To shake or not to shake?
March 13, 2013 9:17 PM   Subscribe

I have a job fair sort of thing coming up tomorrow. I've been advised both that I should and should not shake hands with the interviewers. Help?

Shaking hands with them seems like the natural thing to do both at the beginning and end of the interview (I think), but it has been pointed out by a professor whose opinion I trust that they will be seeing lots of people that day (around 20 interviewees plus whoever else might want to shake hands with them) and not everyone wants to shake your germy hand (even if you are not ill). We should not refuse a handshake, but we should not initiate one, either.

If it makes any difference, it's college-based, and the interviewers are from creative fields... think video game development or animation studio, not accounting firm. It is semiformal - they do not have jobs or internships necessarily open for us, and we are not applying for specific jobs it's more of a "first look" and networking event in which we set up 15-minute interview appointments to have a variety of people look at our portfolios and resumes.

I would certainly shake hands for a more formal interview - i.e. in which I was actually applying for a specific position - and would certainly decline to shake/wouldn't initiate a shake if I was ill and explain why. I see my professor's point about the number of handshakes and not wanting to force them into shaking your hand to avoid awkwardness, though.
posted by jorlyfish to Work & Money (17 answers total)
I think your professor is projecting their own preferences onto your interviewers. Germs are a recognized job hazard at a job fair. Do not be afraid to initiate the shake.
posted by bricoleur at 9:24 PM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I interview people and I think it's strange when they don't offer to shake my hand. If I didn't want to shake (as an interviewer), I would say something like "excuse my rudeness, I'm just getting over a cold." As an interviewee, it's expected that you go for the shake. Doesn't matter whether it's formal or informal.
posted by murfed13 at 9:24 PM on March 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your professor is crazy. It'd be perceived as quite odd not to shake hands with the interviewer during introductions. I've never met anyone who thinks the same way as your professor.

It's always important to remember that professors are, in general, much more familiar with academia than industry. They are, after all, academics.
posted by saeculorum at 9:25 PM on March 13, 2013 [20 favorites]

Definitely at the beginning, maybe at the end, too.
posted by charlemangy at 9:25 PM on March 13, 2013

Absolutely expect to shake hands at the beginning and end of an interview. My colleagues who conduct interviews at job fairs all bring little bottles of hand sanitizer. It would be extremely odd for someone not to offer a handshake in a business setting, which is what this is.
posted by erst at 9:28 PM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Way over thinking. Relax and shake hands.
posted by pearlybob at 9:31 PM on March 13, 2013

Real world => shake hands.
posted by Dansaman at 9:43 PM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't overthink it.

In my experience if someone explicitly doesn't want to shake hands for germ reasons, they will probably say something like "Sorry I can't shake your hand, I'm just getting over that awful flu that's going around..." and then they fist-bump you or wave in your general direction or otherwise approximate some kind of disarming and sympathetic gesture before getting down to brass tacks.

Either way, I doubt you will lose points by proffering your hand. Just be understanding if they don't want to shake hands.
posted by Sara C. at 9:45 PM on March 13, 2013

Thanks guys -- Seems, uh, pretty unanimous.

I had thought shaking was the right thing to do but this professor had me questioning if there was some kind of separate etiquette for a job fair or similar situation.
posted by jorlyfish at 9:49 PM on March 13, 2013

I've been on the other side of the table at job fairs. We had hand sanitizer and dipped into it after every candidate walked away. It's part of the territory.
posted by plinth at 3:28 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

The interviewer is the higher-status person, so you wait for them to offer their hand. It is a definite insult not to shake a proffered hand, at least without explanation ("sorry I'm just getting over the flu, I don't want you to catch it").

If you impulsively offer your hand first, don't wangst about that either.

People love to overthink this crap and use it to overwhelm young jobhunters with too much detail about the minefield of inscrutable social expectations that are supposedly out there. You follow etiquette, which is clearly codified in books (like Miss Manners) that are available for anyone to read. You don't have to try to mind-read or second-guess the wacky personal preferences of anyone who would unfairly penalize you for not being psychic.
posted by tel3path at 5:14 AM on March 14, 2013

I had thought shaking was the right thing to do but this professor had me questioning if there was some kind of separate etiquette for a job fair or similar situation.

The professor might be completely correct in that interviewers get sick of shaking hands all day, but the interviewers you meet won't know that you aren't shaking their hands out of empathy for their plight. All they will be able to discern is that you didn't engage in a social norm. The worst that can happen is that you shake their hand and you are just another person engaging in social norms.

But I do agree that handshakes in this situation should be offered by the higher status individual in this situation. (There are others where it's the opposite.) But the interviewer should stand up, offer the handshake and invite you to sit down. If they don't, and skip right to the sit down part, then don't worry about it.
posted by gjc at 5:56 AM on March 14, 2013

Shake hands.

Pocket hand sanitizer.

Shake hands.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:52 AM on March 14, 2013

20 people in a day? That's not a terribly lot of handshakes, even if you shake twice. I'm thinking about a show I saw - maybe an episode of the West Wing with Alan Alda running for president - where he had a sprained hand and wore a brace, but every time the tour bus stopped, he took the brace off and left it in the bus before he went out into the crowd and shook hands with everyone in the vivinity. Because that's what you do; that's what everyone expects.
posted by CathyG at 7:56 AM on March 14, 2013

FWIW, etiquette suggests that the higher ranking person should initiate a handshake. So properly speaking, you as the applicant should not be initiating a handshake with a representative of the company you want to work for regardless of how you feel about germs.

Accept any handshakes offered to you -- to do otherwise would be rude. Don't worry overly much about initiating your own.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:35 AM on March 14, 2013

Generally, shake. You look assertive and like you're ready to take control of a situation. And if you don't shake when you meet someone, it's awkward.

For a job fair, I think it would really depend on the circumstance. But I've never used a job fair. Looking confident seems like a better default choice though.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:15 PM on March 14, 2013

I suspect this depends on your field. I never initiate handshakes because I find them weird, although I accept them when offered, and I got a job (that is awesome) from a university job fair. But my field is full of people who pointedly ignore stuff like that; if you're, say, a business major then I imagine the handshake thing is a lot more important.
posted by anaelith at 3:41 AM on March 17, 2013

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