Grasp a new job with both hands

May 07 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

It's well recognised that first impressions count in a job interview, but now new research has pinpointed just how severely getting the opening handshake wrong can dent your chances of landing that dream job.

A study by academics at the University of Iowa has concluded that a solid handshake is a hugely important part of a successful job interview, while a dead fish can end the interview before it even begins.

In fact the handshake can be even more important than dress or physical appearance, as it sets off an interviewer's overall impression of a person, argued business professor Greg Stewart, who conducted the research.

"We've always heard that interviewers make up their mind about a person in the first two or three minutes of an interview, no matter how long the interview lasts," said Stewart, associate professor of management and organizations at the university's Tippie College of Business.

"We found that the first impression begins with a handshake that sets the tone for the rest of the interview," he added.

The study, to be published later this year, is the first time researchers have actually quantified the importance of a good handshake in the job interview process.

The research studied 98 students who participated in mock job interviews with representatives from Iowa City-area businesses.

The students also met at various times during their interviews with five trained handshake raters who subtly introduced themselves and shook hands, but otherwise did not participate in the interviews.

The handshake raters scored each student on his or her handshake, while the interviewers graded each student's overall performance and hireability. The two group's scores were then compared.

The researchers found that those students who scored highly with the handshake raters were also considered to be the most hireable by the interviewers.

The handshake is so important because it is one of the few things that provides a glimpse into the person's individuality during the first few minutes of an interview, argued Stewart.

"Job seekers are trained how to act in a job interview, how to talk, how to dress, how to answer questions, so we all look and act alike to varying degrees because we've all been told the same things," he said.

"But the handshake is something that's perhaps more individual and subtle, so it may communicate something that dress or physical appearance doesn't," he added.

Generally, students who scored highest on the handshake were seen as having more extroverted personalities, so they scored better with the interviewers because of greater ease with small talk, eye contact and other social skills.

But those whose handshakes that were weak generally seemed to have less gregarious personalities and were less impressive to the interviewers.

"We probably don't consciously remember a person's handshake or whether it was good or bad," said Stewart.

"But the handshake is one of the first nonverbal clues we get about the person's overall personality, and that impression is what we remember," he added.

What made a good handshake was a firm, complete grip, eye contact and vigorous up-and-down movement, he suggested.

One potentially serious issue to arise from the study was that this could work against women because their grips tended not to be as strong.

However, women were frequently stronger in other non-verbal communication skills and so could often offset their less brawny grips, Stewart argued.

What's more, any women who did have a strong handshake could have a distinct advantage over men.

"Those women seemed to be more memorable than men who had an equally strong handshake. A really good handshake made a bigger impact on the outcome of the interview for the women than it did for the men," said Stewart.