the threat of big financial loss, players can hone their skills and develop their own style of play. Varied practice games with different opponents on different levels, will also give you a more comprehensive view of how different players work.

Rehearsal is key to success. An interview, like poker games, is an unnatural and often stressful environment. To be at your best in a situation like this, you have to get used to it. Here's how you can hone your interview skills:

-    Take any interview you're offered: Even if you don't plan on taking the job, the process will help you. Treat every interview as a learning experience and think about ways you could improve for the next. When did they react well and what did they seem indifferent to?

-    Work out your best tactics: Don't try and be anything you're not. An interview, or poker game, will only go well if you play to your strengths. Some players are gifted at bluffing, but you have to have supreme confidence to pull it off. Outright lying won't get you anywhere, but don't be afraid to blow your own trumpet and point your interviewer in the right direction. If you don't feel comfortable doing so, then don't. There's nothing more embarrassing than being caught out on a claim you can't back up.

Memorise your cards


Memory can be a fantastic tool. A poker pro will always utilise their memory so they know what cards they have in their hand at any given time. That way, they don't need to look back. Not only does this not give away much to opponents, it also means you'll be more confident in your own game.

Before a job interview, there's a lot of information you have to remember. The cards in your hand symbolise everything you should have prepared before the big day. The essentials are:

-    Show your experience: All entrants in a pro tournament will have checked out their opponent's credentials. Respect goes a long way in poker, and if an opponent knows you have pedigree they'll respect you. Be prepared to summarise your last three jobs in a couple of sentences. Think about the skills you've developed and how they relate to the position you're applying for.

-    Practice your moves: Poker definitely has big element of intuition, thinking on your feet and adapting to situations as they come. However, that doesn't mean you can't rehearse moves to improve their game. Like each game, every interview is different, but you will probably be asked a lot of the same questions. If you can give examples of times you've worked as part of a team or demonstrated leadership, then you're already halfway there.  

Read your opponent


Before you even start a game of poker you'll have started weighing up your opponents: are they experienced? How are they acting? How are they dressed? Etc. This analysis will help you decide what type of player they are. Are they conservative or loose with their game? Poker players may look at how other players stack their chips – are their chips in straight columns or spread out across the table.
Once you're in your interview, take some time to figure out your interviewer. The way they talk and respond to questions can give great insight, but there are more obvious clues:

-    What they are wearing: Are they smartly dressed or wearing more casual attire? This isn't a definite science but might indicate if the interview will follow a formal or more informal direction. You should always stay professional, but an informal interviewer is a good indicator they're more open to light hearted discussion.

-    What are they talking about: Are they open and friendly? Are they discussing things outside of the business setting? If so you might have an opportunity to connect with them on a more personal level. The interview is all about giving off the best impression you can, and what better way to do that than to make an ally.

Watch for ‘tells'


In a game of poker, a ‘tell' might give you an indication of how a player will play their next hand. If they're nervous they might touch their face or cough. The same tells can help you work out how well a job interview is going. Here are some things you should look out for:

-    Lack of eye contact: If your interviewer isn't making eye contact then there could be a reason why. Poker players will often look away once a hand is played to try and deceive opponents. If your interviewer looks away regularly, this may indicate a lack of interest in what you have to say. They may also sigh or tap their fingers. Try to lean forward and engage that person specifically to get them back on side if you notice a dip in attention levels.

-    The indicator (‘poker-clack'): The ‘poker-clack' is a tell used  by poker pros to deceive other players. The clack is a noise, similar to a tut, which indicates a player is trying to convince their opponents that something is wrong with their hand. If you have a keen ear and hear it, you can be pretty sure it means the complete opposite. Interviewers may express faux concern at initial wage requests with sighs or exhales, which means it might be possible to discuss it further at a later date. If they don't immediately deny something, then there may be room for manoeuvre.



As much as a game of poker is about skill, it's also about focus.  If you want to come out in profit, then you have to immerse yourself in ‘the game' and work it to your advantage and your strengths. Players who worry about losing money or get excited about a potential windfall will make mistakes and get caught out by professionals.

Think of job interviews in the same way. Only around 2% of job applications end in a job interview so getting there can feel like an achievement in itself, but it is only the start of the process. Put all your attention into making sure you connect with your interviewer. In the same way as a poker player has to draw in their opponent during a game, draw in your interview opponent in the limited time you have available. Don't get caught up worrying about whether or not you'll get the job, you can worry about that later.