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  • Professional Greetings: How to Avoid Shaking Hands

    August 21, 2020 | By NACE Staff

    Best Practices
    Illustration of people greeting each other without shaking hands.

    TAGS: best practices, internships, operations, nace insights

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    In this new era of social distancing, what is replacing the firm, professional handshake—a staple of business etiquette that career services practitioners have advised for years? Members of the NACE Community offered a few ideas, including:

    • I personally stopped shaking hands with my students a few years ago, a few too many sneezes and dirty fingernails! But I continued to teach the art of the handshake and sincerely look forward to a new touchless greeting becoming the norm.

      I like a small bow, warm smile, or [saying] namaste. I often have students ask me if they can say “I don't want to shake because I am sick.” No!

      I realize I am a confident and experienced professional and can more easily get away without shaking, so it's challenging to coach students, but I think most will be grateful to avoid the handshake.

      I work with international students and they sometimes defer to their cultural norm of hands behind the back and a small bow.

      Patty Corrigan, assistant co-op coordinator, Northeastern University – College of Science

    • I love the idea of bowing! I also think that an elbow bump or fist bump would be acceptable too. We might put a sign up in our booth (whenever that is) that says our staff do not shake hands.

      Sean Lynott, senior campus recruiter, T-Mobile USA, Inc.

    • I am grateful that you will put out a sign! Students are so nervous when they interview/meet at an event that the added stress of the shake will alleviate a burden.

      Patty Corrigan, assistant co-op coordinator, Northeastern University – College of Science

    • It will be interesting to see what comes about. I've had a few mimed handshakes with people; sometimes it's a wave. I think jazz hands are fun. Although I would probably say jazz hands are reserved for those I already know well.

      Tara Lewis, program career coach workforce, Collin College

    • I have been researching online professional etiquette changes needed because of COVID in preparation for a workforce development program I'm presenting soon, and here is the most professional suggestion I've been able to find as a substitute for handshaking. In one of her newest books, Business Etiquette Made Easy, authorMyka Meier recommends what she calls the “stop, drop, and nod” greeting—“standing still, dropping your hands, and putting them behind your back (so you're not tempted to reach out for a handshake), then nodding to say hello.”

      Toni McLawhorn, retired emeritus, Roanoke College

    • I work in a graduate school of public health and several of the faculty—world-renowned epidemiologists, virologists, and disease transmission and handwashing experts—never shook hands, and I thought it was quirky. Sometimes they did an elbow bump, other times they used the non-handshaking as a moment to educate people about just how many microbes you pass on with a handshake. Most public health folks still shook hands during career fairs and even at the American Public Health Association conference; though we also always handed out hand sanitizer to all participants at our career fairs.

      I'm pretty sure at this point that handshakes are a thing of the past. Something else will replace it and it will be fine.

      Heather Krasna, assistant dean/director, Columbia University – Mailman School of Public Health

    What will you advise students to do when greeting a potential employer at a career fair or an interviewer at an onsite visit? Join the NACE Community to discuss this and other professional subjects.