Four Truths About Interview Handshake Biases

If you’ve gone on an interview and shaken the hand of a potential boss who’s a little clammy, your expectations became set instantly, right? (Remember, as the job seeker you’re evaluating the employer as much as they’re evaluating you.)

Conversely, if you’re the hiring manager and shake a candidate’s hand with chipped nailpolish or multiple tattoos, you may think differently about their candidacy. According to a piece on ERE, there are a few ways to wipe out handshake bias.

Dr. John Sullivan writes on the recruiting forum, “Although weak hiring handshakes are quite common, to most they may seem like an insignificant part of interviewing. But everyone involved in the hiring process needs to take notice and be aware of the high negative business impact of handshake bias.”

1. A reflection of interpersonal skills. If you have a weak handshake or even an inappropriate one (fist bump, anyone?), people may chalk it up to lacking interpersonal skills but in reality you may be nervous instead. The bias relies on people who may simply have a lot more experience in shaking hands like sales people instead of people let’s say who work in IT and don’t shake a lot of paws too often.

2. A reflection of personalities. Another handshake bias entails an interviewer judging someone’s personality based on their handshake. He writes in the piece, “A weak handshake may be taken as an indication that you are an introvert, lack aggressiveness, or have weak interpersonal skill, and a too-strong handshake may be taken to mean over aggressiveness (especially in women). There is no evidence to show a link between actual personality and interview handshakes.”

3. Health issues. If a hiring manager makes assumptions on a handshake, they could be sorely mistaken. Someone may have a fear of germs or real health issues which impacts how willing they are to shake hands and moreover, how they shake hands. He points out, “This handshake avoidance behavior may inaccurately be seen as a lack of interest in the job.”

4. Cultural influences. Keep in mind other cultures shake hands differently than ours. “Failing to make eye contact while shaking hands will also almost always hurt a candidate, even though avoiding direct eye contact might be an element of their culture. The acceptable physical distance between the two parties when shaking hands may also be cultural, so either violating the interviewer’s space or being too distant may unnecessarily cause the candidate to lose points.”