Valuable Career Lessons You Can Learn from Poker


‘Career’ can be a scary word. There are connotations there that suggest a state of permanence. Like once you get into a career, you are stuck forever and cannot get out. Your career binds you, doesn’t it? Over time, you become your career. Well, this doesn’t have to be the case. Careers can be rewarding, flexible and fulfilling. You just have to know how to approach them.

The game of poker provides the perfect template to draw career lessons from. Like most careers, it is competitive, requires a high degree of skill and specialisation, demands long term focus and dedication, yet allows for flexibility and creativity. Let’s see what inspiration we can take from poker that can help our careers.

Know the Game

You can’t really play poker without knowing the game. Well, you can, but you won’t last very long. The sharks will hunt you down and take your chips. Depending on how ruthlessly capitalistic your industry is, this could well happen to the inexperienced apprentice of any field.

In poker, you can’t just act without knowing the rules and strategy of the game. The best results come from knowledge and expertise. The same is true of any career.

It takes time to learn how to play poker. New players can look at poker strategy for beginners and work up to a more advanced understanding of the game. Similarly, anyone training for a new career will start with the basics, working up to a complete understanding of the field.

Sit at the Right Table

In poker, the ‘right table’ generally means the weakest table. Skilled players want to sit down with less skilled players in order to take their chips. This is how pros find more of an edge. As such, game selection is incredibly important in poker.

Sitting at the right table is also important during your career, though in this case it has the opposite meaning. You want to choose the right employers, companies and colleagues for you. People who will be able to help you to learn, grow and push your boundaries.

A career is largely about navigating this job landscape to find not only the right level of job in terms of skill, but also rewarding work environments and suitable company cultures.

Negate Risk

In poker, players must negate risk in order to be successful. This means keeping stakes to a limit in line with the player’s bankroll and capabilities in order to ride out statistical variance. Bankroll management spreads risks across multiple games, so that the player doesn’t stand to lose too much in one hit.

There’s also a concept known as ‘pot control’. This is where poker players use the ‘check’ option, or make small bets to keep the pot at a reasonable size when they are out of position or in a marginal situation.

Risk is usually associated more with business than it is with job-based careers, but careers also carry inherent risk factors. There’s always a chance you could lose your job, fail to break through into an industry after training, or simply not enjoy a chosen career.

This is why it’s important to spread risk in your career. You can do this by developing a wide skillset, one that makes you applicable and valuable to several job roles. You can also keep options open and aim for some level of flexibility in your career to avoid leaning to heavily on the success of a single company.

Take Calculated Risk

Sometimes, you have to take calculated risks

On the flip side, you will also need to take calculated risks at times. There’s no way to win at poker without first putting your chips in the middle of the table. Decent players bet big when they strongly believe (in a logical sense) that they have the best hand.

You will also have to take these risks during your career. This could mean applying for a high-level role, switching roles or companies, or even retraining for the same or even a new industry.

Bluffing is Overrated

Players who are new to poker often think that a high frequency of bluffing will be the key to their success. This is simply not true. Solid poker is mostly about having the cards and making value bets with them. Bluffing comes into it, but not as much as you think.

In your career, there will often be times when you have to sell yourself, such as when you come to writing your early CVs with little work experience. However, this should still be a presentation of the best you possible, and not an outright bluff. Employers will soon call you out on it, and if not your bluff will be exposed when you get on the job.

It’s better to be holding the cards. Make value bets using your own skills. Know what you are good at, and don’t be afraid to show it.

Learning and Practice

In poker, the learning never stops. If it does, players who were once well ahead of the game will soon be left behind. In the game, there’s also maths and odds, psychology and player typologies, position, stack sizes, blind levels and all sorts of factors to consider when making a move. The new player only thinks about their own cards, but the experienced player accounts for all of this.

You can NEVER reach a place where you can consider yourself the best in the industry. There’s no resting point, no final plateau of greatness. Industries change, technology evolves and best-practices becomes outdated. You have to keep up the pace and always keep learning.

Practice is also crucial for any poker player, and for any career. Once you get started, you can get a lot of your practice on the job as you progress up your chosen career ladder. Don’t be afraid to enhance your practice with extra training.

All About the Long Term

Poker is all about the long term. Those who fixate on short term outcomes, either of single hands or of single tournaments, will soon fail, or go crazy looking for that quick win. Successful poker players focus on consistently making the best decisions possible, knowing that the long term results will come.

This is perhaps the best career advice you can draw from poker. Play for the long term. You will experience hardship and failure, get knocked back in job interviews and struggle to get your foothold. Yet making the best decisions and staying focused will eventually lead to positive outcomes. Be in it for the long run and make it work!


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