Soft Skills: How To Shake Hands

handshakeThe sweaty palm. The vise grip. The pump handle. The dead fish. These are the handshakes that don’t create a favorable impression.

Although I’ve never heard of a handshake so bad it blew a job offer off the table, the perfect handshake is something every jobseeker needs. It’s a social skill that telegraphs to a new acquaintance what a fine person you are – that you know how to make friends, behave yourself, and yet have some spunk.

So, before your next job interview, review my pointers for what makes the perfect handshake. In just a few minutes, you can boost your likability score.

When to Shake Hands

You’ll be shaking hands as a jobseeker when –

  • You’re meeting someone for the first time in a structured situation like a job interview, meet-and-greet, job fair, or other networking event.
  • You’re greeting someone you’ve met previously.
  • You’re saying goodbye at the end of a meeting or interview.

Here’s How It’s Done

Stand up straight and stand close to the other person. But not too close. In a U.S. business situation the comfortable space between people is about two feet. It’s more than that if the person is Asian, and less than that if Latin American or from the Middle East.

It’s best if you use the person’s name when shaking hands, whether saying hello or goodbye or thank you. It flatters the other person and helps you remember the name. If it feels natural, you might add, “I’m glad to meet you.” Use the correct title or honorific, such as Mr. or Ms. or Dr.

Extend your hand with your fingers together and your thumb pointing towards the ceiling. Both your arm and the edge of your palm should be parallel to the floor.

Meet the person’s palm completely. The space between your thumb and fingers should connect with the same space on the person’s hand. No “finger shakes,” please!

Gently but firmly wrap your thumb and fingers around the person’s hand. Too limp and you’ll be perceived as uninteresting, weak, and lacking confidence. Too tight and you’ll appear aggressive and insensitive.

Shake your hand up and down a few inches just two to four times, no more. Then release your grip, maintaining eye contact the entire time.

Tips on Handshake Etiquette

Be politically correct. Shake hands with both men and women the same way.

Get up. Always stand for a handshake.

Show respect. Never have your left hand in your jacket or trouser pocket when shaking hands.

Follow the lead. In an interview situation, let the interviewer initiate the handshake, so as not to appear overconfident.

Know your place. Keep your palm perpendicular to the ground. Flipping your hand so your hand is on top makes you look controlling.

Keep it formal. Save your two-handed shake for social situations with good friends. Also, don’t place your left hand on the other person’s arm. It’s too informal and assertive.

Rehearse at home. Practice with a friend to get the perfect handshake down pat.

Stay dry. If you think your hand might be moist, find a discrete way to give one quick blot of your palm on your clothing before the shake.

Consider others. Don’t extend your hand to someone after blowing your nose. It’s better to say you have a cold rather than to appear rude by not shaking hands. If possible, take a medication before the interview to eliminate a problem resulting from an allergy or cold.

Rinse and repeat. If an additional interviewer arrives after your interview is underway, greet the second person by standing, smiling and extending your hand when you are introduced. Do this unless the person says something like, “Please, don’t get up.”

Greet everyone. If you are being interviewed by a committee, shake hands with each member of the group. Do this unless they are all seated behind a desk and only one of them gets up to greet you with a handshake.

Act confident. If the handshake comes off awkwardly, don’t apologize or comment on it. Just ignore it and move on.

A simple thing like a great handshake can further your career. Just like a pleasant voice, a clean appearance, appropriate body language, and polite manners, a warm and professional handshake is one more social skill that helps a jobseeker get hired.

Mir Garvy

Author: Mir Garvy

I’ve written resumes for 2,000+ job seekers just like you—and helped my clients land jobs with companies like Amazon, SAS, Google, Duke University, Travelocity, Cisco Systems, GlaxoSmithKline, Expedia, and IBM.