Friday, November 18, 2011

How to Find a Job: The Care and Feeding of Business Cards

(This article is part of a book called How to Find a Job, which now is available as an ebook on Kindle, nook, and Smashwords. All of the chapters have been revised, many have been expanded, and the book contains three bonus chapters (including Negotiating) that are not available on this blog.)

I’m not sure that business cards warrant their own chapter, but when I was networking, there were many, many, many conversations about them.
Much like résumés, everyone has their own take, and this is mine: I have never seen a business card help anyone to land a job.
When I lost my job, I was told that I needed a business card. So I went to an office supply store, and bought some of those print-and-separate cards, and then I was immediately stuck: Because what was I going to put on them?
My name? Yes. Address, phone number, email address? Yes.
Job title?
I didn’t have one, because I didn’t have a job. And if I put something too specific (Technical Writer, Communications Specialist) it would pigeonhole me, and I didn’t want that. Writing is a very broad skill that can be applied in many ways, and I can literally rattle off six or seven things I’ve done without giving it a second thoughts.
(Prove it? Sure! Journalism, PR, technical writing, professional blogger and social media writing, newsletters, award-winning independent films, novels. I didn’t even have to glance at my bio or résumé to list those off. But more on that later.)
In the end, I put on all my contact information, and the card read: Writer.
Over the course of two years, I gave away more than a hundred of those cars, to people I was networking with, to people interviewing me, to friends who requested a few to have on hand in case someone was looking for somebody with my kind of skills.
I cannot confirm that any of those cards were ever used to contact me.
I, in turn, accepted nearly a hundred business cards into my keeping. And I think I referenced exactly two of them, when trying to connect with networking friends on LinkedIn. After that, I never gave the cards a second thought.
Even as I write this book, those cards are sitting around, collecting dust.
However, I’m sure you remember the message of the essay that kicked off this book: Try Everything.
And it’s for that reason and that reason alone that I think you should have a business card.
The fact of the matter is, there is always a chance that someone will get their hands on your card, and hand it to the right guy at the right moment, and you’ll get a phone call.
And one phone call, even in this economy, can be all it takes to go from not working to working.
So let’s talk about business cards.
Should you print them yourself? Or get them made professionally?
During my years of my networking, I saw a myriad of business card types. One woman didn’t have any cards on hand when she was headed to her first networking meetings, so she printed them on paper and cut them up.
I wouldn’t recommend that.
One wanted a little more color on her cards, so after she printed them up in black and white she colored in the logo with a highlighter.
That’s also something I wouldn’t do.
Beyond that, I’d say that it’s up to you.
If you Google for a few minutes you can find a half-dozen places that will print and ship you professional business cards. The catch is, it’s like ordering checks: The fancier your cards get, the more expensive they are. On the flip side, the more you order, the cheaper they are.
I’ve even seen some places that offer you the first 50 cards or so for free, minus the cost of shipping.
That’s not a bad deal, though the templates are usually very limited (meaning your card won’t stand out from others printed for free) and it usually means you’re signing up for a mailing list. One company offered free cards, but then immediately set you up to auto-order more cards in the future, unless you turned that function off.
Watch out for scams like that.
As for making them yourself, I will say that people are going to be able to tell. Even though the cheapest printer you can find today prints at a very good quality, and the cards are made to separate, and do it well, people will know you made them at home.
If you think people you give them to are going to care, well, don’t make your own. My assumption was always that people knew I was looking for work and that I couldn’t necessarily afford to spend a lot of money on something as frivolous as a business card. And I’m not sure I’d want to work for someone who didn’t think someone was worth hiring if they didn’t have a “real” card.
But that’s just me.
(One caveat: If you decide to become a consultant? Print “real” business cards. Because then you’re not a job-seeker, you’re a small business owner.)
Other thoughts: I did see a few people take their old business cards from their last job, cross off their old phone number and email address, and write their current one in. To give to a friend? Sure. To give to someone who you’re hoping will hire you? No.
What do you put down as your job title? Good question. For some people (sales, HR) I would think it would be simple enough to list yourself as Blank Professional (Sales Professional, HR Professional). For a CEO? I have no idea. Then again, if you’re at a CEO level, chances are you won’t need a card, as standing out from a pack of 5 applicants is easier than standing out from a pack of 100 applicants.
Should you put other things on your business card? You can. I wouldn’t recommend your Facebook or Twitter accounts unless you use them strictly for business purposes. I would recommend that you include the link to your LinkedIn account, as it effectively turns your business card into a link to your résumé.
And if you do decide to make a business card, do yourself a favor and keep five or ten of them with you at all times. Keep them in your wallet, purse, or bag. Because they won’t be of any use to you in a pile in your house.

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