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handshake making a first impression

How can you make a great first impression? The first few moments of any meeting can be anxiety-inducing for many people. Unless you’re a natural extravert who’s energized by social interaction, and small talk comes easily to you, greetings can feel strained and awkward. A job interview amps any tension up even further, because of the context. There’s a power imbalance at play, of course, and if a lot is riding on the meeting (the job is one you really want or need, or both), the pressure in that moment can be pretty high.

I’d like to share with you three areas where otherwise good candidates have made a poor first impression, so that you can avoid making the same mistakes.

The Handshake

There’s a lot that’s already been written on the ‘perfect handshake’, and I don’t plan to rehash that here. Feel free to search it up, and you’ll find lots of tips and techniques to master this traditional (at least in the western world) element of greetings. A few things can go wrong here. If you know your palms are prone to sweating if you’re nervous, make sure you have something in your pocket to dry your hand in the moments before you shake. Far too many times to count, I’ve had handshakes go awry because we ‘missed’ – the grip didn’t land where it should, usually because it was rushed. Don’t thrust your hand into mine, an even and measured gesture is better. Finally, your grip itself should also be moderate. A grip that’s too light feels like I’m shaking hands with cooked spaghetti. I’ve also been on the receiving end of handshakes that left me wondering if any bones had been broken. Neither is pleasant.

Tone and Bearing

Friendly, confident, and positive. These are the qualities you should convey as a candidate for any job. Your tone of voice, your bearing, and your pace can send messages about all three. A friendly person smiles and makes eye contact, and has a light and inviting tone of voice. A confident person has good, upright posture, and speaks clearly, at a moderate pace. And a positive person says good things, rather than complaining or being a ‘downer’. I’ve experienced the opposite of all three – people who cast their eyes downward in the first few minutes they were with me, never smiled, spoke either in a soft mumble or far too quickly to understand, and who spent the first moments complaining about weather, traffic, or how difficult it was to find parking. None of these leave the kind of impression you want.

Small Talk

I’ve had more than a few candidates scan the office for something to comment on – a photo to compliment, or maybe a book they’ve read. Most of these people have been in sales careers, as this is a pretty common tactic to develop rapport with a prospect in a sales meeting, but there are books and resources out there who recommend that people do this in interviews as well. I recommend that you don’t, and there are a few reasons why. First and foremost, it’s completely obvious, and because I know why you’re doing it, it makes this moment feel ‘staged’ and inauthentic. Secondly, it skews the power balance. I may have time in my calendar that day for a bit of small talk, but there are other days when I really just need to get to business right away. Letting me lead the conversation is the safe bet. Finally (and this isn’t a likely occurrence but still worthwhile as a cautionary tale), you don’t necessarily know that we’re in my office. I remember one candidate who picked a piece of hockey memorabilia to comment on, proceeding to spend a few moments talking effusively about his love for the game. I probably let him go on a bit longer than I should have, before telling him that I wasn’t a fan, and was in fact just using a colleague’s office for the meeting.

As the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Check these points, and make every first impression a great one.



Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash