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How to give out your business card without seeming like a jerk

Business cards haven’t gone extinct. But there are social rules you should follow.

How to give out your business card without seeming like a jerk
[Photo: Andrea Colarieti/iStock]

I launched a new company in November of last year, and we still don’t have business cards. At one time that would have been heresy, but none of the executives my partners and I have met with have asked for a card.

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Does that means business cards have gone extinct? No. They still exist—and they still have a role. But there are new protocols to follow, and if you slip up, you may come across as out of touch—or worse.

Before your next networking happy hour, brush up on these tips so you can avoid being that person:

1. Don’t use them to impress

It used to be that business cards were important to show your rank and title. I recall a time when the first thing I looked at when handed a card was the person’s title. I’d catch myself saying “Wow, VP.”

As organizations have flattened and titles are no longer our passport to respect, showing your card can be a bit pretentious—because doing so calls attention to things like rank. Hand your card out and suddenly you cease to be a person of interest at a networking event, and you become a title, a company person. You may be a president or a vice president, but no one will be impressed by that title unless you project those leadership qualities.

Never pass out a card to “pull rank.” It’s so much better to project stature in person, rather than to have a business card speak for you. 

2. Don’t rush to give your Card out

When carrying business cards you may be tempted to foist one on someone you’ve just met. All of us have been subject to “Hi, I’m Harry, here’s my card.”

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While your intentions may be honorable, that rush to give out your card can send a message that you are insecure or overly anxious to connect. If you’re at a conference or networking event and someone you’ve just met pulls out a business card the moment you two begin speaking, it will feel like you’re being sold by someone who is desperate to sell. Not a great look.

In the same vein, it’s not going to win you any points if you pull out your card too soon when you’re actually trying to sell someone a product or service. Do that, and it will appear that you’re closing on a customer too soon.

3. Choose the right situation

So when should you pull out a card and give it to a new acquaintance? When you have a reason to believe the other person needs or wants the information that’s on your card.

Suppose you’ve been chatting with a prospective client at a networking event, and you both have talked about a business opportunity. There’s a shared agreement about the need to talk further. In such cases, there is no reason to hold back on card giving. It’s the professional thing to do. Say, “Here’s my card, I look forward to the prospect of working with you and your team.”

As you give your card, ask for the other person’s business card. This suggests the beginning of a relationship and means that you have the power to follow up, rather than waiting on that person. Just because they have your card doesn’t mean they’ll take the lead in building the relationship. If it’s in your interest to close a sale or further connect, take the initiative to reach out to that individual.

4. Make sure it’s presentable

Your card represents you, so it should make a good impression. Keep it in a card holder, so when you pull it out it is not dirty or creased. You don’t want to be the person who has to say, “Sorry, this card is a bit of a mess, but it’s the last one I have and it got caught in the debris of my purse.” That’s no better an impression than wearing a shirt with a stain on it, or a rumpled dress.

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5. Think about what the card says

The final step in using your business card is to look squarely at it and say to yourself, “What does this say about me?” This is your opportunity for self-reflection.

Ask yourself, “Am I proud of what this card says about me? Do I like my title? My company? The quality (or lack thereof) of the card itself?” Your business card says a lot about your identity, and a close look at it will tell you whether you are in the right job or company. Looking at it should make you proud.

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About the author

Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto. She also recently established EQUOS Corp., a company focused on delivering emotional intelligence training to the fitness, medical, and business sectors

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