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One is transparent. Another is aluminum. Yet another is strung together with polyester thread.

And they are all part of an important, if not old-fashioned, network.

We are talking about business cards, and David E. Carter, author of the “Big Book of Business Cards,” which is being published in paperback this fall, is a biz card and personal branding expert. Carter says business cards are an essentially job networking tool at any career stage. The key to a successful business card? Its individuality.

“The ones that are the most unordinary are the most effective,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be the most creative, cutting-edge design out there. But it does have to be memorable.”

The price range for business cards can be considerable, but ordering 100 on the Internet could cost between $20-30. Some people avoid the splurge and make home-made business cards with perforated sheets, but in this instance, cost-cutting may defeat the purpose.

“This is about as successful as do-it-yourself dentistry,” Carter says. Unless you are extremely crafty, or a professional designer yourself, leave the production to the pros.

Like Cara Lynn Kleid, a New York graphic designer who works with companies to produce “eye catching” business cards. More often, she says, a business card is the first branding project for a company or employee.

But before the design process, Kleid and Carter agree that the future card holder should consider the purpose of the card and the audience it will be delivered to. “With companies that were very arts oriented, I would be more liberal in my designs, get more creative,” says Kleid.

But beware of that thin line that separates creative from corny.

“You know it when you see it,” Carter says about cards that simply ‘don’t work.’ “There’s a fine line between vastly creative and tremendously tacky.”

As for solid ground rules, there are a few.

What Information Should Your Business Card Include?

According to Carter, keeping content simple is best. “If you get too complex and wordy with a business card, you wind up saying nothing.”
For the front, include your name and title, profession or professional affiliation, phone number and email address. Any more information should go on the back, Carter says. From an online networking prospective employee, it is important to provide a link that will direct the receiver to more information, says John Jantsch, owner of Duct Tape Marketing, a small business marketing firm in Kansas City, Mo.

“Providing a link to an online portfolio like LinkLD is a great idea,” Jantsch says.

Online links don’t have to be limited to portfolios or resumes. Jantsch says customized blogs can work too. “I’m a big proponent of free information, so including a link geared to a target market will be beneficial.” This can be a 'how to' blurb or published article that represents your work.

What About Students and Unemployed Job Seekers?

Before you get hired, get a business card, says Brian Benko, owner of Lican Benko associates, a logo design company in Fishkill, N.Y. Juniors and seniors in college should have them for networking purposes, Carter adds. “You never know who you could meet in a class or job fair and asking for a pen and paper is so unprofessional."

Students should also provide a link that features information about their work, this can include an online portfolio or a list of articles, but not a Facebook or MySpace (NWS) page (Don't let the boss see those party shots!). Benko recommends considering an online domain, possibly by opening a homepage at It shows a level of professionalism and eagerness that employers are drawn to, says Benko. “Ambition and initiative are priceless.”

As for a title, including your major below your name. Some students may be tempted to include a creative title like “Future Bill Gates” or “The Next Trump" but depending on who receives it, “it may be viewed as silly,” says Benko.

So why do these cards matter?

“In a time when face-to-face interactions are rare, you want to reinforce the benefits of those [instances] and make an impression someone can carry away with them,” Carter says. “That’s the business card.”