by Michael Bayroff
As job-seekers, one of our best tools to discovering the unadvertised job market is networking, which can take the form of a chat with a colleague or attending a formal, structured networking event. In either case, time is usually limited to just a few minutes to explain what you're looking for, listen to the needs of your new acquaintance, and exchange contact information.
In these environments it is all too easy to collect a stack of business cards only to realize later that you don't recall much about the people who gave them to you. The real problem for us as job-seekers is that our card is probably lost in the middle of other peoples' stacks as well. Unless you or your contacts make notes on your card there is a good chance that you may wind up indistinguishable from others in the pile.
An effective solution is to turn your standard business card in for a targeted, memorable "Networking Card." This relatively recent innovation will distinguish you from others and put you at the "top of mind" with networking contacts, prospective employers, etc.
Below is a sample of a Networking Card targeted to communicate this person's positions/affiliation and client list.
You can see that the area that may otherwise have been wasted on an address or white space has been effectively used to communicate the points most important to this job-seekers' contacts.
A Lesson from the Pros
At the beginning of each of her monthly networking meetings, Debbie Rodkin, executive director of RE:FOCUS ON CAREERS tells her audience that "It's not what you know OR who you know... it's who knows you!" Along with other coaching, including how to prepare an elevator speech and even tips on starting a conversation, Rodkin advises all her attendees to have networking cards that contain more than a name and phone number. Rodkin explains, "You have a unique opportunity to leave your new contact with an "information brochure" about you. Why not include as much of your valuable information as possible?"
After some additional coaching, Debbie facilitates networking sessions that focus on quality networking, that is, ensuring that people know who you are, what you are seeking, and most importantly that you have given then a reason to remember you after the event. You will find that each of these goals can be accomplished with a smart networking card that contains your "credential essentials."
Networking Card: A New Way to Network
Traditional business cards have been used for decades and have their place as calling cards and a way to communicate your basic contact information. For networking situations, however, it is critical to leave your new contacts with more. With a networking card, you can include your most important information, including:
- Schools attended
- Degrees received
- Industry expertise
- Past employers
- Clients served
- Link to your full online resume
- Links to portfolios of your work
- ... and any other information about yourself that may be valuable for your contacts to have
To be effective, your card should be professional and represent you appropriately. Of course, "appropriate" can mean different things depending on what type of job you are seeking. A fluorescent mango card may be just perfect for someone in the music business!
Attributes of a good networking card include:
- Quality card stock
- Appropriate mix of fonts, font colors, and attributes (bold, underline, italics)
- Good graphical layout
- Balanced amount of information
Because of limited space, it's important to tailor your information to brief bullet points or concise paragraphs. If more space is needed, you can consider two-sided or even multi-sided folding cards.
Once you have created your networking card and have identified opportunities to network for your next job, what's next? What is the best way to use your cards? Several tips that can help you maximize this tool's benefit in building your network can easily be remembered by using the simple acronym "PRO" -- Presentation, Reference, and Opportunity:
Networking Card: Presentation
When making contact in a new job-search environment, present your card only after you've established initial rapport. Initiating a conversation by presenting your card may indicate that you are more interested in promoting yourself than opening a true two-way conversation. (See more networking dos and don'ts.)
The ideal time to present your networking card is when it can be used to support and enhance an on-going conversation. Because your card contains key information about your credentials, these opportunities are limitless, and may include schools you have attended, degrees or certifications, companies for whom you have worked, titles you have held, and more. Any keyword or conversational topic can be a cue to show your contact that you have relevant information listed on your networking card.
Avoid presenting your Networking Card at the end of the conversation as you would a traditional business card as you'll waste valuable opportunities to use the card itself as a discussion topic. You demonstrate your dedication to networking success and communicating your key information through the time and effort you invested in capturing it on a printed card.
Because the use of networking cards is not yet common practice, the card itself will likely become a point of discussion. Those who've used networking cards note that people are instantly impressed by their uniqueness. Don't be surprised if you are asked "Where did you get that?" and "How have they been working out for you?"
Networking Card: Reference
After presenting your networking card, you can refer to it throughout your conversation. In addition to reminding your contact of your name and title, your card will provide you a list of "talking points." Just as speakers use bullet points on a slide to guide a presentation, you can use your card as a visual cue to guide a discussion about your prior jobs, education, certifications, and skills.
Another helpful hint is to carry a highlighter with you whenever you find an opportunity to network with your card. You can then highlight any point of specific interest to your contact. Then, not only will your card stand out from others in the stack, but you will have called specific attention to your most relevant information.
Networking Card: Opportunity
Now that a new contact has your networking card, you can use it to create additional opportunities to engage him or her and review important points, clarify portions of previous discussions, or to open new discussions. After your initial conversation, your card will provide your contacts with a constant reminder of your credentials.
You will also be able to use your card as a memory-recall tool when following up after your initial meeting. If you received a card from your contact in return and plan to contact him or her again, you can identify yourself by referencing not only the conversation you shared, but specifically that you were the one who provided him or her the "Networking Card." You may be surprised by how many peoples' memory will be triggered by that simple reference.
Final Thoughts on Using Networking Cards
Effective job networking opportunities can be found anywhere at any time. Regardless of the venue or the people you're speaking with, your goal remains the same -- to make sure that you, your job-search goals, and your credentials are remembered and accessible. A networking card can be your best tool to differentiate you from your competitors and land your next great job.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Michael E. Bayroff is the former marketing manager of a company that created networking cards.
Achieve career networking success! Take advantage of all the career networking tools, articles, and resources found in our The Art of Career Networking section of Quintessential Careers.