Handshakes Get Jobs

It’s a gripping issue: As students flood the marketplace looking for jobs, they – and in fact anyone facing a job interview, might be wise to think about their handshake.

It can say a lot about you in general, and in particular when you’re interviewing for a job.

Are you a floppy fish with the grasp? Or is yours firm?

Along with maintaining eye contact, smiling and appearing attentive in job interviews, how you shake hands can influence the prospective employer’s opinion.  A wobbly handshake can convey an anxious, shy or introverted personality.  A firm, solid handshake implies friendliness, ease in social situations and authority.

But is a handshake a real deal breaker in job interviews, and in sealing the deal at work?

Researchers Greg Stewart and Susan Dustin at the University of Iowa, Murray Barrick of Texas A&M University and Todd Darnold at Creighton University say handshakes can have an effect on your success in a job interview.

The researchers studied 98 undergraduate students for the quality of their handshakes during mock interviews and related the kind of handshakes given, to interviewer hiring recommendations.  The authors of the study measured the student’s personalities and asked them to participate in a mock interview.  They found that despite what the candidates wore or how they looked, the handshake had an effect on how the interviewer assessed the candidate for job suitability.

It turns out that handshakes communicate a lot.  And since it is one of the initial behaviours we engage in when meeting prospective employers, it can be critical to get it right.  A firm handshake has been linked to personality traits like extraversion and the ability to express emotion, according to the authors.

Being extraverted is a plus when it comes to getting a job.  Conveying an outgoing attitude through a firm handshake can be key to success in landing employment.  You seem persuasive, sociable and skilled interpersonally when a solid handshake is used as a greeting.

In the work world, being interpersonally savvy is increasingly important.  Employers are looking for people who can work well with others and collaborate.  The emphasis on teams underscores the need for people who can resolve conflict, behave non-defensively and be solution-oriented.  Employers value a  positive attitude or a can-do mindset.

The strong grip of a firm handshake can convey these abilities in a single nonverbal move.  It’s true that not everyone who has a great handshake is an exemplary team player, but in the process of trying to prove yourself on the job,  a firm handshake can get you in the door.  Without it, you may lose that chance.

The initial impression we make is key and it must be sustained once the job is yours.  So, concentrating on the way you come across at first is important.

Many elements, from physical attractiveness to comportment, to wardrobe choices have been linked to positive interviewer evaluations.  But interestingly, the researchers found that physical appearance and professional dress were not as important to interviewer recommendations to hire, as was the firm handshake.

So, dress well, but remember that the first handshakes are even more helpful in making yourself attractive to the employer.  We can’t do anything about our relative attractiveness, but we can offer a job-getting handshake.

But don’t squeeze your prospective boss’s hand so hard that it hurts. This kind of extreme handshaking behaviour can convey overzealousness, a lack of consideration for others, or an overly competitive and aggressive streak.

The researchers noted that when women have a firm handshake it can spell more benefits than for men who have a solid shake.  That’s because women typically have weaker handshakes and a women firmly shaking hands can impress an interviewer more, because it’s somewhat unexpected.  However, while women’s grips may be more tentative, they make up for the lack of strength in the handshake with the adept use of other non-verbals, including posture, eye contact and smiling during an interview.

Working on your handshake can give you a leg up in an interview and practicing the skill if you are unfamiliar with it is important.  Practice with a friend, as silly as it may sound your next job may depend on it.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership.  Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.  They can be contacted at: sunmail@newmangrigg.com

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