First impressions can have a lasting effect on both interviewers and applicants. In fact, the entire interview process goes both ways – applicants are also forming a positive or negative impression of the interviewers, hiring manager, and entire organization.

For example, what impression does your security guard portray of your organization to potential employees? Do they appear welcoming or unfriendly? One applicant was surprised to discover after she was hired that the friendly and helpful greeter at the entrance was actually a security guard. Another example from an applicant’s perspective is from Saeed, a restaurant manager and Israeli American, who had this experience that left him with concerns about the position: “The interviewer put his feet up on the desk, and he kept rocking back and forth in his leather chair. It seemed like he was more interested in rocking than in me. I figured if he treated me like that as an applicant, how will he treat me as an employee?”

Interviewers consciously or subconsciously take into account the applicant’s handshake, eye contact, tone of voice, rate of speech, facial expressions and more. For example, during the greeting what impressions do interviewers form when an applicant has a soft handshake or poor eye contact? Some interviewers have said they can tell during the greeting, when the first impression is formed, whether an applicant is a fit for the job. But what if they are reading the situation wrong?

A common expectation of interviewers is to greet applicants with a firm handshake. Much attention is given to the handshake in interviews. So much so that different types of handshakes have been assigned names. If you have experienced any of these, you would know it!

  • “wet limp,” “dead fish” or “jelly fish” (names for a soft handshake)
  • “bone crusher” (ouch)
  • “finger squeeze” (the two palms are not touching)
  • “double-hander” (second hand on top)

Here is one perspective on the handshake in an interview from a male applicant who is Latino, “When they shake your hand, whether it’s a man or a female, it’s very rigid. It’s like, “Hi,” and it’s very distant. I think they train you to do this, hand really straight forward and, “Hi.” For the Latino culture, we are very personal people. It’s common to kiss, for example, on the cheek, people that you know or even acquaintances. So, you compare that to this rigidity thing and, sometimes it feels a little uncomfortable. Of course, I have been here long enough now that I got used to it. But at first it was something that was very uncomfortable, and I am going, “Well, these people don’t care.”

What if an applicant does not extend her or his hand? An applicant might prefer, for personal or religious reasons, not to shake hands. What reasons can you think of related to religion, culture or one’s health that may cause an applicant to not extend their hand for a handshake? When interviewers understand these possibilities, they can act appropriately if an applicant does not provide the expected handshake. Otherwise, a handshake could leave an interviewer with assumptions about an applicant related to comfort level, confidence level, or an overall negative or positive impression.

A handshake is a major aspect of the greeting that often leaves a lasting impression. But, think about it… what does a handshake have to do with most jobs?

Eye contact is another important aspect of the greeting. If interviewers do not receive direct eye contact from an applicant, they might assume the applicant is being dishonest or is not confident in her or his abilities to perform the job. However, for some applicants of diverse cultural backgrounds, eye contact with an interviewer can have different meanings, as in the following example.

A woman who is American Indian stated, “A lot of interviewers have said, ‘Well, this person did not look at me in the eye, so I feel that person is not honest.’ In the Indian community, looking at somebody with a lot of eye contact is a sign of disrespect or also could be a sign of aggravation.”

Since nonverbal communication makes up much of the first impression formed during the greeting, being observant of applicants’ body language will help interviewers adapt to the different communication styles they encounter.

Behaviors that can influence an interviewer’s impression of an applicant’s fit for a job and an interviewer’s comfort level with an applicant are explored further in the online training and eBook by the same title as this article. To learn more on identifying and eliminating bias in your organization’s hiring process, attend a Diversity Interviewing Blended Training Workshop (five online trainings and a full day, highly interactive workshop) or see our online trainings and books on these topics:

  • Moving Bias to a Conscious Level
  • Eliminating Bias on the Interview Team
  • Developing Cultural Competencies and Skills
  • Developing Inclusive Interview Questions
  • Greeting with Inclusive Style and Body Language

You can also bring this training in-house by pairing it with the Diversity Interviewing Series Trainer Manual, to train your entire hiring team on cultural competencies and skills for inclusive interviewing and hiring.


Copyright © 2016 Lila Kelly Associates, LLC. Integrating Diversity into Recruiting, Interviewing, Hiring and Retention – Since 1992. Not to be reprinted without written permission from Lila Kelly. To stay up to date on all the latest from Lila Kelly Associates and, subscribe to our monthly newsletter.