Whenever I recommend business cards to a student or job seeker, I always get the same worried response: “But I don’t work anywhere yet. What will be on my card?”
The answer is that you don’t need a title, or a company, or a fax number, or even a street address to have a business card. All you need is your name, a phone number (which can be a cell phone—with an appropriately professional message, of course!), and an email address. If you’re a student, it’s nice to include your university and year of graduation, but it’s not required. And that’s it.
Even if it feels a bit awkward to have business cards before you have a job, you need a way to give people your contact information when you meet them. Writing your phone number on a cocktail napkin or ATM receipt is cute at a party, but it sends the wrong message when you’re networking professionally. Show that you are prepared to meet people by having business cards at the ready. I am totally impressed when I meet a student who has cards. It shows maturity, foresight, and an eagerness to have the appropriate tools for the working world.
Personally, I never go anywhere without my business cards—the gym, weddings, the beach, the bathroom. I keep cards in my wallet, all my bags, and my office. Why am I so obsessive about it? Because I never want to miss an opportunity to stay in touch with someone because neither of us happens to have a pen.
As for business card etiquette, you should request someone else’s business card—“May I have your card?” is all you need to say—before offering your own. And, when someone gives you his or her card, it’s polite to read it before stowing it away in your pocket, purse, or card holder.
If your name is difficult to pronounce, consider including a phonetic spelling in parentheses on your business card. Likewise, if your name is pretty common, consider including your middle initial to differentiate yourself: John K. Doe or Jane M. Smith.
And, when you get your new job and you don’t need your personal business cards any longer, you can always use the leftover cards as bookmarks, luggage tags, or scrap paper to make celebratory confetti.