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Good handshake key to interview success


Good handshake key to interview success

Good handshake skills may predict the results of your next job interview. Recent research suggests that having a good handshake influences the opinion of those interviewing you.

Imagine this scenario:

On the way to a job interview you check yourself out in the elevator mirror. It’s all good: your suit looks sharp and there’s nothing green stuck in your teeth. You go over your patter in your head, rehearsing answers to questions you’ll likely be asked. By the time the elevator opens, you feel ready to knock this job interview out of the park! Caution: you could ambush yourself when you extend your hand.

Who would think a handshake could deep-six an interview? A recent news release from the University of Iowa cites research that shows handshakes matter more than we think. This study by University of Iowa business professor Greg Stewart is the first time researchers have quantified handshakes as part of the job interview process.

“We’ve always heard that interviewers make up their mind about a person in the first two or three minutes of an interview, no matter how long the interview lasts,” said Stewart, associate professor of management and organizations. “We found that the first impression begins with a handshake that sets the tone for the rest of the interview.”

The press release described how 98 students participated in mock job interviews with business representatives. At various times during their interviews, those students also met with five trained handshake raters who subtly introduced themselves and shook hands, but otherwise did not participate in the interviews. The handshake raters scored each student on handshaking. Interviewers graded each student’s overall performance and “hire-ability”.

The two group’s scores were then compared. The results? Those students who scored high with the handshake raters were also considered to be the most hirable by the interviewers. Professor Stewarts says, “The handshake is one of the first nonverbal clues we get about the person’s overall personality and that impression is what we remember.”

Six tips for great handshakes

There are some tried-and-true techniques to remember about a handshake:

  1. Aim for firm, but not bone crushing.
  2. Avoid the “finger tips” handshake; make web-to-web contact.
  3. Shake up and down. You wouldn’t think folks would need this next bit of advice, but—news flash—the motion of a handshake is up and down. In our business we shake a lot of hands and it’s surprising the number of times we get a left-right sideways handshake.
  4. Pump the hand three or four times — no more. Over shaking someone’s hand feels odd to the other person.
  5. Manage the “wet fish” handshake, if applicable. This is a challenge because it telegraphs nervousness. There’s a website for this problem, but before you resort to something drastic, a worthwhile exercise to practice shaking more hands, more often, in less stressful situations. Go to a networking event and don’t worry about anything except monitoring your handshake. After shaking hands with five people is your handshake drier? And by the tenth person, is it even better? If so, practice may make a difference.
  6. Make and hold eye contact with the other person. If you don’t do that, it doesn’t matter how firm and confident your handshake is. Lack of eye contact gives a powerful nonverbal clue, one that will set a negative tone for the interview. Here’s a tip: when you first shake hands try to figure out the color of the person’s eyes. That way you will make eye contact, guaranteed!

Although your handshake and making eye contact may seem like small things, they actually have a huge impact on others. Hone your handshake as well as your other basic interview skills.

Gayle Hallgren-Rezac is chief engagement officer for the Shepa Learning Company, a training and development company. She is co-author of Work The Pond! Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life (Prentice Hall) with Darcy Rezac and Judy Thomson. Visit The Pond at to sign up for a free weekly Positive Networking™ tip.

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