How a wrong handshake will eliminate you as a candidate

Perhaps the most important thing you must get right, to leave a good first impression, is to get your greetings right. Whether you are a candidate coming for an interview or a sales manager trying to impress a prospect customer.

But which one I may ask? It could be a wai if you are Thai, a bow if you are Japanese, la bise (cheek kiss) to good friends if you are French, or a firm handshake if you are American.

Screw it up and not getting your handshake, wai or bow correct, spells trouble ahead.

Handshake, wai or both?

The Thai “wai” remains to this day an extremely important part of social behaviour among Thais. As a foreigner, you may not be accustomed to the wai and it will take more than this story to explain the intricacies of this beautiful greeting. Suffice to say here, a kind nod or a smile would go a long way to avoid any embarrassment if you are not comfortable in returning a wai.

If you are Thai meeting a farang (from America, Australia or Europe), you should expect to use a handshake as you introduce yourself. Many Thais struggle with the handshake and often get a meeting off to a really bad start because of a too weak and even wet handshake.

The challenge is in particular evident when two different nationalities clash. How often have I seen a Thai and a farang go from wai to handshake to nodding? If it wasn’t so serious, we could all have a good laugh. But here is the but.

Worst case scenario is that you risk losing everything even before you are seated. If your handshake is too weak, the farang executive will jump to conclusion and see it as a sign of weakness, lack of confidence and interest, lack of masculinity. A handshake must be firm, not weak and not strong. The word is: firm.

So please, you must firm it up, and I recommend that you practice with a friend before the all-important interview or meeting. Even better, find a foreigner who is willing to let you do a couple of handshakes to get it right.

Do’s and Don’ts when meeting a Japanese client

One of the most well-known etiquette’s in Japan is not a handshake but a bow. It’s considered so important in Japan that many companies even provide training to their employees in how to execute bows correctly.

The bow can range from a small nod of the head to a deep bend at the waist. A deeper, longer bow indicates respect and conversely a small nod with the head is casual and informal. Bowing with your palms together (wai as in Thailand) is not customary in Japan.

  • When you are invited to the meeting room in a Japanese company, please go to the opposite side of the room, away from the door and sit down. Wait for the meeting host to arrive.
  • Stand up and walk towards the Japanese host when he enters the room; hand out your business card with both hands. You may nod your head slightly. If the Japanese client hands out his business card, your card (and hands) should be lower than his.
  • The exchange of business cards is considered a handshake. No need to shake hands or wai. You can go back to your seat and sit down.
  • The caveat, most Japanese working overseas have taken to a handshake and may want to shake your hand after the exchange of cards. But wait and see.
  • It’s not polite to hand your business card across the table or giving the card with one hand only.

Meeting a Chinese or Korean in a business setting

If your meeting is with a Chinese or Korean businessman or woman, I am told that a soft or weak handshake is actually preferred. Don’t go for a Donald Trump-style arm grab lasting for several seconds. Even in Hong Kong, handshakes are weaker than those in the Western culture and do please do not stare or eyeball the other person.

Touching the other person to show how friendly you are is not polite and may instead come across as creepy or overly intimate. Cheek kissing even when greeting close friends, as it is often practised in some European countries, is definitely a big no-no.

Having said, that, times are changing and greetings in China have become more relaxed. If you are meeting Chinese business people for the second time (or more) in social situations, the greeting is often a hug from the ladies – all be it quite light, but with an accompanying “air” kiss and for the gentleman, handshakes usually matched to their preference – so often relatively light, but with mutual pats on the upper arms or shoulders.

Of course this does not apply to every acquaintance and every situation. Differences based on age, title and other factors prevail, however my source in China has personally witnessed a more broad application of this more casual greeting across many industries from government to the private sector and everyone in between.

The best advice is to read the situation, adjust as necessary, but generally try to follow the lead of your host, whether in job interviews, at meals, in social situations and the list goes on.

It is considered rude or disrespectful to have your free hand in your pocket while shaking hands. It is the senior person who will initiate a handshake, so if you are there for an interview, wait and see what your host will do.

By the way, Westerners consider it the height of rudeness when you let a door slam in somebody else’s face. But not so in China, holding the door open for strangers is seen as unusual at best.

Cheek kissing is common in some Western cultures: read Western!

Cheek kissing is a common greeting in many countries, whether three, two or one kiss. Most common in France is two, in Oman it is not unusual for men to kiss one another on the nose after a handshake, and in Galapagos women kiss on the right cheek only.

Kissing the hand is considered unsuitable for business situations. In concluding, kissing as a greeting is reserved for friends and family and you should not expect to come across this in a business setting.

Call me old fashioned, I do like a hug from someone I know well. But what’s wrong with a good handshake or a wai if you master the art? Hugging or cheek kissing is best left back in Europe or the Middle East; your staff party is not the time and place to introduce your Western greetings to your staff.


Once upon a time, Tom was an ordinary candidate

Once upon a time, Tom Sorensen, was an ordinary candidate who experienced almost every job search faux pas in the book. Today, he’s an accomplished search consultant with over 35 years’ experience and recognized as one of Thailand’s top recruiters.

If you’re looking for real advice from someone who’s been on both sides of the table, then look no further and visit the links below! Continue reading “Once upon a time, Tom was an ordinary candidate”

How Valentine would select his HR Director

Last night over a nice Valentine’s Day dinner, I asked myself if he had an HR Director? I mean he as in Saint Valentine.

Well, I don’t think so. But since we were celebrating Valentine’s Day, what an opportune time to wonder what if? Valentine’s Day is associated with romantic love and has evolved into a time where lovers express their love for each other by presenting flowers, greeting cards and confectionery. Continue reading “How Valentine would select his HR Director”

The obvious reality is that HR has never been your friend

Can you remember when HR was called the Personnel Department and typically reported to the Head of Accounting? Back then, people were seen as a number or a cost in the company’s income statement.

It’s probably only 10 to 15 years ago that we in Thailand became familiar with the words HRD and OD. And it was also about that time where universities in Thailand started to offer HR and organizational development in their HR curriculum. Since then we have seen HR Business Partner being introduced in bigger organizations or more recent HR Analyst. What’s next? Continue reading “The obvious reality is that HR has never been your friend”

85% find their next job through their network; not from recruiters!

That’s exactly my point, and Anne is spot on in her article. It’s all good that you want to speak to the headhunter, but honestly your odds are better if you take the phone and call the people you know.

Take your box of business cards, then pick up one by one and call. Tell the person that you will soon be available and if he/she knows anyone who could use a talent like yourself. Continue reading “85% find their next job through their network; not from recruiters!”

Artificial Intelligence no match for headhunters

No match as in AI not being as good, strong, or clever as human recruiters who can actually SELL a job.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics once reported that 83% of a labor market is passive, meaning people are not actively looking for a new job. And consider that only about 20% of the six to seven million higher educated Thais are registered LinkedIn user (and a lot less are regular users that is). So what does that tell you? Continue reading “Artificial Intelligence no match for headhunters”

What’s your New Year career resolution?

Being in Asia, there is little in the weather which tells you that we are once again in the month of January. The festive holiday season is now just behind us and you may have thought of your own personal New Year’s resolutions. It’s the time for reflecting on the changes we all want in the coming year.

Have you made yours yet? What about one of these resolutions: Continue reading “What’s your New Year career resolution?”

Headhunter Horror Stories

Seeming disinterested, arrogantly smiling and over- or under dressing for an interview – these mistakes can happen to anyone. But the almost unbelievable behavior of some candidates can leave a deep impression on the psyche of any  hiring manager. Continue reading “Headhunter Horror Stories”

European economies best at recruiting and retaining top talent; what about Thailand?

Switzerland, Denmark and Belgium top the World Talent Ranking in IMD’s prestigious annual report that assesses the methods countries are using to attract and keep the talent that their businesses need to succeed. 11 out of the top 15 economies are European countries.

The ranking of 63 countries, including Thailand, is based on how countries perform in areas of education, apprenticeships, workplace training, language skills, cost of living, quality of life, remuneration and tax rates. Continue reading “European economies best at recruiting and retaining top talent; what about Thailand?”

8 ways to evaluate a headhunter in 30 seconds

You know the feeling when a headhunter calls you. If you ever got the call that is? You feel a sense of pride and excitement. You think to yourself: Finally, someone found me, someone discovered my talent, the big salary and company car coming my way, the neighbours will surely notice my new status, my spouse and children will acknowledge how smart I am. I should go buy a lottery ticket today. Continue reading “8 ways to evaluate a headhunter in 30 seconds”

Candidates on blind dates

Blind dates are sometimes good, usually bad, and always weird at the beginning. So are many interviews between a candidate and a hiring company. If you have never been on one yourself, a blind date is when a friend sets you up to meet a mystery person that you don’t know.

It beats me how hiring companies still treat applicants and candidates as though these people desperately need a job and subject them to abuse and arrogance by misinformed hiring managers. Candidates still tell me how hiring managers and companies seem unprepared when they turn up for an interview. Continue reading “Candidates on blind dates”

The dreaded candidate black hole

It’s really hard to believe that many hiring managers and recruiters still don’t get it. That it’s a courtesy to inform applicants and candidates, who have been interviewed, that unfortunately another candidate was chosen for the job.

I love this line in the story that I quote below, that only one person can land a specific job, but everybody can have a good experience for the duration of the recruitment journey, even if they’re not ultimately the chosen candidate.

Here’s what you say on the phone or you write in the email: Continue reading “The dreaded candidate black hole”

40% of executive searches fail; clients to blame for most of them

Are you surprised? The research from ESIX says that 40% of executive searches fail and that the clients are to blame for 70% of these failures. What is your own experience with contingent recruiters and executive search consulting firms?

I have helped organisations to fill managerial and top executive positions in Thailand for the past 14 years. I see a clear pattern when clients are successful in their hiring, and likewise I notice when companies struggle to recruit. Some examples of what works for the successful client companies: Continue reading “40% of executive searches fail; clients to blame for most of them”

Headhunters don’t take the rap for clients’ behaviour

If you want to know how to jerk the headhunter around, how to make recruiters hate you, how to toy with them and lie to them. Or how you lead them to believe one thing while meaning another, promise them something when you really have no intention of keeping your word. The following will tell it all.

There are certainly moments where I think that clients, be it HR people, corporate recruiters, or line managers, have conspired to make our lives miserable. “Our lives” as in those of us who make a living from helping client companies identify the increasingly difficult-to-find talent. Continue reading “Headhunters don’t take the rap for clients’ behaviour”

Should I trust my gut feeling when interviewing people?

The short answer is no and never! If you want to know why, please keep reading. Using your gut is similar to scratching the surface of something; to examine and discover only the superficial aspects of something or in this case a candidate. We call it the Four A Syndrome, because when you trust your gut, you are assessing a candidate’s presentation skills over business performance and substance. Continue reading “Should I trust my gut feeling when interviewing people?”