The Key to Interview Success Is a Firm Handshake

close up view of business partnership handshake

Ask a career coach or an HR manager, or even Google, for some interview advice, and they’ll tell you the same things: research the company you’re interviewing with, practice common questions the hiring manager will likely ask you, dress professionally, arrive early (but not too early), bring extra copies of your CV, sit up straight, smile and, whatever you do, make sure you make a lasting impression. And one way to do that is with a firm, confident and friendly handshake.

But how exactly can your handshake help you land a job and just how can you master the perfect handshake?

The importance of a great handshake

Can you remember your last good handshake with someone? Probably not.

What about a lousy handshake? Can you remember one of those? I bet that’s a ‘yes’.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a crappy handshake (like the bone-crusher or the dead fish, for example), you no doubt remember it very well – and the person who gave you it. Bad handshakes are, quite simply, hard to forget, and they can negatively affect your entire opinion of someone.

Now, imagine greeting the hiring manager at the most important job interview of your career with a half-assed handshake. While your goal is to make a good and lasting impression (and convince the hiring manager you’re a perfect fit for the role), you’ll definitely make one – but it won’t be good and it definitely won’t end in a lucrative job offer.

Research conducted by University of Iowa business professor Greg Stewart confirms that a lousy handshake can ruin your chances of getting hired. The US study looked at 98 undergraduates taking part in mock interviews who were graded on their overall performance and hireability, while five handshake raters subtly marked them on their grip, strength, duration, vigour and eye contact.

The findings? Those who scored high with the handshake raters were also considered to be more hireable by the interviewers, while those with wimpy handshakes were judged to have less gregarious personalities and were less impressive – and, therefore, least likely to get hired.

In other words, your handshake is probably the most underrated tool in your job searching arsenal.

‘Jobseekers are trained how to act in a job interview, how to talk, how to dress, how to answer questions, so we all look and act alike to varying degrees because we’ve all been told the same things,’ Mr Stewart says. ‘But the handshake is something that’s perhaps more individual and subtle, so it may communicate something that dress or physical appearance doesn’t.’

Handshakes to avoid

Of the many bad handshakes you can give, let’s take a look at the very worst offenders – from limp and weak ones to sweaty and physically painful ones. Whatever you do, make sure you avoid these like the plague!

  • The bone-crusher: It’s generally accepted that your handshake should be a firm one. However, an overly firm handshake could convey the wrong impression, and this could imply that you’re aggressive and difficult to work with. In other words, a handshake whose sole aim appears to be injuring the hiring manager will simply ruin your chances of interview success.
  • The long handshake: You know, the one that goes on and on and on and on and on – much like the song ‘My Heart Will Go On’ (according to Céline Dion’s haters). A handshake should only last a few seconds; any more than that and it just gets super awkward – fast. Bottom line: avoid hanging onto the person’s hand as if you’re holding on for dear life.
  • The dead fish: The name says it all. It involves minimal effort, there’s barely any palm contact and it feels like shaking a limp, lifeless fish. It shows a lack of respect and interest, and it’s considered to be one of the worst handshakes ever.
  • The politician’s handshake: Also known as the two-hander, this involves placing your other hand over the handshake, thereby trapping the interviewer’s hand in your grasp. While your aim may be to appear sincere or form a strong bond with the hiring manager, it can be intrusive and signal that you’re trying too hard to earn their trust.
  • The clammy clasp: Interviews are understandably extremely nerve-racking, especially when you’re dealing with an intimidating interviewer, sometimes to the point of sweating buckets (figuratively and literally). However, there’s nothing grosser than having to shake a sweaty hand, so make sure you carry a tissue or a handkerchief in your pocket to wipe your hands on before you introduce yourself to the interviewer.
  • The look-away shake: Also known as the ‘Oh, look, there’s a taco truck right behind you’ handshake, it involves avoiding eye contact with the other person as if they were Medusa. It can show a sense of insecurity, shyness or a suspiciousness of people.
  • The left handshake: Just don’t. It’s simply rude and, in some cultures, viewed as disrespectful.
  • The bro shake: This particular handshake is generally used as an anchor to pull the other person into a man-hug. In other words, it has no place in the interview room.


How to give the perfect handshake

So, how do you get it right? How do you master the art of shaking hands, make a lasting impression and, ultimately, land your dream job? Check out the following step-by-step guide on proper handshake etiquette to find out.

1. Be the first to reach out

Make a point to be the one to make the first move, and initiate the handshake from four to six feet out. Meanwhile, make sure your right hand is free before you enter the interview room – shift anything you’re holding (like your portfolio, for example, or – God forbid – a cold drink) to your left hand to avoid fumbling around at the last minute.

2. Lock eyes

Making eye contact is imperative throughout the interview and not only during the handshake. It shows that you’re genuinely interested in the interaction and that you want to be there. Having said that, remember not to creep out the interviewer by staring.

3. Get the grip right

Make sure you grab the middle of the interviewer’s hand so that the webs of your thumbs are touching. Your grip should be firm but be careful: you don’t want them to feel like they’re shaking hands with the Incredible Hulk. That’s one lasting impression you definitely don’t want to make!

4. Shake it

This should be done in an up-and-down motion, never back and forth or side to side. While shaking hands, you can give it a pump or two, but never more than three times as doing so may make things uncomfortable.

5. Release

The perfect handshake should last somewhere between two and five seconds and no more than that. If you feel the other person is somewhat reluctant about releasing your hand, a great trick is to touch their shoulder or the handshake with your left hand and remove both hands at once.

6. Repeat

At the end of the interview, make sure to repeat the entire process. This is a great opportunity to say something as simple as: ‘Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I look forward to hearing from you.’

Tips and tricks

Before we go, here are some final tips to take into consideration:

  • Stand up! It’s incredibly rude to remain seated while shaking someone’s hand. This, of course, does not apply to those who physically cannot stand.
  • Make sure you offer a greeting before and during the handshake. You might say, for example: ‘Hello, my name is Steve Rogers. It’s a pleasure to meet you.’
  • Use the interviewer’s name when you’re introduced to them – for example, ‘It’s so nice to meet you, Mr Stark.’ If you’re being interviewed by a panel of people, you can follow up the initial greeting by simply saying the person’s name while shaking their hand. For example, ‘It’s so nice to meet you, Mr Stark… Mr Banner… Ms Romanoff.’ This will help you remember their names throughout the interview and it will also make a very strong, positive impression.
  • Follow the same process with everyone you meet at the company, including the receptionist. Oftentimes, a hiring manager will ask the receptionist about their interaction with you and may take their opinion into account when making their decision.

A well-executed handshake with the appropriate grip, duration and vigour says that you are strong, confident and professional – all qualities highly sought after by employers – and it’s a great way to influence the hiring manager’s decision. So, make sure you practice your handshake with a trusted friend or family member and use their feedback to start your job interview on the right foot – and don’t forget to smile and make eye contact!

Do you have anything you’d like to add? Has a bad handshake ever ruined your chances of getting a job? Join the conversation down below and let us know!

Don’t forget to check out our comprehensive guide on how to prepare for a job interview, which includes valuable tips on practising common questions, choosing an outfit and more.


This article was originally published in March 2015.