What’s in a Handshake?

The messages we send when we shake hands are more complex – and more powerful – than many realize.

The handshake dates back as far as the 5th century BC and are known to have been exchanged in ancient Greece. They are thought to have roots in peacemaking as a means of showing that the hand doing the shaking is devoid of weaponry.

When we shake hands today, chances are we try to demonstrate goodwill, trust and confidence. Shaking hands should show our strength – but in a good way. Handshakes aren’t supposed to make someone look like a bully.

A good handshake can tell a potential employer or networking contact a lot about you: how confident you might be (or not) and how trustworthy you are. Combined with a smile and sound eye-contact, your handshake can be one of your best weapons – oops, tools – for impressing a job-search contact.

Here are some things to keep in mind when shaking hands:

  • The hands should meet web-to-web, meaning that the expanse of skin between the thumb and the index finger of your hand should make a firm connection with the web on the hand of the other person.
  • If your hands don’t meet web-to-web, you’re in danger of succumbing to the cardinal sin of handshakes: thhandshakese limp fish. It sends a signal, as does a lack of eye-contact, that you don’t want to connect with the other person or that you’re weak. In a job-search you definitely want to connect, and you definitely don’t want to appear weak.
  • Your palm should be dry. If you think this could be an obstacle, there are over-the-counter hand antiperspirants, and some people have success using alcohol wipes, baby powder or cornstarch. If you still have an issue with sweaty hands, talk to your doctor.
  • Like Goldilocks and her quest for what’s “just right,” you don’t want your handshake to be too long or too short. A few brief up and down pumps is usually about right. Watch talk shows to see how hosts do it.

Of course, a handshake is just one way to make an impression on someone who can help you on your way. Consider reading these other articles for more tips, including information on dress, body language and etiquette:

Remember, getting your handshake and other basics right can boost your confidence and make the rest of your networking and interviewing experiences a lot easier. They can also help get you hired.

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