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Science Careers Blog

March 3, 2010

Creating a Scannable Business Card

Sometimes even the best planning and good luck aren't enough in your job search. Consider the following scenario.

At conference, you get introduced to a department chair at a university, who mentions they just got a big new grant and may have positions opening soon. Instantly, you reach for your a business card and hand it to Dr. Chair so that she won't forget your conversation.

Unfortunately your cleverly-designed business card, with special stylized fonts on a dark background, with contact information printed on both sides, doesn't work very well in the OCR scanner Dr. Chair -- or, more likely, her assistant -- uses to capture the details of people she meets at these events. Your business card hits the bottom of the trash can, your scanned-in contact information is illegible, and your networking near-triumph instead fails.

In an age of rising productivity and dropping technology prices, tools like business card scanners are becoming more common and less expensive. There's even an iPhone app for that. So job hunters need to  make sure their business cards are scanner-ready.

Nancy Nally in yesterday's WebWorkerDaily provides some tips on making your business card scannable. Nally scanned over 100 business cards into her Mac to figure out what works and what doesn't. Here's what she found:

- Use big text. Human eyes can squint; scanners will just ignore text that is too small. If you have to squint to see the text it is probably too small for a scanner to read.
 
- Use plain text. Fancy fonts may be visually compelling but they can confuse a scanner. You might think a sans-serif font like Helvetica is boring, but a scanner doesn't think so.

- Give the text some space. Crowding, too, can confuse a scanner, and anyway it's bad design.

- Use a light, plain background. Dark backgrounds may make for unforgettable business cards but also unscannable business cards. Also do not print text over a pattern. The human eye can tell what is text and what is pattern, but scanner cannot.

- Use text for all key information. A company logo may look cool on the card, but it won't scan.

- Put all key contact information on one side. One reason business card scanners are inexpensive is that they scan only one side of the card. Using both sides is fine, but put the key contact info on side 1.

- Put your name and title on separate lines. When printed on one line, the scanner won't know where your name ends and your title begins.

- Print the text in one direction: horizontal. People can rotate the business card to read text printed both vertically or at an angle, but scanners just get confused when that happens. Scanners get confused easily.

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