June 7, 2016

Why a Firm Handshake Can Make or Break You When Networking


A handshake shows a lot about a person – including their networking knowledge and their charisma. No one likes dead fish, and holding out a limp hand when going in for a handshake might as well be the same thing as offering your new contact a dead fish. No matter how sweet or enthusiastic the person is, if they give me a “dead fish” handshake, that leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth and a bad impression in my mind. While I can’t vouch for everyone, I know that I am not the only person who feels strongly about this.

Handshakes Say a Lot More Than You May Think

A handshake sets the tone for the rest of your meeting, whether it’s a formal interview or a casual get-together. A limp handshake may show weakness, lack of character, and a lack of self-confidence. It may even be considered ill-mannered by some. On the contrary, a firm handshake shows a good backbone, self-confidence, a businesslike demeanor, and great networking skills.

There have been multiple studies on handshakes and how they are related to our personalities and perceptions. One recent study found that people with firm handshakes were more extroverted, more open to new experiences, less neurotic, and less shy than those with not-so-firm handshakes. Those are all positive characteristics that anyone would find beneficial in business – indicating that a firm handshake does indeed give some insight into how someone will do in their career.

Don’t Forget the Eye Contact!

Maintaining eye contact while shaking someone’s hand is a way to express your self-confidence and strength. Downward-cast eyes often signal fear, submissiveness, or embarrassment – none of which are ideal to highlight when networking. You should always look someone in the eye when giving them a firm handshake: It’s a timeless gesture that will always serve you well.

The Power of a Great Handshake

PointBefore email and cellphones, handshakes were the way to seal your deals. Even though we have more sophisticated technologies nowadays, a handshake can still go a long way.

Often, when I meet people, the first thing they comment on is my firm handshake. Standing at only five feet tall, I may not look intimidating, but my strong handshake and ability to lead a conversation say otherwise.

It’s never to late to learn this tried and true skill. Practice on your friends, on your family, and on your significant other, asking them how the handshake felt. Along with the handshake itself, make sure you practice maintaining eye contact. If you didn’t grow up knowing the importance of these gestures, they may feel foreign at first, but as with most things in life, practice makes perfect.

You shake hands for all manner of reasons: when meeting someone, as a congratulatory measure, and when solidifying a deal, when saying goodbye, etc. In a sense, learning how to give a firm handshake while looking someone in the eye is like a good investment. It will drastically improve your networking abilities and change your life for the better. You never know what opportunities lie ahead, and there may be many more than you ever expected if you extend an award-winning handshake.

Take it from a pro: Nobody is eager to do business with you when you have a “dead fish” handshake.

Michele Lando is a certified professional resume writer and the founder of Write Styles.

Read more in Networking

A native San Franciscan, Michele Lando is a certified professional resume writer and founder of writestylesonline.com. She has a passion for helping others present the best version of themselves, both on paper and in person, and works to polish individuals' application packages and personal styles. Aiming to help create a perfect personal branding package, Write Styles presents tips to enhance your resume and style and boost your confidence.