A poker pro is an ice-cold customer. Capable of besting their opponents with their sharp senses and carefully planned poker face, they thrive in high stakes, high stress situations. Unlike the pros, most of us try to avoid stressful situations in our lives. Unfortunately for us though, a job interview is a scenario that all of us will likely face at some point.

Pre-interview jitters are absolutely normal – in fact 92% of people surveyed by Anxiety.org admitted that they got anxious before job interviews. However, since the job market is becoming ever more competitive, we have to make the most of these brief introductions to employers. So, how can we channel the poker pros and make sure we leave a job interview with all the chips?

Start out easy

Even the biggest poker pros have to start somewhere. They may play low stake or even no stake games with mock money. The more you get used to the mechanics of ‘the interview game’, the less intimidating it will seem in that big interview. Whether you’re a hardened interviewee, or putting your first foot on the job ladder, it’s helpful to take any interview you can get. Even if you don’t intend on taking the job, it’s an opportunity to practice. Start with more simple, low pressure interviews to start honing your skills and by the time you get to your dream interview you’ll be ready.

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Images sourced from “The Interview: Use Poker Skills to Get a Job

Rehearse your moves

Poker is primarily a psychological game, but there are also practicalities that come alongside it. In a game, the way you place cards or move your chips can all affect the way other players perceive you. In an interview, the way you act can again have a big impact on the outcome. When you attend a job interview, the rooms and people may be different but they will follow a lot of the same conventions. Practice entering a room and introducing yourself to the interviewers with a group of friends, shaking interviewers’ hands and making eye contact. It might feel silly, but it will certainly help you feel less nervous when you have to do it for real.

Know your cards

Once you’re in a game, it’s just you and your cards. Top players will always memorise their cards, that way they’re not forced to recheck their cards and interrupt the flow of the game. If you enter an interview without an idea of what you’re going to say, there’s more chance you’ll get nervous and give off the wrong impression. Notes are fine to use as a reminder, but it’s best to try and memorise the headlines from your CV. Anticipate typical interview questions, such as “Can you give me an example of a time you’ve lead a team of people successfully”, and prepare your responses beforehand.


Play to your strengths

A good player knows their strengths and makes the most of them. If you start trying things that you don’t feel comfortable with, you can leave yourself vulnerable to savvier players. The person interviewing you is likely to be a senior member of staff and they know what they’re doing and exactly what they’re looking for, so you need to be at your best. Don’t try and be anything you’re not, and instead enthuse over what you’re truly passionate about.

Read your opponent

Reading your opponent is vital skill for a poker player to learn. All players have different playing styles that affect how you approach them during a game. Being able to spot the tell-tale signs of a novice or expert player can really hep. Every interviewer you face will be different too, and being able to read them as a person can be a huge help. Although you may have prepared your answers, be prepared to improvise. If your interviewer starts cracking jokes, it may indicate they’re open to a more casual interview style. If they maintain a serious tone throughout, maybe stay away from the ‘knock-knock’ jokes…

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React to ‘tells’

The poker ‘tell’ is something that all pros try to avoid. It gives an insight into what a player has in their hand, and means other players can easily take advantage. When a player sees these tells, they have to react to them. In the same way as a nervous cough at the poker table can indicate a weak hand, look out for tells from your interviewers that might indicate how well it’s going. Pay attention to things such as whether they look interested or if they are distracted and looking at the door. Whether positive or negative, tackle the issue head on. If they’re disengaged, lean forward and engage them. Do their ears perk up when you talk about an element of your experience? If so, try to elaborate and make the most of it.

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Play your poker face

The stereotypical poker face is cold. It’s a technique used to remove all emotion from the poker table, so other players are left in the dark about what you hold in your hand. Although you probably don’t want to show so little enthusiasm in a job interview, it’s also advisable not to overplay everything. Being overly keen can be just as bad as looking disinterested, and you want to maintain at least an element of leverage in the situation. If you reveal all your weaknesses from the get-go then, if you do get offered the job, the employer has the upper hand.

Learn from your losses

If you don’t learn from your experiences at the poker table then you’ll struggle to improve. Whenever you lose a hand, there’s a reason behind it. Did you underestimate an opponent, play a lazy hand or not think fully about all the eventualities? Whatever the reason, you need to learn from it to make sure you don’t make the same mistake again. The experience you gain from multiple job interviews is invaluable but can be so much more useful if you break down the successes and failures of each analytically. Look back on interviews after they’ve happened and note down anything positive or negative you noticed. Ask for feedback from interviewers and figure out how you can do better next time.

Don’t be afraid to call their bluff

Calling a player’s bluff is a risk in poker, but one that can really pay off. In the same way, an employer may start to discuss salaries during an interview. If you think they’re ‘lowballing’ you, then don’t be afraid to be honest. Pay expectations are a very personal thing and will be different for everyone. Don’t go too overboard with requests, but remember: you’ve been invited for an interview because an employer is impressed by you, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve.

Don’t worry about the money

A high stakes poker player doesn’t see the money when they’re playing. They may see the chips, but they’re concentrating on playing the best game possible, and that’s what you need to do as an interviewee. Rehearsal and practice should make you more confident, but it’s best to focus on making sure the meeting goes well. If you start worrying about your future (potential) job and not how the person in the room perceives you, then you’re not focusing on the right thing.