Portfolio review day offers students real-world experience

Ilanna Canale (far left), ‘17, interviews with graphic design professionals at the portfolio review day last May. Canale is currently a graphic artist and sign maker at Whole Foods’ Marlton location.

By Samantha Brandbergh

After graduation, many students attempt to enter the workforce with minimal interview experience.

Adjunct communications professor Jessi Franko-Oliano, however, has aimed to combat that with the help of a graphic design portfolio review day.

Taking place each May since 2015, the event was created to “help further the artistic development of the students by bringing together experienced professionals, such as designers and marketers, to review their portfolios and offer them feedback,” she said.

The professionals are hand-picked by Oliano each year from a variety of industries, offering students an interview with a representative from a field pertaining to their interests.

“The day runs similar to a series of mock interviews,” Oliano said. “It is set up in four interview sessions and nine panels of judges for students to meet with at designated times.”

For Ilanna Canale, ’17, the portfolio review day was a “nerve-wracking” but rewarding experience.

“It mirrors a real interview, so I knew it counted for a lot,” she said.

Canale is currently a graphic artist and sign maker at Whole Foods’ Marlton location.

Although Canale did not interview with a Whole Foods representative at the portfolio review day last year, she said the event helped her feel a lot less nervous for future interviews.

“Thinking back, when I was going to job interviews, I had no idea that I was taking experience from portfolio review day,” she said. “Before, I was stiff and uncomfortable, and I didn’t let myself be myself. Going forward, I just told myself, ‘OK, you need to relax, they’re just people.’”

Canale had been applying for jobs since March, and the Whole Foods application process was much more fast-paced than ones she previously encountered.

“They called me on a Monday, brought me in that Thursday, and the next Tuesday I had my final interview,” she said. “Two hours after that, I got the phone call. It was insanely fast.”

Canale’s interest in design and hand lettering began with creating an Instagram account while still working in retail.

At Whole Foods, Canale designs signs using chalk markers and a chalk board, or uses contact paper and stencils for long-term displays.

“I didn’t have a straight desire to design. I was just lacking that creativity,” she said. “I started to do hand lettering, just for practice. I ended up creating the Instagram account just for fun, and slowly I just got better and better.”

When Canale saw the job posting for Whole Foods, she knew it would be the perfect combination of graphic design and sign making.

“It was one of those ‘I don’t have a job; I need to look,’ nights. It was about 1 a.m. when I found it,” she said. “I will never forget that I almost didn’t apply.”

At Whole Foods, Canale is able to make her own schedule and have “creative freedom” when designing the signs.

“They have chalk pens and chalkboards, but there are times when, if a display is going to be up longer, you can print it on contact paper and trace it if you want an elaborate picture, too,” she said.

Oliano stressed the importance of how the portfolio review day can help students like Canale, saying, “Usually, the feedback was just in the classroom and coming from me, so she had feedback from four to eight other people who can offer her various ways to tailor her résumé or portfolio, which could be ways we didn’t learn in class.”

The portfolio review day has expanded since it started four years ago; the number of professionals in attendance increased from 31 in 2016 to 40 in 2017.

Last year was also the first year the event was held in the Mercer Room, a step up from its previous location in the journalism labs.

“We never had this event at Rider before I came here, so I’m really proud of it and how it has evolved,” Oliano said. “The first year it was much smaller, and we’re just growing.”

After the interviews, the event ends with a networking social hour, which allows students to meet with industry professionals they may not have met with.

“The students really look forward to it. The energy is always really positive,” Oliano said. “At the end of the day, they walk away thinking, ‘I did that. I can go do an interview now.’ It’s a great place for them to practice and put them in a room where they can be interviewed multiple times.”

For Canale, the portfolio review day gave her real-world experience she would otherwise not have received.

“It gives you a first glimpse of what you can expect,” she said. “It taught me to be ready for anything and to just be myself. You don’t have to sound like a robot.”


Printed in the 9/20/17 edition.

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