In a job interview, it is standard practice to shake hands with your interviewer when you first meet and at the end of the process. We use it to show respect. But can a ‘poor’ handshake damage your professional image and your chances of winning the job? Read our guide to handshake etiquette to find out.
What can you tell from a handshake?
A handshake is a simple physical gesture that provides a good indication of the size and strength of a person’s hand….and not much else!
One study conducted in 2000 in Alabama found a firm handshake correlates with the personality trait of ‘being open to new experiences’. Another study conducted in 2003 by the University of Ohio found there was no correlation between handshakes and eight different personality characteristics.
However both of these studies did find people made decisions with regard to whether or not someone made a ‘good impression’ or a ‘poor impression’ based primarily on the firmness of the handshake.
Why first impressions count when job searching
There are plenty of people who think that they can tell everything they need to know about somebody from their handshake, and first impressions have been found to be extremely potent and difficult to overturn once formed. So it is still important to get your greeting right in your professional life, for example during job interviews or when networking.
What is a ‘good’ handshake? You won’t go wrong with a firm, warm and dry gesture, with good eye contact. Stay relaxed – worrying too much will give you sweaty palms. If perspiration is a problem for you, make sure your hands are clean and dry before you go in for your interview.
Make a memorable impression in a job interview by holding onto their hand for one or two seconds longer than usual and increase the pressure of the grip. If they smile you know you’ve got it right. If they wince you’ve gone too hard. A look of alarm tells you you’ve held on for too long. And that’s a potential career catastrophe!
What not to do
You don’t need to get your gesture perfect. There are a few key things to remember: avoid taking too long being too quick; don’t be too strong or conversely too soft, and don’t be overzealous or weak.
Do you recognise yourself in any of these handshaker types?
The crusher: they crush your hand into dust – what are they trying to prove?
The corpse: there is no grip at all.
The twister: this person takes your hand and twists so their hand is on top, and then shakes it – they are trying to tell you they are a winner, they are in control and you will obey them.
The double hander: too much, too enthusiastic, too overwhelming. This should be saved for big occasions when both parties know each other well, not for the first time of meeting somebody.
The politician: this person grabs your arm or your elbow with their other hand.
The fish: this hand shake is all finger tips and no palm.
The jackhammer: when somebody pumps the hand up and down as if they are trying to rip your arm out of its socket.
The over-attached: they just can’t let go.
The throwaway: this person throws your hand away, making you feel a bit rubbish.
The timid: they’re looking at your hands not your face.
Why a handshake isn’t that important
The truth is, by the time you get to the handshake, you will unconsciously have a thousand or more bits of information about the other person. Any one particular gesture, handshake or way of sitting or standing doesn’t give away much information.
The way that we read body language is more about the sum of the whole rather than individual components. If the rest of your body language conveys contempt, nerves or aggression then having the best handshake in the world won’t help.
Likewise, if you have broken bones in your fingers or hand and have poor grip strength don’t worry. By the time you have got to the handshake, the interviewer will have already made up their mind about you and is probably looking for evidence to confirm what they already think (and whether to offer you the job!).
Reading their body language
Want to know more about somebody when you shake their hand in a job interview?
Pay attention to the rest of their body language and what it is telling you. Look at how they are standing, what they are doing with their arms and their expression before you greet them. Note what they are doing with the hand that is not shaking yours. This will tell you more about them and their state of mind at that moment than a handshake can.