How to Politely Decline a Handshake at an Interview

As the number of COVID-19 cases increases in the United States, it is important to remember social distancing to keep yourself and those around you safe. However, this may cause awkward moments in a professional setting.

Handshaking is a common greeting used both in and out of the workplace, yet The New York Times released an article saying that handshakes should now be put on hold.  Political leaders, such as the Dutch prime minister, have announced a no handshake rule. Even the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a statement saying that we must find alternative non-contact methods of greeting.

Here, we offer you ways to politely decline a handshake and provide alternative ways to greet someone before being interviewed.

How to say “No” 

Future employees may be confused on how to decline a handshake before an interview without being rude.  

Whether you applied hand sanitizer or washed your hands recently, there is still a risk of passing pathogens to one another. Many are aware and respectful of the social distance policy, but it is easy to forget since handshaking has become a habitual form of greeting.  

First, it is important to remind yourself that everyone is under a similar state of confusion as we cope with this pandemic.  Work settings everywhere are going through this social change, thus declining a shake has become more polite and respectful.  

This does not mean you must abruptly say “no”, there are ways to keep it light. Those you are meeting will most likely be appreciative of this rejection, as they probably forgot the shift of professional etiquette

We as a culture must work collectively to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, although it is difficult to move away from our social norms. 

Still, it is always awkward to reject a greeting that was once so common and polite. Kathy Gurchiek from SHRM suggested asking the person you are meeting if there is a policy for handshaking. If your interviewer does reach their hand to you, you can politely decline by saying “Sorry, I don’t want to risk passing anything to you” or “I apologize, but I want to refrain from touching others. This virus has me very paranoid.” Chances are they feel the same. 

This time is stressful and worrisome for all, thus reminding yourself and others to practice no-contact greetings is important for keeping yourself and others safe.

Although it may be difficult and awkward rejecting a handshake, there are also other ways to greet others.

Alternative Greetings 

Many are changing to fun, creative, and respectful ways to introduce themselves to others.  

USA Today suggests using jazz hands as a way to say hello. They also suggest using humor to help one through this strange time.  As stated, many are worried of catching the virus, so making it light and fun will help overcome this anxiety. 

The National Public Radio interviewed Thomas Farely, a New York-based etiquette consultant.  Farley states that an elbow or chest bump is unprofessional, and that he prefers using the classic Star-Trek “live long and prosper” greeting. However, not everyone can split their fingers this way.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, encourages using  “namaste” as a new form of greeting. Putting your hands together and slightly bowing is a great way to remain professional and respectful when meeting others. 

Other alternatives suggested by Kathy Gurchiek include fist bumping, holding your hand over your heart, and simply waving. She also suggests refraining from the elbow bump, as people commonly cough into the crook of their elbow. 

Overall, it is important that you continue practicing social distancing in order to protect yourself and those around you. This outbreak is causing a change in the professional environment. Through reminding others of the new etiquette and refraining from contact, we will be able to decrease the spread of this virus.  

To reiterate countless medical professionals, government officials, and news reporters: continue to wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and minimize contact with others. 

This outbreak has caused difficulties for all, so it is important to follow the guidelines put in place to keep us safe. 


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