You are one of six people vying for a promotion in your company. Each applicant has an equal amount of education and experience. What will make you stand out and get the job?
Your image, contends communications and image consultant James Gray Jr., who helps career conscious people project a more winning image through his seminar on Personal Image Creation at American University.
Like an everyman's Gerald Rafshoon, Gray takes the image-enhancing pointers politicians have relied on for years and adapts them for use by business people, professionals and aspiring executives.
"Image-building is a relatively new concept for the professional," says Gray, who is writing a book on the subject. "You've got to think of yourself as a product. What kind of image do you project? How can you best market and sell yourself?"
At 34, Gray's own image is smooth professionalism personified, from his carefully clipped hair to his casually expensive Italian leather shoes. In the eight-week, $65 class he teaches students how to speak, dress, gesture, even smile in a way that he claims will enhance both their image and their chance for success.
"Politicians are quite image-conscious," he points out. "Probably the first real example is the Kennedy-Nixon debates when studies came out showing that the general voting population really deals more with the image than the issue.
"President Carter's attention to the image he projected during his energy speech is a more recent example. Image is what Washington is all about, and we see it everywhere -- from monogrammed license plates to how people dress and what schools they attend."
Corporations recently have begun enhancing their executives' images through public speaking and "success-dress" courses, notes Gray, who says individuals are rapidly following the corporate lead.
"People want to learn how to make themselves stand out," he says. "And there is a particular interest from women who want to learn executive rules and self-promotion."
In response to this demand, the number of image-makers has mushroomed, according to Jacqueline Thompson, who edits a directory of personal image consultants for the New York-based Editorial Services Company.
This Year's directory lists 82 image consultants; next year's edition -- published in pre-election January 1980 -- will include at least 50 more. Nearly a dozen are located in the Washington area, says Thompson. Consultants usually specialize in speech, dress or individual public relations and charge anywhere from $50 an hour to $1,500 a day.
"There's a pretty tight job market for middle-management jobs, and people are willing to do almost anything to get ahead," she says. "Executive recruiters admit that often very intangible things -- the way someone dresses or speaks -- may make the difference as to whether they're hired or not."
Gray is one of a handful of image experts offering a course through a university. He begins his class with an "image-perception exercise" in which each person summarizes his or her impression of the image projected by other classmates.
The concepts of occupational prestige, television techniques, business protocol, time-management, dress and grooming are studied. Each charts his or her goals and creates a personal image profile and a personal public relations campaign.
"Many people have never thought of themselves in these terms," Gray acknowledges. "We try to focus on what they have to offer that sets them apart from others and get rid of some of their negative concepts about themselves."
For the final exercise, each class member is videotaped while delivering a five- to 10-minute speech. Gray critiques individually.
"Voice-wise, most people's major problem is lack of clarity and dropping the ends of sentences," he says. "Visually, they either use too many gestures that are too strong, or they use no gestures at all."
To learn effective use of gestures, he suggests students watch "I Love Lucy" re-runs without the sound. "She's a genius at gestures," says Gray. "Her faces and movements convey exactly what's going on."
Image, claims Gray, is more than a superficial quality. "You've got to have something to offer to begin with. You can't succeed on image alone.
"But a professional image enhances whatever it is you've got to offer and helps you promote yourself. Your packaging can make a difference. If your office is a mess and you don't dress right, the general impression people get of you may be that you're sloppy and you may be passed over for a promotion."
A person's name can be an important part of his or her image, says Gray, who advises people in some cases to consider using their initials or middle name.
If money is a consideration, he suggests investing in two or three more expensive professional outfits rather than buying a cheaper and more extensive wardrobe.
"It takes money to make money," says Gray. "You've got to remember that you are your own best investment."
Since Gray began the class this summer, nearly two dozen people -- including lawyers, public relations people and Pentagon staffers -- have studied his image-building techniques.
Some are members of companies who videotape board meetings or corporate announcements to distribute to branches throughout the country. Others want to move up in their companies, move to new jobs or learn how to make the most of being self-employed.
Maryland attorney Max Sampson, 42, went into private practice several months ago and took Gray's class to help him present a more positive self-image with prospective clients.
"I'm used to talking in front of a judge or a jury, and that's no problem," admits Sampson. "But I have trouble talking about myself.
"I was raised to think that it's not nice to brag about yourself. I've always felt like I could convince people that I could do the job without coming out and telling them how good I was.
"When I videotaped my speech I wound up apologizing to the camera person for talking about myself for seven minutes. I've learned to think of myself in the third person. For me it's just a matter of getting past the inhibition of talking about myself and just getting up and doing it."
Gray advised Sampson to relax his shoulders, slow down his speech and practice punctuating his sentences with vocal inflections. He recommended using gestures moving in toward his body to covey a greater sense of confidence.
"This class is something completely different from what we are offered in Europe," says Dutch-born Liliane Broekman, 25, who hopes Gray's class will help her move up to a more influential position at her country's embassy.
"I feel that I have qualities that don't come through to people," she says.
"In Europe we're told not to boast about ourselves, but people here in America know how to promote themselves better. And these things can be very helpful in getting ahead."