Alumni Interview: Tina Capalbo

Alumni Interview

Tina Capalbo 
Interviewed by Jasmeen Siddiqui

Area of Study: English

Business owner, Social Media and Brand Storytelling Consultant, mother, creative, and Western University Alumna, Tina Capalbo brings a rich professional and educational background with a wealth of experience-based knowledge to her relationship with Western undergrads. 

It’s well known that today’s graduating classes will have many different careers in their lifetimes—LinkedIn reports the number to be between twelve and fifteen (2015). Capalbo explains, “With the nature of the job market, my career has been filled with contract, occasional, seasonal or self-initiated positions,” beginning with jobs many undergraduate students are familiar with—concessions stands, pizza joints, summer camps, a theme park, a flower shop, a bar and grill—and eventually moving through to management, coordinator, educator, and director positions within various institutions and projects. When we hear about success stories from alumni, they’re often told in a linear fashion because they’re told retrospectively, and we assume that our paths must all be linear as well. Capalbo provides a different perspective: “I realized I had to go sideways in my work-life journey sometimes in order to go forward on my career path.”

One of those sideways movements was teaching in Japan for two years after graduating with a B.A. in English—a popular option for many arts students. “Teaching in Japan was one of the best things I ever did,” Capalbo said, largely because she was able to learn so much about herself in a foreign country where she didn’t know a soul and didn’t speak the language. She also said that her work in Japan allowed her to develop a very valuable skill set, which resulted into her resolve to go to Teacher’s College at Western and teach high school students. Unfortunately, a few months before Capalbo graduated, the Ontario Government instituted a five-year hiring freeze for teaching positions in Ontario, which she modestly called a “big curve ball.”

Capalbo has had a lot of practice with adversity in her career, including uncalculated freezes, being a single parent, moving to a new community without any connections, and simply being a woman in the workplace. She is a self-declared arts and humanities advocate, and much of that has to do with the highly transferable set of “soft” skills she acquired through her strong and proactive arts background. The set includes: “teamwork and teambuilding, collaborative leadership, trouble shooting and problem solving, self motivation and self discipline, punctuality and meeting deadlines, communications skills: presentations and speaking/ active listening/ interviewing/ writing and storytelling, etc.” as well as her computer, social media, and digital marketing skills.

Like many Arts students, Capalbo acknowledges, “I am a creative, and I don’t shy away from that, so I wasn’t sure where I would land after graduation.” One of the greatest things about Arts degrees, which Capalbo’s career path is a strong indication of, is that it equips students with flexibility and real-world applicable tools to face adversity head on. As an example, the male-dominated business world often involves unequal communication and a less collaborative and friendly dynamic, but, because of the skills and experience Capalbo possesses, she can shape her workplace dynamic into one that is comfortable and favourable to collaboration. In addition, Capalbo possesses a deep sense of confidence in her own abilities. “When faced with a career decision, I choose with my heart as much as my mind. Then, after I make the leap, I know I will garner what I need to make things work. That knowing has come with experience,” she says. That experience has also inevitably come from the many jobs her transferable skill set has landed. Capalbo adds, “My career path has been ever fluid—just as life is. The more I understood and embraced that, the easier it has been to keep moving forward in this uncertain labour market.”

Currently, Capalbo is in her third year of running Lift Communication, a company she founded herself, whose “motivation is to provide effective social media services to businesses with a creative approach to their brand storytelling, a strategic understanding of their digital marketing process, and relevant customer-centered engagement,” she explains. Capalbo focuses on the increasing importance of digital presence through “storytelling and business, and the business of storytelling.” In an arts degree, one will find that stories are everywhere and that messages are best delivered through them—something Capalbo’s studies in drama might have confirmed—and Capalbo hopes to emphasize its significance in marketing and to incorporate storytelling as part of the digital craft.

Another goal of Capalbo’s is to become a recognized expert in digital brand storytelling and to have her field recognized for the marketing value it holds. Capalbo essentially carved out her own niche, and she did so in a very informed manner; the key, she says, is research. “To be successful, you have to spend time finding where the gaps are,” she explains, the gaps being what people don’t know they need. This involves researching what people need, what they like, and what they don’t like, potentially by looking in places like the comment sections of websites akin to Amazon. The research skills Capalbo developed in university were put to good use in creating her business, just like her ability to write a thesis during her Masters degree came in handy when she decided to take on the task of writing a book. Her forthcoming book is a practical guide that explores brand storytelling techniques for social media. It will come with a workbook so that entrepreneurs, small business owners, and brand marketing managers can use the guide and workbook together to create compelling storytelling techniques as part of their social media strategy. Her position as Social Media and Brand Storytelling Consultant also requires Capalbo to pull from her past experiences in teaching, as a large part of her responsibilities involve mentoring clients and helping them achieve their specific needs and marketing goals.

Education and digital literacy, and the digitization of education, grow increasingly more important, and, Capalbo says, “Digital platforms, apps, and technologies are here to stay.” She adds, “With an eye ever to the future, I think digital literacy around career development and personal branding online is essential for everyone in college and university. It’s important to understand to what extent students can use different platforms to forward their goals and create their public and private spaces online.” Students are no strangers to the digital world; it’s how we access resources, complete assignments, stay up-to-date, and it’s almost always only as far as our pocket. As someone who works intensely with social media, Capalbo put together three key things students should keep in mind about social media presence in terms of personal branding and career development.

Capalbo's Tips for Social Media Presence and Personal Banding

  1. “Do an audit. Google yourself. Clean up your digital footprint. Audit your privacy settings. Don't let people tag photos of you at parties, etc.”
  2. “Be very aware of everything you post all the time, even dark social content…If you don’t want an employer to see something, don’t hit send.”
  3. “Proactively build your digital footprint to attract the type of employment or career you’re seeking—and not just on LinkedIn. Use social media to show your interests and demonstrate your values. Recruiters like to see who you are as a person. They will search you on Facebook. In this day and age you need to (and have the opportunity to) demonstrate proactively that you know how to conduct yourself online. You can also research and network by following companies and connecting to recruiters, when appropriate, or participating in industry groups and chats.”

Students completing their undergraduate degrees are busy trying to plan their careers and apply for Masters degrees and entry-level jobs, but, if Capalbo’s story is any evidence, you can’t always plan the future. More importantly, the—sometimes sideways—steps along the way can sediment a valuable and transferable skill set to prepare you for adversity, and also for success. Capalbo’s story is comforting in its confirmation that your life isn’t determined by your university experience, but also that your degree can help you in the future in more ways than you might think. When asked about what she missed most about university that she couldn’t find in the “real” world, Capalbo replied: “Nothing.” So, if graduation seems like the end of whatever stage you’re in right now, I hope Tina Capalbo’s story of change, obstacles, adaptation, innovation, and success help you see that your career and education are only, and always can be, just beginning.

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