Two Thumbs Up: The Business Etiquette of Hand Gestures

Have you ever made an instant judgment about a person based on the way they shook your hand? Are you unsure what to do with your hands while speaking, or have you been distracted by the hand gestures a speaker used?

Body language plays an important role in the opinions (both conscious and unconscious) we develop of one another. By being intentional with your body language, you can change how people perceive you. The study of body language in the business world is broad. Today we’ll narrow in on best practices for handshakes and hand gestures.

The Handshake

As Professor Allan Pease, a body language expert, states, “People form up to 90% of their (first) impression in under four minutes.” The simple, non-verbal action of a handshake can set the tone for a professional relationship. Make it count and make it positive with these tips:

  • If you are sitting down, rise to meet the handshake.
  • Practice holding things such as your meeting notes, your bag, or your drink in your left hand so you are prepared to shake with your right.
  • Attempt to give the same amount of pressure you receive. Grip firmly, not too strongly or limply.
  • Keep your handshake vertical.
  • Keep your handshake brief and maintain eye contact.

Practicing good handshake etiquette positions you as an equal in the relationship, rather than as dominating or submissive. Now that’s a lasting good impression.

Hand Gestures

Young woman using open hand gestures while speakingWhen speaking, you convey meaning not only with your words, but with your movements. Gestures can make your audience more receptive to your message, or cause them to tune out. Before your next interview or presentation, brush up on these hand gesture dos and don’ts.

  • Listing: When referring to a number under five, show the number with your hand. This gesture acts like a highlighter, helping the audience retain key points.
  • The Open Upward Palm: Hold your hands open, palm up. This gesture suggests that you are being open and honest with the audience.
  • This and That: Use your hands to represent two different subjects or groups. Your left hand represents the 1st subject and the right hand represents the 2nd subject. Utilize the appropriate hand when referencing that subject or group.
  • Conducting: Avoid repetitive motions and patterns of movement. This can cause the audience to lose interest.
  • The Pointer Jab: Avoid pointing at the audience for emphasis. This gesture is often perceived as aggressive and belittling.

Hand gestures are a small thing that can have a big impact on your job hunt or other business endeavor. To make sure your gestures are working for, not against you, practice speaking in front of a mirror and train yourself to use positive, non-confrontational gestures at the appropriate time.

If you are a workforce professional, consider sharing this article with your colleagues and the job seekers with whom you work. If you have other favorite resources or an example about body language best practices, please share in the comments.


#ThankATeacher for Shaping the Future

Laura Lucas was my high school English teacher, and without her, I probably would not have made it through high school. She invested time and interest in me when I was quick to push almost anyone else away. She challenged me academically and personally and was a steady source of encouragement and inspiration. One keen memory I have is finding out I got a perfect score on the English section of the ACT. She drove me in 36 circles around the school parking lot, honking and cheering. More than 12 years later, I still keep in touch with her and consider her my mentor.

Think back to a teacher who changed you. Almost all of us can name a teacher who played a role in our academic, personal, or professional development—someone who inspired us to pursue an educational or vocational path or who helped us navigate the sometimes rough waters of childhood or young adulthood. This week, May 7–13, is National Teacher Appreciation Week, with National Teacher Day on May 9—“a day of honoring teachers and recognizing the lasting contributions they make to our lives.”

Teacher Appreciation Week Graphic

Every year, students spend approximately 1,000 hours in school, placing teachers in a position to profoundly influence their students. At all levels of education, positive relationships between teachers and students provide long-lasting benefits. According to the American Psychological Association, supportive relationships with teachers result in higher levels of academic achievement and contribute to students’ social skills. Teacher-student relationships also boost students’ self-esteem and increase their confidence in their academic and vocational futures (Gallagher). With teachers’ encouragement and support, students thrive.

Education is a vocational choice that offers both profound rewards and an ongoing positive career outlook. As of 2014 in the United States, 3.7 million teachers lead our primary and secondary students, and 1.5 million faculty work in post-secondary education. Elementary school teachers earn a median pay of $55,490 a year and can expect a 6% increase in jobs between 2014 and 2024. High school teachers earn a median pay of $58,030 a year, and also can anticipate 6% job growth between 2014 and 2024. Finally, postsecondary teachers earn a median pay of $75,430 a year, with a projected 13% job growth between 2014 and 2024. We will always need educators who are passionate about shaping future generations and willing to offer personal support to help students succeed in and out of school.

This week, take time to show teachers your appreciation. You could:

  • Use the hashtag #ThankATeacher in social media this week, especially on National Teacher Day (May 9).
  • Contact one of your previous teachers and tell them why they were important to you.
  • Give your kids’ teacher a small gift or write a note of appreciation.
  • Volunteer in your kids’ classroom.
  • Leave a comment on this post about a teacher who influenced you.

5 Steps to Winning at Presentations

Is it your turn to present at the staff meeting? Are you giving a talk at a business conference or job fair? Were you asked to prepare a presentation for a job interview? Whether you’re workforce center staff, an employer, or a job seeker, you will run into occasions when you need to talk in front of other people. All of us know the protracted pain of poor presentations, so to win at your next presentation, we suggest keeping these five steps in mind:

  1. Know your audienceWhat do they value? What do they already know and what do they need to learn?
  2. PracticeKnow your content; know your technology (how comfortable are you with the presentation software or other media you may be using?); regulate your breathing.
  3. Consider aestheticsChoose colors, fonts (type and size), and graphics that enhance your presentation without distracting from the content. Remember #1 above. Will your audience find your aesthetic choices pleasing? Also be sure to follow any applicable branding or style guidelines.
  4. Promote interactivityGetting your audience involved makes a presentation more interesting and memorable. Try mixed media or polls, but remember #2 above. Practice and know your technology!
  5. Make a connectionUse a story or statistic to connect with your audience, then give a call to action so that they can apply what they’ve learned in your presentation.

5 Steps to Winning at Presentations Graphic

Check out our Proposing and Presenting board on Pinterest for more advice and a collection of cool, free online presentation tools. We look forward to putting our words into action and giving top-notch presentations at the upcoming Spring Meeting in KCMO. If you have any advice or recommended resources, leave us a comment.

Ringing in the New Year: Five Professional Resolutions for 2017

Lose weight. Get organized. Spend less, save more. Enjoy life to the fullest. Stay fit and healthy. These are the top five New Year’s resolutions according to a study by the Journal of Clinical Psychology. While resolutions to do yoga every morning or to eat more vegetables are undeniably good goals, commitment to make changes in your professional life may hold equal or greater importance. The average person works 90,000 hours of their life, so a commitment to a change in your professional habits will noticeably affect the rest of your life.

Whether you are workforce professional staff, a job seeker, or an employer, we’ve identified five commitments to make in the upcoming year to improve your career:

  • Learn something new: Keep your skills relevant, your brain sharp, and your confidence up (“8 Benefits of Lifelong Learning”) by taking advantage of free online learning communities, where you can take classes on almost any topic. Many top schools like Stanford, MIT, or Harvard offer free courses, some with optional professional certification.
  • Read more: Reading improves your intellect and emotions and can be a great way to take a break and reset. You may think you have no time to read, but stolen moments—like waiting for a friend to arrive or for the coffee to be ready—equal pages read. If you read two pages a minute, and you have 60 minutes of spare time throughout your day, you can have a 300-page book read in 10 days (Khim). Don’t want to carry around a book? Try free reading apps like Kindle or OverDrive that offer a great selection of free ebooks and audiobooks.

    The Math of Reading in Small Chunks
    Picture from HubSpot
  • Listen to a podcast: If you can’t find time to sit down with a book, try listening to a podcast. Podcasts are great for daily commuting or traveling, and with plenty of great podcasts dedicated to business, you’ll be up to date with the latest news and topics.
  • Be a mentor: Do you have mentors in your life? If you do, you likely know how important they can be in your career. Well, it’s time to turn the tables and become a mentor to someone else. Being a mentor means listening and offering support, and leading by example. Mentors don’t come in a specific size, shape, or age; even younger employees can be mentors.
  • Take breaks: Short breaks throughout the day increase your concentration, alertness, and productivity, while decreasing your stress, aches and pains, and eye strain. Stand up, stretch, walk around, get a healthy snack, doodle, or read a few pages. Set a timer so you know when to stop for a few minutes; the Pomodoro Cycle suggests you take a 5-minute break every 25 minutes, then a 30-minute break after four sessions.

    One Pomodoro Cycle
    Picture from FastCompany

Whether you’re helping someone find a job, seeking a job yourself, or running a business, following through on these five commitments will result in a more positive work experience filled with opportunities to learn and grow. But don’t limit yourself to our five suggestions; make a list of your own professional resolutions. Check out the following articles offer for more ideas, and let us know in the comments what professional resolutions you’ve made for 2017.

#InclusionWorks: Celebrating Diversity in the Workplace

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a time to focus on the value that workers with disabilities bring to the workplace. With nearly 20% of the working age population represented by people with disabilities (think one in five), employing workers with disabilities is a timely and important topic to the workforce development community.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month Poster

Disability employment is an important facet of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), as explored in Section 188, which was originally enacted with Workforce Investment Act (WIA) in 1998 and continues to apply to the updated WIOA legislation of 2015. Section 188 seeks to prevent discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or political affiliation or belief.

To assist American Job Centers with understanding and applying inclusionary practices, the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) developed “Promising Practices in Achieving Universal Access and Equal Opportunity: A Section 188 Disability Reference Guide.” Other resources, like The Disability and Employment Community of Practice, educate employers and workforce staff on providing services and programs to people with disabilities.

To celebrate and promote awareness of NDEAM, we’ve prepared a quick list of Do’s and Don’ts for making your workplace or American Job Center more inclusive:


  • Test your website, online applications, recruitment material, and social media content for accessibility. (See Section 508 for detailed info on accessibility standards.) The America’s JobLink system is routinely tested for accessibility using the SSB BART Group’s Accessibility Management Platform (AMP). AMP is a web-based solution for meeting Section 508, Americans with Disabilities (ADA), WCAG, and other compliance needs.
  • Provide accommodations for public spaces and events, such as considering the height of display tables, offering a variety of publication formats, or being prepared with assistive technology.
  • Participate in internship, mentorship, and hiring programs for students and recent grads with disabilities.
  • Consider the needs of employees with disabilities when developing emergency management plans.


Have something to add to the list? Let us know in the comments.

Celebrating the American Workforce

You know it as a day off—a day to relax, probably grill out, maybe take a short road trip or save money on appliances or back-to-school sales. But Labor Day—the first Monday in September—celebrates the accomplishments of American industry. Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894, a time when the impact of the Industrial Revolution was manifesting itself in labor strikes and rallies—workers coming together to demand safer and more humane working conditions with better pay. The late 19th century and early 20th century was a crucial time for establishing laws that regulated labor—from banning child labor to restricting the number of hours in a work day. (Read more about the history of Labor Day and the labor movement here and here.)

Labor Day Graphic

While conditions for American workers have drastically improved since the 1894, the U.S. Department of Labor is still working toward “building a shared prosperity for a stronger America”, focusing on the following topics:

  • A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work: Increasing the national minimum wage and providing overtime protection;
  • Providing a path to get ahead: Providing education and training for middle-class employment;
  • A job with family values: Balancing work­–home life;
  • A chance to succeed no matter where you start: Helping underserved, at-risk, and recently incarcerated individuals find employment; and
  • A voice in the workplace: Empowering workers to speak up about their needs.

So this Monday, while you’re enjoying the national holiday, think about how far we’ve come as a nation of workers, and look ahead to an even stronger workforce that celebrates equality and American values.

Color Me Stress-Free: The Adult Coloring Trend at Work

Have you noticed stacks of coloring books in the magazine racks in the grocery store? Have you seen patrons at coffee shops, book stores, or libraries with pencils or crayons spread out around them? Did you notice Twitter and Instagram were inundated with the hashtag #NationalColoringBookDay this past Wednesday? Well, if you can answer yes to any of these questions, you are likely aware of a new trend that’s taken hold across the U.S.: adult coloring books. Maybe you’re familiar with the trend; maybe you’ve even bought a coloring book for yourself. Maybe you’re wondering why we’re writing about coloring on a workforce development blog.

Coloring page from AJLA ConferenceAt the 28th Annual AJLA Conference in San Francisco, the theme was Collaborate – Create – Captivate. One goal of the conference was to encourage attendees to be creative and to develop new perspectives, like learning how to take graphic notes. Each attendee received a pack of colored pencils and a coloring and doodle sheet (download your own here). We did this not just to be cool and trendy, but also because coloring has been proven to reduce stress, increase mindfulness, and to contribute to an overall more healthy life.

As Tom Roston of writes, “…there is something calming about engaging in a familiar, low-impact activity that requires minimal thought and bestows a clear sense of progress.” The benefit of taking a quick coloring break at work is that this simple task allows you to hit pause on your self-consciousness, resetting your focus and potentially jump-starting your creative problem-solving skills (Tate). Studies have even demonstrated a clear reduction in cortisol (stress hormone) levels after participating in an art task (Kaimal, Ray, & Muniz).

While we’re not advocating for you to ditch your responsibilities at work in favor of coloring a masterpiece, we do suggest you find what works for you to reset your focus and increase your creativity. Maybe it’s taking five minutes or a lunch break to color or draw. Maybe it’s watching a funny cat video. But whatever it is, we hope you find that essential balance between work and play so that your productivity and creativity increase and any stress and anxiety decrease.

Thank You for Your Public Service

Public Service Recognition Week

The first week of May is Public Service Recognition Week, honoring those who work as government employees on the federal, state, county, and local levels. The event has been hosted by the Public Employees Roundtable since 1985, with the purpose of promoting government careers, educating Americans about the importance of public servants, and recognizing outstanding public service (About Us). In proclaiming the celebration of this week, President Barack Obama reminds us that “At the birth of our Nation, our Founders fought to secure a democracy that represents the people, and the civil servants who pour everything they have into making a difference are the individuals who keep that democracy running smoothly and effectively.”

So this week we would like to say thank you to all of our readers who are serving the public, especially those in the workforce industry who work daily to connect job seekers to employers and training providers.

If you’d like to recognize someone in your organization as an outstanding public service employee, we’d love to read about that person in the comments. You can also send a story to be featured in the Faces of Government profiles by emailing

Green Your Workspace

Earth Day is a day to consider how best to take care of our planet. One way to participate could be to green up your workspace.

Green Your Workspace Graphic

Walk or Ride

Reduce your carbon footprint by walking or riding a bicycle to work if possible. Too far to walk or cycle? Carpool or take public transit. Have a long commute or live far from any co-workers? Consider investing in a hybrid or electric car. If it’s an option, telecommuting is the greenest choice!

Save Energy

Turn off and unplug anything you’re not using. When your device has finished charging, unplug the charger. At the end of the day or any time you’ll be away from your computer for more than 2 hours, power your computer down instead of letting it hibernate (

Waste Less

Use electronic copies whenever possible, print double-sided and in draft mode, and use any printing errors as scrap paper. Bring your own utensils, cups, and plates to work instead of using plastic or Styrofoam at lunch. Recycle paper, cardboard, soda cans, aluminum foil, ink cartridges, batteries, and old electronics. If you’re not sure if it can be recycled, look it up (OCRRA).

Get a Plant

Studies show that indoor plants reduce stress in the office, improve the air quality, and increase the overall aesthetic appeal of your workplace. Employees exposed to plants have reported lower stress, more focus, and lower blood pressure (Daily Mail; Nursery Papers). Plants also improve the quality of air by reducing CO2, dust, bacteria, and mold (Nasa Guide), and can even reduce ambient noise levels by absorbing sound (ArticlesBase). A few plants around the office also create a more welcoming and engaging atmosphere for both employees and clients (Ciphr). The best low-maintenance plants for around the office? Aloe, spider plants, cacti, succulents, ivy, rubber plants, and peace lilies (Gardening Know How).

Encourage Others

Increase awareness: spread the word at staff meetings, post reminders in common spaces, and create incentives for going green (The Green Office). Ask for recycling bins in the break room, talk to the office manager about eco-friendly products, and post a carpool list. Every little bit helps.

You don’t have to be Captain Planet to make a difference. For more resources about improving your workspace including ways to green up your workspace, check out our Workday Improvements Pinterest board. If you have other green practices you’d like to share or ways to be green in specific industries, we’d love to read about them in the comments.

Viva La Volunteering: The Benefits of Service for the Workforce

Perhaps you saw the recent video of the 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin breaking out her dance moves when she met President and Mrs. Obama at a Black History Month event. Two weeks later, on the eve of her 107th birthday, Virginia was awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award for Lifetime Achievement in honor of her 23 years of service in the Senior Corps Foster Grandparent program. Virginia is just one of the 62.6 million Americans who volunteer (Bureau of Labor Statistics), and one week in April is set aside to appreciate these volunteers and encourage further service in communities.

National Volunteer Week

This Monday, April 10, 2016, kicks off National Volunteer Week, which was first established by Richard Nixon in 1974. In his proclamation today, President Barack Obama reminds us that “People of all ages can volunteer, and anyone can, through the smallest of acts, do their part to improve the lives of others.”

Volunteering has numerous benefits—including improving health, reducing stress, increasing cultural and social awareness, and building community (UC San Diego)—and further benefits extend to the workplace, both for those seeking employment and for those already employed.

Job seekers can improve their chances of being hired by volunteering. According to a study by the Corporation for National & Community Service, “Volunteers have a 27 percent higher likelihood of finding a job after being out of work than non-volunteers” (“Volunteering as a Pathway”). But how exactly does volunteering help job seekers? Benefits include opportunities to:

  • Gain professional experience. Does the job you want require specific experience you lack? Find a volunteer position where you can gain the experience you need.
  • Explore career options. Wonder what it would be like to be a nurse or a veterinarian? Volunteer at a hospital or vet clinic to experience the responsibilities before committing to a specific education or career path.
  • Make connections. Is the volunteer section in your LinkedIn account blank? Volunteering not only supplements your professional profile but also can lead to networking opportunities.
  • Build skill sets. “Can you give us an example of when you worked well as part of a team?” If you’re a volunteer, there’s a good chance you can provide answers to many common interview questions by drawing on your volunteer experiences.

Employers can also create a more positive workplace and attract and retain talent by providing volunteer opportunities. Reports indicate employees want to work for companies that are invested in communities and these employees are often eager to contribute their time (Ford). Volunteer programs in the workplace offer chances to:

  • Create camaraderie. Have team-building games fallen flat? Instead of awkward icebreakers, consider scheduling an afternoon volunteering as an office—employees will get to know each other while working together toward a tangible outcome.
  • Increase employee satisfaction. Do your employees find value in their work? Employees have a 33% higher satisfaction rate when they see their job as making a positive social and environmental impact (Net Impact). More satisfied employees leads to higher productivity, profitability, quality, and customer loyalty and reduced turnover (FrontStream).
  • Recruit and retain employees. Are you offering the most comprehensive opportunities to applicants? Job seekers, and in particular, Millennials, who are the incoming generation of workers, often consider a company’s volunteering opportunities when choosing a place to work. 79% of people want to work for a company that is socially responsible (Ford).
  • Strengthen company reputation. Have people ever heard of your company? A volunteer program increases your visibility in the community, which builds trust and loyalty in current and future customers.

So this week, and any week, we encourage you to volunteer. If you already volunteer or have a story of how volunteering has affected your personal or professional life, please share in the comments—we’d love to hear it.