Shake your way to interview success

Forget psychometric testing. Interviewers are still more likely to judge you on your handshake...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Are you a timid hand-shaker, clasping another’s hand with all the vigour of a wilting lettuce leaf? Or are you a bone-crusher with a formidable grip? Perhaps you’re somewhere in between: no-nonsense and firm? Whatever you are, it’s a good idea to identify your handshake style, and if necessary change it – because it could be denying you a potential job.

A recent study carried out by the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa (ok, so we haven’t really heard of it either) has found that a handshake is often more important than dress or physical appearance when it comes to making an impression on your interviewer – it sets the tone and makes you more memorable. You probably assumed the days were gone when a solid handshake was seen as the measure of a good chap, but now we have quantifiable evidence that it really is a significant factor when it comes to assessing job potential.

In the study, 98 students took part in mock interviews with local businesses. They also had their handshakes rated separately by five, erm, handshake-raters. The study found that the students who scored highly on their handshakes were also considered to be more employable: interviewers thought they had more extroverted personalities and were more at ease with small talk and eye contact. Whereas their less sturdy-handed counterparts were considered introverted and less socially impressive.

One concern raised by the study was that the focus on handshakes could work to the detriment of women, as they tend to have weaker grips than men. However, the study suggested that women are compensated for this relative lack of hand-power by having superior non-verbal communication skills.  And what of a woman with a strong grip? She’s ahead of the game. According to the study, a woman with a strong handshake is often more memorable than a man with an equally firm grip.

There is an obvious irony in all of this.  At a time when the recruitment industry is using increasingly complex and costly tools for measuring a candidate’s personality/ thinking style/ teamwork skills, interviewers are still instinctively swayed by the old-fashioned, simple handshake.

So what exactly constitutes a good handshake? Apparently it’s a combination of a firm grip, eye contact, and vigorous up-and-down movement. But remember, you’re not at the water pump - dislocating the interviewer’s shoulder is not recommended.

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