Job Seeker Blog

Get a Grip: Handshaking 101
Tracy Laswell Williams, JCTC, CPRW, President, CAREERWritersHave you ever felt awkward during a handshake? For job seekers, possessing savoir faire in this age-old custom can be an important factor in establishing “chemistry” in networking events and those all-important interviews. For an incredibly detailed analysis of a seemingly simple act, read on.

Why do we shake hands?

Well, here’s one possible explanation. Back in the days of yore, most folks were armed with daggers. Upon meeting, those having peaceful intentions would hold out their right hands to show the other that they weren’t grasping a weapon. When both parties had extended a right hand, they would then grip them together until certain the other meant them no harm.

Why do we continue to shake hands today?

As a psychology major and business person, I believe that no important meeting should take place or conclude without a hearty handshake. Numerous psychological research studies indicate that even the briefest physical contact with another, if non-threatening in nature, improves strangers’ disposition toward each other and increases the likelihood that each will be honest and helpful during the interactions that follow.

A simple thing made complicated.

You know how to shake hands, right? Did you know that there are at least 10 key factors to bear in mind during a handshake? They include: timing; corresponding eye contact, facial expression, and greetings; pressure; positioning; velocity; number of shakes; plane; temperature; and humidity. Sound like a lot? You’ll get better with practice, so practice.

Timing: Upon meeting, a guest (interviewee/customer/subordinate in the same company) should wait a few beats for the host (interviewer/business owner/superior within the same company) to extend a hand. If the host does not extend a hand, the guest should. Offer a hand while looking in other person in the eye, with a smiling, and while speaking an introduction or one’s own name if this is the first meeting.

Upon conclusion of the meeting, the same protocol should be followed along with an appropriate thank you. If you are meeting with multiple individuals, shake everyone’s hand and learn their names by repeating them as you shake.

Pressure/positioning: Most gentlemen I meet these days offer a firm enough grip. The ladies, however, are another story. The proper way to shake hands is placing your hand fully in the palm of the other, web to web. A firm but not bone-crackling grip demonstrates sincerity. Many of the ladies with whom I have had the occasion to shake hands offer me only their fingertips and do not return the grip. An even more offensive handshake is the one where your hand is shaken and released in a semi-forceful downward manner. Etiquette experts say to reserve the “dead fish” handshake only in situations where you wish to telegraph your extreme displeasure with another individual.

Velocity/number of shakes: Upon greeting, two or three pumps of the hand in a not-too-fast manner will do. Upon conclusion of a successful meeting, perhaps three or four pumps at an even more relaxed pace should help end the meeting on a positive note. Do not touch the other party with your free hand during the handshake – this can be seen as aggressive behavior.

Plane: Perpendicular is the only way to go. If you extend your hand such that your palm is mostly down, that’s viewed as aggressive. Offering a hand with the palm mostly up is the opposite: passive.

Temperature/humidity: No, this isn’t a weather forecast. But nobody likes gripping a chilly or damp hand. Just prior to an important meeting, be sure your hands are clean, warm, and dry.

In our warp-speed and somewhat disconnected world today, we could all use a little more human warmth and connection. Be sure to offer a hearty handshake to as many as you can. And naturally, in non-business situations, whenever you can get away with it, give a warm hug instead!

About the Author:
Tracy Laswell Williams is a certified job and career transition coach who lets no detail go unnoticed while helping clients in their quests for “the perfect job.” This reputation has earned her the nickname “The ‘Martha Stewart’ of the Job Search.”

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