Avoid Gambler’s Fallacy in Your Job Search

There was a famous roulette game in Monte Carlo in 1916 where the ball landed on black 26 times in a row. After the 25th time, how many gamblers must have been thinking:

“Surely it will land on red next time?!”

Well, it landed on black one last time. They likely lost a lot of money. 

From one roll to the next, the odds of the next roll being black are still 50/50. Just because there has been an (unbelievably long) run of reds doesn’t mean that the next roll is more likely to come up black. That is the nature of “gambler’s fallacy.”

The cognitive bias of gambler’s fallacy can manifest itself in two ways:

  • A belief that if a specific independent event happened more frequently than expected in the past, it is less likely to occur in the future.
  • A belief that if a certain independent event happened less frequently than expected, it is more likely to come about in the future.

When the stakes are high in life, such as in a job search, flawed notions can affect our thinking and influence our behaviours and decisions. That can be harmful.

When independent events are not linked, expectations of a systemic reversal are misplaced.

During a job search with lots of independent events going on simultaneously, adopting such flawed beliefs is a genuine temptation. 

If all things are roughly equal (and this is a big “if”), assuming that you have a decent CV and are applying for the right roles, you might think that your chances will increase with every application you send and every interview that you attend.

Of course, being in the running for more roles will give you more opportunities, but like the gambler at the roulette table, your chances of securing each individual (and similar) role are still roughly the same. You may be better suited for some positions than others, but when you compare like-for-like opportunities, your odds of getting each one will be the same if you apply to five of them as they are if you apply for fifty.

If you put in a mediocre effort with a lot of roles, it is likely that you will get none of them.

So, the gambler’s fallacy lesson here is that no matter how many irons you have in the fire, you need to put in your maximum possible effort with each one. The volume of opportunity does not influence the individual chances of getting that one dream job.

There is, therefore, a solid argument to only focus on roles where you can give your maximum effort. If you find yourself cutting corners, maybe you need to scale back on the volume of applications? Busy job search fools will get nowhere fast.