What’s In The Power of a Handshake?

When it comes to job hunting, the power of a handshake is greater than the pen and the sword and the resume’.

Trust me on this. Human beings evolve very slowly. They do. What this means is that even though technology gives us more bells, whistles, graphics, and moving pictures and ringtones than one could possibly use in a lifetime, that’s not what makes the job-hunting world go ‘round. Executive positions are still landed through person-to-person connection. All things being equal, human beings will choose cohorts, colleagues, coworkers, leaders and subordinates using the same genetically-wired pocesses used by cave people. It has little to do with technology, and a lot to do with our gut responses to unknown persons: “Who are you, stranger, and why should I like you? You are different than I.”

This suspicious response stems from protective mechanisms within us that were shaped eons ago. It’s part of our “cellular wiring” that has not yet evolved out of our biology. Essentially, when you are job hunting, you are dealing with the original form of the dreaded syndrome of “cold calling.” You have to put yourself on the line audibly and visually in person, and make that handshake connection with someone you do not know. The cave men and women didn’t like it either, but in order for them to change and grow and survive and evolve in the world, they had to take a chance and appear at a stranger’s cave door.

We are still wired to respond to new people and situations like our cave people ancestors. Now, does that mean that technology is useless in our job hunting? Not at all! It just means that your use of technology will not, in MOST circumstances, be what gets you a job. It will contribute, yes, but chances are you will STILL HAVE TO MEET YOUR POTENTIAL BOSS IN PERSON, and that meeting will have a HUGE impact on whether or not you are hired.

Because we are “only human,” the nuances that influence a job candidate’s selection for a position are still based upon whether or not we are convinced that he/she thinks like us, works like us, values what we value, and believes what we believe. In “Outliers: The Story of Success,” Malcolm Gladwell tells us about an “ethnic theory of plane crashes” that illustrates dramatically what the effects are of our cultural conditioning on workplace situations. The chapter in his book makes for amazing reading, and I can’t help but recommend that you read Outliers if you haven’t already. But, when you read it, think about your own career, and how much “culture” has affected your successes and failures. “He (David Greenberg, Director of Flight Operations for Korean Air, 2000) knew that cultural legacies matter – that they persist, long after their original usefulness has passed.”

Although Gladwell says that Greenberg was smart when he didn’t “assume that cultural legacies are an indelible part of who we are,” I am going to pose the assertion that in many cases they ARE, particularly when it comes to the job hunt.

The exception that will quite possibly change this rule will be the generations of young people yet to come. They have been born into technology, with no fear of constant change in how they do things. This, in my opinion, will completely alter the future, and it’s anybody’s guess what “the job hunt” will look like in, say, 2020.

In the meantime, though, if your idea of a comprehensive job hunting plan is sitting behind your computer and sending out resumes with no cold call telephone contact, or pavement pounding, or shaking hands with referrals, or putting on your best suit and shoes and meeting others face-to-face, I’d like you to rethink your plan. We’re still all cave men and women at heart.

Coming up: “You truly never do get a second chance to make a great first impression.”

Di Chapman, CEO Words to Your Advantage Speaking and Writing Service


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