The topic of handshakes seems to linger over us like a bad smell from the minute we manage to gurgle our first words. While this might be a slight over-exaggeration, it is important to remember that this timeless greeting is just that: timeless. Just because we don’t always feel it necessary to shake someone’s hand, it is practically written into our DNA to offer this wordless greeting.
So is a good handshake really that important? In short -Yes.
The handshake is a basic social interaction that us humans often use to ‘figure out’ whoever we’re greeting, even if it’s on an informal or even subconscious level. This basic human instinct to greet someone with an outstretched hand can be dated back to times when two tribesmen might have exchanged the greeting to show that they weren’t carrying any weapons. Obviously, this isn’t the common reason why an employer wishes to shake hands nowadays, but it is important to keep in mind that greetings are a part of our history, and were created for particular purposes.
One of these purposes is to judge. That may sound ridiculous, but this simple action can give the employer (or anyone) an instant judge of character based on the ‘technique’. The difference between one candidate succeeding over another for the same job could be as little as how they came across from their handshake, so it imperative to take the gesture seriously.
So what makes up a good handshake?
If you type “bad handshakes” into Google, you will be bombarded by posts about ‘weak/limp’ ones and ‘crushing/overpowering’ ones. So what are these, and why should they be avoided?
Weak and Limp:
This refers to the kind of handshake where it’s all a bit half-hearted. There’s not enough grip and no gusto in the shake itself, which can give the impression that you’re not particularly interested in being there and/or not bothered about the person you are meeting. These are two things you would definitely want to avoid conveying in a job interview or any interview.
A way to avoid this is to ensure you are shaking from your elbow, never from your wrist. Your elbow will do all the work for you with a nice, confident (but not overpowering) handshake.
Crushing and Overpowering:
This type of handshake often gives the impression that you’re trying to assert your dominance, and in a job interview that is obviously not what you want to get across to your potential employer.
Try to avoid extending your hand with your palm down, because this body language really conveys the message of dominance; remember that you want to be equal and so treat the handshake in the same way.
The same goes for grip. Don’t try and squeeze their hand to death in order to look more professional! Match their grip and it will seem like a perfect handshake to them.
Whatever happens during your handshake, make sure you maintain eye-contact. This is important because it is all part of the unspoken signs we can pick up on within each other’s body language.
Obviously there isn’t a perfect formula for this greeting, but – like most things in life – it does get better and more natural with practice. I don’t mean go around vigorously shaking any stranger’s hand and then asking for feedback, but perhaps start to asses situations with a more ‘employer’ head on and work out when is an appropriate time to introduce yourself with a more formal handshake.