New study determines the precise length of the perfect handshake

You have to get this right. Your handshake with a potential employer at the outset of a job interview really matters. A new study from the University of Dundee’s School of Social Sciences found that the length of time you spend shaking hands can set the tone for the rest of your interaction.

Research has found that handshakes that last too cause anxiety and negatively impact any sort of relationship being formed in that meeting. When the handshake is too short, however, that also reduced the affinity between the parties.

“Politicians are particularly keen on prolonged handshakes, which are often used an expression of warmth but also as a means of demonstrating authority,” said Dr. Emese Nagy, who led the study. “While shaking hands for longer may appear to be a warm gesture on the surface, we found that they negatively affected the behaviour of the recipient – even after the handshake was finished.”

So, just how long should a handshake ideally be?

For this study, participants were interviewed about their work and careers. They were not told that their handshakes were being studied. They would then be introduced to a secondary interviewer who would either shake hands for a longer or shorter period of time – or not at all. Their behaviour and interactions with the interviewers were then compared.

The optimal length of a handshake is three seconds.

Participants showed notably less enjoyment in the encounter after a handshake that lasted more than three seconds. They laughed less and showed increased anxiety. Handshakes that lasted less than three seconds resulted in less subsequent smiling, but they did feel more natural to participants than the longer handshakes.

Want to set the tone for a friendly, productive job interview? Shake hands for three seconds. If you can count to three, let go. If you are a slow counter, then let go early. Shorter is better. If you can count to five and you’re still gripping palms, you aren’t shaking any more, you’re just standing there holding hands. The rest of the meeting is going to be awkward after that.

See also: The science of first impressions (and how many candidates get them wrong)

You can read more about this study on Science Focus.

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