What’s in a handshake? A clue to whether or not you’re hirable

If you’re job hunting, hopefully, that first handshake will be the start of a long-lasting, productive rapport.

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What’s in a handshake? A two-second litmus test for your employer. He or she will be able to tell whether you’re hirable and whether you can be trusted. Studies show that employers make their hiring decisions in a blink. Your handshake is a crucial factor in that decision.

Are you confident in your ability? Or are you ambivalent? Do you belong at the company? A popular adage claims the eyes are the “windows to the soul,” but actually your handshake conveys just as much about you to a potential employer. It is a quick diagnostic of your personality — an X-ray of your corporate soul.

This is not mere hearsay. Since ancient times, handshakes have been a language in themselves. By extending their empty right hands, strangers could show they held no weapons and wanted to meet on peaceful, mutually beneficial terms. If hired, will you be the one who stabs your employer in the proverbial back? Of course not, your handshake says. You carry no knives; you have good intentions.


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Your handshake is also the beginning of a connection you will have with the recipient. If you’re job hunting, hopefully, that first handshake will be the start of a long-lasting, productive rapport. What about a fist bump or a friendly wave you ask? Unless the other person greets you this way, you will smooth the way for a better working relationship if you start with the traditional handshake. Why? Because a handshake communicates more.

Haptic communication, from the ancient Greek word haptikós, is a branch of non-verbal communication that centers on the sense of touch. When you use an appropriate handshake in a business setting, you’re showing that you understand and respect the unspoken rules of the workplace. In effect, you are saying to your potential employer, “I understand where you are coming from, and I belong here too.” You are also using the sense of touch to bolster the communication imparted by what you say and what you hear during the interview.

There is an etiquette to executing the ideal shake. If you are seated, be sure to rise. Make eye contact as you walk toward the hiring manager. When you are two feet away, lock eyes briefly and extend your right hand to his or her right. Clasp his or her hand for two seconds. Squeeze once. Flash a smile. And don’t forget to say something friendly, such as “Thank you for meeting with me today. I really appreciate the chance to learn more about XYZ company.”

Some handshakes to avoid:

1. Limp fish: This handshake may convey you are mealy-mouthed;

2. Football crusher: This handshake shows you were an athlete in college, but not necessarily the most sensitive businessperson;

3. Creepy handshakes: That show your intention may be arduous rather than professional;

4. Clammy palms: Which can often happen in a high-stress interview, but can be avoided by wiping your hands with a paper towel in the restroom right before walking into the interview;

5. Germ spreaders: It’s better to forego the handshake with a quick apology if you are sniffling on the day of your interview (at least you’ll get points for consideration).

If you don’t know what message your handshake transmits, ask to shake a friend’s hand and give you feedback.

A warm, friendly handshake will set the mood for the rest of the interview. When leaving, don’t forget to again shake your interviewer’s hand to continue the rapport.

Vicky Oliver is a leading career development expert and the multi-best-selling author of five books, including Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots, and 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions, named in the Top 10 list of “Best Books for HR Interview Prep.” She is a sought-after speaker and seminar presenter and a popular media source, having made over 901 appearances in broadcast, print, and online outlets. For more information, visit vickyoliver.com.


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