Job Advice

Best Practice on Handshakes During the Pandemic

Hannah Replogle
August 16, 2021

We recently received this question on handshakes during the pandemic from one of our job candidates and thought it was a good share for all of our job seekers (and employers!). 

My question is what a professional handshake looks like in the midst of the current worldwide pandemic. Per Marion County Health Department guidelines, I will be wearing a face mask and my plan is to follow the lead of the person I am interviewing with when it comes to the handshake greeting, however, I am open to any suggestions you have to offer.

While handshakes were once a major workplace custom, especially during a job interview, COVID-19 is changing things. What do the experts say?

What is the origin of handshakes?

First things first: where does the tradition of shaking hands even come from? It is said that the practice of handshakes dates back to ancient times as a display of peace, showing that neither party was carrying a concealed weapon. It eventually evolved into the greeting and symbol we have today, with many business deals ending with a handshake as a show of good faith. Many lists of interview tips even include “a firm handshake” as a top practice for job candidates. 

Can handshakes transmit COVID-19?

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, famously said in a 2020 press conference, “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you,” saying that it would likely reduce the spread of not just COVID-19, but influenza as well. 

Even pre-pandemic, doctors have acknowledged for some time that handshakes could potentially transmit germs, especially when we don’t take proper handwashing precautions (warm soap and water for 20 seconds) or when we touch our eyes, nose or mouth after shaking hands. Among vaccinated people, the risk of transmitting COVID via handshakes is quite low, but many of us may still not be comfortable with them.

Evaluate your comfort level (and your interviewer’s)

Whether or not you are comfortable shaking hands, you can head off any awkwardness by stating your preference when you enter an interview or meeting. Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of the late etiquette writer Emily Post, says, “Our advice to them is to get comfortable with letting people know, because I think the rude thing to do would be to stand there and act like you are ignoring an outstretched hand.” 

If someone reaches out their hand to you and you are uncomfortable shaking it, don’t feel bad saying, “‘I actually don’t shake hands’ or ‘I am sorry that I don’t shake hands, but I am so pleased to meet you.’” Acknowledging the meaning of the handshake by showing that you are happy to meet them or grateful for the interview shows that your reluctance is purely out of an abundance of caution for your health — and theirs. 

Alternatives to a handshake greeting

If you feel like you want to offer someone another form of greeting instead of a handshake, there are other options. When you first walk up to someone, you could wave, smile or offer a small nod or bow of acknowledgment. In many other countries, a small bow is a great sign of respect. You could also offer a fist bump or an elbow bump, which are said to transmit fewer germs than meeting palms with a handshake. 

No matter your choice of greeting, just remember that it is important to communicate your preference to reduce awkwardness for both parties. In an interview situation especially, you can use your words, instead of just a handshake, to show your excitement for the job opportunity and gratitude for your interviewer. 

If you have more questions for our staffing specialists, we’d love to help! Contact us today online or at 317-469-4141 to learn more about our job-seeking services and current open positions.