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A firm handshake is often identified as an aspect of nonverbal communication that has a critical influence on impressions formed during employment interviews. Indeed, a recent search of the Internet revealed nearly a million listings that detailed the importance of the handshake and gave advice about the proper way to shake hands during an interview.
In spite of seemingly widespread acceptance of the important role the handshake plays in interview success, empirical research examining the handshake in employment interviews is lacking.
Nonverbal cues other than the handshake, such as eye contact during discussions and smiling, have been shown to have a critical influence on interview assessments (DeGroot & Motowidlo, 1999). Although not studied in the interview context, the ubiquitous prevalence of the handshake at both the beginning and the end of interviews suggests that nonverbal cues communicated through the shaking of ands may convey important information about Job applicants.
The handshake may specifically convey information about an individual’s personality, as early research suggested a traitlike relationship between the handshake and personality (Chaplin, Phillips, Brown, Clanton, ; Stein, 2000; Vanderbilt, 1957).
In short, good handshakes are believed to communicate sociability, friendliness, and dominance, whereas poor handshakes may communicate introversion, shyness, and neuroticism (Chaplin et al. , 2000). Yet, research has not explored relationships between the nonverbal act of shaking hands and employment interview evaluations.
In this article, we empirically examine the role of the handshake in employment interviews. We first seek to determine whether quality of the handshake does indeed correspond with interviewer assessments. We then explore the nature of what is being conveyed through the handshake by examining relationships between the handshake and personality.
We also assess the effect of potential gender differences in handshaking. Is Handshake Quality Related to Ratings in Employment Interviews? In the interview context, nonverbal behaviors are assumed to convey useful information (Gifford, Ng, ; Wilkinson, 1985; Schlenker, 1980).
The category of nonverbal cues can be broadly defined as cues, other than the content of responses, or demographic differences like sex and race (Parsons ; Liden, 1984). Nonverbal behaviors commonly thought to be important during an interview include eye contact, smiling, posture, interpersonal distance, and body orientation (Forbes ; Jackson, 1980; lmada ; Hakel, 1977; Motowidlo ; Burnett, 1995; Young ; Beier, 1977). These behaviors are assumed to influence interviewer reactions, which in turn result in attributions of applicant characteristics such as communication ability, 1978).
Given that a handshake typically occurs in the interview setting, it is surprising that researchers have not looked at the role this form of tactile nonverbal communication may play in the interview setting. The handshake is a nonverbal touch behavior that can convey an “immediacy” dimension in interviews (lmada ; Hakel, 1977). Immediacy is an interaction between two individuals that involves close physical proximity and/or perceptual availability (Mehrabian, 1972). It has been theorized that greater immediacy leads to attributions of greater liking (lmada ; Hakel, 1977; Mehrabian, 1967).
Because the act of shaking hands requires physical contact, the handshake should influence immediacy evaluations. Physical touch is generally associated with warmth, closeness, caring, and intimacy (Edinger ; Patterson, 1983). Of course, awkward handshakes can also communicate negative information (Edinger ; Patterson, 1983; Schlenker, 1980). Desirable handshakes have been described as firm handshakes that include a strong and complete grip, vigorous shaking for a lasting duration, and eye contact while hands are clasped (Chaplin et al. , 2000).
Given the high correspondence between other nonverbal cues and interview assessments, e predicted that handshakes demonstrating these desirable characteristics would communicate positive information about the individual being evaluated.
Individuals with a firm handshake will receive more positive evaluations during employment interviews. What Does the Handshake Communicate? Because shaking hands is often the first behavioral act that occurs when people meet, information conveyed through the handshake is potentially critical. But what information does a handshake convey?
What specific cues communicated through the handshake might enhance an interviewer’s evaluation? One possibility is that shaking hands during an interview creates an impression about candidate personality traits that in turn influences assessments of suitability for employment. To explore this effect, we examined existing research on the relationship between traits and the handshake. Greeting behavior, such as the handshake, has mainly been investigated in anthropological and ethnographic studies (Astrom & Thorell, 1996; Schiffrin, 1974; Webster, 1984).
Our search of the literature found only four empirical studies related to handshaking, and none of them was conducted in the interview context. Three studies were conducted in Sweden by Astrom and associates (Astrom, 1994; Astrom & Thorell, 1996; Astrom, Thorell, Holmlund, & d’Elia, 1993), who found moderate relationships between the handshake and personality characteristics such as social extraversion. However, the generalizability of these conclusions to an interview setting is limited, as participants included psychiatric patients, therapists, and clergymen. Another study by Chaplin et al. 2000) in a noninterview setting found a firm handshake to be positively related to related to shyness and neuroticism . The findings across studies suggest that the handshake is particularly informative for assessment of two personality traits: extraversion and neuroticism (Chaplin et al. , 2000). Of the two personality traits identified as likely to be communicated through the handshake, extraversion, but not neuroticism, appears to correspond with interview assessments. Tay, Ang, and Van Dyne (2006) specifically found evidence of a relationship with interview success for extraversion but not for neuroticism . Other studies (e. g. , Caldwell ; Burger, 1998; DeFruyt ; Mervielde, 1999) have imilarly identified extraversion as the personality trait most strongly related to employment interview outcomes. Moreover, meta-analytic evidence suggests that interviewer assessments of extraversion are related to evaluations of work contribution (p = . 33; Huffcutt, Conway, Roth, ; Stone, 2001). Thus, cues related to extraversion appear to be particularly relevant for interpretation of personality information conveyed through shaking hands during employment interviews.
In the interview setting, a firm handshake may convey that the applicant has a high level of extraversion and thus lead to a more positive evaluation. In short, a firm handshake signifies persuasive ability, sociability, and interpersonal skills (Astrom ; Thorell, 1996; Chaplin et al. , 2000), which are aspects of extraversion that are particularly related to success in social interactions (Costa ; McCrae, 1992; Tay et al. , 2006). We therefore hypothesized that the handshake represents a behavioral manifestation of an individual’s extraversion.
Extraversion will correlate positively with handshake ratings. Hypothesis 3: The handshake is a behavioral mediator of the relationship between extraversion and hirability evaluations in employment interviews. Although extraversion is the only five factor model (FFM) trait previously linked both to the handshake and to interview outcomes, we sought additional insight concerning traits. We thus included the remaining FFM traits”neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience”as exploratory measures.
Meta-analytic evidence also suggests that interviewers may use candidate appearance for spontaneous personality assessments at the beginning of the interview (Hosoda, Stone-Romero, & Coats, 2003). To control for possible effects of the “what is beautiful is good” stereotype (Eagly, Ashmore, Makhi]ani, & Longo, 1991), we btained measures of candidate physical attractiveness and professional appearance. Prior research suggests that physically attractive candidates obtain more positive interviewer evaluations than do candidates who are less attractive (Forsythe, Drake, & Cox, 1985; Motowidlo & Burnett, 1995).
Professional appearance, which includes appropriateness of hygiene, personal grooming, and dress (Kinicki & Lockwood, 1985; Mack & Rainey, 1990), is expected to have even larger effects during the interview, because candidates are assumed to have more control over their own customary social behavior or conduct during the interview (Posthuma, Morgeson, & Campion, 2002). To better isolate the effect of shaking hands, we included both measures of candidate appearance as covariates. Does a Weaker Handshake Place Women at a Disadvantage in Employment Interviews?
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