Why Is Your Handshake Important in an Interview? (+ Tips)

It’s an art you need to master.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Interview Handshake

Stepping into an interview, you’ve likely prepared answers to tough questions. Yet, before you speak a word, your handshake initiates the conversation. It sets the tone for the interaction and conveys your confidence.

In this article, you’ll discover why mastering the handshake is key to making a memorable impression. From the firmness of your grip to the timing, we’ll cover it all.

Get ready to shake hands like a pro, whether you’re meeting face to face or navigating the nuances of a virtual introduction.

Why is your handshake important in a job interview?

Let’s talk about why a proper handshake can be a game-changer in interviews. It’s more than just a greeting; it’s a non-verbal cue that speaks volumes.

1. It conveys confidence

Your handshake acts as a silent herald of your self-assurance. A firm, not overpowering, grip accompanied by a few vertical shakes and appropriate eye contact reflects a confident demeanor. It suggests that you’re composed and sure of your abilities. According to ERE, the handshake can be a first impression to everyone in the room, not just the interviewer.

2. It establishes a connection

Handshaking is a social ritual, one that fosters connection. A warm, proper handshake can break down barriers, creating a positive first impression. It’s a signal that you’re open, friendly and ready to engage in a professional exchange.

3. It reflects interview etiquette

A correct handshake is a fundamental part of interview etiquette. It’s an acknowledgment of the interviewer’s presence and a sign of respect. By doing so, you’re aligning yourself with the norms of professional interactions, which interviewers notice.

4. It signals preparation for a face-to-face encounter

In a world where virtual meetings are normal, a face-to-face interview might feel daunting. A polished handshake signals that you’re prepared for this more personal level of interaction, setting the stage for a productive meeting.

5. It teaches you cultural norms

In different cultures, handshaking has its own set of rules. Knowing the appropriate handshake etiquette can mean you’re sensitive to cultural norms. This awareness is particularly important in a diverse workplace or if you’re interviewing with a panel from various backgrounds.

What does your handshake say about you?

Ever wonder what your handshake is telling the person you’re meeting? It’s like a business card you hand over without the print.

  • Confidence: A firm handshake screams self-belief. It tells the interviewer you’ve got this, you’re not fazed, and you’re ready to take on challenges.
  • Friendliness: The warmth in your grip can make the room a bit brighter. It says you’re approachable and you value the new connection you’re making.
  • Professionalism: The proper handshake is your silent pitch for professionalism. It shows you’ve done this before and you respect the formalities of a professional setting.
  • Enthusiasm: That extra bit of energy in your handshake? It’s contagious. It shows you’re excited about the opportunity and eager to contribute.
  • Attention to detail: The right handshake — not too strong, not too weak; just right — demonstrates that you pay attention to the little things, and in a job, that counts for a lot.

How to shake hands

Navigating the handshake can be tricky, but it’s your secret weapon for a standout first impression. Here’s a step-by-step guide to perfecting your grip for that next interview.

Step 1: Be the first to reach out

Step into your interview with a proactive gesture: reach out for a handshake right off the bat. It’s a silent announcement that you’re engaged, ready to participate actively. Being the initiator shows confidence and a can-do attitude. It’s not just courtesy; it’s strategy.

This first move can set a positive tone, showing you’re serious about the opportunity. Plus, it eases you into the interaction, proving you’re not just another candidate — you’re one who takes the lead.

Step 2: Lock eyes

When your handshake begins, it’s crucial to lock eyes. This isn’t about intensity; it’s about connection. A steady, engaging glance conveys authenticity and readiness for dialogue. It’s the perfect partner to your handshake, ensuring you appear both sincere and personable.

Be mindful, though; it’s a gentle balance — prolonged eye contact might be overwhelming; too brief may seem distant. Paired with a warm smile, this eye contact can set the stage for a genuine rapport with your interviewer.

Step 3: Get the grip right

Perfecting your handshake grip is essential. You’re aiming for firm but not forceful, a balance that signals confidence without intimidation. It’s about respect, too — showing you grasp the unspoken nuances of professional interaction.

Your handshake should be poised and purposeful, leaving no doubt of your seriousness, yet it should also be warm, welcoming further conversation. This delicate equilibrium in your grip speaks volumes before you’ve exchanged a single word.

Step 4: Shake their hand

Once contact is made, shake from the elbow with an assured yet accommodating rhythm; two or three pumps should suffice. This part of the handshake is your unspoken pitch, where the right tempo showcases your ability to be both decisive and collaborative.

Consider it a brief dance where your poise can either captivate or disconcert. Aim for that sweet spot, a tempo that’s engaging and indicates you’re in sync with the nuances of professional interaction.

Step 5: Release

When it’s time to let go, do it with assurance. Ease out of the handshake with the same confidence you started it. A smooth, controlled release, not rushed or limp, conveys a comfortable transition from formal greetings to the conversation ahead.

It’s a sign that you handle both the structured and spontaneous parts of the interview with ease. Make the release as impactful as the initial contact — it’s the subtle close of one act and the opening of another.

Step 6: Repeat at the end of the interview

Conclude your interview by mirroring the initial handshake. It’s more than a simple “thank you”; it’s a reaffirmation of the professional bond you’ve fostered.

In both one-on-one and panel interviews, this final handshake is your closing statement. It leaves a durable impression of your professional demeanor. This gesture bookends your conversation, encapsulating your earnest interest and respect for the opportunity.

Tips for improving your handshake

When you’re up for an interview, mastering the handshake can be just as important as perfecting your résumé. Here are five actionable tips to help you ensure your handshake matches the professional you are.

1. Practice with friends

Working on your handshake with a friend can make a big difference. It’s not just about firmness but also the right approach and withdrawal. Seek a friend’s feedback on your grip — it should be solid but not intimidating. Also, practice how you extend and retract your hand, as these are just as important as the handshake itself.

The goal is to make your handshake feel like a natural part of your interaction. With repeated practice, you’ll strike the perfect balance: a handshake that conveys confidence and sets the stage for a positive interaction. When the actual interview day arrives, your handshake will be second nature, ready to make a great first impression.

2. Mind your approach

The way you approach for a handshake can set the tone for the interaction. Walk in with purpose, your posture upright, engaging with a steady gaze as you extend your hand.

This kind of entrance exudes confidence and sets a positive tone, even before your palms touch. The few seconds before the handshake are just as crucial, conveying to the interviewer that you’re composed and ready to engage. Let your body language do the talking; ensure it’s saying the right things.

3. Keep it dry

Sweaty palms can betray your interview nerves and spoil a handshake. Here’s a fix: keep a handkerchief handy for a swift wipe before greeting someone. A pre-interview trip to the restroom? Use it to cool your hands under cold water, which helps prevent dampness.

These simple steps ensure you extend a dry, comfortable hand, setting the stage for a confident and favorable first contact. Remember: it’s these small details that often leave a lasting impression.

4. Be mindful of your surroundings

In a face-to-face scenario, the space between you and the interviewer should be free of barriers. Before extending your hand, ensure no objects like chairs or bags are in the way. This helps facilitate a seamless handshake.

When you’re in front of a panel, try to offer a handshake to each person if it’s practical. This shows respect to all present, and it acknowledges their importance in the decision-making process.

For virtual interviews, where a physical handshake isn’t an option, substitute it with a warm nod and a clear “Hello” or “Nice to meet you”. Even though you’re not physically reaching out, this approach keeps the spirit of professional courtesy alive and leaves a good impression.

5. Reflect and adjust

Take a beat to evaluate each handshake; consider the firmness of your grip and your stance. Too forceful or too faint? Too near or awkwardly distant? Fine-tune these elements for next time.

As you engage in more handshakes, you’ll notice gradual improvements. This isn’t just about getting the pressure right — it’s about crafting a handshake that’s an authentic representation of your professional self. With practice, your handshake will naturally convey the confidence and competence you bring to the table.

Handshakes to avoid

When it comes to interviews, not all handshakes are created equal. There are a few you’ll want to steer clear of to make the best impression.

  • The politician’s handshake: Avoid this double-handed grip; it can come off as insincere in an interview. It’s over-the-top for an initial meeting and can encroach on personal space.
  • The left handshake: Stick to the right hand. The left is not only awkward for most people but also breaks the norm, leaving a confusing impression.
  • The dead fish: A limp handshake can suggest a lack of confidence. Always go for a firm — not crushing — grip to convey assurance.
  • The bone crusher: On the flip side, an overly strong handshake can be seen as aggressive. Aim for a balanced grip that feels comfortable for both parties.
  • The lingering handshake: A handshake that goes on for too long can make the other person uncomfortable. Keep it brief; a couple of seconds is just right.

Is it appropriate to shake hands?

Heading into an interview, you might question if a handshake is the right move.

Generally, a firm handshake is the go-to move to kick off your interview with a professional vibe. But it’s not always so straightforward. According to PubMed, a case study showed that while women received lower ratings for handshakes, it did not appear to directly lower their overall assessment of employment suitability.

Consider the context. Health concerns, like during a pandemic, may shift norms. It’s best to follow the lead of your interviewer in such cases. They’ll let you know if a handshake is on the table, so to speak.

Cultural differences can also dictate whether a handshake is appropriate. For example, in Japan, a bow replaces the handshake. It’s respectful and customary there. Similarly, with Muslim women, the norm can vary — it’s a sign of respect to wait for a handshake offer, if at all.

In face-to-face or panel interviews, being perceptive to social cues is essential. And in a virtual interview, replace the handshake with a nod and clear verbal greeting to maintain professionalism.

Carry these pointers with you to adeptly handle handshaking situations. If hesitancy arises, just know the importance of a warm smile, coupled with an acknowledging nod can serve as a universally accepted gestures. These simple, yet effective, signals can instantly warm up the atmosphere, creating a favorable starting point for any interaction. They are the silent yet powerful communicators that convey politeness and set a constructive, engaging tone for your meeting.

Final thoughts

To wrap up, the importance of preparing for interviews is important in itself. Nothing should be overlooked, and handshakes can’t be overstated — they are a hallmark of professional greetings.

But it’s crucial to be mindful of the situation. A proper handshake can set the stage for a successful interview, reinforcing professional courtesy and leaving a lasting impression. However, always be aware of the current health guidelines, cultural practices and individual comfort levels. Above all, respect and adaptability are your best allies in navigating these nuances.

With these insights, you’re now better equipped to handle any handshaking scenario with confidence. Good luck, and remember: sometimes, it’s not just what you say but how you physically engage that communicates your enthusiasm and respect for the opportunity.

Got a question? Let us know in the comments section below.

Originally published in March 2015.