Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Crosspost: Going From Poker Pro To Poker Industry Pro

This is a crosspost from content I originally wrote as a two-parter for Ultimate Poker's content page, "The Rail".

Online poker had a tremendous effect on the lives of a number of young people throughout the 2000s. Prior to the last decade, to earn a high-income living as a young person, you needed to be a brilliant inventor or entrepreneur, an extremely talented and famous actor or singer, or maybe a professional athlete in a major sport. Obviously, this represented only a tiny percentage of the population of all young people.
But in the 2000s, with the first online poker boom, a great number of young people were suddenly able to earn high incomes playing online poker. Many intelligent young people put their university and college educations on hold or skipped them entirely because the allure of making far more money than any newly-minted graduate at an entry level position would make – and all by playing a game they loved.
Many of these young people would go on to become tremendously successful poker players and stars of the game. However, not everyone made it in the long run. Some players “burned out”, tiring of the online poker grind. Others saw the games they were playing in getting tougher and tougher as their opponents grew more educated, resulting in a major drop in income.
These players on the margins were now in a tough spot. The former pros found themselves in their mid or late 20s looking for work, but lacking both formal education and any significant traditional job experience.
The good news, if you’re one of these people, is that your experience playing hours of online poker, participating in forums, and generally being involved in the poker industry, makes you a valuable asset to online poker sites, including Ultimate Poker. At Ultimate Poker, we employ dozens of poker players in customer service, game room operations, product management, marketing and technology – all the way from entry level to senior executive.
Whether your poker industry experience ends up being as valuable as that engineering or law degree your parents wanted you to get will be a function of your own talent, skills, and attitude – but the point remains that you do offer relevant experience to companies like Ultimate Poker who are headquartered locally. 
Now I’d like to talk about how to get that job. The key thing to remember when entering the workforce is that despite your job or education gap, you bring value to poker companies! You provide skills and experience. The problem is, so do hundreds or even thousands of other poker pros who find themselves in a similar spot. How do you stand out from the crowd?

Do include a cover letter, always. A customized cover letter is how the person reading your application (hiring manager or HR manager) knows that you spent the time to apply for position with this company and that you didn’t just spam the same resume to dozens of companies. It also should show you communicate effectively.
Do brag about what you know about poker. The cover letter is a good place for this. If you’ve played 2 million hands of poker on 10 different sites, you’re familiar with MTTs, SNGs, and cash games in hold’em, Omaha, stud and draw, brag about it here. While the hiring manager is probably not interested in how many final tables you made or what your lifetime BB/100 is, they certainly are interested in the breadth of your poker and gaming knowledge.
Do demonstrate your knowledge of the company. You should know a lot about the company that you’re applying for, whether it is low-level things like promotions and game features, or high-level items like jurisdictions and relationships with partners.
Do mention why you want to work for the company. A phrase that I absolutely love to see in a cover letter is “dream job”. More than any phrase on any cover letter, this makes me more likely to give a person an initial phone interview. Enthusiasm counts. Of course, you’ll have to be able to follow this up in both the phone and live interview, or you’ll be a big disappointment.
Do be specific about what job you want. “I’m really knowledgeable about poker in general, and I think I could fill a variety of roles in your organization.” I’ve seen this one many times, and honestly, I’d bet that it’s true most of the time. But you also have to realize that even in a new startup like Ultimate Gaming, applications are likely to be siphoned through a more traditional HR manager with a lot of corporate experience in more traditional brick-and-mortar based companies. So, even though you think you would be good at everything, you should indicate exactly what position you would like to have within the company. Gaming companies need people with all kinds of skills, from IT infrastructure to accounting to software development to customer service to marketing. While people with great general knowledge can bring value to any gaming or poker company, it’s the specialists who get noticed by HR.
And obviously, be realistic. If you are willing to work in an entry-level position but you say you’d be well suited as a Senior VP, well, it’s not very likely that the HR manager will consider you for that entry-level position.

Do not be quiet and demure in your interview. A lot of good poker players are real introverts. And while they are often intelligent, thoughtful and would make tremendous assets to any organization, it simply doesn’t come out in the interview. Your interviewer is not Phil Ivey staring you down for tells, so you shouldn’t be staring blankly, talking softly, and avoiding eye contact. Be engaging and demonstrate that you’re an individual with a personality, the kind of person that people want to have as a co-worker.
Do not hide any skeletons in your closet. In both Nevada and New Jersey, employees have been required to undergo background checks to work for Ultimate Gaming. While it is not always an absolute dealbreaker to have been previously convicted of a crime, it most likely is a dealbreaker if you aren’t immediately upfront about it. Additionally, the more senior the position in the company, the more likely that your background will be thoroughly investigated, so if you harbor hopes of one day being a senior executive in a gaming company, you’ll want to be honest from the get-go.
Do not misspell the name of the person you’re applying to. Seriously, this happens with alarming frequency. It’s not that I’m so egotistical I can’t handle having my name spelled incorrectly, but if I see it that way — after I’ve already corresponded with you — I’m going to be think that you’re not a detail-oriented person, and if you can get something like this wrong, you’ll probably get other things wrong too. I definitely don’t think that poor spelling is necessarily an indicator of lack of intelligence, but when there are potentially dozens or hundreds of people all applying for the same job, why stick out for all the wrong reasons?
There are plenty more dos and don’ts I could mention, but that would start to stray from the topic of how to go from poker player to poker industry into being a general “how to get a job” essay. But if you keep these points in mind, you’ll find yourself a lot more likely to land your desired position in your preferred company.
Until next time, best of luck – regardless of which side of the virtual felt you find yourself on.