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Applying Online? Why not Play Poker?

The Old Rules No Longer Work

My friend John, a professional poker player and my poker mentor, once asked me, “If you ever did pay $10K to play in the World Series of Poker (WSOP), what would be your strategy?”

I told him I’d follow the strategy outlined by two-time WSOP winner, Dan Harrington---methodical, conservative, with a few carefully-timed bluffs thrown in now and then. I also mentioned how I wouldn’t want to be knocked out on Monday and would be pleased to make it to, say, Thursday.

John told me, “Dated strategy. That was good when there were just a few hundred entrants.

Now, there are thousands. And most of them have read the Harrington books. Things have changed. Last year, there were over 7,000 WSOP entrants. Now, you’ve got to be bold. While everyone else is playing it safe—following the old advice---you’ve got to be aggressive.”

He added, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re knocked out on Monday or Thursday. You’re still out. The only thing that matters is making it to the final table.”

I recently recalled John’s advice when I heard a job-seeker say he was pleased to have been one of the top two or three candidates for a job. He didn’t get the job, mind you.

My thought was how being seriously considered for a position may be good for your ego—for a while—but, it is not good for your wallet. Your goal is to get the job. Just as one’s goal in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) is to get to the final table and the big money.

Think it odd that I compare landing a job with gambling? Well, recent articles and studies confirm applying for jobs online is gambling:



The following sample statistics for one Boston-area company, provided to me by the VP of Human Resources, illustrate the odds faced by job-seekers:

  • They moved forward with (considered) 5.8% of the total applicants.

  • They hired 5.1% of the people they considered.

  • They hired 1% of the total applicants.

Now let’s compare winning a job at this company with winning the WSOP:

  • WSOP entrants that received a payout: 15%

  • Applicants that received a job: 1%

Clearly, when applying for jobs—just as when playing in the WSOP--- you face tough odds.

In both cases, the same old same old, won’t work.

So, how do you overcome these tremendous odds?

  1. Networking and referrals.

  2. Differentiation.

Networking and Referrals

Ask job-seekers how they spend their time and most will tell you “applying for jobs online.”

And as we’ve demonstrated here, that’s the wrong approach. That’s playing the lottery.

Stop gambling. Start networking. Find someone to hand your résumé to at the company or at least act as a referral for you. Hiring managers want referrals. They trust their employees; so, they automatically trust referrals more than unknown internet submissions.

Networking is so proven that the US Department of Labor recommends job-seekers spend 85% of their time networking.


Too many job-seekers are following dated advice. They write traditional, conservative résumés that include everything they did or were responsible for. Meanwhile a hiring manager scans a résumé for six seconds on a first pass.

In addition, most applicants typically submit boring cover letters that use the standard three-paragraph format and add little or nothing to their application.

This is the equivalent of playing it safe in the World Series of Poker.

If you really want the job, you must differentiate yourself from the other applicants.

You must be able to state why the hiring manager should I hire you instead of the other 6,758 people!

Differentiate yourself through your résumé: Focus on accomplishments. Use some color. Selectively use large font or italics. Use a text box to include a recommendation. And of course, include the needed keywords on your résumé.

Differentiate yourself through your cover letter: Throw out the standard three paragraph format. Compose a compelling first paragraph that will catch the reader’s attention.

Write with passion. Don’t regurgitate your résumé; use four or even five paragraphs to show how you are better and different.

Need samples or further advice? Here’s a place to start:

Remember the Definition of Insanity

Some job-seekers understand all this, but too many others aren’t comfortable networking or promoting themselves; so, they stick to applying online with standard résumés and cover letters. Like a person at the slot machine who pulls the handle, they think that this time it will be different. They’ll be a winner—next time.

But, why would it be any different? Why expect a different result after doing the same-old same old? Isn’t that the classic definition of insanity?

If you don’t network and differentiate yourself, you might as well play in the next World Series of Poker. At least, there, a decent player has around a 15% chance of getting a payout. If you need poker lessons, I’ll be happy to refer you to John.

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