Most people have no idea how often they’ll need to play the job-hunting game throughout their careers. But research shows that it is one of the most essential survival skills – one that you’ll be forced to revisit time and time again.

Why? Because according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • 69% of people between the ages of 18-24 last less than 1 year at their job
  • 93% of the 18-24 age group last less than 5 years at a job
  • 75% between the ages of 36-44 last less than 5 years at a job

The fact is this: It’s unlikely that you’ll stay at any job for a long time.

This is why job hunting is a game of survival that you’ll be playing for the rest of your life.

You could even be playing the game at least twice every decade and as many as 10 times throughout your entire career.

You may even be in the middle of playing the game right now. And if you aren’t, you will be soon. And this is a game that you cannot afford to lose.

Play to Win the Game

You play to win the game! Hello? You don’t play to just play it!” – Herman Edwards

When I was in college, I realized that winning the job-hunting game was far more complicated than just submitting my résumé to job applications online.

My dream job while I was in college was to work at an investment banking firm in New York City. It was all I ever thought about. I studied the stock market every single day as if my life depended on it. I listen to every podcast and read every book I could find to improve my skills.

I perfected my résumé, I mastered my cover letter, and I foolishly thought that I was the perfect applicant on paper.

In my eyes, there wasn’t an investment bank in the entire world that wouldn’t want to immediately pick up the phone to call me in for an interview after looking at my résumé.

But to my disbelief, after applying to nearly 100 different banking jobs during my junior year of college, not even one of them responded back to me.

Then, my rejection anxiety started kicking in. I started realizing this was not going to be as easy as I thought. 

What if I had to settle for a job just to say I had a job after graduation?

What if I my only option was to take a less glamorous job that I knew I was going to hate?

What if I didn’t graduate with a job at all?

Your Odds of Post-Grad Career Success Are Against You

A 2017 study by Accenture found that 54% of recent college graduates between 22 and 27 years old are underemployed in their first job out of college.

What does underemployed mean?

It means you are working at a job that doesn’t require a college degree. Kind of like graduating with a degree in engineering but having to work at your local coffee shop until you land an engineering job.

But this isn’t the worst statistic that you’re up against. If you end up being someone who is underemployed when you enter the workforce, you will have more than a 66% chance of still being underemployed five years later, according to a Burning Glass Technologies and Strada Institute study.

Even worse, if you end up being underemployed for five years, you’ll have a whopping 72% chance of still being underemployed after ten years.

Can you imagine paying thousands of dollars for a college education only to be working ten years later at a job that requires no degree?

Too many people are graduating from college without having the one thing they went to school for in the first place: a college-worthy job. And unfortunately, the consequences are real.

A 54% percent chance of becoming underemployed in your early 20’s is far too high for you to play around with. This is why your first few jobs in your early 20’s are so important.

If your first job out of college matches your level of education, you’ll have an 87% chance of still having a similar position that matches your education 5 years later. This is why your early 20’s career holds the key to how your career will unfold for the rest of your life.

If you start off underemployed, your odds of staying there increase dramatically. But if you start off with a job that matches the market value of your degree, you’ll be in a much better position to start building a great career. This is a game that you must learn how to win today. 

But to win any game, you must first analyze the moves of all the players in the game to secure your best outcome. When you can anticipate the moves of other players, you can strategically coordinate your moves so that you’ll be one of the winners.

So who are the players?

Game Theory

In the movie A Beautiful Mind, there is a scene where a blonde-haired woman walks into the bar with four of her brunette friends.

A group of four men across the bar become instantly mesmerized by the blonde, their eyes glued to her every move. While each of the men then begin strategizing about how to win over the blonde woman, one of the men, John Nash, gets an idea for a different strategy. Instead of pursuing the blonde, Nash thinks each of the men should all ignore the blonde and flirt with her friends instead.

Nash’s theory suggests that if they all focus on the blonde, they’ll each block each other from succeeding, and not a single one of them will win her over. They’ll then try to cut their losses by making moves on the brunettes. But this won’t work either. The brunettes will deny them too because none of them will want to be a second choice.

So Nash suggests that they each pick a brunette as their first choice. That way, they won’t need to compete with each other, they won’t insult the other women, and they’ll all increase their odds of success.

The strategy is a win-win situation for all and it’s a perfect example of Game Theory: the study of how players in a game should mathematically or logically act to secure the best outcomes for themselves.

Your job-hunting strategy should be no different. You must make decisions that will maximize results for you. This is especially important in a world where you have more than a 50% chance of starting your career underemployed.

Game theory can be used in almost every situation that life presents to you. There are always going to be logical decisions you can make to maximize your results in a game.

But it is not just your moves that matter. As Nash discovered, you need to be analyzing and considering the moves of others to be able to secure your best outcome.

At the end of the day, your life can be thought of as a big game with a bunch of players, each trying to maximize results. When you look at it this way, you’ll come to realize why it is so important for you to get better at playing the game.

Are you Playing the Wrong Game?

The number-one reason people in their 20’s struggle to build successful careers is that they are not playing the same game as employers. In fact, employers are playing a much different game than you. Their game involves moves that contradict yours.

Let’s look at the game that you are playing as a job seeker.

If you’re looking for a job, your strategy for achieving that goal is going to be geared toward maximizing your time.

Why is time the most important factor?

Time is the most important factor to you because if you’re unemployed, you need to start earning a paycheck as quickly as possible because you don’t have much time until your cash reserves are depleted.

Time is also the number-one metric for an individual with ten years of professional experience who has just been laid off from a job. That person might have kids, a mortgage, and bills to pay. The loss of income from being laid off must be replaced quickly before the person goes bankrupt. Time is of the essence.

If time is the most important factor in your job search, then what type of strategy should you implement?

The majority of people believe that focusing on their résumé is the most rational decision to maximize their time and results. Once the résumé is perfected, they can instantly apply to hundreds of jobs online that might suit them. After all, what else could be more effective than being able to apply to hundreds of jobs all in a matter of a few days? In theory, you are increasing your odds of success with every résumé that you send out, right?


While online résumé submissions may seem like the most rational move to maximize your results in the game, this move is the least effective strategy at securing your best outcome.

The problem with this approach is that is fails to consider the moves of the employer and how those moves impact your strategy and outcome. To come up with your game-winning strategy, you must first consider the other key player in this game – the employer.

Play the Game by the Employers’ Rules

What is the most important factor to an employer’s hiring strategy?

Unfortunately, it’s not time like it is for employees.

Instead, it is risk.

Risk is the number-one concern of every employer looking to hire someone.


Because the last thing an employer wants to do is hire you and then find out that you’re a bad fit. There are many concerns going through the minds of hiring managers when they’re interviewing you.

You could end up not having the skills that they thought you had.

Or it could take you too long to complete tasks on the job.

You might even turn out to have some character flaw that creates toxic relationships with everyone in the office.

The list of risks associated with hiring someone goes on forever. You better believe that all of these worries are at the top of the employer’s mind when evaluating you. Bad hires can cost an employer as much as $240,000. Hiring managers don’t want to screw this up.

That $240,000 of cashflow comes straight out of the employer’s pocket. It’s a sunken cost that no employer wants to pay. Many employers suffer from these types of replacement costs every day. The stats show that 75% of demand for new employees is to replace workers who have left the company. A good portion of that could be due to bad hires such as people who were let go for lack of skills.

How to Beat the Employer at their Own Game

So how does an employer manage this risk?

How do they reduce the probability of making a bad hire that costs them hundreds of thousands of dollars?

What’s their most rational move to make sure they hire only the best people?

The lowest risk strategy for the employer is to hire people who can prove that they know how to do the job. Hiring managers are looking for people who have proof of their skills.

If the employer has proof of your skills before hiring you, then the employer will have successfully reduced a significant amount of risk for the company because they’ll know you won’t be a total flop after being hired.

There are three ways that the employer can go about finding applicants with proof of skills.

  1. Hire a friend of a current employee: An employer will always trust the recommendation of a valued current employee. If their current employee can vouch for the friend, then the employer will almost always bring this friend in for an interview. Most companies incentivize their employees with bonuses when they recommend a friend for hire. Internal referrals like these are how most job openings are filled.
  2. Hire a former employee: This could be a former temp worker, a former consultant, or a current employee who can be promoted to the empty position. All of these choices are low risk because the employer has already seen the work of these people. The employer trusts that they would be good hires.
  3. Hire someone whose work they’ve already seen: This is a common approach in any job in which your work or results are public. If employers like what they see, they can attempt to hire people away from other companies.

After reviewing these three search strategies for employers, one fact becomes clear:

Employers like to give economic opportunities to people they know and trust. Your job is to become the person who they already know and trust.

If you can do that, you’ll be the one targeted during this phase of their game. To do that, you’ll have to abandon the résumé game and replace it with the game of building powerful connections in the marketplace.

Why You’re Losing the Game

Employers are playing a game ofrisk while you’re playing a game of time.

These are two different games.

Employers are taking their sweet time looking at the internal referrals of friends, at former hires, and at potential workers they can hire away from competitors. All three of these strategies reduce their risk of making a bad hire. They’re looking for skills from trustworthy sources, and they’re willing to take their time to make sure they do it right.

On the other hand, you’re playing a game of time, which involves spraying hundreds of résumés out as quickly as possible to get quick results.

The problem is that employers don’t want to use the résumés they’ve received online to fill the opening. They don’t want to have to resort to reviewing applications of people whose work they’ve never seen. It’s a risky way to hire.

An employer sometimes won’t even consider evaluating online applications until after they’ve exhausted the three search efforts that show proof of skills.

They usually don’t need to evaluate résumés submitted online at all—only 15% of jobs are filled through online job boards. This is because employers are so good at filling jobs internally.

It’s why so many jobs are filled through internal referrals and networking. It’s more efficient for the employee, gives them more trustworthy hires, and reduces their overall risk.

So while you’re slaving away at writing hundreds of résumés and cover letters, you are really only targeting 15% of the total available job market. The other 85% is hidden. All the hiring is happening behind closed doors.

This is one of the reasons why more than 50% of college graduates in their 20’s today are underemployed. Hundreds of thousands of people fighting for just 15% of the available job market. That’s a lot of demand for a small piece of the market.

According to Glassdoor, the average job opening attracts 250 résumés, and only 2% of those résumés will be called for an interview. If you’re one of the lucky 2%, you still need to win that interview to get the job. So while you’re applying online to only 15% of the available job market, you’re competing with as many as 250 other people for that one job.

These are poor odds for your success, and they are the reason you’re preparing to build a failing career.

The Formal Job Market vs. the Informal Job Market

What you’ve just learned are the basics of the formal job market and the informal job market.

What’s the difference?

The formal job market is the 15% of the market that’s filled through online job boards and advertisements.

The other 85% is the informal job market.

Some people also call the informal job market the “hidden job market” because many of these openings are never posted online. They are filled through relationships before the company even needs to post the job to a board or to their website.

The formal and informal job markets are two entirely different games.

The Informal Job Market Game

The screening process for the informal job market does not depend on what your GPA was, where you went to school, or anything else you want to put on a résumé. It depends on human relationships and skills. It all stems from the connection that you’ve built with employees who can refer you as a friend and potential hire.

As mentioned already, people like to give economic opportunities to others who they know and trust. This is why being able to connect with powerful people is more important than the knowledge you have. It all comes down to the emotional intelligence of the applicant.

The Formal Job Market Game

In contrast, the formal job market depends more on what your GPA was, the school you went to, and other résumé-related information.

At the end of the day, it’s just a résumé competition. But it’s still only 15% of the job market, and you only have a 2% chance of getting an interview in that tiny market. This is a game of scarcity.

There are a small number of jobs up for grabs and there are millions of bachelor’s degrees awarded each year. Those figures create a big multiplayer game of students all going for a small sliver of the market. You need to acquire that scarce resource that everyone else wants so badly. To do that, you’ll need to find a shortcut to game the system.

In A Beautiful Mind, John Nash might have told you that the formal market is like going for the one blonde woman in the bar. Everyone is going after that small piece of the market and they are all blocking each other out. No wonder so many college students and young professionals are struggling with underemployment. Almost everyone is playing a game that is almost guaranteed to give you poor results.

If you can broaden your view of the bar, you’ll see that there are many other romantic interests out there for you to go after. Your odds with them are much greater, too.

The same is true for the job market.

All you need to do is learn how to build relationships with a few well-connected people who can introduce you to their deeper network of connections. This is how you dominate the informal job market, maximize your results, and secure your best outcome in the game. The game all comes down to building a world-class network while you are in your 20’s.


Connections, relationships, and networks create the bulk of your success in your 20’s. Knowledge is important too, of course, but it can only take you so far. Social capital is what will take you to the next level.

If you want to build a successful career without the fear of becoming underemployed, you must place the majority of your focus on being a relentless relationship builder. If relationships, connection, and empathy are the secrets to launching a successful career, then it would only make sense to put most of your effort into this activity throughout your life.