After working at many job fairs I’ve seen HR reps who do shake hands and ones that don’t. I’ve gone back and forth on what I think the correct protocol is, but I would say that you should assume they want to shake your hand unless they say otherwise. Some people actually have a sign on their table that says they don’t shake hands. I’ve seen many people who ignore that sign and start to shake their hand anyway. I’m sure it’s just out of nerves, but do honor them if that’s their preference. You want to leave them with a good impression of you.
I’m one of those Howie Mandel, germ phobic type of people that cringes at the thought of shaking hands with anybody including the Pope. So I tend to let the other person take the lead if that’s what they want. In business I know it’s appropriate, so I will if I have to.
If you do shake hands, there are a few rules of etiquette to follow:
- Introduce yourself before extending your hand – they’ll be focused on your face, so make sure you smile and look them in the eye as you say your name. And say it with confidence like you are the best person for this job and you will make them happy they hired you.
- Don’t use a power grip whether it’s with a man or woman – A bone-crushing handshake sends the wrong message. It says “I’m the alpha dog and I really don’t like being told what to do”. That doesn’t mean you should use the cold fish handshake either. Something in between that conveys confidence, yet defers to the other person without seeming weak.
- Avoid the two-handed shake – this is known as the politician’s shake and can come across as being phony and even down-right creepy if used on a stranger. Also don’t put your other hand on the person’s shoulder. That comes across as being too intimate for someone you don’t know.
- Keep the shake around 3 seconds – this is a good length of time so that it doesn’t become uncomfortable.
Follow these handshaking techniques and you’ll be ahead of the game at a job fair.