what should be on my business cards?

A reader writes:

I am job-hunting and heading to a regional, industry-specific conference next week. My last position was seasonal and ended with October, and I will be brought back intermittently until the season starts again (pending finding other work).

At this conference, I would like to fully take advantage of any networking opportunities I can, and I would like to have a business card to hand out. However, I don’t have any from my last/current position, and I’m not sure what goes on it. Name, email, and phone of course. Should I have a “title”-esque descriptive line, like “Chocolate Teapot Professional”? Any graphics? Fonts? (I plan on printing these on my home printer, so I know simple is better.) All the examples I’m finding are extremely creative and flashy, and not at all helpful for my field.

As a nonprofit hiring manager, what would trigger you to remember that impressive person you met at a conference?

Name, email, phone number, and a title describing what you do.

I’m curious to hear if others disagree, but in my opinion, graphics and fonts don’t make a difference for people in non-design professions, unless they’re really, unusually good (like better than 95% good) — otherwise, they’re either a neutral or, depending on your choices, a negative. I’d go with basic and professional.

And keep in mind that you don’t want to rely on the look of your business card to make people remember you. The conversation and rapport you build — and your follow-up soon after the event — is what should do that.

{ 65 comments… read them below }

  1. KayDay

    If you want people to remember you, be sure there is enough white space for people to make jot down a little note on the card!

    Alison, what are your thoughts about “personal” business cards (for people who aren’t consultants)? This was one of the more dubious suggestions from my college career center–that we should make ourselves business cards and put “BS: Chocolate Teapot Studies” where a title would normally go. I probably handed out 1 of these, total. Now that I am a gainfully employed adult, I have work business cards, but those have my work contact info, not my personal email and cell phone that I would want any job contact to use. Does it make sense to print off some personal business cards with my personal contact info? Or is that weird?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I am very much NOT a fan of it if it’s going to have your degree on it, and wish colleges would stop telling students to do that. It makes students who do it look naive and weirdly self-important about their degree, which few in the real world are interested in.

      But for situations like the one the OP describes, where she’s unemployed and thus doesn’t have business cards through her job, it can make sense. (That said, I think lots of people are stopping using cards entirely.)

  2. Blinx

    I had business cards printed up from one of those online places when I started job hunting. Only thing I can think of to add would be the URL to your LinkedIn site, and perhaps a city/state (but not your whole address.)

  3. Eric

    Resumes have all the information you would have on a business card. Why do you need business cards when job hunting?

  4. Not So NewReader

    Am chuckling- I have always felt that I lack the imagination to do super graphics on a business card. To me, the next highest level is to have the card appear sharp/professional. That translates into just the facts stated quickly and clearly.

    Lacking a clear job title perhaps you can say “Five years experience in the Chocolate Teapot Industry, with a three year focus on testing.”

    Less is more. I have heard arguments that the BEST thing is when a person writes YOUR name on a piece of paper to remind themselves. This means you have gotten your foot in the door. The thinking in this school of thought is that passing out business cards becomes the focus, and it’s the wrong focus.
    It sounds like this could be your first conference? Print out a dozen or so cards, so you have something if people ask. But don’t work up a sweat over this.
    Probably your best investment of time is to practice answering questions in front of the mirror. “What do you do?” or “Ohh- what types of work interest you?” Nail down those answers. The questions come up quick and you want to be prepared.

  5. Bridgette

    Yes, keep it very simple, and I like the white space idea. Black ink and quality paper, but again – keep the paper simple. Unless you are using a laser printer or a high quality home printer I would just use an online printing service, or get it done at Staples or talk to local print shops. I have gotten printing done at office stores before and it was cheap and had very high-quality results I could not have achieved on a home printer.

    As for fonts…eh…I’m a sans serif person myself. I think a clean, sharp, sans serif font (but not chunky) would look nice on a business card. I have found this website to be invaluable: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/tag/free-fonts/. You can find a bunch of really nice free fonts – pay attention to the descriptions of each for suggestions on usage, so you can find a good one that would look nice in the small size for a business card. If in doubt, just go with Helvetica.

    1. Kelly O

      I have some very plain white cards with my name and contact information printed on them. I keep it very neutral, and use them sparingly.

      Just as a side note, I also have “Mommy” cards. They have my contact information, sans LinkedIn profile, and “Sarah’s Mommy” on them. I keep them in the same card holder (I have one of those silver engraved ones that are just horribly preppy and girly at the same time, but I adore it.)

      Business is on one side, Mommy on the other. The Mommy cards are more colorful so they stand out at daycare or in the nursery, so no getting them confused.

      1. Bridgette

        I like this idea, kind of like customizing your cover letter depending on the job. I do freelance design work so my design card would definitely be more creative/striking than my full-time job card.

  6. Kimberlee, Esq.

    I think personal business cards are very valuable to have when job-searching or networking. I know AAM peeps tend to dislike the school of Personal Branding, but this is a key idea that I see from personal brand evangelists a lot that I really like. URL’s to your LinkedIn or Blog are good, and this is one of those cases where having a QR code is actually useful and not weird; you can have a QR that links to your personal website, or blog, or what have you, on the back (with URL’s underneath).

    For design, I would recommend getting cards from Vistaprint or somewhere similar, where you can select a design that is pre-made, and you can often get them for “free” (plus nominal shipping) and have a much more polished look.

    I don’t currently have (relevant) personal cards, and I’ve regretted it every time I’ve gone to a networking event. Personal networking is weird when you’re giving them all your work contact info.

    1. KarenT

      I was actually just going to recommend Vistaprint. They charge about $10 for a box of cards, which is about the same it will cost you to buy the perforated sheets for your home printer. They have hundreds of basic, simple designs to choose from. My best friend is self-employed and orders her cards from them. They look great!

      1. The IT Manager

        +1. Professionally printed for cheap looks a lot more professional that what you can do at home.

  7. saro

    I’ve found that not having a business card helped me when I attended these types of events. Then I would speak to the person, get a business card and then email them a few days after the event and say something along the lines of, “We met at *** and I didn’t have a business card on me, I just wanted to drop you a line with my contact information: *****. I enjoyed speaking to you about **** and hope ****”

    For me, it was a natural way to connect with the person…

    1. KayDay

      So, I just checked the link, and right on the front page there was an image of my favorite (design-wise) business card that I have ever received!

    2. Blinx

      I used Vistaprint and really liked the cards. It’s worth it to pick a premium card stock. Also, search for online coupon codes.

  8. Jubilance

    I think having personal business cards is a great idea, not just with networking but in general. I have a set & I use them quite a bit as I meet people that I want to keep in touch with. Its easier to hand them one of my personal business cards than to scramble for paper & pen for them to jot down my info.

    I don’t think you need to include a title of what you do or industry at all,, unless you’re planning to stay in that industry. Otherwise I think you’re fine with name, email, phone number. I’d probably make the name stand out – slightly bigger font or bolded.

    1. kelly

      I wanted to throw a vote in for moo as well. They are little more pricey than vistaprint, but their cards are really nice thick smooth cardstock (I’m a designer…) and they have great customer service. Overall they are very nice professional cards. They also have a feature where you can just fill in your info and they “design” the cards for you, so easy.

      1. Rana

        I’m a fan of moo as well; my current cards (which include name, title, email, phone, and URL) are from them and I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on them.

        The only caveats: the mini-cards, while everyone will coo over them, are hard for older people to read, and avoid the slick papers in favor of the recycled. The previous cards I had were coated, and no one could write anything on them without it smearing.

  9. Esra

    You might want to check out moo.com. They have a lot of great templates, from light-heavy levels of design, and you can get smaller orders for not too much. Nice, thick cards too.

    1. Soni

      I second the Moo cards, especially the little rectangular ones. I ordered some for the hubster (a handyman/remodeler) with a selection of several different artistic, construction-related photos on the front and his info on the back. His clients collect the dang things like baseball cards and get excited when they get a new one, lol.

      1. Esra

        Oh yea, I forgot to mention you can put different things on the back of each card. That is definitely a plus.

  10. G.

    Photo!

    I have started recently seeing business cards with photos on them and I love it! It really stands out and when I look at the card months later I remember the person and the conversation, etc…

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.

      I agree, actually… you wouldn’t want to put a pic on a resume or company business card, but for networking, I think a picture would be really useful!

    2. Elizabeth West

      Yes!
      I have two cards–one is my writer card, and has my pic that you see here on it, along with my email, blog address and phone number. The other one that I use for networking has all the info that my resume does but no pic.

      The photo is the same on both my blogs, the card AND Twitter.

  11. Design-in-Dutchess

    If you are going to do a card, do not add visual images unless they actually really mean something. Clip art does not mean anything.

    Fonts do matter. Fonts should be legible, not goofy, not too big not too small. Do not use “nuptial script” or similar, especially in all caps. Every white space on the card does not need to be filled, nor does every corner. Think organized, elegant, logical, functional. Then you card will look professional and be useful to the person receiving it.

    Use the heaviest stock (paper) you can get through your printer. Thin is cheap and nasty to touch. Ink Jets usually can take heavier than Laser, but the ink is usually not waterproof or coffee proof.

    Otherwise, hire a Graphic Designer ;)

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.

      I agree with everything here… except hiring a graphic designer. They’ll charge around $100 for a business card design… not worth it when you can do Vistaprint or moo.com and design your own (even if you have no sense of design at all).

      1. Design-in-Dutchess

        Some Graphic Designers accept barter, or some will help friends for free. Moo is definitely better than Vista; they hire better Graphic Designers.

        In this case, yes cheaper is better.

        However, when you hire a designer, you are getting a custom design, and are unlikely to encounter someone with the same exact design for your card/promotional materials/package etc. as when you use a fill-in-the-blank service such as Vista and Moo.

          1. Esra

            You might want to sign up for moo’s newsletter, they have 10-30% off sales every now and then. That’s when I buy my cards etc.

  12. Elizabeth

    If you have access to a Staple or Office Depot, check out their design-your-own cards websites. You can have them printed at the local store. That’s what I did when I didn’t have lead-time to get them printed before going to a conference last year, and everyone at work is very impressed with how professional they look, especially in comparison to the ones that the hospital has printed by a traditional printer.

    I will second the “leave white space for jotting notes” and add that if you have a heavy card with a shiny front, make sure that the back is matte. The shiny side will allow ink to slide right off, so the carefully written note will be smudged & illegible.

  13. Hello Vino

    Name, email, phone, title, LinkedIn/website URL. You city/state/address may or may not be necessary.

    If you’re printing a batch of 250, it’s best to keep the content as simple as possible. I’ve ended up with leftover business cards with an outdated address and an overall look I no longer like. I now print my business cards on my inkjet printer at home. It’s so much better that way!

    1. Hello Vino

      As a graphic designer, I’ve seen a lot of very cool business cards from other design professionals. I’ve seen a lot of awful ones as well. A lot are just trying too hard… it’s just business stationary! You don’t have to reinvent the whole thing. In general, regardless of what industry you’re in, keeping it simple is key.

  14. AnotherAlison

    I’m happy this post is up today because it gives me the opportunity to share the worst business card I’ve ever seen with y’all.

    The good:
    -The business name, website, and phone number are on the top of the card.
    -Name, title and academic qualifications are included

    The bad:
    -No email
    -Text on front of card is in three colors and five fonts, including comic sans.
    -The left side of the business card had her picture. It wasn’t an awful picture of the person, but it wasn’t a portrait and there is some random stuff in the background that’s distracting.
    – In addition to the picture, multiple clip art pictures on the front and back.
    – Two different tag lines on the front and back.
    – If that sounds scary, you ought to see the website! (and I’m no designer myself)

    The funny thing is I hired this person, despite icky marketing material and an abrasive personality.

    Why?

    She had extremely good qualifications, and because everyone else was completely awful! I had a phone screen set up with someone with a 2-hr timeframe. (It’s for a personal service and the interview was scheduled Friday for a Saturday, so I was being more flexible than usual.) She sent me an email one minute before the end of the timeframe saying she had accepted a full-time position and wouldn’t be able to do it, which honestly sounded like BS. If you don’t want to do it, just say so. Others never returned emails.

    Sometimes you read advice saying that if you want to get into a service business as a sole proprietor, being “exceptional” can be as simple as returning phone calls and showing up. My experience with this leads me to believe that’s at least somewhat true.

    (So, back to the OP, my personal take would be DO have a card at an event, but keep it extremely simple. Err on the side of plain. Focus on contact information, and let your conversations with others show your qualifications.)

    1. AnotherAlison

      Okay, I feel bad saying abrasive personality. She’s a little flashy & it’s the opposite of my personal style of work. Also kind of a go-g0-go personality, where I am more conservative, quiet, and methodical.

    1. JT

      Not sure what you mean by digital business card.

      vCard is a standard format for digital storage of contact information.

  15. Carrie

    My one tip – make sure the font size is large enough. I can’t tell you how many business cards I receive with tiny fonts that I can barely read – certainly not memorable if it’s illegible!

    1. Liz in a Library

      Yes! Our workplace-supplied business card format have the telephone and e-mail address in light grey, insanely tiny font.

      I had my then-print shop guy husband design and print very similar ones (would be unnoticeable until you held them up side by side) with a darker font one size up. Insanely better.

    2. Elizabeth West

      Oh good one. My old bosses would bring me back cards from trade shows and I had to enter the info into my database so I could ship literature to them. I would have to borrow Boss’s magnifying glass for some of them!

      1. JT

        I don’t want to re-ignite the whole QR code conversation, but a QR code with contact information embedded in it (as a vCard) can make it easy to scan contact info of a card. Here is an example:
        http://www.johntomlinson.com/images/synergoscards2012.jpg

        The QR code is not a link to a webpage – it is the contact information itself, which many smartphones can read.

        In terms of quality, quick, cheap printers for business also consider uprinting.com and greenerprinter.com. Not free.

        Also, in terms of design, if you design a card yourself, do not put different pieces of information in 3 or 4 different corners of the card. That looks lame. Information should be in blocks. Perhaps the name alone, and contact info in a single, separate block. Or name and a description of who you are in one block, and contact info in another block.

        I agree with Bridgette that multi social-media links on a card might be too much clutter – better to have a link to a website that links onward to the various media. Or perhaps one social medium that you use a lot.

        That said, I do not agree that having say 3 or 4 is bad if you actually have strong content on them. LinkedIn is not Twitter and Twitter is not Pinterest. The forms of interaction are different and you are more likely to get clicks on a particular medium from people who like to use that medium. If you don’t have good content on all, or it’s all the same content, then pick one to focus on in terms of updating and listing. But if you’re strong on all list all on a website or perhaps an email signature where space is not limited. On a card, you probably have to make some choices.

        1. Rana

          If I received a card that contained most or all of the contact info in a QR code, without a URL as well, I’d end up tossing it. I don’t have a way of reading those things.

          So if you are thinking of using QR codes, make sure they are appropriate for your audience, both in terms of them knowing what they are, and having the tools to use them.

          Short version: not everyone has a smartphone… or wants to.

          1. JT

            The cards I’m talking about have contact info in text on one side, and in a QR code on the back. See picture in link.

            You’d toss that?

            1. Kelly O

              Possibly, because that QR code doesn’t tell me anything I can’t find using the information printed on the card.

              I really don’t understand why the QR code thing is pushed so hard. I mean, sure for some things it might work, but half the time I can’t get the code to read properly if I play with scanning one at a store, and honestly by the time I get somewhere, I’ve done my own research and know what I want. A QR code is not changing that for me.

              On the card you shared, it might bug me that the QR code takes up so much room, so I have less space to make a note on that side of the card.

          2. Rana

            As I said, if it was relying on the QR code to supply the contact information, yes.

            That doesn’t sound like what you’re thinking of, but I agree with Kelly O that a QR code provides nothing that a URL would not, except a chance to play with your smartphone.

            1. JT

              I watched the CEO of a Fortune Global 1000 company scan my organization’s CEO’s contact info into her phone from his card. She didn’t really need to do that – her assistant can put her in touch with us if she asked.

              I guess that’s just “play.” Saves some steps on the user’s part, and is also a moderate conversation starter if desired.

              And BTW – the QR code I described id not contain a link. It would work even with no internet connection – the contact info was embedded in the code. A URL is not as reliable.

        2. Anonymous

          My personal business card is very simple.

          I use white stock with a red line across the middle of the card.
          Top half is a small QR code on the left with my name in black print on the right.
          Bottom half is my contact info (email, Twitter id and cell) in black print directly below my name.
          The font is large enough to read and still fit on the card, and the info is duplicated in the QR code for the convenience of those who scan info in.

  16. Alli G.

    I am interested in hearing oppinions about putting social media links on business cards, for example small links to my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I am a realtor who just obtained my real estate license and have not made my business cards yet. My broker is in his late 50s and is pretty unfamiliar with social media, but he likes the idea of me using it professionally. He has given me complete freedom to design my business cards and liked the social media links on the drafts of my cards that I sent him, however I would like the opinions of others before I finalize and order the cards. Any suggestions?

    1. Bridgette

      Could one of the sites be used as a jumping off point for the others? For example, list only the Facebook page, then on the FB page, you have links to Twitter and Instagram. My concern with multiple social media links is that it will make the card cluttered and overwhelm the recipient with stuff to check out. Compare it to an email signature. When I see email signatures that have 3-6 (sometimes more) social media links, I wonder how that person has enough content to share on all those sites, and I get overwhelmed with choice. I would pick a single link, the service you use the most, and then on that page, link to your other accounts.

    2. V

      Maybe use something like about.me? I would still include the twitter/facebook/instagram icons, to signal that if they’re looking for those services, they can find it there.

  17. Kou

    I think simple and clean is the way to go for most people, with one exception. If you can come up with something that is interesting and clever, even if creativity has nothing to do with your field, it will make people remember you. The thing is this can’t be forced– clever “personal branding” needs to be organic, and most people can’t do it without looking gimmicky.

    I remember the people who’ve given me the coolest business cards, though. Not the prettiest or most designed, but the genuinely unique ones. The one that most comes to mind is the chef whose card was a normal white with black lettering, but it was cut in the shape of a chef’s jacket and had little embossed buttons on the collar.

  18. Mary

    Watch American Psycho… See what they say about business card… hehe :) Just kidding! Good luck OP!

  19. anon

    My husband had unique skills and wanted to work in a pretty niche area using nothing but transferable skills (he had 6 months notice that he was losing his job), so he created a business card with name, email, website and phone number, but he had an area that was used to write a few words, so he wrote 3 words of his strongest skill areas. I’ve seen the same thing with quotes, but didn’t like it as much.

  20. Anonymous

    I agree that you don’t want to rely on the look of your business card to make people remember you, but they should be professional. VistaPrint or home-printed cards rarely look professional. Consider spending a bit of money and go with Moo.com. They have very nice designs, where you just upload your details, and they arrive in the mail.

    1. Kelly O

      I don’t think anyone is arguing the quality of Moo is superior to VistaPrint.

      But there are decidedly prettier, more graphic designs on Moo. It’s just a different kind of card.

      Different does not equal worse.

  21. Alan M

    I really would not recommend trying to print them on your home printer. Unless you really know what you are doing the result is likely to be dissappointing. It really is something you should think about a bit more, not just stick your number and name there. So do yourself a favour and use a commercial printer, you wont regret it. You det a better result with very little cost and less effort. I used print24, the quality is great, prices are low and you can choose a template and personalise your design on the site, took me about half hour and I’m really pleased with the result. Try it: http://www.print24.com/uk/product/business-cards

    Also I would definitely have some kind of title on there so you seem more professional and accomplished.

    Good luck! :)

  22. Future Grand Master of Everything

    A few folks have mentioned professional designers. And a few more folks have shot down that idea, mostly due to cost. I’d like to suggest fiverr.com. For five bucks, you can get a business card design for pretty much any niche you can imagine.

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