Happy St. Paddy’s Day

cherylSt. Patrick’s Day always reminds me of one of the most hospitable places I have ever visited, Ireland. She captured me at her first greeting; the way she extended her hand, so to speak, in friendship.

I am going to talk about our hand extension, the hand shake, which we use so often in interviews, networking and daily living. I will start with the lighter side of the handshake, what does not impress the folks and then explain how to get it right.

Unimpressive Handshakes

1. The Macho Grip – the person is trying to prove perhaps just how strong they are? Actually, most articles agree that this person is often trying to dominate or does not have a good sense of self.

2. The Wimp or Dead Fish – just the opposite. Either they really are wimpy or afraid you are and can’t take a firmer grip. Many suggest that this person lacks self-confidence or the desire to be in this situation.

3. The Politician – it’s two handed. Politicians often use it to try and convey sincerity. A modification on this one is for the person to place their other had on your shoulder while shaking your hand. It is considered appropriate if you really are a close personal friend.

4. The Cold, Clammy, or Sweaty – Geesh, wipe your hands, please. Admittedly, sometimes this is a little hard to control. Usually, it means the person is nervous or was holding something cold. 🙂

5. The Polite Society – they just extend their fingers. Are you supposed to kiss the hand or something? In one of my workshops I did have a gentleman who sincerely thought he should shake a lady’s hand this way. Take it from me guys; a good hand shake is important to us as well.

6. The Eternal – where the person just won’t seem to let go of your hand. This can get creepy.

Getting it Right

1. I am often asked in workshops who should initiate the handshake. Most etiquette gurus agree that it is most properly initiated by the person in authority, in the case of the interview, the person doing the interviewing. If you, the interviewee, do extend your hand first, don’t withdraw it or apologize for doing so, that is usually considered rude.

2. If you are seated wait until you stand before shaking their hand. Conversely, if the person is seated allow time for them to rise. Have you ever shaken someone’s hand when you were half way between sitting and standing? A little awkward wasn’t it?

3. Eye contact is extremely important whether networking or interviewing and since the handshake is often the first and last thing you do, be sure your eye contact is warm and smiling. Oh, do be smiling.

4. When grasping their hand, be sure your thumb is up and your fingers are together. Slide your hand into theirs until the two webs are touching.

5. Be careful of your nerves or strength. You don’t want to do “The Macho,” but on the other hand (pun intended) you don’t want to perform “The Wimp.” Think firm, but friendly.

6. How many pumps? Most “experts” say two or three. Move your arm from the elbow up and down opposed to back and forth. You are not sawing a log.

7. It should last between two to five seconds. For many five seconds gets comfortable, so look for clues. If you greet the person before and during the shake by the time you have completed the initial greeting you should release. Too long is creepy and too short is disingenuous.

8. What to do with your other hand? Don’t do “The Politician” hand shake. Have your non-shaking hand visible and unclenched. For an interview, you will have your portfolio in that hand so this question can take care of itself. Also, carry your drink in that hand to keep the other one dry.

This is how we typically shake hands in America, it’s not universal. Instead of addressing other countries’ techniques, let me refer you to What is Proper Handshake Etiquette Around the World.This will give you a place to start when going international.

Perhaps you are thinking “the hand shake is a bit more complicated than I thought?” To quote an Irish proverb, “Mamhaid ceird mura gcleachtar” (practice makes perfect).

Cheryl Sandifer is a Regional Facilitator with Workforce Solutions. In that role she has been able to apply her knowledge and experience as both an educator and social worker to conduct job search skills seminars throughout the Houston-Galveston area. She has had opportunity to work with those ranging from entry-level to C-level to help them find a job, keep a job, or get a better job.



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