Hone the handshake and screw in the smile: What career recruiters really look for in potential job candidates

Posted on Sep 6 2013 - 1:39am by Mast Media

By Stephanie Beckman, News Writer

I emphatically deny the secret to finding a job is a firm handshake. The first time I was told that was in middle school, when we spent an hour perfecting a handshake that was allegedly supposed to express confidence, especially when paired with a “winning” smile. Both of these tips are part of age-old job search manuals.

Needless to say, I didn’t follow any of the typical advice when I went to the career fair. I wasn’t formally dressed, and I didn’t have a short speech prepared. What I was really interested in finding out was if a handshake and a resume was enough for the 53 employers at the expo or if there was something more.

Kerri Greenway, administrative manager for Peace Community Center, was at the first booth I stopped at. She stressed how her organization prefers to hire full time staff that has worked with them before as interns or volunteers.

“We’re really focused on relationships and long-term commitments,” Greenway said. “So someone who’s never even heard of us before saying like, ‘I want a full time job with you’ — I don’t know if you actually want a full time job with us, because you don’t even know who we are or what we do.”

For the record, Peace Community Center is a non-profit located in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood that works to prepare children to be successful in school and improve their communities.

Applying for Global Washington, which promotes international development, was much easier.

An intern, Robin Klein, staffed the non-profit’s booth. “Just email them your resume in the application … they thrive off of interns,” Klein said. Klein said people should not give her resumes, because they might get lost in the shuffle.

Staff Recruiter Ian Rozmairek of Interstate Distribution Company, a trucking company, greeted me with a firm handshake and then showed me an extended secret handshake that included fist bumps and low fives before we discussed the technicalities of executing a high five: keep the eye on the elbow. He gave me his work phone number as well as a business card for one of his co-workers.

After the expo, I didn’t really know what to think. I couldn’t decide if my teachers were right by telling me all these little things mattered or if there was something else. Some of those words of advice had worked and some hadn’t.

I turned to the Career Development Office for some help. Recruiting and Outreach Manager Tracy Pitt from the development office weighed in on my problem.

“I see it as a whole package. You don’t know what that employer is looking for, so you’re going to have a great handshake, you’re going to be dressed professionally, [and] you’re going to have researched their company,” Pitt said. “You don’t know what they value until you talk to them. So you need to get all of those pieces right to ensure that you have the best chance.”

At the end of the day, the students of Pacific Lutheran University impressed all of the employers, Tommy Skaggs, coordinator of Student Employment and Technology, said.

And as for me, I learned that being prepared for an interview, even if it’s by practicing my handshake with my roommates, isn’t a bad thing. And what a handshake won’t get you, a high five will.