Networking with people in your field is a great way to make connections with potential employers, but it’s not very practical to hand out your resume to every person you meet.
College students should arm themselves with business cards to help market themselves even if they aren’t employed, according to career experts.
"Once you’re in the professional world, you sort of make the assumption that people have a card--if you want to play in that world, you have to have the tools,” says Lindsey Pollak, career expert and author From College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World. "It may feel weird as a student, but nobody on the professional side will be surprised at all because we just assume that everyone has a card."
Having a business card shows initiative and a sense of professionalism to potential employers and helps students establish a brand. Here’s what career and business experts had to say about what to include:
What to Include
Contact information should be the main focus on college students’ business cards and should include: name, phone number and e-mail address .
“If you want, you can include ‘NYU class of 2011’, or you can include what field you’re in, such as ‘marketing professional’,” says Pollak.
Tony Conrad, founder of About.me, points out that if you have a URL that recruiters might be interested in (such as a professional blog, or personal Web site) you can include a QR code.
“The fact that you have [a QR code] and understand it and that you’re using emerging technology, that shows that you’re ambitious enough to seek out something new and implement it to your benefit,” he says. “It means they can contact you for your specific talents and start the conversation already knowing some of your background.”
The experts agree there is nothing more undesirable than a flimsy business card with ink that smears. There are many deals that offer business cards for free or at a highly-discounted price, but cheap cards make students look unprofessional.
“[They’re] printed on less than great stock--it’s not heavy paper and on the backside says, ‘for free business cards, call us’. Anybody who gets your card and sees that you got your cards for free, it just doesn’t leave a good impression,” says career coach Dilip Saraf.
"There are so many options now,” she says. “Even for $10, you can get something better than printing it yourself."
Depending on the field (especially in graphic design, architecture, art, etc.), experts encourage students to get creative with their cards.
Conrad advises students include an aesthetically-pleasing image that makes a statement rather than going for shock value.
“Well-shot photography and clean typography has been a winning strategy in advertising for more than a century,” he says. “If you think of yourself as a luxury brand, present yourself as a luxury brand.”
A logo or a slogan can make your card more memorable and stand out in a sea of stale cards.
“It needs some thought, some trial and error, but it’s worthwhile once you grab someone’s attention with the entire design,” says Saraf.
But students don’t have to go over the top to make a good impression. A simple design of black ink on white or cream card stock is fine as well, says Pollak.
“You absolutely cannot go wrong with the basics,” she says. “Just make sure the font is big enough because people of all generations and eye qualities are going to read your card, so make sure you have at least 12 point font.”
Card Exchange Etiquette
When exchanging business cards, students should be confident, but know the appropriate setting and time to conduct business.
“If they get your name and engage in a conversation and you see that the person is interested in you, don’t just thrust your business card in their hand,” says Saraf. “Avoid the practice of casually handing out business cards, because that makes a [negative] impression.”
Saraf also cautions against asking people with seniority for their card, it may come off as disrespectful. He says students can either hand out their card to see if the person reciprocates, or wait until asked for a card.
Conrad advises students conduct the card exchange after meeting someone for the first time.
"It’s a very personal kind of gesture and I think there’s a lot of power in holding it back and giving it towards the end of a discussion," he says.
Although a card is a great way for people to remember your initial meeting, you can’t rely on it to do all of the work. Pollak explains that you have to be memorable enough in person for your business card to really stand out.
"If you’re dreary and boring and unfocused and your card is fabulous, it’s not going to help," she says. "You have to be the best representative of yourself and your card is simply your information."