In 2014, I'm giving away every secret I know for getting ahead. Land the job you want, succeed once you're there, rapidly get promoted, and start your own company when you're ready.

Chapter Four The Personal Image

Figure out your passion, mission and values, and learn how to communicate them effectively.

The first part of developing a Bright Red Package is to choose an image. This process is placed first because it determines what activities you choose to back your Personal Position up with and what individuals you use to broadcast it through. The image, when crafted carefully and methodically, will serve as powerful mental shorthand for others to use when thinking of you. It will be a compass that guides your activities and makes you work smarter. And, when properly applied to the right audience, it will lead to a great job.

The steps that follow represent a framework to use in creating your image. Although by no means the only solution, they do represent the most efficient methods I’ve discovered for creating an image that has impact. Crafting an image takes some time, and should not be attempted in a single sitting. Rather, it should be done thoughtfully and slowly, modified over time until you have an image that screams passion and dedication. The end result should be an image you’ll be proud of.

Discover Your Philosophy

The most successful people in life have a clear road map. They possess certain values that seem to guide their daily interactions. These are more than just goals. These values make up what you could call a Personal Philosophy, their unique way of seeing the world and their place in it.

Businesses do the same thing. They create mission statements, a series of principles or values that are supposed to serve as a compass for their company’s actions. Of course, many of these mission statements do nothing but sit in a plaque in the hallway or get placed on the first page of an annual report. But behind most truly successful companies is a strong mission that the people can rally around.

So what is your version of that? I’m going to suggest that without a Personal Philosophy, a set of concrete values that guide your life, you will have a much more difficult time accomplishing the things you set out to do.

Why is a personal philosophy important? For starters, without one, you’re much more likely to take the first job that comes to you. You’re also more likely to move aimlessly from job to job as your career progresses. You’re less likely to receive the same amount of satisfaction from your work than if you have a set of values driving your work.

As you go through this process of becoming a Bright Red Package, you’re going to be creating a solid image that’s easy to convey to people. You’re going to begin amassing a body of work that you are proud of. And you’re going to be infecting others with this passion and compelling them to spread the word. All of this is made much easier if there’s a solid “why” behind all of it.

Developing a Personal Philosophy isn’t extremely difficult, but it takes some time spent thinking seriously about who you are and what you want. This is something that many people aren’t interested in doing, especially when American Idol is on. But this step is vital in laying the groundwork for the rest of the process.

Take a weekend and spend it in the woods, thinking. Or, if you don’t really like the idea of not bathing and eating hot dogs and s’mores for two days, spend a weekend in your house. Unplug the phone, the TV, the computer, everything. Just sit around and think. Think about what truly drives you, what things make you excited. Think about the things you believe in, and the things you’re willing to get in heated arguments about. Think about what you’re hoping to accomplish with your life.

Some other suggestions: What would you want your friends to say about you at your eulogy? What would you want your tombstone to read? Imagine you had three lines written about you in an encyclopedia. What would those lines say? Imagine you’re giving a speech, and you’ve been asked by an eager audience member what drives you. What would you say?

I’ll admit it; this step is a bit fuzzy. And corny. But it is important. It’s ambiguous because I know that people have different ways of defining their place in this world.

Some of you may be thinking that you can’t do this. College is supposed to be about thinking for ourselves for the very first time. The first thing we often discover is that we don’t know the answers, and we don’t know what the meaning of life is anymore. All we know is that textbooks cost way too much and that home-cooked meals really are the closest thing there is to heaven on earth. So how does a student, who really has no clue what they think about anything, come up with a set of values that are supposed to be driving their life?

My best answer is to give it your best shot. This Personal Philosophy isn’t the Ten Commandments; it’s not written in stone. You can change it and mold it as life progresses, and as you learn more about yourself. But having some set of values to guide you is better than not. You need something to guide you, no matter how impermanent it may be.

A Personal Philosophy is very unique. There is no standard formula for how it should be written, nor is there anything that must be included in it. There are only two rules. First, it must be written down. Napoleon Hill, in the famous book Think and Grow Rich, explained that the successful people he interviewed all had specific goals and values written down. They read them first thing in the morning and last thing at night. While this may not be necessary, you should put them somewhere where you will see them each day. By reading something over and over again, you begin to internalize it.

Secondly, the Personal Philosophy needs to be one that stirs up emotion within you. It needs to be more than just fancy catchphrases and clichés. It should excite you, reenergize you, serve as a rallying cry for your ambition. Lukewarm and halfway won’t cut it. It should be full of words that pump you up.

While this process is meant to be individualized, I’m going to show you my own Personal Philosophy to give you a head start. Remember, if it’s not something you’re really going to be excited about, don’t include it.

Personal Philosophy for Sean Johnson: My professional life will be one that is marked by creativity, dedication, faith and service. Success will not be measured by my rank in an organization or a corner office, but by the number of people I help, the quality of original ideas developed, and the extent to which I’ll be willing to push myself. When I’m done working, I’ll be able to say that I truly benefited other people’s lives and brought glory to God.

Developing a Personal Position

You’ve defined your Personal Philosophy. You now have an idea, albeit a rough one, about what you want to do with your life. While the vast majority of people are living their lives without any sort of purpose or direction, you have defined a path that you want to follow. You have carved a niche in this world.

Once you have this Personal Philosophy clearly defined and written down, you can begin the process of defining yourself. You must begin to develop your Personal Position.

Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote a landmark book on the subject of positioning. All products that sell successfully are able to differentiate themselves from the competition. They have established a clear position in the minds of their target market.

Creating a compelling position is just as important for your career. The average employer looking at a resume will make a decision to interview you in a couple of seconds. Your mes¬sage has to stand out in that brief period of time in order for you to have a legitimate chance of success. An impact player will have a powerful, compelling story behind them.

So what is a Personal Position? The most common example would be the proverbial “elevator speech” concept. It is believed that great salespeople can take all of the assorted features and benefits of their product and boil them down into a clear, powerful statement. They would then have the ability to sell their product in the amount of time it takes to ride on an elevator with a person.

It makes sense. After all, if your position is murky or vague, your prospective employer isn’t going to get it. They don’t have the time to listen to you, and most likely don’t think they’d be interested anyway. Your Personal Position, therefore, must be so compelling that it short-circuits their natural tendency to say no. And that can only happen if the message is clear.

The ability to focus is absolutely essential to this process. If you are like most people I know, you are a very multi-faceted, complex person. People are often hesitant to focus on one or two aspects of their personality. They don’t want to be pigeonholed.

Guess what? You’re already being pigeonholed. People who meet you are constantly making judgments about who they think you are. They don’t have time to find out if you’re a wonderful father or a humanitarian who helps out at the senior citizens home. They make a judgment about you during the first thirty seconds, and it will likely be a difficult judgment to erase.

Wouldn’t it make sense to exercise some control over that process? Some students would be quick to point out that they don’t care what people think about them. If someone doesn’t like them it’s their problem. But that isn’t a very healthy idea to have when looking for a job, a process that in essence revolves around selling yourself to others.

Companies spend enormous sums of money developing a product, refining it, testing it, making sure that it works, trying to create something that will benefit as many people as possible. It would be foolish for the marketers of the product to say that they weren’t going to try to position the product, hoping people will just decide they like it.

The same should hold true for you. You’ve spent the majority of your life preparing for this. You’ve shelled out thousands of dollars to obtain the best education possible. Why would you go out into the world without a clear position or make and effort to help others determine what to think of you? Even if your parents paid for college, they want to get a good return on their investment so you can buy them a cruise someday. Or at least a good walker.

Some students understand that they have the power to control what their target market thinks, but still fail because they don’t focus. They think that by trying to demonstrate everything they have to offer they will create a compelling case for themselves. “Look at all of this! How can you pass me up?”

They’re passed up because people aren’t usually interested in hearing everything you have to offer. They want to know what your most powerful traits are. They want to know how you can most be of benefit to them. That’s why any student who brings in a two-page resume is laughed at. The employ¬er doesn’t think you are a superstar; they think you can’t focus.

Focus is probably the most important word to remember about positioning. If you can’t focus, you will be ignored. People who are successful manage to boil down their talents and abilities into one, ultra-powerful statement. Martha Stewart is the queen of the home. Dan Marino was the greatest passing quarterback in history. Bill Gates is the super rich geek. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. Bill Clinton was horny.

All of these men and women were more than what those statements describe. But they knew that they wouldn’t stand out if they weren’t able to be defined in a crystal-clear way.

So, how do you create your Personal Position? The following guidelines can help you:

Focus: I say it again, because it bears repeating. If you can’t focus, you won’t win. A lot of students get worried that by focusing on certain traits, they might alienate some people. A funny, laid back position likely would not be appealing to a serious investment banker. That is a very valid point. However, by not focusing, by choosing to try to be everything to everybody, you end up creating a bland, lukewarm position that appeals to nobody. Focus on what you think is your most powerful skill or trait.

Look for what you can be first at: Consumers love a vacuum, and are much more likely to listen to something if it is new to the world, or at least new to them. The same applies with people. Identify opportunities that everyone else is overlooking. Martha Stewart found a niche that was being unexploited and took it by storm. Today, if someone were to try to unseat her from her throne, they would be hard-pressed to do so. She has locked herself in people’s minds as the queen of the home because she got there first.

Think about what you can be the best in the world at: Jim Collins wrote a book called Good to Great, in which he identified the traits that were common in companies that turned themselves into superstars. Each company focused all of their energy on what they could be the best in the world at, avoiding markets and products that they’d only be competitive in.

You should do the same thing. There are plenty of people who are mediocre. The people who are successful are often the best at what they do. Michael Jordan at basketball, McKinsey at consulting, the French at being jerks. Seriously ask yourself the question: “Given my abilities, what can I legitimately be the best in the world at?” By being the best at what you do, whether it be accounting, carpentry or conducting an orchestra, you will automatically stand out from the pack.

Choose your niche: We’ve established why the Shopping Mall approach doesn’t work. Sending out your resume to everyone will only make you frustrated. Similarly, trying to market yourself to the masses will lead to disappointment. The most successful marketers choose to target a specific niche.

Think of yourself as a fledgling business. You’re trying to compete against already established companies in your industry. How do you set yourself apart? You choose a niche. You could focus on helping dentists, or real estate agents, or semiconductor companies. You focus all of your energies on becoming an expert in that field, tailor all your marketing materials towards that field, and only book clients in that field. By doing so, your chances of dominating that niche and developing a solid reputation increase exponentially.

Pick an industry, learn what makes them tick, and begin to model yourself as the ideal person for that industry. I guarantee you’ll be more appealing to employers in that industry than students trying to market to everybody.

Use these suggestions, or any other exercise you feel worthwhile. Tom Peters makes seminar participants create a yellow pages ad for themselves. Professors ask students to create a cereal box that sums up their unique personality and skill set. I don’t care what method you use, as long as you get started.

What should a Personal Position look like when it’s finished? It should be a couple sentences that sum up your strongest talents and abilities, your most apparent and positive character traits, and the niche you’re trying to target. I’ve included my PersonalPosition to give you an idea of what the final product should look like:

“Sean Johnson is a creative, dedicated marketer who takes his work extremely seriously without taking himself seriously. He has an innate talent for developing ideas and getting others to jump on board. A walking contradiction, he is at once a risk-taking dreamer and a detail-oriented fanatic. His motto, whether it be marketing strategy or stand-up comedy, is simple: if it doesn’t make a difference, it isn’t worth doing.”

As always, this is personal process and requires serious time reflecting on what matters to you. The PersonalPosition should serve as a reminder about your priorities. It should also make you excited about the work you are doing. If it doesn’t meet these criteria, refine it until it does. This is your life, and it should stand for something important.

Four Components of An Effective Image

While there are no concrete “rules” in creating your image, there are certain characteristics that the most powerful Personal Positions possess. You can still have success without some of these, but your effectiveness will grow exponentially by adhering to these principles. Take some time to evaluate yourself on the following. If there’s one area where you feel you are lacking, follow the action steps to try and improve it.

Specialization: We’ve talked a great deal about focus in developing your Personal Position. The same discipline should be applied to every aspect of your image. While it’s unlikely that you’ll be reading your Personal Position to people you meet, you will want them to have a clear idea about what you stand for. This is where it is beneficial to create a more concise statement of who you are; your Personal Concept.

Your Personal Concept should represent the idea or cause you want to be known for. Think of it as a tagline or slogan for your Personal Position. It’s the bare essence of what you want to represent. A dentist client I had wanted to be known as a gentle, caring individual who was also dedicated to his craft and focused on being on the cutting edge. The Personal Concept we drafted for him was “Commitment and Compassion.” It was a simple sentence, but one that tied his Personal Position and Personal Philosophy together in a clear way.

My Personal Concept is “live on purpose,” and is meant to symbolize having discipline and passion to do great things. Your Personal Concept should, like everything else, be personal and relevant to you. Some people might find it corny, but it doesn’t have to be. As long as it is genuine and reflects your true character, it will work.

You can develop your Personal Concept around any number of things. You can focus on your job, or some special talent you have. You can base it on your personality, or your lifestyle. You can base it on the cause you are fighting for. It’s up to you. Just make sure it is short, to the point, and clearly identifies what you want to be known for.

List every trait that you have on a piece of paper. Underline those that are most relevant to your Personal Position, and would be most appealing to your target market. Ask others for their opinion about what you represent. Draft out a rough Personal Concept. Refine until it’s clear and focuses on one most important attribute that sums up your Personal Position.

Leadership: Whatever your Personal Position is, leadership can enhance it. People have a strong desire to be influenced, to be told what to do. The most successful Bright Red Packages not only stand for something important and relevant to their target, but are recognized as a leader or expert in that field.

The easiest and most effective method is to become a leader by doing great work. This is a method that all Bright Red Packages utilize effectively. In fact, it is a natural byproduct of the second component of a Bright Red Package, the Personal Porfolio. People respect someone who does remarkable work.

Some people fabricate their leadership by marketing themselves. A senior student who realizes that he needs to become a Bright Red Package will be at a tremendous disadvantage from a freshman. Seniors can’t go back and create amazing work; they must work with what they have. This is a much less effective method, but it is better than nothing.

Tony Robbins is now one of the most famous personal development speakers in the world. His initial image was largely created through savvy marketing, since he had no degree, no body of work and no real credentials to back it up. All he had to work with was his knowledge, and the clever marketing strategy of making seminar participants walk on fire to become recognized as a leader. Also, he’s a giant.

Finally, someone can become a leader simply by virtue of a position that they hold. This has become a much weaker source of leadership and influence than it used to be. Leaders are no longer drawn up as mythic characters capable of beating any obstacle. Even the highest position in the land, the President of the United States, no longer has the luster it once had. Today’s Presidents are the butt of regular jokes on late night television. This isn’t to say that a position doesn’t provide power; it certainly does. But it’s what you do with that position that matters.

My advice to become a great leader is to begin amassing a portfolio of great work, as discussed in chapter five. Learn as much as you can about your particular topic, and begin writing or speaking about it. Sign up for a volunteer position for a non-profit or student organization. Once in charge, actually do something worth talking about.

Charisma: The best Bright Red Packages aren’t just good at what they do. They also have people skills. This doesn’t mean you need to become a used-car salesman, but it does mean that people have to like you. The best way to do this is to avoid checking your personality at the door.

When Michael Jordan got into trouble for gambling, many people believed his image would be ruined. The same thing happened when he tried to play baseball. But in both instances, the public’s love for him only grew. Why? Because he demonstrated that, though he was still the best basketball player on Earth, he was also a living breathing person, character flaws and all.

The point? Don’t get too wrapped up in yourself that you can’t be human. You need to work hard at making connections with people, and people will like you more if you show them who you truly are. It means taking responsibility when you screw up, and being able to share your lows as well as your highs.

Take a course in public speaking. Open up to people you’re close to. When you screw up, admit it immediately. Serve as your own spin doctor; handle your story before someone else does. Above all, always keep your ego in check.

Honesty: It’s related to the previous component, but is so important it deserves its own category. Honesty is by far the best way to reinforce your brand. It means being true about who you are and what you stand for. It means taking credit where credit’s due, but not embellishing or stealing other’s thunder. It means adhering to the Golden Rule.

One of the best ways to develop a reputation for honesty is to always keep promises. David Ogilvy, one of advertising’s pioneers, said that “in the best establishments, promises are always kept, whatever it may cost in agony and overtime.” Avoid making promises you can’t keep. Under-promise and over-deliver and your life will be much easier.

In the second section of the book, we talk about chasing after big, bold ideas and creating grand projects that reinforce your image. This might seem to contradict with the previous paragraph, but as long as you are able to manage people’s expectations your reputation will remain intact. Further, by setting smaller goals initially while still going for a remarkable result, you can go for the gold and still end up meeting management’s (or your professor’s) expectations should you fail.

Remember that a dishonest person will always be discovered, and once that happens, the damage is often irrevocable. In crafting your image, make sure it’s one that you’ll be able to back up. Further, take a personal vow that your dealings with people will always be conducted with full honesty and class.

Creating Your Personal Marketing Mix

The final step in crafting your image relates to the “hard stuff,” your presentation. As we mentioned earlier, people often make judgments about you before you have the chance to open your mouth. The way you present yourself to the world can serve as a powerful tool to project your image, or can detract from your image, causing conflict and confusion.

Every way in which you interact with someone makes an impression. We’ve learned that a brand is nothing more than a bundle of perceptions. The best companies make sure that every customer contact point reinforces their brand. You should take the same care and consideration when developing your image.

The following list provides a rundown of the ways your image is conveyed to others. Measure yourself on each of these factors. If any of them are in conflict with the image you are trying to portray, you should consider modifying them.

Again, it’s important to understand that I’m not trying to convince you to change who you are. I am, however, asking you to evaluate the messages you are sending to people and make changes if necessary. If this is something you are not comfortable with, and if you truly believe that changing your shirt compromises your personal identity, feel free to skip this section. But be warned; the world doesn’t care what your personal ideologies are. It doesn’t care if you wear Mickey Mouse ears and a pointed dog collar as a matter of principle. The world will likely just stereotype you as strange and move on to the next candidate. The choice is yours.

Clothing: Your clothing sends a powerful message to everyone who comes into contact with you. If your wardrobe consists of shirts that say “Female Body Inspector” on the back, the message you send is not likely to be one of professionalism as much as would be one of a drunken frat guy.

Take an inventory of your clothing and compare it to the image you are looking to represent. We are fortunate today in that suits are no longer required business attire, even though a suit always sends a message of professionalism. The emergence of casual Fridays, and even casual everydays, have made your clothing options much more broad. In crafting your image, it’s best to identify trends in your particular industry.

Whatever style you choose to go with, try to be stylish. A good salesperson can offer you terrific advice. For those of you with a little more money to throw around, a tailor can be your greatest ally. Go for clothing that flatters you, and go for quality. It’s better to have a smaller number of high-quality garments than a bunch of items that show wear and tear more quickly.

Learn about colors, and figure out which tones best compliment your skin and hair type. Again, a salesperson might be able to help with this, and there are a number of books that can assist with this as well. Finally, learn how to properly launder and care for your clothing. Quality clothing that is properly laundered, cleanly pressed and in good shape will always be in style and will reflect positively on you. In my experience, no Bright Red Package has been enhanced by dressing like a slob.

Hair and skin: Get a flattering haircut. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on a salon-style haircut; the important thing is that you properly care for it. Keep it clean and trimmed.

As for body hair, very few people prefer long and sweaty. Keep your sideburns and beard, if any, trimmed. If you’re going for the clean-shaven look, use quality grooming products. For women: I know the hippie look is popular, but that shouldn’t include armpit and leg hair. Go ahead, be old-fashioned and shave.

Skin care is important as well, as the youthful vibrant look will always be a plus. Men should take the women’s lead and moisturize, so that they don’t look like lizards by age 30. Wash your face regularly.

Give some thought as to how you smell. There are a large number of people who believe that the scent of cologne or perfume is ideal, and is best used in large quantities. These people are wrong. Use colognes in moderation. In most cases, you’ll smell just fine if you shower on a regular basis and use deodorant.

Physical Health: Regardless of your Personal Position, a healthy lifestyle will always be regarded favorably. Not only are people naturally drawn to people who are physically attractive, but you’ll feel better and have more energy during the day, allowing you to work hard on your portfolio discussed in the next section.

You don’t have to join a health club to get in shape. You can pick up a weight bench and some free weights from the local sporting goods store, and need only a pair of gym shoes to go jogging. You don’t have to spend hours working out either: three sessions of aerobic exercise, 20 minutes each, are generally sufficient. Supplement this with a weight-training regimen once or twice a week, and you should be in good shape in no time.

Nutrition is important as well. There are all sorts of diets out there, but I’ve always had luck just following the FDA’s food pyramid. Drink a ton of water (at least eight glasses a day) to keep yourself hydrated and your complexion in good shape.

Having good physical health isn’t difficult, but it does take discipline. Besides the health benefits, people respect some¬one who has the dedication to stay in shape, and this can pay dividends for your image.

Accessories: Some people, in their quest to stand out, have opted to be distinctive through accessories. There’s some validity to this. After all, there are only so many colors of suits and shirts you can safely choose if you’re interested in being taken seriously. If your profession of choice involves standing on the street corner doing magic tricks, the rules are looser. But for most of us, our options in clothing are somewhat limited.

Accessories could be the answer. Being known as the guy who has a great assortment of watches or the woman who has great purses can add a touch of style and class that can prove beneficial to your overall image. However, avoid anything that is too overt or gaudy. Wearing jewelry like Mr. T, for example, would be frowned upon in most organizations.

One way to convey professionalism is through the use of glasses. Often, managers and upper-level employees look down on graduates looking to rise up in the ranks. They can make your life more difficult, taking your opinions or ideas less seriously because of your age or youthful look. A pair of glasses can make you look older, more sophisticated, and could help you gain respect. Even if you have perfect vision, you can get a pair with plain glass lenses.

Think of accessories as a distinctive bow for your package. Splurge on a sharp briefcase (yes, I just said “sharp.” No, I’m not over 50) or a pair of cuff links. Ties can work too; just avoid ones with little fish or Tabasco sauce bottles on them. Also ones with actual Tabasco sauce on them.

Mouth: It’s amazing how many people are willing to spend upwards of $30,000 for a car, but aren’t willing to spend the money to fix their teeth. You’re in a car for maybe an hour or two a day. You live with your smile 24/7. Spend accordingly.

Get invisible braces. Straight teeth definitely are something people notice. Also, go ahead and whiten them while you’re at it. You can pick up inexpensive options at the grocery store, and they actually work. You might want to avoid drinking too much coffee, as it stains your teeth. Ditto smoking (oh, you didn’t hear? It can kill you.) Obviously you should brush regularly, and floss as well. Consider breath mints. No one ever got fired for having too fresh of breath.

Smile regularly when talking with people. Smiling can communicate confidence, demonstrates that you like the per¬son you’re speaking with, and actually makes you happier as you do it.

Etiquette: This is vital. People can have sterling resumes and a list of recommendations a mile long, but can’t find jobs because no one likes them.

People make decisions based almost entirely on emotions first. Once they have made a decision, they’ll look for reasons to justify their action. That’s why all this image stuff is so important; if someone has a favorable initial impression of you, they’ll be naturally inclined to look for reasons to hire you. Having proper etiquette is an excellent step in the right direction.

Spend time monitoring the way you converse with people. You’d be surprised how often you look down, to the side, or in any direction other than where the other person is standing. When you avoid looking at someone, they often think that you are nervous about something, that you’re looking for someone better to talk to, or simply lack confidence.

Make every effort to look people in the eye every time you speak with them. This doesn’t mean you have to stare at them intensely. Remember, there’s a fine line between eye contact and the blinding stare of a raging psychopath.
Also, for the gentlemen out there, when conversing with a member of the female species, observe this rule religiously: keep your eyes above the neckline. Enough said.

Just as eye contact is important, so is your handshake. This sounds trivial to many people, and a bit antiquated to others. Donald Trump never shakes hands with people because he feels it’s barbaric (what’s really barbaric is Donald Trump’s haircut.) But for most people, shaking hands is a sign of respect.

A handshake demonstrates that you aren’t hostile, that you’re glad to see them, or at least aren’t planning on causing them physical harm. While you may have an issue with germs or with the “old school” way of doing things, most people aren’t going to care what you think. So just suck it up and shake their hand.

The proper handshake should have the webbing of your hand meeting theirs. It should be firm, but not knuckle-crushing. If you have a problem with clammy hands, wipe them on your pants discretely before shaking. And don’t hold their hand for more than a few seconds or else they’ll start to feel trapped; two pumps and a release.

Finally, the best way to demonstrate etiquette doesn’t have to involve throwing your coat on top of a puddle or knowing which wine goes with a filet mignon, although these aren’t bad. Simply be thoughtful. If you approach interactions thinking about how you can make the other person’s life better, you’ll likely be in great shape.

Posture: After years of wearing backpacks through school, loaded with 300 pounds of ridiculously expensive textbooks, it’s not surprising that many of us have a tendency to hunch over when we walk. But when developing your Personal Position, you want to convey an image of professionalism and power. Walking into an interview like the hunchback of Notre Dame does not convey these two admirable qualities.

Work on your posture. Keep your shoulders back, your back slightly arched, your head facing forward. You’ll look like you have some place important to go.) It conveys confidence, which is something employers, potential suitors, and the general population hold in high regard.

Pay attention to your stride as well. It’s been said that walking briskly conveys importance, and is something people typically find appealing. That said, don’t walk too briskly, because you’ll be more likely to look like you’re running late.

Finally, don’t slouch when you sit. And no, I’m not your mother.

Communication: In survey after survey of Fortune 500 executives, the most important thing they look for in new talent is the ability to speak and write well. And rightfully so. Between phone calls, presentations, memos, reports, and the now ridiculous use of email, these communication tools are vital in demonstrating knowledge and intelligence. In many cases, your first communication with people will be through the phone or through your writing. It would make sense to refine these skills.

Having good communication doesn’t require that you’re a member of MENSA. Simply taking the extra time to proof read your work can go a long way. Even better, have someone else read anything that might impact your Personal Position before you send it. Even the best writers have editors.

Also take time to practice. Take up keeping a journal, or do some creative writing exercises. Work on your spelling. Even take the time to work on your handwriting. It’s something that most people rarely think of, but can have a significant impact on the way people view you. If your words are misspelled or illegible, people might think you are stupid or careless.

Developing your speaking skills could be one of the wisest investments you could make. Sign up for Toastmasters to develop your ability to speak. I recently read that most people would rather die than speak before a large group; they’d literally rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy. The individual who has the ability to speak confidently will have a marked advantage over those who cannot. Use every opportunity you can to develop your talents.

Material goods: If you’re Buddhist, you might want to go ahead and skip this one. Like it or not, people will often judge you based on what you drive, where you live, or the lifestyle you enjoy. That’s life, and it’s largely a function of your financial status. I definitely would not recommend springing for a car you can’t afford or a house that will require two jobs to pay for. If you don’t like driving a Chevy Cavalier, just think about how much less you’d like bankruptcy.

That said, you can do things to still make a nice impression on people. Keep your car clean and well-cared for. Don’t be a cheap tipper. Decorate your house attractively. You don’t have to spend a fortune; if the folks on “Trading Spaces” can do it, so can you.

Put some plants in your home; it’ll brighten your day, and will show folks that you are grown up enough to keep some¬thing alive for more than a few weeks. At the very least, keep it clean. The “college frat-house” look went out when you left the college frat house.

Remember, everything you do sends a message. Taking control of as many of these things as possible is the key to building a strong Personal Position. Creating an inviting atmosphere also will make you feel happier and more at ease, which will help your Personal Position as well.

Personal Marketing Materials: Tom Peters has talked at great lengths about the importance of design. He believes that in a world where the vast majority of products and people have become commodities, great design becomes one of the only effective tools for competitive advantage.

It’s amazing how few people realize the power of design. However, this lack of insight on the part of the general population represents a powerful opportunity for you.

Whether it’s your business card, your stationery or resume, make them stand out. These days, everybody knows how to use professional design programs like Photoshop, or knows someone who does. Go find a graphic designer in your school’s art department. You’ll get great work done for a relatively small cost, and will help the student build their own portfolio.

Design can and should be a part of every interaction you have. Look at any emails you send, any forms you use on a regular basis, any and all presentations you give. Think about your voicemail or cell phone message, consider a personal logo, or even create a personal web page.

It bears repeating – everything you do sends a message. People may think you’re nuts for giving so much thought about the way you dress, how you act, and what your business card looks like. I promise when you land the job you want, or get the promotion, or go on the date with the guy or girl you’ve been wanting, you’ll be happy.

Take some time to think about all of this. It’s a lot to cover in one sitting. You don’t have to work on it all now, but it’s important that you get started. Remember, your Personal Position isn’t a static thing; it can change and grow as you change and grow yourself. All that matters is that you start; by beginning to consciously work on your Personal Image, you’ll be ahead of 99% of your competition.