Does a limp one (handshake) harm your job prospects?

Today I turn my attention to the vexed issue of limpness on the job – that is a limp handshake.  Now before you all think I have turned into some orrid little oik peddling pills of dubious provenance, I am, dear reader, of course talking about the role of the handshake in employment interviews.  Most of us have a notion that the handshake is a potent form of communication, and you do not need to be a member of the Masons to understand that a handshake can convey a lot about a person.

Personally I have extreme difficulties with handshakes because I am blessed to born into that elite club that are left-handers (recall Leonardo Da Vinci was left handed, Adolf Hitler was right handed – I rest my case!!!). Seriously I am often confronted by the handshake, because it is my habit to carry briefcases/papers etc in my right hand, and so on meeting someone – say just as I arrive at a speaker’s podium with notes or props, it is my left hand that is free.  Instinctively offering the left hand to a right-handed shaker ends up like some bizarre game of  scissor paper rock.  It is awkward.

limp handshake dead fish

But despite all my speculations that my shaking form provokes deep suspicions in my colleagues about my essential character, is there really anything in it?

Well, Greg Stewart, Susan Dustin, Murray Blount and Todd Darnold recently published an empirical investigation of the effects of handshakes in the Journal of Applied Psychology.  They rated men and women’s handshakes, and linked these to their measured personalities and also independent raters evaluations of their employment interview performance.

For men it turns out that a limp one is a very big deal that could have serious impacts on their future prospects. However that same does not apply to women. Firmness it turns out is very much a male issue.  A firm handshake for men was associated with a greater likelihood of being recommended for hire, and it seemed to work by influencing extroversion.  The effect was not observed for women.

So here is yet more evidence of the importance of non-verbal behavior in employment interviews, and yet more evidence that interviews are influenced by non job relevant factors, and also that male and female candidates are often treated in different ways in these social interactions.  So men, get a firm grip on your recruiter, and recruiters, here is yet another potentially biasing factor to consider when using interviews.


2 thoughts on “Does a limp one (handshake) harm your job prospects?

  1. Susan Varghese

    Whoa..I’m relieved. Personally, I hate shaking hands. (for several reasons) I’d rather greet a person with a smile…that’s what comes to me most naturally- anything other than that is simply fake (at least that’s what my mind keeps telling me!) At least, now I know that I’d be given some lenience if I don’t give a firm handshake…

  2. Anne Easton

    Aha! I too am left handed. I could never figure out why that initial handshake seemed so awkward, but now I know. I’d tell myself: “remember to keep your right hand free” but I’m invariably holding my bag or briefcase in my right hand.

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