Learn everything you need to know about Korean business cards and how a Korean business card can work for you in your dealings with Koreans!
In Korea, job position is the basis for business interactions. Hierarchy is even built into the Korean language. This is why Korean business cards are a must if you are living in Korea or visiting Korea on business. Continue reading to learn how to leverage your card to your advantage in business, and how to translate and design your own Korean business card.
A Korean business card can make all the difference to your business in Korea.
Photo by Steven S. Bammel
“Due to the urgent nature of my business trip, I did not have time to take care of loose ends. Steven helped me arrange phone service and business cards — both were effective and useful tools during my stay in Korea.”Phillip S. McMillan, Director of Sales & Marketing (McMillan Company – Georgetown, Texas)
“Steven: Everything is going great. The President of Kia was very impressed with your translation. I will give him your name. Kamsahamnida!”Mike Murphy (Kia Dealer, Brunswick, Georgia)
“Steven, Just thought I’d say hello… You made business cards for me many years ago on my very first visit to Korea. So this is a report that your cards were very useful. (I attach one as a reminder). At this point I am a frequent visitor to Korea and a professor (two months of the year) at KAIST, as in my signature below… Thanks for helping me get started.”Don Norman (Nielsen Norman Group; Breed Professor of Design, Northwestern University; Co-Director MMM (MBA + MEM); Co-Director Segal Design Institute; Visiting Distinguished Professor, KAIST – Daejeon, Korea – www.jnd.org)
1. Why business cards are essential in Korea
Some Westerners doing business in Korea believe they adequately understand the nature of hierarchy within Korean business culture. Others merely have a vague idea that a well-developed business hierarchy exists. But few understand the depth and importance of this concept within the Korean business world.
Job position is the basis for business interactions.
The primary reason business cards are so important in Korean business is that they communicate the position of each person within this business hierarchy. Rank is built into the social fabric of Korean society, and you cannot ignore this important fact if you expect to successfully promote business here. Though rank in Korea can be based on many things, in business it starts with job position.
Hierarchy is even built into the Korean language.
Probably one of the hardest areas of language for foreigners to grasp when learning Korean is the various ways in which Korean requires the speaker and listener to understand and express how various players fit into the social hierarchy. This is far more complex in Korean than the “tu/usted” concept of Spanish; Korean speakers must remain aware of and reflect the relative positions of the speaker, listener, and 3rd persons discussed at all times.
Indeed, there is no “neutral” way to communicate in Korean and you cannot properly utter even simple sentences or greetings without the implication of respect or disrespect.
Business cards are a must.
Therefore, if you are living in Korea or visiting Korea on business, you will soon find that business cards are essential.
I’m not going to tell you that your English-only business cards won’t work (in fact, they’re better in Korea than your Chinese/English or Japanese/English cards), but Korean/English business cards will demonstrate to your potential Korean partners that you are serious, and that you understand and respect their culture. This small effort on your part establishes trust and maximizes your opportunity for excellent results.
Therefore, I strongly recommend that you carry double-sided English/Korean business cards with you on business in Korea and with Koreans anywhere.
“I had quite a successful meeting with top management from Korea today. The two things I got from you — business cards and etiquette instruction — worked really well. Guests were surprised (with a + sign) by how the meeting was organized. And it was much easier for them to spell my difficult last name written in Korean. Thank you very much!”Oleg Prokhorenko (President, LGP International, LLC – St. Petersburg, Russia)
2. How to exchange business cards with Koreans
Exchanging business cards is part of the introduction process. Be ready with the following useful tips!
- Koreans exchange cards at the beginning of a meeting; make sure you have enough available for everyone.
- It is best to stand up when exchanging cards with those of higher rank.
- Facing your counterpart, bow slightly and hand your card (with the Korean-language side pointing up!) either with your right hand or both hands. The same rule applies when receiving a card from someone else. If the two of you are of similar rank, you may find yourself giving your business card at the same time as the other person is giving you his. In this case, give with the right hand and receive with the left.
- Take time to review your counterpart’s card carefully. You might want to speak his/her name and position to be sure of correct pronunciation. If the meaning of his/her job position is in any way unclear, it would not hurt to ask for an explanation. Basically, you want to show interest in and respect to the other party.
- DO NOT shove the card into your back trouser pocket!!
- If you are meeting in passing, then you may just carefully place the card in a shirt pocket or in a wallet or notebook.
- If you are sitting in a meeting, place the card gently on the table in front of you. Look at it often during the meeting in order to refer correctly to your counterpart’s name and position. If you are meeting more than one person and have received multiple cards, arrange them neatly in front of you.
- Koreans hand out their business card at the drop of a hat. Don’t be left out! Give your card to anyone that you’d like to hear from again. You’ll likely go through a lot more cards during your trip to Korea than you would back home.
- Don’t scribble notes on business cards as it does not show respect to your counterpart. You may however write additional contact information on the card if provided.
- If you’ve already exchanged business cards with a Korean before, don’t give them your card again the next time you meet, unless your card has been updated and you explain that this is the reason for giving a second card. Trying to give your card to someone again indicates you forgot that you met them before (likely the case, if you’re not careful!) and this is a slight you’d do best to avoid.
“Thanks, Steven. Cards were received. They are very nice and I will recommend your service to others. With kindest regards.”International M&A Advisor
3. How to translate your business card into Korean
The following list of best practice approaches to translating each of the elements of a business card to Korean should not be regarded as the
“ONLY” way. There is no standard method and so feel free to customize your translation and design to your situation. Also, if you do not have a Korean resource to work with on the translation of your business card (or other materials requiring Korean business translation services), then contact me. I’ll get the work done for you quickly and painlessly!
Transliterate your name phonetically into Korean characters in the order of your first name, middle name (if you use a middle name) and last name. Koreans know (or at least, should know) that Western names are sequenced backward to the Asian order and if you try to turn your name around to match the Korean name order, it will only make things more confusing. If a recipient of your card is having trouble figuring out which is your first name and which is your last name, then you can tell him or her.
If you use a middle initial, leave it in English or drop it out completely. Another approach is to write out the pronunciation of the middle initial letter in Korean, but I don’t think this looks as good as leaving the initial in English.
Punctuation between names is the same for English and Korean. Note that when localizing English names into Japanese and Chinese, it is pretty common to put a centered dot between names, instead of a space. But this is not the best approach for Korean cards.
Job titles can be the hardest part of translating a business card. This is because 1) getting the title right is very important and 2) titles don’t always transfer one-for-one between languages, especially in the case of Western companies that have moved to a flat organizational structure.
The goal in translating the job title is to ensure that the recipients of your business card see you to be at the same place and level in your company’s hierarchy as you want them to see you. In some cases, this is not hard; but certain job titles are particularly problematic, as explained below.
Likewise, there are plenty of cases where the purpose of a business trip to Korea is specialized enough that you may want to customize your job title for the trip.
For example, a “Vice President” of the company may want to go as a
“Director of Marketing” to be in line with the trip’s objectives. Keep in mind though that your Korean counterparts will form their impression of you based on both the English and Korean sides of the card, so the two should be in agreement, or kept strategically vague.
The standard handling of professional designations in Korean is to put them in front of the name and in a smaller font. This is not a hard-and-fast rule though and so you have a lot of flexibility in choosing where you want to place these.
When suitable translations exist, they are best translated. However, many specialized fields have their own unique designations and if this is internationally recognized within the field, it often makes better sense to just leave it in English. However, a professional designation left in English and placed in front of the name does look a little unusual.
The decision of where to put a professional designation gets even more confusing if someone has two, and one of them is translated and one not. To put one in front of the name and one after the name would be doubly unnatural.
In fact, for this reason, it often makes best sense (and doesn’t matter at all in terms of communicating meaningfully to the card recipient) to just place any and all professional designations after the name, as per Western style. Koreans often do this, too.
It is better to leave some company names in English, particularly those with initials, such as GE and IBM. In many cases, a company would just rather its name remain in English for the unified branding effects, too. However, I like translating company names when appropriate and I follow these rules when approaching the subject:
If you determine that you will use a Korean translation of the name, find out first if your company already has a translation of its name in use, and if so, use it. However, if your company’s name does not have a pre-existing Korean translation, first try to translate according to meaning. Company names based on the name of their founders or other proper nouns often cannot be suitably translated and in this case, they should be transliterated phonetically. Some company names can be a combination of translation and transliteration.
Translating company forms is difficult in Korean because the exact same company forms often do not exist across countries.
For example, the governance structure of a corporation in Korea is somewhat different than in an American one, thus “Representative Director” is generally used to refer to the top person in a Korean corporation, whereas “President” or “CEO” is the top position in US companies.
Still, both are stock-based and translating to the Korean version of
“corporation” does not generally introduce significant problems. But since the company form in Korean is generally placed in parenthesis BEFORE the company name, it’s necessary to move the company form to the front when translating a Western company form to Korean.
On the other hand, if translating to a Korean company form raises red flags, then the best approach is to transliterate it phonetically.
When Koreans prepare their business card with English on one side and Korean on the other, they always have the address in English on the English side and Korean on the Korean; the post office in Korea will deliver the mail regardless of the language on the outside of an envelope.
But for non-Koreans, the question of whether or not to translate an English address to Korean is more difficult to answer because a non-Korean address written in Korean characters is relatively meaningless. No post office in the world will deliver to a non-Korea address written in Korean characters.
It is fine though to translate a non-Korea address to Korean if the English side of your card already has the address written in English. In this case, having it in Korean on the Korean side can help Korean readers with the pronunciation of your address, as well as make the Korean side look more “Korean”.
Phone, fax and email
The latest trend on Korean cards is to almost always leave these in English on both the English and Korean sides. Frankly, to my eye, I’d rather one side be completely in English and one side completely in Korean on a double-sided card.
I do recommend that at least on the Korean side of the card, you add the international country code for your country, preceded by the + symbol, so that callers from Korea will know how to dial you by phone or fax. Thus, my US phone number “(972) 255-4808” becomes “+1 (972) 255-4808” when incorporating the international calling code.
Logos, slogans, and tag lines
Many logos are untranslatable pictures. But other logos contain words, usually in English. This doesn’t have to be the case though; translated logos can really add a nice flair to a Korean business card. The challenge here is having your designer work in a graphics program to recreate the English logo with Korean characters. This can be very hard, depending on the logo.
You should usually translate company slogans and tag lines and other similar text to match the meaning of the original English, especially when you consider that these slogans and tag lines are often a key device for communicating what a company does. However, when the slogan/tag text is a marketing phrase with a double-meaning in English, you may need to call on a good translator to think through it and come up with something in Korean that, though not a literal translation, still communicates the desired meaning.
“Just wanted to let you know, Howard and I received the business cards this morning, and are very pleased. Again, I greatly appreciate your assistance with this, as well as your patience.”Theresa A. Zahaczewsky (Production Coordinator and Writer/Editor, Goodwill Industries International, Inc. – Rockville, Maryland)
“Hello Steven, I am pleased with the business cards translations. Your service was exceptional. Your added offerings on etiquette are most appreciated. I will be pleased to share your services with others and when needed contact you for your services.”Bruce Cotterman, Managing Director, The BAS Group LLC (Management Services – Atlanta, GA)
4. How to design your Korean business card
Designing a business card for Korea is an art, not a science. There are no hard-and-fast rules about how to design a Korean business card and nothing that says a non-Korean’s card must be made to look like what a Korean designer would make.
In fact, the most common and simplest approach to creating the Korean side for a business card is simply to use the exact same layout of the English card, but translated to Korean.
However, there are more creative approaches which can be taken too. I, personally, don’t even carry a two-sided business card where the front and back are identically formatted. Instead, I cram all of my information in English and (some) Korean onto one side so that the back is available for additional information. This is a common approach that Koreans take, though I get occasional comments that my business card looks too busy.
Preparing the logo
Keep in mind when preparing your business card that just using a logo pulled off a webpage will generally not print well. Standard web resolution is 72 dpi, but for adequate print quality, 200 dpi is an absolute minimum; 300 dpi is better.
Korean business cards tend to place the logo at the top-left corner, or centered along the top; you’ll find very few Korean business cards with the logo elsewhere. This doesn’t mean your card has to do this too, though. Feel free to use as much creativity as you’d like on your Korean business card.
A lot of Korean business cards do put both the English and Korean on the front and use the back for some other purpose, such as with my card. I see a lot of Korean cards with a map to the office on the back.
“I was and still am so impressed with the care given to me by your organization. Korean Consulting understood my needs and made sure that everything was completed according to my request. Thank you for your help and EXCELLENT customer service.”Debra Means (Spring Hill, Florida)
My team and I have translated hundreds of business cards for clients visiting and doing business in Korea (as well as having translated many other English documents into Korean). Having worked in a Korean company for years, and having studied the Korean business environment at the graduate level, I can ensure that your Korean business card will represent you well. Korean business cards are one of the Korean translation services I provide and I would love to support you!