All in the wrist: The bizarre case of handshake bias

Handshakes are an important form of non-verbal communication in the business world, but is HR putting too much thought into a candidate’s grip?

All in the wrist: The bizarre case of handshake bias

More often than not, an interview will begin with a handshake. Although many HR professionals are unaware, research has found that decisions on whether or not to hire candidates sometimes rests on the quality of the handshake.

Research conducted by Greg Stewart of the University of Iowa demonstrated candidates with better ‘handshake scores’ were considered more hireable, correlating with the initial decisions on candidates being made in the first few minutes of the interview.

Dr John Sullivan, writer for US-based ERE, stated that interviewers will often mistake bad handshakes with poor interpersonal skills, despite the fact they may simply be a symptom of nervousness or uncertainty.

Many other factors also play into different or reluctant handshakes: women often handshake differently from men and some cultures will have different greeting customs, as will different generations. Health concerns can also make candidates reluctant to shake hands. Disabilities that affect the ability to shake hands can also be a factor.

While most recruitment and HR professionals will not purposefully make decisions based on handshakes and other superficial judgments, these can be made unconsciously, which gives more reason to become familiar with what may be causing ‘handshake bias’.

Key HR take-aways

Think you might be engaging in handshake bias? Dr Sullivan outlined some precautions HR professionals can take to avoid losing top candidates for superficial reasons:

  • Learn the bias. Understanding the possible biases can allow you to become conscious of the bias you may be projecting.
  • Train yourself. After learning the biases, train yourself to disregard them. This will enable you to more quickly approach the job-related issues.
  • Don’t shake hands at the beginning of the interview. To avoid the issue all together, save a handshake until the end, so that it does not impact your first impression of the candidate.
  • Track your impressions. Start monitoring yourself in interviews. Record at what points during the interview you have had a significant positive or negative impression of the candidate. This can help for you to uncover if you are actually making decisions earlier than you should be, uncovering additional biases.

To find out what your handshake says about you, check out this Business Etiquette blog post.

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