“The handshake is such an important part of the business culture that a job candidate is really taking a chance by not doing it,” said Greg Stewart, a management and organizations professor and handshake expert in the Tippie College of Business. “Our research has shown that it’s one of the most important indicators of a person's interpersonal dimensions, so not shaking hands might reflect badly.”
Stewart's past research has shown the importance of the handshake in a successful job interview. In an experiment, students at mock job interviews who were found to be more hirable by interviewers also received higher scores for their handshakes from trained handshake raters.
"We found that the first impression begins with a handshake that sets the tone for the rest of the interview," said Stewart.
Setting a good tone is so important that not even a flu outbreak should deter a candidate from heartily shaking whatever hands are offered in an interview, he said. With the economy in a recession, Stewart said employers have their pick of potential workers, and a refusal to shake hands might be the strike that eliminates a candidate.
"It really does put the person being interviewed in an awkward position if they're worried about catching the flu, but there's really not a good way to get around it," he said.
He said employers might be more lenient if the flu outbreak becomes a more serious health hazard, but for now, H1N1 does not appear to be more dangerous than the seasonal flu and as a result is only in the back of most interviewers’ minds.
Stewart suggested that concerned interviewees should wash their hands frequently before and after the interview. “Or carry some hand sanitizer and use it as soon as they leave the interview,” he said.
Stewart added that if an interviewee or interviewer actually has flu-like symptoms, such as a high fever, the interview should be rescheduled if possible.