Should I print personal business cards?

I fielded this question a few months ago at an event for job-seekers in Minneapolis: “Should I get personal business cards to hand out at job interviews?” Unfortunately for those in attendance, I didn’t give the best answer. In fact, I think I gave what amounts to a non-answer. Something like “every situation is different.” Oh, great response. Thanks for the insight, Charlie.

Sample card from moo.com

But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, and after consulting my friends at BrazenCareerist, I’ve solidified my position. It’s always a good idea to have a personal business card.

After posing this question to probably 50 different people in the last month, I heard three main objections, valid or otherwise. Actually, they were all invalid as far as I’m concerned. Here they are–the reasons not to print personal business cards: 

Reasons not to print personal business cards

  1. It’s just another expense at a time when many people are trying to cut back. How can you spend money when you’re out of a job?
  2. It seems a little, well, weird. What do you do for your title? And what about the company name or logo?
  3. Nobody really does it.

The cost of personal business cards

The expense consideration, though weak, is the best argument against personal cards. Not because the cards cost a lot, but because they aren’t mandatory and it’s tough to spend on anything other than necessities when between jobs. But the card I included above, from us.moo.com (my favorite online card shop), costs $21.99 to print, and is easily customizable. There are even some nearly free card printers, though they typically print advertising on the back.

As long as email addresses and phone numbers don’t change, personal cards should last a long time. By keeping the design simple and not using titles that pertain specifically to a chosen position, I think they should easily last a few years. And even though cards may cost $.45 each, they help a candidate stand out. How much is that worth? More than $.45.

It seems a little, well, weird

One person I asked said personal cards “make the bearer seem affected.” Another said the cards always look cheap. (The cheap ones always do.) Lots of people wonder what belongs on the card. What design? What title?

Most of these concerns relate to execution. If improperly handled, of course the personal card can be weird. Anyone who lists their title as “Perfect Candidate” is kidding themselves. Same with those who list themselves as the CEO of their own 1-person company.

Here are some simple pointers to help with execution:

  • Get nice cards
  • Use an appropriate title that will pertain to the jobs you seek but isn’t too limiting. Good examples:
    • Senior Engineer
    • Customer Service Specialist
    • Project Manager
    • Financial Analyst
  • If you’re worried about giving out your cell number, get a Google Voice number. Not only can you record separate messages and easily forward the calls to your cell phone, you can manage everything online or via your smartphone.
  • Use a professional email address
  • When in doubt, err on the side of simplicity

Nobody really does it

This is a true statement. Most candidates do not have their own business cards. That’s why it’s a good idea. If nothing else, it’s one more piece of paper that has your name on it and represents your brand. I interview primarily recent grads, and they don’t generally bring their own cards. But a few of them have, and out of hundreds of candidates in the last three years, I remember exactly who they were. (Emily, Matt, Colin — you guys reading this?)

Personal cards may be valuable outside of the job hunt, too. Use them at networking functions, social events, and even chance encounters. How many times have you wanted to give someone your email address or phone number and had to wait while they try to quickly peck it into their phone? It’s annoying. What about handing them a card? Or what if you bump into an old friend who may have a good business opportunity, but you’re already employed? Do you give her the card with your current employer listed at the top–the one that has your work email and phone number? Not ideally. You use your personal card.

So after a few months of tossing this around, I’ve decided it’s a great idea to get a personal card. I consider it a career investment. And besides, it’s kinda fun to look through all the options and pick one that best represents your brand. After all, we’re all brand managers for our own career, right?

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2 responses to “Should I print personal business cards?

  1. One detail that may differentiate a candidate’s brand is consistent typography and a ‘look’ between resumes, cover letters, formal e-mails, a blog or personal website, and personal business cards. Since the end goal is to convey that your brand is the best fit for a certain company or team, it makes sense to use multiple angles to reinforce consistency across your personal brand collateral. Consistent typography is one such strategy.

    Thanks again for the blog, Charlie!

  2. I have a personal calling card, not specific to business — name, email, and phone — and people always seem to appreciate it.

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