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The Anatomy of a Business Handshake in Job Interviews

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You’re hiring for a job, and after posting a job online, you find qualified candidates to interview in person. Quite often, the beginning of a job interview will start with a greeting and a handshake. Many body language experts have broken down various handshakes and analyzed possible meanings. Some may say that body language reading is the stuff of fiction, while others put a lot of stock in its meaning.

It has been thought that a firm handshake means a firm mind or personality. But what about those people from other countries who don’t shake hands firmly because of cultural tradition or custom?

Regardless of your views, breaking down a handshake’s anatomy and paying attention to possible meanings is a fascinating exercise and could bring enlightenment and details to a job interview that would otherwise be overlooked.

Hiring for a Job: The Anatomy of a Handshake

Palm Down Handshake – Usually a firm handshake, the “upper hand” tends to impose and/or create a dominant impression.

Palm Up Handshake – Usually not a strong handshake, the lower hand has submitted to the upper hand dominance. How all this ultimately translates into the subsequent relationship and outcomes can depend on more significant factors than the handshake.

Handshake Using Both Hands – Whether genuine or not, this handshake is unduly physical and (often) uncomfortably domineering.

Equal Handshake – A vertical handshake, most handshakes are like this when neither person seeks to control or to yield.

Pumping Handshake – A vigorous pumping handshake tends to indicate the shaker’s energy and enthusiasm towards the other person, the meeting, situation or project, etc. There is a sense of attempting to transfer energy and enthusiasm, literally, from the vigorous handshaker to the shaken person. Hence the behavior is popular in motivational folk and evangelists, etc.

Weak Handshake – Avoid the common view that a weak handshake is the sign of a weak or submissive person. It is not. Weak handshakes can be due to various aspects of personality, mood, etc. People who use their hands in their profession can have quite gentle, sensitive handshakes, for example, musicians, artists, surgeons, etc. Strong but passive people can have gentle handshakes. Old people can have weak handshakes. A weak handshake might be due to arthritis. Young people unaccustomed to handshaking can have weak handshakes. It’s potentially a very misleading signal.

Firm Handshake – Avoid the common view that a firm handshake is the sign of a strong solid person. It is not. Firm handshakes are a sign of outward confidence, which could mask deceit or a weak bullying nature, or indicate a strong solid person. A handshake’s strength is not by itself an indicator of a positive “good” mood or personality, and caution is required in reading this signal. It is widely misinterpreted.

The Arm Clasp with Handshake – When a handshake is accompanied by the left hand clasping the other person’s right arm, this indicates a wish to control or a feeling of care, which can be due to arrogance. To many, this represents an unwanted invasion of personal space since touching ‘permission’ is for the handshake only.

(Information on handshakes from

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