We’ve all been there: You’re at a job interview or being introduced to someone at a networking event, so you go in for a handshake. But when shaking hands, something feels a bit off. Your hand is inexplicably clasped around his or her fingers instead of where it should be, or you realize your palms are embarrassingly sweaty from nerves. Your heart sinks slightly because you know a great handshake is important for a first impression. Even if you do a great job networking and exchange business cards or nail the job interview, that awkward first handshake can still be a little hard to come back from. Handshakes aren’t that complicated, though. Getting it right just takes knowing a few etiquette guidelines and a little practice. So, here are five ways to improve your handshake:
1. Get it ‘right’
Handshakes are traditionally done using right hands, so try to not break tradition. Nobody wants to awkwardly shake your left hand because you’re carrying your resume and cover letter in the wrong one. That means if you’re heading into a job interview or business function, keep your right hand open. If your hand is full, it’s better to take a moment to switch what you’re holding to your left hand or even set it down than try to shake with your left.
2. Focus on where you grip
You shouldn’t close your hand around your handshake partner’s fingers, but you also shouldn’t extend your hand so far that your fingers are touching his or her lower arm. The ideal place to grip during a handshake is when you’re palm to palm. To ensure you get the grip right, when holding your hand out, keep it straight rather than cupped and held vertically rather than slanted.
3. Avoid crushing bones
One of the most common handshake problems people have is understanding the right amount of pressure to use. While you absolutely don’t want to “dead fish” with a limp hand and fingers, you also don’t want to use bone-crushing force, either. Keep the pressure firm without squeezing and make sure you keep your hand relatively stiff, rather than letting it flop around. The general rule of thumb is to grip the other person’s hand, pump three times and let go.
4. Make eye contact
There’s nothing worse than being introduced to someone who’s more focused on staring at the handshake or whose attention is focused elsewhere. When shaking hands, keep eye contact, smile and repeat the name of the person you’re being introduced to so he or she knows your attention is on them. A simple, “Nice to meet you, Karen,” or “Hi, Karen, I’m John,” is perfectly fine.
5. Keep your hands clean
Don’t ever shake hands when yours is dirty or wet. Whether it’s sweaty or has condensation on it from a cold drink, take a moment to discreetly dry it off with a napkin or even on your pants if necessary. You don’t want to leave them thinking, “What was on his hand?”