How To Nail The Perfect Professional Handshake (With Examples)

By Ryan Morris
Oct. 27, 2022

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Shaking hands can be a stressful thing to do. But shake hands you must, if you hope to find a job in the United States. Shaking hands is the dominant form of greeting for most Western cultures, and the quality of your professional handshake is often used in interviews as a way of judging your character.

So how does one go about mastering the perfect professional handshake? We’ve put together a few tips to help you figure out just that.

Key Takeaways

  • You’ll need a good professional handshake at job interviews, when meeting someone, and at the beginning and end of meetings.

  • Firmly shake the person’s right hand with your right hand two to three times while smiling, looking them in the eye, and greeting them.

  • Don’t be too limp or aggressive, take too long, or use too much movement in your handshake.

How To Nail The Perfect Professional Handshake

When to Use a Professional Handshake

In the Western world, we know that handshakes are most commonly used during greetings. But that doesn’t mean a handshake is appropriate every time you meet up with someone. Knowing the right moments to initiate or be prepared for a handshake is key to establishing rapport and setting the right tone for a conversation.

Below are a few situations where you’ll definitely want professional handshake ready:

  • Meeting a hiring manager or recruiter at a job interview

  • Being introduced to a stranger

  • When anyone extends their hand for a handshake

  • At the end of meetings, negotiations, events, conversations, and interviews

  • Meeting a person you haven’t seen in a while

Techniques for Professional Handshake Etiquette

So it’s definitely important to know how to shake a person’s hand correctly.

But how do you go about doing so? What even is good handshaking technique, when you get right down to it?

Here are the biggest things to keep in mind when shaking someone’s hand:

  • Wipe/dry your hands first. Clammy hands are not only a sign of stress and nervousness, but they’re also just uncomfortable to touch. Make sure to keep your hands dry if you know you’ll be shaking hands, or if you’re caught unaware, wipe them on your hands or shirt first.

  • Right hand only. No offense to all the lefties out there, but the vast majority of the world sees themselves as right-handed. As a result, more people are going to struggle with a left-handed shake than a right-handed one. If you know a person is left-handed, then go for it — otherwise, stick to the right.

  • Aim for the web of the hand. It’s all too easy to accidentally grab someone’s fingers when shaking hands, so to avoid this, keep your eyes on the web of skin between the base of the thumb and the rest of the hand.

    The goal is for you to lock this space between thumb and forefinger with the other person’s, giving you good contact that allows you a firm, confident grip and shake.

  • Two to three shakes. Wouldn’t be a handshake without the shaking part. This one you should feel out based on what seems right in the moment, but for the most part, two to three shakes are perfect.

  • Smile and greet the person. You’re not shaking a disembodied, spectral hand — you’re shaking the hand of a particular person. So make sure that as the shake occurs, you look them in the eye, smile, and say something like, “Nice to meet you,” “How are you?” or “Good to see you again.”

Common Bad Handshake Techniques to Avoid

Now that you know what you should be doing, it’s also good to remember that there are just as many things you should avoid.

Remember, one-on-one interaction happens at a breakneck pace. By the time you’ve realized you did something wrong or looked weird, you’re usually miles past the point in a conversation where that knowledge might be relevant to you.

That’s why you want to be thinking about these things early on — if possible, you want to know what to avoid doing before you even walk into your interview in the first place.

With that in mind, here are some of the biggest things you want to avoid doing when you go to shake a person’s hand:

  • Don’t be too limp or aggressive. You want to give a firm handshake. You don’t want to be limp, but squeezing too hard is uncomfortable for the other person.

    If you’re the kind of person who does this sort of thing on purpose as some sort of power play, just keep in mind that the world around you is likely to see that as you being a huge jerk. When in doubt, try to match the pressure the other person is giving you — but again, don’t try to turn it into a contest.

  • Don’t take too long. Even if you’re not using too much pressure, holding a handshake for too long is uncomfortable. It doesn’t make you look powerful — it makes you look like you don’t recognize basic social cues. And unless that’s genuinely the case, it’s not an impression that you really want to give off.

  • Don’t shake wildly. In addition to keeping to just two or three shakes, you want to make sure that your shakes don’t involve too much movement. If the other person is having to move their whole arm up and down just to keep up with you, you’re doing too much.

Tips for a Professional Handshake

Now that we’ve covered the basic do’s and dont’s of professional handshakes, let’s get into some more advanced tips:

  1. Make eye contact. It’s easy to get so caught up with your hands that you forget to actually look at the person you’re meeting. Don’t make this mistake.

    Briefly consider the physics of the situation to make sure you successfully grasp the person’s hand, then turn your eyes up to make and maintain eye contact for the duration of the handshake.

  2. Stand up. If you’re seated when introduced to someone, stand up to shake their hand. It’s disrespectful and unprofessional to remain seated when meeting someone who is standing. Plus, your handshake itself will suffer just based on the height difference between you and your handshake partner.

  3. Intiate the handshake to demonstrate confidence. Most of the time, it’s good to allow the more senior person to initiate the handshake.

    However, it can be a powerful act to be the first to extend your arm when you’re meeting an interviewer — it shows that you’re confident and excited to start the conversation. Wait until you’re about four to six feet away before you begin raising your arm for a handshake.

  4. Keep your left hand visible. This is a minor thing that the other person may not even consciously pick up on, but when you keep your non-shaking hand hidden or clench your fist, it may send the wrong message to the other person.

    You may appear defensive or anxious, which is the exact opposite impression you want your handshake to give. On a related note, we also encourage you to stick with a one-handed handshake — using two hands is a little too familiar and off-putting for a lot of people.

  5. Prepare a conversation starter. It can be as simple as a brief introduction and a “thanks for taking the time to meet.” Whatever it is, it’s essential that you have a plan for your words as well as your hands. A handshake that lingers long into an awkward silence is a bad way to kick off a conversation.

  6. Shake hands again before leaving. If you’re in a professional setting, like a job interview or networking event, it’s usually good practice to shake hands again as you depart.

    You can let the other person initiate it or start it off yourself. Just be aware that, as a conversation wraps up, you should start preparing for a professional handshake.

Why Does Having a Good Handshake Matter?

It’s tough to overstress how important body language is when it comes to interacting with other people.

Your posture, how far away you stand when you talk to people, how much eye contact you use, even how often you touch your own face — all of these things can have an effect on the way that people view you.

This is particularly important to keep in mind if it’s the first time you’re meeting somebody. But this becomes compounded even further if the person you’re meeting is the person who’s interviewing you for a job.

They’re going to be keeping a sharp eye on everything you do, reading as much as they can into the things you say and your general behavior. As a result, your first impression is extremely important.

And what’s one of the very first things you’re going to do once you enter the room? You can see where we might be going with this.

Final Thoughts

That’s all for this one! Just keep one last thing in mind: Whatever you do, make sure not to wait too long after you shake hands before you start talking to the other person.

Make sure you’re not focusing so much on your handshake that you forget to start talking right away. The handshake is a conversation starter — don’t leave it hanging in the air on its own.

That’s when things start feeling weird.

It happens easier than you might think. Remember that social cues come up quickly, and missing them or not can take a matter of seconds or milliseconds.

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Ryan Morris

Ryan Morris was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog who tried to make the job process a little more entertaining for all those involved. He obtained his BA and Masters from Appalachian State University.

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Topics: Get The Job, Resume