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Leaving the Right Impression with Business Card Etiquette
January 2007

Leaving the Right Impression with Business Card Etiquette

By Kathleen D. Pagana, PhD

Recently, while attending a conference, a lot of interesting people met at a dinner banquet. At the end of the meal, several wanted to exchange business cards. Two people were embarrassed to admit that they did not have cards, but said they planned to get them. Are you wondering if it is time to get a business card? Do you need an update on business card etiquette? If either or both of your answers are “yes,” this article will enhance your professional image. Let’s discuss five common questions related to business cards.

1. Why do you need a business card?
Business cards are a great way to capture essential information in a quick and user-friendly manner. Every professional needs a business card to network. Recently, a colleague at a luncheon was asked if she wanted to run in a 5K race to support breast cancer research. When asked for race details, the website was written on the back of a business card. Isn’t that better than writing on a table napkin? Most people love to get a business card. It gives them a sense of being an important part of a team and having access to key personnel. Business cards can be clipped to a report, a note, or anything you are sending to someone. This lets the person know that you are the sender and gives your contact information.

2. What information should be on a business card?
This will depend on the purpose of the card. Some basics include your name, degrees, position, and contact information – address, phone, email, and fax. If your full name is ambiguous (such as, “Pat”), add a title (for example, “Mr.” Pat Sweeney or “Ms.” Pat Sweeney). If you are trying to promote something, like a consulting business, make sure you have consultant on the card and include a web address if you have one. It is a great idea to have more than one business card if this will help target your business to a specific audience. Business cards can also be designed for purely social situations. When a new family moved into a neighborhood, they gave everyone they met a business card with their names (parents and children) and contact information. Everyone was really impressed and quickly learned their names. Business cards can benefit by the personal touch. For example, you may add your cell phone number on the back if you will be traveling and tough to get hold of during a certain time period. That is a thoughtful gesture that will be appreciated.

3. Can I make my own business card?
Yes, if this is the only way that you will get a card. This will give you an opportunity to test out what you have written on the card. Usually these homemade cards are readily detected by the perforations around the edges. As soon as you can afford something better, get the cards printed professionally. The business card is one of the first graphic statements we make about ourselves. Consider asking your employer to provide a card so you can network more effectively. This will improve your image and the image of your facility. Make sure the card is in good condition. Don’t use a card if it is soiled, bent, or ripped because the card will not reflect a positive impression or memory of you. It is better to give no card than to give one in a bad condition. The business card is sometimes described as “the handshake you leave behind.” Men should not remove a warm and mushy card from their back pocket and present it to someone.

4. What are some common mistakes people make with business cards?
Here are five mistakes with some suggestions.
a.Passing out your cards like you are dealing a deck of cards. (It is better to have a person ask for your card. One way to do this is to ask for his or her card.)
b.Not presenting the card. (Business cards should be presented with the content face up and readable to the receiver. The receiver should look at the card and make a comment. For example, “I see you are a Computer Specialist.”
c.Writing on the card without asking permission. (In some parts of the world, such as Japan, you deface the card if you write on it without asking permission.)
d.Not having your business cards with you at all times. (Keep some cards in your wallet or purse at all times. You never know when someone will ask you for one. A business card holder will keep your cards looking professional.)
e.Not having a card and asking for someone else’s card to write on the back. (This is rude. You should jot your information on a piece of paper. Then, make sure this doesn’t happen again.)

5. Does business card etiquette differ around the world?
Yes, it does. So, if you are traveling for business to a foreign country, check into this before you travel. Some countries (for example, Germany) are impressed by education and like to see all degrees and titles above the bachelor’s degree. Other countries have a particular way to present the card. For example, in China, the card is held in both hands when it is presented. In Saudi Arabia, the card should be printed in English on one side and Arabic on the other side. When traveling to Poland, bring plenty of cards and give one to everyone you meet. For more tips on business etiquette for international travel, see

These questions and answers clearly show the need and importance of having a business card. If you don’t have a business card, when are you going to get one?

About the Author

Kathleen D. Pagana, PhD, is a teacher, speaker, and author, specializing in Momentum Leadership techniques for individuals and companies that want to reposition themselves to maximize their leadership potential. She is the author of “Bread, Butter, & Beyond: Dining Etiquette,” the book that can help everyone be more confident at business meals, job interviews, and other
social functions. She is writing a book on Business Etiquette. She draws on her leadership of more than 25 years in healthcare, college teaching, administration, clinical practice, and business management. For more information, please visit

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