Last week, we discussed the need for business cards. Hopefully, you’ve placed your order and your cards are on their way! The next thing we should discuss is how to use your business cards. When is it appropriate? What are the best ways to keep it handy? When should you offer your card?

For starters, if you are trying to connect with someone in academia – at a conference, at an in-house research symposium, at a panel discussion, etc. – it is simply not acceptable to use business cards. As we discussed last week, academia is a sector that doesn’t embrace the concept of business cards, and because it’s not the norm, using your card in these settings could actually work against you.

Using a business card in an academic environment will do one of two things: 

1) It will make you appear pretentious (as if you are better than everyone else)…. i.e. “Why does this student/postdoc have a business card when I don’t even have one? Do they really expect ME to reach out to them to start this dialogue?” – a big name PI

2) It will leave people second-guessing you… i.e. “Why does he/she feel the need to even have a business card? Are they overcompensating for lack of good research? Are they in this for the right reasons? Or are they just using me?” – anyone in academia

Thus, it’s not advised to use a business card in academia. If business cards were commonly used in this setting, it’d be a different story, but because they are so rarely utilized, offering one to someone will seem so out of place that you’ll actually send the opposite message than intended to your potential network connection.

So where should you use your business card?… Any non-academic environment.

As we mentioned last week, almost every other industry relies on business cards to share information quickly. Unlike lab/university websites in academia, webpages for other industries don’t list every member of the business and their email addresses, so it’s hard to look up someone on the Internet who is not in academia. Hence, the use of business cards….

As with everything, there is some strategy involved with using business cards. Regardless of the non-academic setting – whether it be a networking event, a one-on-one discussion, or quick meet-and-greet in passing – there are some basic things to keep in mind when presenting a new contact with your business card.


Here are some Business Card Basics:

1) Put a few business cards everywhere.

Your purse, your wallet, your computer bag, etc., whatever you carry around on a daily (or somewhat regular) basis. You never know when you’ll need one, so it’s good to be prepared no matter what bag you have with you when opportunity strikes.

2) Take extra cards to networking events.

Aside from having few here and there in every bag you use regularly, if you are going to an event, make a conscious decision to intentionally bring extra cards. Grab a handful on your way out the door because, it never fails, you always need more than you think you do. Best to come prepared!

3) Offer your card as the conversation winds down.

Make sure you have a meaningful conversation with someone before you offer your card. There is nothing more awkward than saying, “hello,” to someone and the next thing you know, they’re shoving a card in your face. It’s a bit too forward, and it will rub people the wrong way. Only offer your card as the conversation comes to a close.

4) Specifically tell them to email you.

This seems so simple, but it is so effective. If you simply hand someone your card, it’s almost as if you’ve accomplished nothing. Those who specifically say, “Here’s my card. Email me and we’ll talk further about XYZ,” or “Here’s my card. Send me an email, and I’ll forward you that ABC,” will get ten times more responses than those who don’t. Think of this bait. You want to entice them and get them motivated to email you. Tell them to email you and promise something in return if they do. It works every time.

5) Always ask for their card in return.

If you offer your card, make sure there is some reciprocity. If you don’t get their card, the ball is completely in their court. THEY have to email you in order for the conversation to continue, and you have no control over that situation. And if they never email you, you’ve lost contact with them for good (again, it’s hard to look up non-academic individuals and their email addresses on the Internet). However, if you get their card, YOU can initiate the next conversation. You may want to wait a little while to see if they do in fact email you first (think about the bait you left for them… #4 above), but if they take too long to respond or if it appears as though they have forgotten to email you, YOU can always email them and reinvigorate the conversation IF, and only IF, you have their card as well.


In addition to the basics of business card etiquette, there are also a few other things you can do to decrease your chances of missing an opportunity.

Remember that an opportunity can present itself at any moment, so we need to be prepared to capitalize on the moment when it happens!


Here’s some Additional Strategies for business card use:

1) At a networking event, put some business cards in the back of your nametag.

Imagine a scenario where the event involves a dinner. You will likely put your bag down at your seat before walking up to the bar or the buffet line. However, starting a conversation with someone in the line itself is not unusual. But what do you do when your cards are in your bag, all the way over there back at your seat?? If you stash a few card in your nametag, you’re set to go! This is also a great place to keep business cards you receive from others, too.

Nametag & Business Cards

A typical nametag that clips to the lapel of a jacket or shirt. Left: Front of nametag; Right: Back of nametag with business cards tucked into the nametag holder

2) Offer the back of your card when others don’t have cards.

Imagine that you’re having a conversation with someone (the guest speaker, for example) in a group of colleagues (or even with people you don’t know). One of those colleagues wants to offer the speaker their contact information, but they don’t have a card. Assuming the back of your card is not crowded with additional content (Yale’s only have the school seal), offer the back of your card for them to write their email address on. That way, you’ve conveniently given your information to the speaker as well without having to specifically interject it into the conversation. Odds are, the guest speaker will also email YOU in addition to emailing the person who wrote on the back of your card. Why? Because you’re the one who’s got it together! YOU are the one who looks professional. Alternatively, they may mistakenly assume that YOU are the one they were supposed to contact, forgetting that there’s another email address on the back. Either way, this is a win for you, as it puts you in direct contact with the guest speaker.

3) Make notes to yourself on others’ cards.

As soon as you can, write down a note or two on the cards that you receive from others. If you’re a visual person, write down the person’s hair color, or what they were wearing when you met them. If you are a more conceptual person, write down notes about what you talked about. Whatever will spark your memory and help you remember that person, what they do, and what they can offer you, do it! Write it down as soon as you can. This is incredibly important at large events where you are meeting lots of people in a short amount of time. The last thing you want to do after the event is email the wrong person about a conversation or a job opportunity you discussed with someone else. If you make small notes on the cards you receive, the odds of this fiasco occurring are significantly decreased. It also makes writing your follow-up emails later much easier.


Collectively, these Business Card Basics and Additional Strategies will help you secure contacts that you meet at a wide variety of events. Sure, there are many more tips and strategies out there, but the few outlined above will at least get you started!

Between last week’s blog post and this week’s post, we hope that you have (or will very soon) embrace the business card concept and branch out in the non-academic culture with confidence!


** Order your business cards today, try out these strategies, and share your experiences with us! **

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