It Seems Like Such a Small Thing: The Handshake!

I have been in the business of interviewing candidates and listening to hiring managers talk about candidates for the better part of 20 years. This includes interviews with executives, leaders of large and small organizations, individual contributors, and people like you who are just getting started in their careers. I can’t tell you how many times I have been part of a debrief about a candidate, and someone will make the comment “boy, So-and-so really had a lousy handshake”.

These lousy handshakes come in a few different varieties (the dead fish, the fingers only, and the bone crusher are the most often cited), but immediately everyone will start agreeing with the person making the judgment and scrunching up their faces and saying some form of “eeww”. Now of course those people who haven’t been taught how to shake hands effectively still get jobs, but it can be surprisingly hard to get the group back on topic once a conversation about a lousy handshake has been introduced. And I can say with confidence, regardless of the rest of the skills the candidate brings, that the ones with lousy handshakes get talked about with less enthusiasm than reasonably capable shakers, and they get hired less often. What a silly and incredibly fixable thing to let derail your chances to get a job you really want.

Your handshake is one of your first and most noticed non-verbal communications, and people will make interpretations about your confidence, your directness, and what it will be like to work with you based, in part, on what they experience when they shake your hand. When you are just starting out in your career, doing this right can seem mystifying, so… Here are the basics:

  1. When you are meeting someone in a business setting (at least in the US) for the first time, a handshake is expected and appropriate. When you are joining a group or seeing a business acquaintance that you haven’t seen in a while, same thing.
  2. It is best to be facing that person directly, belly to belly and at a socially normal distance apart, when you are going to shake his/her hand.
  3. Offer your whole hand, not just your fingers or just the first part of your hand.
  4. Make eye contact with her/him, and hold it long enough to know what color their eyes are.
  5. Tell them how glad you are to meet them or to see them again.
  6. Apply enough pressure to be firm and not enough to be squeezing. A handshake should not be painful.
  7. If you are not sure what the right amount of pressure is, practice with friends. Believe it or not, even though many of us don’t know how to give a good handshake, we pretty much can all recognize when we are on the receiving end of a lousy one.

Still have questions or concerns about passing the firm handshake test? You can send me your questions, and we can set up a FREE thirty-minute call.