|  September 20, 2012

Don’t underestimate a handshake & a smile

A friend turned me onto the show Get to Work on the Sundance Channel.  She knows I’ve spent the last month immersed in helping people land jobs/internships and determining what preparation is important.  Get to Work is about exactly that… sort of.

The show takes a close look at STRIVE, an organization that helps the chronically unemployed get back to work.  The people who STRIVE is helping don’t have the benefit of having education, supportive families, and endless opportunities to explore their career interests through internships.  Many are homeless, are recovering addicts, have criminal records, and going through the program is really their last chance to get their lives back on track.  So suffice it to say, a lot is on the line… and it is certainly an uphill battle.

Image via Sundance Channel

Before I started watching I assumed that (based on all those factors) their job search preparation would be somewhat different than what it may be for a job seeker with privileges described above (education, support, tons of opportunities).  Four episodes later, it seems I was completely wrong.  The things people struggle with when preparing for a job search are somewhat universal: attitude, professionalism, communication, confidence, and determination.

The program at STRIVE is four weeks long and extremely comprehensive.  One session the participants go through is dedicated solely to smiles and handshakes.  At first, I couldn’t figure out why that part got so much airtime, but so many people struggled with this aspect.  While it may seem “basic” it is so important.

The clip is a touching one and it’s sad to see how people struggle with how others might perceive them.  As the instructor says, “If you can’t put someone at ease in that first 7 seconds, it could be the difference between getting the job and not getting the job.”  While I think there are probably ways to redeem yourself throughout at interview, I have no doubt that the way you greet your interviewer gives off a really strong impression.  You don’t want to come across as too serious, shy, insecure, overly confident, or worst of all, nervous!

The handshake + smile + verbal introduction combo is what creates that impression.  You don’t want to “smirk” – you want a full “showing-your-teeth-genuinely-happy-to-be-there” smile.    Pair that with a firm, but not scary firm, handshake – preferably a dry one!   Then you’ll need to add a greeting which is generally something along the lines of “so nice to meet you.”  Simple enough!

Taking a cue from STRIVE, I’m going to suggest that as part of your interview “prep” you practice those 3 elements together many times before your interview.  Whether it’s with friends, with family, with a mirror (which might make the handshake part tough)… doesn’t matter.  Get comfortable greeting someone in a positive, confident, and genuine way.  It will help you make a positive first impression in the interview process.  And check out an episode of the show – it’s incredibly moving and really puts things into perspective.

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