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How to Politely Avoid Shaking Hands

Adapted from a  National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)  resource written by Will Zwikelmaier.

Whether for health, personal, or religious reasons, turning down a handshake in a professional setting can be uncomfortable. If you are actively interviewing or networking and find yourself asking “Can/ Should I decline a handshake?”, you’ll want to read on. 

You have likely heard that a confident handshake can set the tone for a great interaction. While it’s true that people can pick up on cues like nervousness and confidence from body language, it is also important to note that your handshake is not indicative of your professional skills. Shaking hands is a learned activity and, in many cases, simply a social norm. 

It is your choice to decide whether or not to handshake, and it can sometimes be best to err on the side of caution. But, with no communication things can get awkward fast. Think about that anxious feeling when someone leaves you hanging for a high five, or when you wave across the room only to go unnoticed. That is no way to start a job interview or professional interaction. 

If you decide not to shake hands and someone extends their arm to do so, consider one of these responses: 

  • “I’m sorry, I’m not shaking hands right now to help limit the spread of germs.” 
  • “I’m sorry, the University has asked us not to shake hands right now.” (blame us!) 

Keep it light, direct, and follow up with something like, “I am very excited to meet you though.” 

The National Association of College and Employers (NACE) also offers several options: 

  • Place your right hand over your heart and briefly explain your cultural view. 
  • Hold both of your hands together and give a short bow. 
  • Put your hand over your heart and smile while saying “Such a pleasure to meet you.” No apology needed. 

It can require a bit of forethought to determine what response you are most comfortable with using. Whatever your choice, shaking hands is not a requirement.  

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” – Arthur Ashe

About the author

Ashley Strong

Ashley Strong is a Career Counselor at Engineering Career Services.