Monday, March 8, 2010

Ditch the Dead Fish: What Your Handshake Says About You

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig

Winter quarter is prime season for internship recruitment. As students perfect applications and prepare for interviews, we’ve seen many of you for counseling appointments and practice interviews. You’ve probably heard the same tips over and over: tailor your resume and cover letter, dress professionally, learn how to tell your story succinctly, send a thank you note, etc. These are all important pieces of the application/interview puzzle. But one aspect you probably haven’t thought much about is the “mating ritual” of the professional world: the handshake. Although it may seem like an insignificant part of your interview, this seconds-long gesture can have a big impact on an interviewer’s first impression of you. And as the old saying goes, there’s no second chance at a first impression.

So, you might be wondering, how can I convey that I am interested, excited and engaged just by pumping someone’s hand up a down? More importantly, how can I avoid scaring the interviewer, or creating an awkward situation? Well, first things first. Here is a list of the five handshakes you should avoid:

  1. The Bonecrusher
    This is the person who seems to think that their interest in the position is directly related to the amount of pressure they can exert on the interviewer’s hand. In reality, this is just a good way to turn someone off from the very start. Unless you’re interviewing for a position in mud wrestling, avoid turning the other person’s hand into pulp.

  2. The Eager Beaver
    In many ways, a handshake is a bit like a first kiss, with both parties waiting for it but neither sure who should initiate it. Although there’s no surefire way to avoid this slight bit of awkwardness, make sure that if you do go for a handshake, the other person is paying attention. You should always avoid just grabbing the other person’s hand and pumping it up and down—this over-eager approach won’t earn you any points with the interviewer.

  3. The Dead Fish
    There’s almost nothing more off-putting than this type of handshake. When meeting a potential employer, you want to convey that you are assertive, professional and engaged—and the dead fish does exactly the opposite. If you’re uncomfortable shaking hands with someone, just remember to grasp, squeeze gently for 1-2 seconds, and release: polite and inoffensive.

  4. The Cling-on
    Not to be confused with the alien species featured on Star Trek, a clingy shaker is like an ex who just won’t let go. Nerves and excitement can be a heady combination, but battle through the fog and remember that three shakes is plenty. Now move on.

  5. The Lefty Surprise
    Sadly for the lefties of the world, the right-handed majority is keeping you down—or at least as far as handshakes are concerned. This is one case where it’s better to blend in with the rest of the crowd and just offer your right hand, since the alternative is ending up with an awkward dance as you both struggle to connect. Unless there’s a clear reason you can’t shake with your right (i.e., your hand is in a cast, etc.), jump on the right-handed bandwagon.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, honestly, it’s just a handshake; how important can it be? The truth is, if you have a good handshake, no one is likely to remember it. But if you have a poor handshake, it can become a stigma of sorts—and it can definitely impact your chances of getting a job, as a University of Iowa study proved. Business professor Greg Stewart conducted an experiment in which students were sent into mock job interviews. In the interview, they met with a hiring manager and an undercover handshake rater. Afterward, each assessor gave the subject a score. It turned out that the students who had the best handshakes were also considered the most favorable candidates. Could this be a coincidence? Maybe. But regardless, in today’s economy, you want to give yourself every advantage possible. So if you want to be a mover and shaker, ditch the dead fish and put your best hand forward.

Do you have a favorite handshake story? Share your comments below! And remember, if you have questions about anything from your handshake to your interview wardrobe, CAPS is here to help.


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