How to Give a Good Handshake: Three Tips

Job in CanadaDid you know that 75-90% of communication happens through body language?  I think we are all guilty of ignoring the power of body language, especially in the job-interview when we are already nervous.

However, every in-person job interview starts with body language: the handshake. For professionals, the handshake is the epitome of the first impression. The gesture, when done well, conveys respect and confidence, and often marks the beginning of a meaningful relationship.

In my career I have received some good handshakes; others, not-so-good.  I am sure that I have also given my fair share of unworthy handshakes in situations where I felt uncertain or uncomfortable.

In any case, I have noticed a few common traits to a good handshake.  Here they are:


A good handshake happens at the right time

If you have an in-person interview, shake hands with your interviewers when you first meet, and when the interview is wrapping up.

The number one rule for when to shake hands is: If you have to think about whether to handshake, you probably should.  While it might be out of place or unexpected by the other party, a handshake is always a positive gesture.

If you must decline a handshake, it is a good idea to explain why, so that the other person doesn’t take offense.  Here are two reasons you might decline a handshake:

 Value System: in professional contexts in Canada men and women are expected to shake hands. If your value system prevents you from touching a person of a different gender, you can explain to the other party that this is your custom, and offer an alternative gesture that is more comfortable for both parties. A warning though, if they are not culturally adaptable, they may still take offense.

Illness: If you are recovering from a contagious illness it is acceptable to refrain from a handshake so as to not spread germs. In all honesty, if you are ill you should be at home in bed, rather than in a situation where you need to shake hands, but if you find yourself in the situation try to pre-empt the handshake with your explanation, before the other party extends their hand, and has to lower it again (also called ‘leaving them hanging’).

A good handshake has the right touch

The best handshakes are made with warm and dry hands.  In the middle of winter having cold hands is unavoidable.  However, you can make a joke about how cold it is outside. Talking about the weather in Canada (‘small talk’) is common.

Proper etiquette states that all handshakes should take place with the right hand. If you have something in your right hand, switch it to your left or set it down before giving a handshake. However, if either party is unable to use their right hand because of a physical disability, it is appropriate to use the left.

Extend your right-hand about a foot away from you, with the fingers together, and the thumb pointing to the ceiling.

Connect your hand with the other party until the skin between your thumbs meets. You want to be holding the entire hand, not just the fingers.

Squeeze firmly, but not so much that it hurts the other person.  Giving a good squeeze communicates that you are confident and cheerful, rather than weak and afraid. This is the part of the handshake that I notice many people do poorly. Practice on others and ask for feedback.

Pump the hand up and down a couple of times – but not forcefully. If you are in a ‘pumping’ handshake, it should last a few seconds.  If there is no pumping, then it will be briefer. On TV I often see politicians shake hands for a long time – almost 20 seconds! Often their handshakes are sustained so that people can take pictures – I imagine it feels quite uncomfortable!

 A good handshake isn’t a standalone action

In addition to ‘nice to meet you,’ you should establish and maintain eye contact with the other person for the duration of the gesture. The best handshakes are accompanied with a warm smile.

I hope these tips are helpful for your first job-interview in Canada!


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