In the Amazon.com bestselling job hunting book “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed….Forever! we teach you how to approach getting hired using game theory. In other words:
- Hiring is definitely a game
- It has rules (which have dramatically changed since 2009)
- And there are strategies
What’s game theory?
In game theory, a game is an event or situation involving two or more players, in which each player may win or lose based upon the decisions that they themselves—or others— make or fail to make.
Furthermore, in game theory, strategy refers to the various options that a player can choose. Every player in the hiring game has a set of options and must choose one. A good strategy will be one that not only thinks through the various possible options but also includes the range of various possible outcomes that could result from implementing each choice, i.e., thinking through the various “uncertainties.”
Thus, one set of strategies that a player can choose between is a strategy of “inclusion” or a strategy of “exclusion.”
When faced with these two options from another player, you then should choose between a strategy of “playing to win” or “playing not to lose.”
- In the “hiring game” the strategy often played by the hiring company is a strategy of exclusion, NOT inclusion. In other words, all too often the hiring company, instead of looking for all of the reasons to hire someone, find all of the reasons to NOT hire someone.
- Thus, you as a player in the game on the “candidate” side, must, in turn, “play to not lose.”
One of the best analogies is high school football “try outs.” Even though I fully understand that 95% of the U.S. population will never have tried out for football, there really is no other comparison as applicable or appropriate to the hiring process. Read on and see why.
Each fall, at virtually any high school in the nation, upward of 200 young men, in the case of the larger schools, show up to try out for the football team. All of the hopefuls know that, on average, only about one-third of them will actually make the team. Still, they show up, hoping they will be among the chosen few. The odds facing a job candidate, of course, are even worse! Only one candidate is going to be successful for any given job opportunity and the number of applicants generally far exceeds 200!
In order to quickly “separate the wheat from the chaff,” most football coaches hold the dreaded “two-a-day” practice sessions, usually one two-hour session in the morning and another two-hour session in the afternoon. (These afternoon sessions can be particularly grueling in states like Texas or Oklahoma, where high school football is practically a religion, and afternoon temperatures are still flirting with the mid- to high-90s at this time of the day!) This extremely challenging regimen goes on for about two weeks in the typical high school football program.
Making the cut
At each practice session, the candidates run, run, run, oftentimes until many literally fall to the ground, exhausted and, at least for the time being, defeated. The goal, of course, is to push these young men to their absolute physical and psychological limits. Some of the hopefuls don’t have to wait to be “cut,” they merely take themselves out of contention because they either can’t—or won’t—make the sacrifices necessary to become part of the team.
To the casual observer, it appears that the football coaches are merely trying to determine which of, say, 50 to 70 young men they will actually select for the final team roster. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. What the coaches are actually trying to determine during this two-week period is which of the other 130 to 150 young aspirants they can eliminate from further consideration.
What does this have to do with job hunting? In a word: EVERTHING! Because that’s precisely how many, if not most, employers view any given pool of job candidates. They are not looking for whom to include, they are looking for those whom they can exclude! Harsh? Unfeeling? Not “fair”? Yes, yes, and yes, but that’s still the way it works, and you need to understand this right from the start of your job search. Failure to understand this key concept puts you behind the rest of “the pack” before the try outs have even begun.
So, just as is the case with the “football tryouts” analogy, you had better show up ready to “play not to lose”— and this is where personal branding comes in. You must make sure the brand “you” is sharper, more polished and differentiated than the “other” brands (i.e., all of the other candidates going after the same job) so that you won’t be among the first to be “cut” (excluded). Remember, the strategy for you in any game where one side is playing a game of exclusion is for you to “play to not lose,” i.e., make sure you don’t get eliminated!
Next week: What Angry Birds can Teach you About Getting Hired!
Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.