The secret to getting a job may be in your hands—literally. Your handshake is one of the most important first impressions you’ll make in an interview, according to Monster staff writer Lily Martis (Nail the handshake, land the job). Interviewers are said to make up their minds about a person in the first two or three minutes of an interview, during which the first handshake takes place. A good handshake has the power to both diminish the impact of a negative impression and make a positive interaction even better, according to a Beckman Institute study.
A recent post on the Jails to Jobs website (The importance of a handshake in a job interview) points out that job seekers are often trained on how to talk, dress and answer questions in a job interview, so candidates may tend to look and act alike to varying degrees. However, our handshake is perhaps more individual and subtle, so it may communicate something beyond our dress or physical appearance. Studies have shown that a handshake can improve the quality of an interaction, producing a higher degree of intimacy and trust within a matter of seconds.
So what makes up the key ingredients of a gold-star handshake? Here are some tips from The Muse Editor (Why Your Handshake Matters (and How to Get it Right), adapted from the writings of Olivia Fox Cabane) and from Monster’s Lily Martis:
Make sure your right hand is free. Shift anything you’re holding to your left hand well in advance so you aren’t fumbling at the last minute. If your hand is sweaty, wipe it off. If it’s cold, warm it up before you arrive at the interview room.
Be the first to reach out
When you first meet and exchange hellos, make the first move. Interviewers who are assessing your interpersonal skills may be looking to see if you feel confident enough to bring out your hand first.
Consider your body language
If you’re seated, stand up before shaking hands. If you’re standing, keep your hands out of your pockets to look more open and available. Keep your head straight, face the person fully, make direct eye contact and smile warmly.
Make solid contact
To ensure the right level of contact between your hand and the other person, keep your palm flat when you reach out to shake. Tilt your fingers down and scoop up into the handshake—instead of just sticking your fingers out and letting the other person grab them. Your hand’s web goes up into the web of the other person’s hand, so you get full palm-to-palm contact.
Hold on firmly
Give the person’s hand a firm grasp to set the tone that you’re confident.
Give it a pump…or two
It’s important to be in the moment and not rush a handshake. Once full contact is made, lock your thumb down and squeeze firmly, about as much as the other person does. Shake from your elbow (not your wrist), about 1-3 pumps. You can linger for a moment if you want to convey particular warmth, then release and step back.
Repeat all of the above at the end of the interview
At the end of the interview or conversation, shake hands again as a way to seal the deal. Say something positive while you’re reaching out, such as “I’ve really enjoyed meeting you and think I could hit the ground running in this position.”
Try practicing with friends or family, especially before a job interview.
Handshakes to avoid
There are a number of handshake blunders that you should try to avoid, including:
- The Dead Fish is a limp, lifeless hand extended and just barely shaken. It’s the type of handshake that can ruin a meeting before it even begins.
- The Knuckle Cruncher may be a macho display, but could also be the result of a person genuinely unaware of his (or her) strength.
- The Dominant is a hand extended palm down, which could convey the intention of having the upper hand in the interaction.
- The Two-Handed involves the left hand closing in on the right hand, wrist, arm, shoulder or neck, which is only acceptable when the person you’re meeting is already a good friend.
- The Short-Fingered results when fingers are not extended enough to make good contact and may convey a lack of confidence.
A handshake is a universal greeting that can express confidence, convey a sense of connection and help create a positive and lasting impression. If your handshake is as polished and perfected as the rest of your interview skills, it could be a subtle but critical factor in nailing your interviews and landing your next job.