What Job Hunters Can Learn From Card Players

Managing frustration and other negative emotions that throw you off your game

Image by Thomas Wolter from Pixabay

“Won’t somebody just give me a chance? Anybody? Please!”

Have you ever had such a thought when going through a job search?

With dozens of people applying for each position, you can find yourself getting rejected over and over again. That is, if the hiring manager even shows you the courtesy of contacting you and letting you know you weren’t selected. Many don’t.

After a while, it’s so easy for all kinds of negative emotions to creep in. Feeling like you’re not good enough. Perhaps feeling angry, feeling like you would have got the job had that one interviewer just not asked such piercing questions. Worrying about what you’ll do if the money runs out.

All that negativity can weigh on you and take you out of your A-game when applying and interviewing. You go into the interview assuming the worst, and so you don’t perform your best. That leads to rejection, which in turn leads to you getting even more down on yourself, and you take that negativity into the next interview… it’s a vicious cycle.

Let’s learn how to break that cycle. Did you know that job hunters can learn a lot from card players?

a starting hand in the card game duplicate contract bridge
a starting hand in the card game duplicate contract bridge
Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

Adopt a championship bridge player’s mindset

For almost 9 years I worked at the organization that sanctioned the game duplicate contract bridge in North America. “We’re kind of like the NFL of bridge,” my future manager explained in the job interview. Pre-COVID, the company ran 3 national tournaments a year. It also sanctioned hundreds of smaller tournaments, as well as games in 3000+ clubs and online.

While working there, I had the honor of meeting some of the top bridge players in North America. One of the players I got to meet, Bob Hamman, is a Hall of Fame member and one of the top players of the past 60 years. He’s also an incredibly nice guy.

Bob is in the insurance business, but not insurance as you probably think of it. Let’s say you own a radio station. You want to run a contest offering a million dollars to anyone filling out a perfect NCAA tournament bracket. However, most radio stations don’t have a cool million sitting around in the bank waiting to be paid out. That kind of unexpected expense would bankrupt many stations.

Bob’s company, then, would come to the rescue. The probability of filling out a perfect bracket — picking the winner of 67 games if you count the play-ins, and 63 if you don’t — is astronomically low. So you’d buy insurance with Bob’s company for pennies (or even tenths of pennies) on the dollar. You’d have a small fixed expense that would easily be covered by the publicity the contest generated.

In duplicate contract bridge, you sit four to a table, you and your partner facing each other, and your opponents facing each other. You play the same hand as every other North-South or East-West pair, and your score is based on how well you play the hand relative to the others. You typically play 24–36 hands, or “boards,” as they’re known, per bridge session.

Bob became one of the top bridge players over decades for one reason: He understands to play each hand to the best of his ability, then once it’s done, to completely put that hand out of his mind as he starts on the next one.

Sometimes he’ll make a bridge contract that he knows will be the top result among all who are playing the same hand. That’s cause to celebrate — but only when he gets up from the table, after all the hands are over. NEXT!

Even top players bumble a hand every once in a while, make a head-scratching play that produces a terrible score. However, Bob knows the next hand is not the time to beat himself up over the previous one; rather, it’s time to play the next hand as if it were a fresh, brand new day. Each hand is a clean slate of its own. NEXT!

A lesson from poker players: Don’t go on tilt

“The strong point in poker is never to lose your temper, either with those you are playing or, more particularly with the cards. There is no sympathy in poker. Always keep cool. If you lose your head you will lose all your chips.” ~ William J. Florence

Texas Hold’em player holding pocket kings
Texas Hold’em player holding pocket kings
Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

In poker, there is the concept of tilt. You are said to go on tilt when anger, frustration, and irritation, usually associated with previous hands, overcomes you and impairs your critical thinking abilities on the current hand and future ones.

A player has to be careful not to go on tilt following a bad beat. That’s a hand in which you are a heavy odds-on favorite to win during most of its play, but then an opponent (often an opponent who should never have been in the hand in the first place) draws out and beats you on the final card dealt. It’s happened to me and it can be devastating to the ego — and the wallet.

If you’re sitting at the table and you feel yourself going on tilt, unable to make rational decisions about the cards in front of you, what do you do?

  • In a cash game, the best advice is to pick up your remaining chips and go home for the night
  • In a tournament, the right move might be to go outside and get some fresh air for a few minutes, and sacrifice the blinds and antes for any hands you miss

What does this mean for job seekers?

A bridge player might play 24 to 36 hands in a session. A poker player might play hundreds of hands in a cash game or tournament.

Likewise, a job hunter may fill out hundreds of applications and go on dozens of interviews before landing an offer. It can be quite discouraging.

However, let me give you a little hope. Searching for a job is different from playing card games in one significant way.

To be a winner at bridge or poker, you have to have a significant track record of making good plays on a regular basis. To be a winner at the job search, you only have to make one good play. If just one company offers you a job with a good salary, benefits, and work environment, every rejection you’ve received prior to that offers matters not at all.

That means you can afford to view each new job application, each new interview, as a clean slate far more easily than a championship bridge player can afford to look at each new hand as a fresh start.

Do your best to prepare for each application and interview. Make sure your CV is loaded with the right keywords. Do your prep in advance for the interview so that you can explain how your skill set is an ideal fit for the job, and so you can ask intelligent questions when it’s your turn to ask.

Once it’s over, though, let it go.

Searching for a job is a lot like playing poker: There’s a significant amount of luck involved. That’s why a successful poker player never places their self-worth on whether they won or lost a hand. The real question is, Did I play the hand as well as I could possibly have played it at every opportunity? If the answer is yes, be content, win or lose. If the answer is no, also be content, because you have an opportunity to learn something.

Why not apply a similar outlook to the job search?

“I never lose. I either win or learn.” — Nelson Mandela

Avoiding tilt

There are business coaches out there who will tell you, your job is to be the CEO of You, Inc. That means if your full-time job is not working 9 to 5, your full-time job should be spending the hours of 9 to 5 trying to find work.

I don’t totally agree with that.

As much as you try to look at each new application as a clean slate, there will be days when rejection gets to you. There will also be days when you just can’t find anything suitable to apply for. On those days, you may find anger, despair, and frustration creeping in.

If negative emotions cloud your ability to find opportunities and look at each of them as a clean slate, you’re on tilt.

And just as a poker player would respond appropriately by getting up from the table and taking a break — or taking the rest of the day off — you should do the same.

Treat yourself to a favorite meal or dessert.

Watch a movie.

Read a book.

It’s cliched advice, but it works: Take a walk in nature.

Come back to the search when you’re ready to bring your best self once again — just as a poker player would return to the table only after accepting the negative emotions, giving himself/herself time to deal with them, and returning with renewed energy.


Job hunting resembles bridge and poker in that there is an element of luck involved. However, it differs from those card games in that you only need to win once — you only need one good offer.

Treat each application and interview the way a bridge player would play a particular hand — do the very best you can at it, but once it’s over, put it out of your mind and look at the next job opportunity as a fresh start, a clean slate.

If at some point you find yourself overwhelmed by anger and frustration, do what a poker player on tilt would do — remove yourself from the game. Engage in self-care and give yourself time to get your energy in a better state. Once you’re recharged, you can return to the table.

Got any other tips to stay in a crisp, clear state of mind while on the job hunt? Leave them in the comments.

Let’s keep in touch! Feel free to sign up for my newsletter. Here’s a question you should ask in job interviews, particularly if you’re an introvert:

I write about writing, ideas, creativity, intuition, spirituality, life lessons. Ex-college teacher https://www.buymeacoffee.com/paulryburn Twitter: @paulryburn

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