A proper handshake is crucial to making a good first impression with employers. | Joseph Pack/Mustang News

Brendan Abrams

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When the career fair rolls around, Cal Poly students in all areas of study prepare to make effective professional impressions upon hundreds of possible employers — they scramble to put finishing touches on resumes, study up on the companies they hope to work for and rehearse their answers to any interview questions they can think of. In all this commotion and excitement, the vast majority of students are likely to forget to consider one of the essential components of the process of landing a dream job: the handshake.

The handshake is so often overlooked because it is such a quick, automatic act for most people. But that is not necessarily how it should be. According to Meghan Palaszewski and Alison Jones, Cal Poly career counselors, a handshake can be “an indicator of confidence” to employers.

A proper handshake can demonstrate that a prospective employee is both enthusiastic about the possibility of being hired and mature and qualified enough to be deserving of the job. If all that information can be conveyed through a mere grasp of another hand, such a grasp ought to be well-informed.

To facilitate handshake technique perfection, it might be helpful to have an understanding of what exactly can ruin one. For employers, a misinformed handshake is easy to pick out. For Palaszewski, there is nothing worse than a shake that makes the employer feel uncomfortable.

“Hand clamminess is definitely not a good thing,” she said.

The duration of the shake can also present problems. Any handshake lasting longer than a second or two is likely undesirable.

“I don’t want my hand to feel like it is being caressed,” Palaszewski said.

The trick, it seems, is to perform a handshake in a way that does not call unnecessary attention to the act. It should be authentic to avoid an awkward initial impression with a possible employer.

For a business-oriented handshake, Jones suggests a quick, firm grasp of the employer’s hand followed by a brisk pump of the arm. At the same time, each shaker should look (not stare) calmly into the eyes of the other and exchange a polite greeting. Jones was quick to add that it is important to adjust to the other person.

“Take a split second to figure out how the employer is going about the handshake and follow their lead,” she said.

It is entirely possible to impress an employer by demonstrating that ability to make adjustments on the fly.

In general, a handshake does not prove to be a very difficult task, but it is possible to run into more extreme circumstances. Sometimes, an employer might not be interested in a handshake. After all, there is a good chance he or she has been handing out shakes — and collecting germs — for hours. The employer could attempt a fist-bump, Howie Mandel style, or in very rare cases, even a “bro hug.” In any situation, the prospective employee should be on his or her toes and ready to adapt.

Perhaps a more common issue with handshakes is the concern of illness. What is one to do if he prefers not to infect all his possible employers with a communicable disease? Instead of letting everyone know about the illness and refusing to engage in handshakes, Jones and Palaszewski both recommended bringing along some hand sanitizer. That way, handshakes can be performed safely, and awkward explanations for one’s refusal to shake can be avoided altogether.

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