Sylvia J. Long-Tolbert
career outcomes
October 5, 2018


Carey Professor Explores Potential for Personal Branding

Why it matters: Assistant Professor Sylvia Long-Tolbert encourages students, particularly women, to "find their voice" in their career search.

“Find your voice in your brand.”

Tolbert Sylvia

Tolbert Sylvia

That was a fundamental component of the advice offered by Johns Hopkins Carey Business School’s Sylvia Long-Tolbert, assistant professor of Marketing, in her presentation “Creating Your Magic: A Gendered Perspective on Personal Branding for Women,” recently delivered to students at the school’s Harbor East campus.

As part of the school’s “Women in Business at Carey” speaker series, Long-Tolbert urged her audience to “have a meaningful talk about the importance of gender identity to your job search. Discuss what to emphasize and when to emphasize it.”

Long-Tolbert introduced the concept of a perceived sameness regarding business school graduates among prospective employers, in the sense that most degrees “look similar” in terms of technical knowledge, representing only an “entry point” or “baseline.”

“If your entire resume is just about your academic accomplishments, go back and rethink your brand story,” she advised. Consider adding new dimensions, she urged, that reflect important soft skills required for leadership to “break through the clutter and the noise.”  Long-Tolbert described this thinking as “coming out of the shadow.

“Consider [for example] church work, philanthropy, or mentoring. What qualities can you bring to a role as a result of time spent helping others and investing in character-building activities? Benefits derived from extracurricular activities create winning attitudes, self-efficacy, and the resilience needed to solve problems.

“[Transform] benign attributes into a compelling story. Demonstrate a strategic approach to managing you,” she added.

Long-Tolbert asked her audience to consider that “sweet spot,” an intangible quality or trait unique to them. “[These are] intangible skills, when added to academic and technical knowledge … you slowly transform into a brand that others cannot easily imitate or claim.”

A central tenet of Long-Tolbert’s remarks focused on a personal brand’s “lifespan,” starting around the high school years, then progressing through stages, including “young adult,” “mid-lifer,” and “wise one.” She emphasized that individuals must learn how to “pivot,” as well as “add and reinforce defining attributes” as their life circumstances, goals, and experiences change over time.  Women in the workplace are still judged in a harsher light than men, so the branding decisions women make tend to be especially critical pointed out Long-Tolbert.

“Create a professional brand presence,” she recommended. “Manage gaps in brand qualities over the lifespan to solidify your brand’s essence.  When building a brand that transcends time, invest in activities that build your credibility, integrity, and transparency. These intangible outcomes can protect your professional brand in good and bad times and when changing jobs or strategic directions.

“Can you brand in a voice that’s authentic and adaptive?” Long-Tolbert challenged her audience. “[That is] evidence of one’s value and distinctiveness.”

Long-Tolbert described the ingredients of a “signature voice for leaders” to include social competence, emotional intelligence, and personal character. She referenced the example of actress Angela Jolie as someone whose personal brand has strategically – and successfully – evolved from movie star “it girl” to philanthropist and social activist. “Tell a story over time,” she said.

Long-Tolbert also cautioned her audience about trying to adopt an inflexible persona fitting both work and home environments.  “Add strategic purpose to professional branding,” she advised. “Qualities you are renowned for at work may not be you otherwise – that’s okay.  Being your authentic self in these two domains is healthy.

“Give yourself the freedom to evolve as a professional brand, knowing your personal brand anchors you.”

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