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Is it appropriate for a junior employee to request business cards prior to attending a conference? Is there some "industry standard" level or title that justifies business cards?

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This really shouldn't have anything to do with how "junior" the employee is or this person's pecking order in the organizational hierarchy.

Instead, the question that needs to be asked is: Does this person actually need business cards? For a junior employee who doesn't meet with clients, who doesn't meet with vendors, and whose job role doesn't typically involve leaving the confines of the office, having a business card may not be a good investment in time and/or money, since there is no need.

However, if the person is attending a conference, this presents a huge opportunity to do some networking with potential clients and potential vendors. This junior employee may meet a potentially valuable client, someone who is interested in the services that the junior employee's employer provides. In this case, it would be in the company's best interests to provide the employee with the tools he or she needs to represent the business and provide a good first impression.

It would seem awkward if the junior employee says to his contact, "Hold on! I'll get my boss's business card. Don't leave!", as he runs to find his boss and retrieve her business card.

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    I was typing as you answered, so I stopped and upvoted yours -- was going to say pretty much the same thing! With a caveat that at the end of the day the answer really depends on your own company's policies (if they even have one), it is not inappropriate for an employee of any level to request business cards if they are going to be representing the company in some way at an external event. – jcmeloni Aug 4 '12 at 21:56
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    Business cards are so cheap that it would seem crazy to waste time even talking about it. An employee going to a conference needs cards, period. – Jim In Texas Aug 6 '12 at 16:05
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If you want business cards, just ask, whether you're going to a conference or not. (I like having them just to give to friends and family, or even to use as bookmarks.) They don't cost much, and the worst your employer can do is say no.

(Well, that's not the worst they can do, but if there are negative consequences for just asking for business cards, you've got other problems.)

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    There is no business value using business cards as bookmarks or just to give to friends and family. If you happen to have some, great, hand some out, but these aren't valid reasons to submit to an employer. – jmort253 Aug 5 '12 at 4:49
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    @jmort253: From the employee's point of view, business cards are nice to have (at least I think so). If an employer is willing to provide them just for that reason, as a trivial fringe benefit that might even have some business value in the future, I don't see a problem. On the other hand, if the employer has a stated policy that business cards are provided only for specific business-related reasons, I probably wouldn't bother to ask. And the question was whether the employee should ask, not whether the employer should say yes. – Keith Thompson Aug 5 '12 at 5:50
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    There is no need for the OP to fret about asking for business cards. You never know when a card might be useful to have even if there is no immediate need at the moment. From the employer perspective, however, there are consequences for denying a request for business cards. It might be seen as an insult or a de-valuation. – Angelo Aug 5 '12 at 15:00
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    Since it's possible for the business to provide minimal numbers of cards (twice I was given only about a dozen cards) and the cost of a standard box of 250 can be as little as $12, I can't imagine a company completely denying an employee cards. I created business cards for myself on Vistaprint (I'm a historian when I'm not developing software) with a logo and photo on the back for that minimal charge. In my current position, they gave me 100 instead of 250 and I think that will be just fine. – David Navarre Aug 6 '12 at 15:59
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    Love the answer (especially the "... you've got bigger problems"! :) ), one possible addition - the person to ask is your boss, not the admin. And give a double check on format. Especially for junior employees, there may well be a very formal format for them so that they look consistent and no one gets terrifyingly creative. – bethlakshmi Aug 7 '12 at 13:00

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