How To Give The Perfect Handshake

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Starting your first entry level or early career job will likely involve a small but significant action: the handshake.

Between networking, conferences, interviews and social events, you’ll do a lot of handshaking in your life. U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt once shook over 8,000 hands in a single day.

While you probably won’t go quite that far, it’s important to make sure you’ve got the basics in hand.

When your hands need a hand

Take a minute and really look at your hands.

Hands – the body’s most versatile tool – often get neglected because they’re in the middle of everything.

You may be advertising your hobbies without knowing it, in the form of paint, dirt or rough, calloused skin.

High-pressure situations can also create problems, as some people are prone to sweating when nervous. At the other end of the spectrum, cold weather can result in dry, cracked skin, which is not only painful, but unpleasant to look at.

Don’t forget about your fingernails. Short, worried-looking nails suggest nail-biting (which a prospective employer many interpret as a lack of discipline), while unattended talons present a real risk of injury.

Perfect your pleasant palms

A soak in warm soapy water followed by a scrub with a nail brush will resolve most problems with dirt and grime. Wear gloves when working with your hands. Some retail stores carry a liquid solution which helps keep your hands stain-free.

Manage sweaty palms with over-the-counter products which will help your hands stay cool and dry. (At networking functions, be sure to hold your drink in your left hand.)

If you’re prone to dry skin, find a non-greasy moisturizer that keeps your skin supple.

As a bare minimum, ensure your nails are trimmed and tidy.

This sort of care and attention helps avoid unpleasant surprises for someone joining you in a hand-clasp – surprises which might turn the friendliest individual off.

Don’t be shook by the shake

Everyone dreams of the perfect “deal closer” handshake – the handshake that tells others, “I’m reliable, serious and here to get things done.”

While you might think this means an iron grip and a wide smile, handshake protocol varies widely around the world. Different cultures have different conventions relating to bodily contact, handshake pressure and duration, eye contact, and when to shake hands.

Handshake technique

  • Employ a one-handed shake. Throwing both hands into the mix is overly intimate.
  • Make sure your fingers are together and that your palm connects with the other person’s palm squarely.
  • Don’t grab the other person’s wrist, or their fingertips.
  • Don’t shake anyone’s hand without standing up. Ever. If you can’t be bothered to stand, you don’t need to shake hands.
  • With that in mind, don’t refuse to shake someone’s hand when they’re sitting.

Handshake delivery

  • A firm grasp indicates confidence. A crushing squeeze is uncomfortable.
  • Much like the real thing, no one wants to touch a “dead fish” handshake.
  • Eye contact is a must. A polite smile is almost always appropriate (trust your instincts).
  • A handshake is a gesture, not an event. Whether it’s offered in greeting, farewell or accord, keep a handshake brief.
  • If you start forming detailed thoughts about how the other person’s hand feels, it’s gone on too long.

It’s easy to overlook the significance a handshake can take on in the pivotal moments of one’s life – moments where a simple instant of human contact will bear great symbolic value. With a bit of luck, these tips will have you shaking hands like a pro.

Keep in mind that you can’t get it right every time. You get one shot at a handshake. If it goes poorly, shake (er, brush) it off and move forward.

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About the author

Elias Da Silva-Powell is a Content, Marketing and Community Specialist at TalentEgg, as well as a two-time graduate of Queen's University. An avid bow-titan, he has been trying to bring whimsical neck wear back into the mainstream since 2008. He's around on Twitter: @EDSPowell and you can check out his profile on LinkedIn, and even G+.