It sound old-fashioned, but “dress for the job you want” still applies today; it’s even backed by science. Business experts are saying that the same thinking can apply to business cards; both for people starting out or trying to get to the next level of their careers.
“The whole concept of a business card is not dead, it’s a necessity,” says Linda Dulye, the founder and president of the employee engagement firm Dulye & Co.
“You’re not going to walk up to someone who’s 50 and up, and touch phones and transfer contacts,” she says. “You’re not doing at that at a mixer or at the airport. If you want to be known, you have to have some kind of leave-behind.”
What to put on your business card
Whether you’re a new graduate looking for a first job opportunity, or someone in the middle of your career, you need to think about differentiating yourself.
“We work with a lot of new grads, and we ask them, what do you stand for, what’s your brand,” says Dulye, who in 2008 established the Dulye Leadership Experience, a transformative development program for young professionals. “If you have 30 seconds in the elevator or at the airport, and you just say, ‘I’m an architecture major,’ welcome to the club of unemployed architecture majors. If you want to be known and stay memorable, you have to make a meaningful connection personally and sustain it with a leave-behind.”
Dulye recommends having a simple message on one side of a card coupled with basic, well-designed contact information on the back.
“You want to show what you stand for in six words or less,” she says. “Once you can own who you are with a simple statement, the design decisions are going to be easy.”
One example (which we went in depth on in here) is Perry Maughmer, an executive coach and consultant based in Columbus, Ohio.
To differentiate his card, he told us he wanted to “get to no very quickly with potential clients… I either want people to either say yes, I want to talk to you, or no, I don’t, within a few seconds.”
The front of his card has 12 words on it (more than the six Linda suggests), but as you can imagine, it’s provides quite a first impression.
“It instantly relaxes people,” says Maughmer. “I wanted something that would speak to me and how I work. I’m passionate, relentless and heretical. If we’re going to get real work done, I need people to be real and authentic. There’s no underlying context, it’s just real.”
First impressions matter
“Your card is sending an impression. whether or not you want,” says Dulye. “It’s going to be interpreted in a certain way by the receiver. Their biases may cause a first impression that you don’t want.”
How can one make a positive first impression on Dulye? Try going vertical.
“It’s a matter of personal preference,” says Dulye. “I tend to look more at cards that are vertical in design. If you gave me five cards and one was a vertical card, that’s the one I’d look at.”
Another tip: unless you’re a realtor, don’t use a personal photo on your card.
“The photo instantly casts an impression about yourself that you don’t have control over,” says Dulye. “Sometimes, the picture is 20 years ago, and that’s even worse. The fact that they haven’t refreshed their card in so long can be shocking.”
The physical attributes of the card matter, too.
“I like the thick card concept,” says Dulye. “It’s distinctive mark; the feel of cheap paper immediately casts an impression on you before you even look down at the card.”
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For the best results, Dulye recommends working with a professional designer and getting feedback from a trusted group of people.
“It’s ok to go through multiple iterations to get that card that sends a bold and positive message, she says. “Get at least six people that have a diversity in how they think, what they do, their age, give them some drafts and get feedback. Do not design with your own feedback.”