Give Your First impression A Fair Shake

Thomas Jefferson is said to have popularized the handshake in Western culture as a more democratic form of greeting. I, and my back, appreciate that we no longer bow when greeting associates. Sounds like an awful lot of work to me.

Now, extending your right hand for a handshake is an important part of our culture and significant in the first impression you make when meeting someone. I’ve written before about the importance of first impressions. In my column, “The First 15 Seconds,” I listed three things I could tell about a person I am interviewing in just one quarter of a minute.

A demonstration of the Lobster Claw, one of the top 10 bad business handshakes as demonstrated in a video of the same name

A demonstration of the Lobster Claw, one of the top 10 bad business handshakes as demonstrated in a video of the same name

Another crucial aspect of making a good first impression is that handshake. I got a big laugh out of this video I came across, done by an Australian company called “The Top 10 Bad Business Handshakes.” Maybe it’s even funnier because of the droll Australian accent but it does illustrate several handshakes that will definitely not make a good first impression. These include the Lobster Claw, the Fist Bump, the Wrestler and the Phantom.

Watch the video and see if you fall into any of those 10 categories of bad handshakers. If you have the slightest bit of concern that you may, here are a few tips from David Gregory at NBC on the “Today” show.

• Have a firm grip

• Make eye contact

• Shake once of twice from the elbow

• Should last about three seconds.

Those three seconds of contact can really pay off. An interesting study done by the Income Center for Trade Shows found that people are twice as likely to remember you if you shake hands with them. They will also be more open and friendly with you. People whose handshakes are evaluated as good are seen as extroverted and emotionally expressive, according to an article in on “Why Women in Business Should Shake Hands.”

Here are a few of the tips the writer Carol Kinsey Goman shared in the article, which apply for both men and women.

• Be the first to extend your hand.

• Stand when being introduced and extending your hand.

• Say something like “It’s great to meet you,” before you let go.

• When you let go, do not look down. That is a sign of submission.

In another study, researchers Frank Bernieri and Kristen Petty screened 300 students, selecting five men and five women with contrasting personality profiles. Their job was to introduce themselves to people of the same sex, who were playing the role of the interviewers.

The interviewers met with five “candidates” who introduced themselves briefly. Half of the time the greeting involved a handshake. The interviewers then rated the candidates on extroversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

The one area where the handshake seemed to really make a difference was in conscientiousness, particularly when men judge other men. The researchers concluded that engaging in a handshake could help you predict whether that person would show up for their next appointment with you.

Hard to believe, isn’t it? How much you can tell about a person in an act that takes three seconds. Make those three seconds count in your favor.

The First 15 Seconds

In the movie “The Big Chill” one of the characters has been dating for 20 years and laments how hard it is.

“I know in the first 15 seconds if there’s a chance in the world,” she says.

“At least you’re giving them a fair shot,” her friend replies.

That may sound a bit harsh, but the truth is you can tell a lot about someone within the first 15 seconds of meeting him or her. This is crucial to remember if you are interviewing for a job or meeting with a potential client.

In my last column I wrote about ways to lose a job in an interview. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people for all levels of jobs in my decades as a Turnaround Authority, and yes it is possible that you can seriously decrease your odds of landing that job within the first 15 seconds.

We all make snap judgments when we meet someone. Will we like this person? Do we want to be around this person? Our brains made fairly rapid assumptions about the personal traits of others. This process is known as thin-slicing, which refers to our ability to gauge what is important and form opinions from limited information.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about thin-slicing in his fascinating book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.” Speaking of the book in an interview he said, “When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions…. As human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience.”

If you are interviewing for a job, you need to spend time focusing on what you are telling the interviewer about yourself in the first 15 seconds. Here are just a few things I can tell immediately upon meeting someone.

1. Whether they are respectful of others

Did he show up on time? Was she friendly to the receptionist or anyone else I introduced her to? Is he dressed appropriately for a job interview? Does she look polished and put together? Are his pants ironed? Did she wait for me to invite her to sit down?

2. Whether they have confidence

Did she look me in the eye when we met? Does he stand up straight? Did she smile when she met me? Does he seem excited to be here?

3. Whether they arrived prepared

Did he bring a copy of his résumé and references along? Does she know my name?

Frank Bernieri did a study at the University of Toledo in Ohio to find out if there are any particular mannerisms that will help you in a job interview. Two people were selected to be interviewers and were trained for six weeks on interviewing techniques. They then interviewed 100 people for 15-20 minutes and filled out a six-page questionnaire on each person. His conclusion was there were no particular tricks you can use in an interview.

But then one researcher asked to do a second study with the videos they had made of each interview, showing people just the first 15 seconds of the interview as the applicant arrived and met the interviewer. They were then asked to rate the candidates using the same criteria that the trained interviewers had.

In an article in The New Yorker written by Malcolm Gladwell, Bernieri talked about the results. “On nine out of the 11 traits that the applicants were being judged on, the observers significantly predicted the outcome of the interview. In fact, the strength of the correlation was extraordinary.”

Accept the importance of the first 15 seconds of any encounter towards making an impression on someone. And do what you can to make yours a positive one.