Today I’m going to discuss the importance of the handshake. The first week of school is always an exciting time, one of hope combined with nervousness. I have wished my student clients well this past week for their school journeys and they and their parents know that as their consultant I am here in reserve to be a support to them as they go through the year. I hope they used good handshaking technique as they met new people at their new school orientation. 

In September, admissions staff sigh with relief at getting the year started and seeing the young people they courted now settling in. They strike a balance between keeping a sympathetic eye and ear out for these youngsters and letting them take their first steps to thrive in this new boarding community.

Admissions people were the first adults they encountered on the journey. So, it’s critical that they keep a close watch on these new kids. At the same time, these staff must slowly begin to look outward into the world to find the next crop of the right students that will fit their school. The courting process begins all over again!

It's hard to get into a good school. It's even harder to get into your dream school. Canada has around 30 boarding schools and the United States around 300. While there is a great deal of choice, the competition for a place can be intense. One of the factors in the admissions equation is making a good first impression. 

I read with interest an article a short while ago by one of my former students, Garth Friesen, who is the CEO at 111 Capital Management, a former advisor to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and a regular contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal. I spoke with Garth last week and he has  kindly  given his permission for me to share his thoughts from a recent piece of his in the WSJ about a critical aspect of the first impression: the handshake!

As many young people and their parents begin researching schools, I thought this article might prove helpful before you make visits in the next few months. So, here are Garth’s thoughts. He’s talking about the hiring process, but the same principles apply for an admissions interview!

“Unfortunately, many people ruin their chances to get hired at first contact by failing to execute a simple maneuver: the handshake. As a person who interviews prospects regularly, the handshake is critical. Although I have never hired a candidate because they had a great handshake, on many occasions I have written somebody off if the initial greeting was awkward or strange. I'm amazed at how many people fail to follow basic etiquette when it comes to the basic handshake. Everybody knows to give a "firm handshake", but it seems that definition requires more detail. For those who are struggling to interpret its meaning, here are three tips to follow at your next interview.

Stay Traditional
No fist bumps. No front side/back side. No bro hugs (yes, that really happened to me a couple of months ago). Use one hand, not two. Extend your hand vertically, not horizontally or on an angle. Target the "web" between the thumb and index finger of other person's hand so you meet palm to palm. Ensure you don't grab their fingers, or it can get uncomfortable very quickly. Make it last around 2-3 seconds and have 2-3 "pumps".

Get a Grip
Not hard. Not limp. Firm. You are not trying to pop a tennis ball with your bare hands, ok? Believe it or not, you can damage somebody's hand if you squeeze it too tight. I had a 6'5" college lineman damn-near break a bone once. Similarly, too loose of a handshake sends the wrong message. It displays weakness, and quite frankly, very little knowledge of social etiquette. The handshake should be firm. What does that mean? Strong enough so the person could not pull their hand away easily if they wanted, but not so hard that it feels like you are trying to dominate them. If you still don't understand what firm means, just mirror the pressure of the person you are greeting.

Pay attention to your body posture
The handshake is just part of the first impression you are delivering, so make sure you have the other basics to go along with it. Stand up, don't stay seated if you are in a chair. Look the person in the eye and smile. Don't pull the person in too close. Keep your loose hand out of your pocket and off the arm or back of the person you are meeting.

Getting off to the right start in an interview is critical. If you follow these basic tips, you will avoid making a bad first impression. You may have all the skills in the world, but if you can't get the simplest of greetings right, you're not going to get a chance to use them."

My thanks to Garth for this great advice. All best wishes to students as you research and visit schools. Be warm, be friendly, look people in the eye, remember their name – and make sure your handshake is a good one!

JARVIS AND ASSOCIATES : Phillip J. Jarvis Phd.

Associate Member: IECA
US/Canada Boarding School Placement
Primary contact: 250-595-0468