Business card etiquette

Picture this: Rahul Khanna, a dashing young B-school graduate, comes from a simple family and is looking to make it big in the corporate world.

He is currently in the lobby of a five star hotel where large corporate houses are holding a seminar, an excellent place to network for future career prospects.

He meets Mohit Suri, a head of HR who is in a position to offer Rahul a lucrative job opportunity. They exchange civilities and then comes the big moment — Mohit casually asks for Rahul’s business card.

Scene I

Like most people, Rahul keeps his newly-printed business cards in his wallet and he promptly reaches for his back trouser pocket. He struggles to wrest the wallet from his snug-fitting pants and clumsily drops it on the floor. It flips open and Rahul’s loose change, petrol bills, other business cards, girlfriend’s photograph and credit cards spill out for all to see.

Kaput — so much for a great first impression!

Scene II

When asked for his business card, Rahul reaches into his front trouser pocket, effortlessly pulls out a business card holder, removes a card and presents it to Mohit. Poetry in motion! Mohit’s eyes linger on the card holder and he is impressed with Rahul’s style.

Would you like to be Rahul in Scene I or Scene II?

Here’s another example: Ajay Verma, an executive with a multinational company is sitting at his desk. An old colleague drops in for a visit and asks for his business card. Ajay is quite comfortable since it is post-lunch. He pulls out his card from his drawer, holding it between his index and third fingers (like a cigarette) and casually tosses it to his friend across the table. Is that appropriate?

Your business card is an important part of your professional identity. It holds your name, designation, the organisation you represent, your office/ residential telephone numbers, mobile number, fax number, email ID, website address etc. It also carries your credentials, educational qualifications and designation. When you are presenting it to somebody, do so with respect. Your body language should also convey the same.

Always hold the card face-up, so that the print faces the individual you are presenting it to. This is a courtesy, so that he/ she doesn’t have to turn it around to read it. Hold it firmly in one corner, using your your thumb and index finger to grip it as you extend it to the receiver.

How should I present my business card?

Always present your business card with your right hand, as in some cultures it is considered impolite to do so with your left.

If you are dealing with clients from Asian countries like Japan or China, hold the business card with both hands and offer it accompanied by a small bowing gesture. Europeans and Americans do not pay as much attention to business cards as the Asians do.

In India we follow a middle path. East meets West!

Where should I store my cards, if not in my wallet?

Always keep you business cards in an elegant-looking business card holder. The stores that sell wallets and other accessories also stock card holders. Take your pick. Metal ones look extremely classy, but you also get very stylish ones in leather. Pick one that is slim, capable of holding about 10-15 cards at a time. I need not tell you to replenish them frequently!

Unlike a wallet, where business cards tend to get misshapen, a card holder keeps your cards in pristine condition. It prevents smudging and creasing, keeping the cards crisp and at their most attractive. (I’d like to mention at this point that most men don’t think it is necessary to go shopping for new wallets either — they get married to their wallets and fall into a comfort zone with what ends up looking like a relic!)

Is it okay for me to jot down extra details on my card or on someone else’s card with a pen?

Always make sure that the information on your card is current. Avoid scratching out old numbers, email addresses etc and overwriting with a pen — it looks shoddy. It’s worth investing in a new set rather than doing that.

Moreover, it is rude to write something and deface someone else’s card in their presence. When you are out of sight, by all means pen any reference required.

I have seen some people put business cards that they have just received down onto the table/ desk in front of them. Is that acceptable?

If you are in a conference/ meeting where there are more than a few people, it is acceptable to put business cards neatly and in an orderly manner on the table/ desk in front of you. You may do so through the course of the meeting — this helps you to refer to the names of the attendees/ participants as and when required.

If you are in a meeting, you may pick up the cards that you have kept on the table and put them in your planner, diary or folder. Again, the body language should be such that you are collecting your valuable papers and documents. Just make sure you don’t leave any behind. It is very insulting.

At times like this, it is wise to carry a whole bunch of your own business cards in your planner, as the supply in the card holder may soon be exhausted.

How does one show respect to an individual who has handed you his/ her card?

Simple — just smile while accepting it. Say thank you. Spend a few seconds reading it — 5 to 10 seconds should be enough to acknowledge all that is printed there! Nod your head approvingly and if you can think of an intelligent or complimentary thing to say, do so — “Oh, so your office is in Noida?” or “That’s an impressive/ interesting logo your company has”.

What does one do with the card then?

Put it back deliberately in your own business card holder.

This denotes that you are keeping it safe along with your own valuable cards and will file it when you get back to your office.

When should a business card be presented?

Ideally, at the commencement of a formal meeting. But there is no hard and fast rule. You can even present one in the midst or at the end of a meeting, as and when the need for an exchange of information emerges.

Please also keep in mind that in Asian countries no business commences till a formal exchange of business cards has taken place.

Who should present his/ her card first?

Ideally, you should not offer your card to an individual who out-ranks you, since it then becomes obligatory for him/ her to present you with his/ her card also.

If, however, some time has elapsed conversing and you have managed to strike up a measure of familiarity, it may be okay to offer yours and ask for his/ hers.

As for those at the same professional level or below you, it is perfectly alright to ask them for their business cards and present yours anytime — no protocol is required.

Below we have provided you with a few examples of international business card exchange etiquette that may help you on your business trips abroad.

General Business Card Etiquette Tips:

•Business cards are an internationally recognised means of presenting personal contact details, so ensure you have a plentiful supply.
•Demonstrating good business etiquette is merely a means of presenting yourself as best you can. Failure to adhere to foreign business etiquette does not always have disastrous consequences.
•When travelling abroad for business it is advisable to have one side of your business card translated into the appropriate language.
•Business cards are generally exchanged at the beginning of or at the end of an initial meeting.
•Good business etiquette requires you present the card so the recipient’s language is face up.
•Make a point of studying any business card, commenting on it and clarifying information before putting it away.

Business Card Etiquette in China

•Have one side of your business card translated into Chinese using simplified Chinese characters that are printed in gold ink since gold is an auspicious colour.
•Ensure the translation is carried out into the appropriate Chinese dialect, i.e. Cantonese or Mandarin.
•Your business card should include your title. If your company is the oldest or largest in your country, that fact should be highlighted on your card.
•Hold the card in both hands when offering it.
•Never write on someone’s card unless so directed.

Business Card Etiquette in India

•If you have a university degree or any honour, put it on your business card.
•Always use the right hand to give and receive business cards.
•Business cards need not be translated into Hindi as English is widely spoken within the business community.

Business Card Etiquette in Japan

•Business cards are exchanged with great ceremony.
•Invest in quality cards.
•Always keep your business cards in pristine condition.
•Treat the business card you receive as you would the person.
•Make sure your business card includes your title. The Japanese place emphasis on status and hierarchy.
•Business cards are always received with two hands but can be given with only one.
•During a meeting, place the business cards on the table in front of you in the order people are seated.
•When the meeting is over, put the business cards in a business card case or a portfolio.

Business Card Etiquette in the UK

•Business card etiquette is relaxed in the UK and involves little ceremony.
•It is not considered bad etiquette to keep cards in a pocket.
•Business cards should be kept clean and presentable.
•Do not feel obliged to hand out a business card to everyone you meet as it is not expected.


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