Handshakes 101

Is your handshake keeping you from getting hired?

Posted Sep 15, 2011

This morning, I had the distinct pleasure of waking up in NYC. A treat in and of itself, but in lieu of a jaunt around Central Park–I was in town to meet up with none other than Hoda and Kathie Lee.

I was asked to join them today for a segment on "The Science of the Handshake"–or, how NOT to screw up your next job interview. This is a very timely and important topic, given the employment hardships many of you are facing right now.

We all know that first impressions are critical, in fact, many human resources administrators acknowledge that they have reached a decision within 2-3 minutes of initial contact. In fact, they may have decided whether or not they will hire you before they get to the nitty gritty of where you want to be in five years or what your biggest character flaw is.

Nope–they've already reached a decision based in large part upon your appearance (is it professional or ready for 'da club?), the level of eye contact you provide (is it appropriate amounts or to leery or creepy?), and yes, even your handshake plays a huge role.

Too hard, and you come across as domineering or forcefull.

Too soft, and you may seem weak or noncommittal.

Do not even get me started on limp noodle, the beggars pose or the bone crusher. We would be here all week.

Instead, let me point out a few key elements that together - make up the perfect handshake.

1. Aim for a moderate firmness. This is scientifically referred to as in between bone crusher and limp noodle. Ok, so I made that one up–but think about it: the best handshakes are the ones that leave an impression without breaking bones. Think firm but gentle. Practice on a piece of fruit if you have to. You shouldn't be mashing or breaking the skin on a ripe plum, but your shake should have a firm enough grip that the fruit can't be knocked out.

2. Palms sideways. Don't go for the underhand (beggars pose) or overhand (dominating) approach to handshakes. By putting your hand in sideways, palm in, this shows that you and your shaking buddy are on equal ground. Even though one of you may have the figurative upper hand, don't sell yourself short by giving them the literal one. Display confidence without arrogance!

3. No sweat. If you are a sweaty one, go to your interview prepared. No one wants to have some strangers sweat on them (ewww), so if you tend to drippy drip, make sure you have a napkin or tissue tucked away somewhere. Be sure to pat your hands as close to shakin' time as possible so that you don't gross out the hiring manager. Trust me–this is NOT the way to land your dream job! (Heavy sweaters should check out the TODAY clip for a hot (ha!) tip on how to handle those sweaty palms.)

4. Handshake Bookends. Sure, you might start your interview with a firm, well-handled handshake. One huge mistake job applicants make is letting that moxie fall with their goodbye handshake! If your hello handshake rocks the house (think greeting an A-list actor or the President), but your good-bye handshake falls flat or never happens, what kind of impression does that leave? First impressions are important, but so are departing ones. Be sure to close your meeting with a firm, confident shake. Make your good-bye stand out–you will be remembered for it!

Listen: In today's competitive job market, every moment of an interview counts. You need to bring your A-game from beginning to end, and that includes paying attention to the details. Get the handshake right, and it could mean the difference between your dream job–and NO job.

 Check out the rest of the appearance on TODAY for additional tips and fun facts!

Janine Driver is the NY Times Bestselling author of You Say More Than You Think and the CEO of The Body Language Institute in Alexandria, VA.

She prides herself on her stellar handshaking ability. Want to find out for yourself? Visit her @ www.lyintamer.com or www.bodylanguageinstitute.com.

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