Tag Archives: handshake

Nailing the interview process; part 5. First impressions matter

I’m sure you were told, as a child, to look the person with whom you were talking in the eyes. You were also instructed to deliver a firm, yet gentle, handshake; not a limp one. I bet you were told to smile, as well. Your guardians wanted you to come across as likable, because being likable would get you far in this world.

Handshake

Guess what; all of the lessons you were taught as a child apply today. Now that you’re an adult, you still need to maintain consistent eye contact, deliver a great handshake, smile, and more. And if you’re interviewing, your first impressions count more than ever.

It’s believed that 33% of employers will make a decision to not hire you within 90 seconds based on the first impressions you make.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But this is how important first impressions count, so don’t take them lightly. Let’s look at some interviewers’ pet peeves to make sure you don’t commit them in the interview.

1. Poor Eye Contact. Mentioned earlier, making the appropriate amount of eye contact is important. Which means that you don’t have to stare at the person for many minutes; that’s just creepy. You can look away occasionally, as this shows you’re reflecting.

Good eye contact shows engagement and implies trust. Poor eye contact may imply that you’re avoiding a question, you’re disinterested, or you’re lying. People who are shy need to make a concerted effort to make eye contact with the interviewers.

2. Not Knowing Enough About the Company. This is considered a first impression, because it shows you didn’t prepare for the interview. If you are asked what you know about the company, and you answer, “I was hoping to learn about the company in the interview,” you’ve failed at this very first important first impression.

Employers want to know that you have done your research on their company, as well as the position and even the competition. Will you come across as prepared, or do you appear to not care? It should be the latter.

3. A Lousy Handshake. To me the handshake is one of the most important first impressions you can make. It says something about your character. Your handshake should be firm, yet gentle. Don’t crush the hand of the person you’re greeting.

On the flip side, do not deliver a limp handshake, as this indicates indifference. The sweaty palm handshake is an immediate turnoff. Also annoying is the early grab, where you grab the interviewer’s fingers. The crooks of your hands should nicely fit together.

4. Fidgeting, Crossing Your Arms, Playing with Facial Hair. All of these are signs of body language that imply nervousness. You may not know you’re committing any of these faux pas, but interviewers can see you do them and be distracted.

Fidgeting and playing with your facial hair can easily be corrected by holding a pen or interlocking you fingers and placing them on the table. Crossing your arms can imply defensiveness or aloofness. You may simply feel comfortable talking with your arms crossed, but interviewers may see it as a negative stance.

5. Monotone Voice. The worst thing you want to do is talk in a monotone voice, as it implies indifference or boredom or even pretentiousness. You sound robotic when there’s no inflection or pitch in your voice. You lack enthusiasm.

This is particularly important during a telephone interview when the interviewer can’t see the enthusiasm on your face. So, you need to “show” your excitement through your voice. Occasionally you’ll  want to raise your voice or even lower it to make important points.

6. Not Smiling. This is what job candidates often forget to do during an interview, even people who have killer smiles. We are so intent on delivering the best answers that sometimes we forget to smile. Try to remember to smile, at least occasionally.

Smiling shows interviewers that you are friendly, welcoming, and happy to be in their presence. This is important, because interviewers want to know that you are enthusiastic about working for their company.

7. Poorly dressed. There is much debate as to how job candidates should dress for an interview. The general rule is one or two notches above the company’s dress code. What is the company’s dress code, you may wonder? Following are some suggestions for various occupations.

Sales/Finance/Banking. You’ll want to look formal and contemporary, which may include a grey or black suit for men with a color tie. Woman may want to wear a silk blouse beneath a suite jacket, as well as a skirt.

For education, IT, and public sectors; no suit, but a pressed shirt and nice slacks for men. For women, a skirt or trousers and a silk blouse.

Engineers, construction workers, warehouse workers may go with a simple shirt, maybe a tie for men. Women may wear a button-down shirt and slacks.

In all cases, refrain from heavy perfume and cologne. Women should not wear a lot of bling (jewelry). What’s most important is showing respect for the interviewer. There are no situations when you should wear jeans,  unless you’re specifically told to.


The first impressions you make can be your last ones, so make sure your start of on the right track. Enter the room and shake each persons’ hand, make eye contact, and smile. Show the interviewers that you’re happy to be there.

Next week we’ll look at how to answer the difficult questions.

Photo: Flickr, Flazingo Photos

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Your handshake matters more than you might think: 10 different ways to shake one’s hand

I wrote this article a year ago, but it’s worth reiterating how important a handshake is in your job search, business, and life.

I’m a firm believer that you can tell a lot about person’s character by his handshake. In a recent interview workshop, I told my attendees about my obsession with a good handshake and, as a result, a half  hour conversation ensued.

At the moment I’m talking about the the importance of making a great  first impression. I tell them, “Someone’s handshake tells me many things about a person. If it is firm, the person is trustworthy, open to engagement, warm spirited, confident, and basically someone who I’d allow my daughter to date.” They all laugh.

I get sidetracked and tell them about how my daughter dated a boy who shook my hand for the first time with a limp handshake. I told her soon afterward that her boyfriend better learn how to shake hands if he wants to get anywhere in life. She told me I was being ridiculous.

“If it’s limp,” an attendee speaks out, “the person is suspicious, anti-social; someone I wouldn’t want my granddaughter to date.” Laughter erupts. He has stolen my thunder.

An article on CareerBuilder.com states that a proper handshake makes employers overlook some deficiencies in jobseekers: “Prospective employers said they’re more likely to overlook visible body piercings and tattoos than an ineffective handshake, according to a 2001 survey of human resources professionals.” Though this article is dated, I think a good handshake is still a vital component of the first impression.

About.com, under an article about social disorders, talks about 10 “Bad Handshakes.” They are:

  1. “I am dominant”
  2. “Bone Crusher”
  3. “Limp Fish”
  4. “Just Fingers”
  5. “Cold, Clammy, or Sweaty”
  6. “The Double-Hander”
  7. “The Long Handshake”
  8. “Without Eye Contact”
  9. “The Miss”
  10. “Too Close”

I can relate most to the “Bone Crusher” because I’m an occasional bone crusher. I once shook a woman’s hand with such force that I thought I heard her bones being crushed, or at least shifting. She winced in pain. The handshakes that drive me mad and make me want to take a hot shower are the “Limp Fish” and “Cold, Clammy, or Sweaty.”

I reached out to my LinkedIn family and posted a question about the significance of handshakes, and there were some pretty good responses. One person, wrote, “The handshake is part of the first impression. Not so firm as to cut off my blood circulation and not limp like holding a slice of calf’s liver. And God help us, not sweaty either. So make sure your hands are dry before you extend a handshake.” I love the image of a “slice of calf’s liver.”

On the other hand, a respondent to my question wrote: “I’m interested in the information the person [has] to communicate to me, not peripheral customs like a handshake.” I appreciate his opinion; not everyone places so much stock in a handshake as I do. But I don’t buy it. The “Limp Fish” would send anyone over the edge, regardless of the information.

Wiki.answers.com writes extensively on the subject of the handshake, including the proper position. “Your body should be approximately two cubits (distance from fingertips to elbow) away from the other party. Your shaking arm should be bent so that the elbow forms a 135-degree angle, and the forearm is level with the floor. Your hand should neither be on top, nor underneath the other person’s hand. Both parties’ hands should be straight up-and-down, even with each other. The web of your hand (skin running between the forefinger and the thumb) should meet the web of theirs.”

Okay, some pundits go a bit far with their explanation of a proper handshake. I definitely feel that a person should maintain eye contact while shaking an employer’s or business person’s hand, but keeping her elbow at a 135 degree angle is a bit extreme.

My customers attend my interview workshop to learn the tricks of mastering the interview, but it’s important for them to master the first impression before the interviewer starts asking the difficult question. When I meet someone for the first time, I size them up immediately based on their handshake; but that might just be me.

Do first impressions matter in the job search? Not as much as performance, according to Lou Adler

First ImpressionWhen someone gives me a limp handshake or, worse yet, a sweaty palm, I cringe inside. The handshake, to me, says a great deal about a person’s character. It says, I’m a stand-up guy or gal. Really nice to meet you. The handshake should be firm but not crush one’s bones.

Eye contact means a great deal to me, as well. Steady eye contact says, “I’m paying attention. I’m interested. I’m not hiding anything, etc.” A pleasant smile helps to create a great first impression, as well.

But Lou Adler downplays the importance of first impressions in his article Performance Matters, First Impressions Don’t.  Now what would Lou Adler know about interviewing and hiring quality candidates? A boatload. He wrote the books: Hire With Your Head and The Essential Guide for Hiring, the second of which I own. What do I know? Not as much as him. I’ve interviewed people before but not the thousands he has. Here’s what he writes in his article:

“The only common trait among the best people is their track record of solid performance, not the quality of their first impression.”

Were this to be true, that’s great, because some people’s first impression simply suck. They come across as approachable as Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, devoid of character; or they maintain eye contact like a shy child being interrogated…I mean questioned by adults; or they shake your hand like they’re afraid to touch you. I agree with Mr. Adler that performance is paramount, but a terrible first impression? Read Mr. Adler’s article, a wonderful tale.