Networking cards are a great way to establish a fresh professional identity that is not bound to your institutional affiliation. Unlike business cards, which prominently display your institution’s brand, a networking card foregrounds your personal brand, often through the prominent display of your name and professional skills or services.
Networking cards allow you to connect with professional circles and demonstrate your availability for new freelance or full-time opportunities beyond your current employer. These cards position you to lead your networking activities with your personal brand, rather than solely rely on your institution’s identity to establish your social and intellectual capital.
Who should use networking cards? When are networking cards most helpful?
— graduate students who are actively networking for careers beyond the professoriate.
PhD job seekers must be able to demonstrate to professional circles that they can connect with business and practice. Studies show that employers have biases against graduate degree holders, especially doctorates, as too cerebral, socially awkward and unfamiliar with work — their version of work, of course. Handing out your business card with your university’s logo emblazoned on it may send the wrong message to potential leads and employers.
— unaffiliated or unemployed job seekers.
You may not have a current institutional affiliation or employer but you still want to leave something for people to remember you by. Make it easy for new contacts to reach you by having personally branded networking cards available. There’s nothing worse than making a great new connection at a networking event, but not having a way to seal the new relationship. Not sharing a card can make you appear to be unprepared and unpolished.
— people in temporary positions who regularly move from institution to institution.
A networking card, unlike a business card with your university or company name and logo, helps you establish an identity independent of the institution with which you are affiliated. This flexibility is great for job seekers who regularly move from institution to institution. One of my coaching clients had been in two Visiting Assistant Professor positions in the span of three years. It was imperative for her to have a single way for existing and new contacts to reach her as she moved around and as her institutional email addresses expired.
— graduate students and faculty who want to develop a side gig such as consulting or speaking.
Admittedly, this is one of my favorite times when a networking card is essential. There are academics among us who are drawn to entrepreneurship or are curious about building a side gig. If you are in this category, you must establish your side gig persona with a networking card that goes beyond your academic and institutional identities. In the summer, I worked with a religion professor to help him establish a consulting side gig. We did a lot of branding work to refine his personal website, design his speaking topics, define his audience and target client base, and create a speaking brochure. Of all our branding work, one of the most powerful first activities was for him to create a networking card.
When he attended his first professional event with practitioners, social justice leaders and policy makers, he took great pride in handing out his networking cards. The cards established him as someone with an expertise and service to offer.
Of course, he didn’t ditch his university cards. He just determined when it was most beneficial to lead conversations by presenting himself as a consultant and speaker (who also happens to be a professor of the subject) than as a professor.
It’s okay to have multiple cards – a business card from your institution and a networking card that promotes your side gig. Just be discerning about when to distribute which card, taking based on the industry and interests of the person you are connecting with at the time. The religion professor’s courage to step from behind his university persona opened him up to new professional opportunities, where he now is a paid consultant to policy makers and lawyers who require expert knowledge of lesser known religious traditions and faiths.
What should your card include?
— Your full name. Include your degree (i.e., MPH or Ph.D.) only if it is relevant to your target audience. When I first began my management consulting business, I included PhD after my name to demonstrate my level of critical thought and analysis, and my ability to delve into topics thoroughly. Depending on your field, including your degree may backfire — see my comment above about employers’ biases against doctorates.
— Your email address. The more professional sounding the better such as John_Doe@gmail.com or John@JohnDoe.com, if you have your own website.
— Your phone number. You might choose a Google Voice number rather than have calls ring to your personal cell phone. On Google Voice you can set up a professional voicemail and even forward your calls to another phone so incoming calls show up on your caller id as your Google Voice number.
— Your web address, if you have one. Give interested parties a way to learn more about you.
— Your LinkedIn url. Customize your LinkedIn handle. LinkedIn will give you a random alphanumeric id (www.LinkedIn.com/in/jofj8y98hi), but you can change it for something more memorable (www.LinkedIn.com/in/fatimahphd).
— You may include one line or one to two words that describe your brand. The religion professor I coached to his first four-figure consulting gig, used the words “Speaker & Consultant on Interfaith Issues, Faith & Religious Diversity”
— Your headshot. If your positionality is key to the work you do — either as a differentiator or as a sign of insider status — then you may want to include it.
Online services such as Vistaprint and Moo offer affordable cards with many design options.
Your overall card design should be consistent with your personality and industry. Ditch the flowers, crazy fonts, colors that are too bold or too light. You get where I’m going — your card doesn’t have to be boring, but keep it professional.
Finally, be sure to choose high quality paper for your cards. Ever had a wimpy handshake? A networking card on flimsy paper is equivalent to that wimpy handshake.
Comment below to tell us what keywords or tagline you plan to put on your networking card. I look forward to hearing your creative ideas!