It’s All In A Handshake… Your Career Future

 In Career Tips, Interviewing Strategies, Professional Networking

iStock_000000557560XSmallA handshake can make a difference.

This morning, I was giving a presentation to a group of job seekers, and as customary, went around the room introducing myself and shaking people’s hands before the session.

Most of us are either taught or read advice about how to provide a firm handshake that exudes confidence, enthusiasm, and gives a little clue about who we are.

But in doing a lot of this kind of work, I’ve found that many people simply don’t get how to do it right. There’s always someone in the group that extends a clammy and limp appendage as a handshake that leaves the recipient wondering where the bathroom is located, in order to wash themselves off. Or, there’s the “handsqueezer” who takes it as a personal challenge to play “chicken” on who withdraws their hand first as a result of the tectonic forces being exerted in the handshake.

Case in point today: “M” was a job seeker that came in close to the end of the networking time and not too long before the program started. I made eye contact with him, smiled, and introduced myself while reaching out to shake his hand.

What happened next nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Women are often described as the “gentle sex” and yes, we don’t possess the sheer physical strength that men do.  But I am all about giving a good firm handshake to communicate equality.

But “M” took this gesture to a whole new level.

His hand squeezed mine so hard that the bones started to crunch. It was like putting my hand into a vise. I’ve never had ANYONE shake my hand so hard that I have literally been on the verge of crying out in pain.

In today’s scenario, “M’s” handshake mercifully ended when I withdrew. I smiled at him (not sure if it really wasn’t blinking back tears… seriously), and started to turn away.

But then I stopped.

As a career management coach, I am programmed to provide “learning opportunities” when possible to help job seekers. I realized that this gentleman’s handshake could very likely be a career obstacle unto itself.

So instead, I turned back to him and said in a lower voice, “You know, your handshake was so strong that it was becoming painful. Especially when shaking a woman’s hand, this is not appropriate. You might want to try and tone this down.”

He looked at me confused; so I repeated myself, and explained that I was a coach who wanted to help him. I think he understood, but was a little chastised.

My point here is that we hear so much about all the factors we need to be monitoring about ourselves during a job search, and even something as simple as a handshake can change someone’s perception about you. “M” was dressed professionally, had a nice elevator pitch, and I saw him smiling and engaging with other attendees.

But my takeaway from our encounter is that “M” subconsciously has power issues and was trying to dominate not only me, but other people that received his vise-like grip.

Dawn Rasmussen, CMP, is a Certified Advanced Résumé Writer and the president of Portland, Ore.-based Pathfinder Writing and Career Services. Clients from across the United States and Canada and from all career levels have benefited from Dawn’s highly-focused and results-oriented résumé, cover letter, and job search coaching services. Many professional groups as well as colleges and universities have appreciated the insights and expertise she shares during presentations on career management topics, and she is a frequently requested national speaker as a result.

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