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Don't hand out your business cards like freebies!
Suneeta Kanga
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April 25, 2008

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 [Images] 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.


Suneeta Kanga freelances as a corporate groomer, international etiquette expert, beauty advisor and aesthetics and style consultant for various individuals and organizations including airline training centers, finishing schools, banks and corporate business organisations.

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