Fake it Until You Make it – Or Not


I’ve recently seen some websites for sound professionals that made me cringe. Something didn’t add up, and some quick research showed exaggerated accomplishments, job titles, or experience level. There’s an industry saying that you should say yes to everything and then figure it out later (“fake it til you make it”), but when you only have one shot to make a first impression, is it worth the risk to inflate what you’ve actually done?

These are the types of things that come up as red flags (for audio-related jobs):

  • Titles like mixer, engineer, or editor with few or no verifiable credits
  • Job history in that role for less than six months (or more for advanced jobs)
  • Demo material from college/school to show experience in that job role
  • Using words like “experienced” when credits/history show limited experience
  • Using inflating descriptive words like “prestigious,” “renowned” or “distinguished” to describe anything on your resume/website

You may be asking, “How the heck do I get started if I have nothing to show for it?” It’s true, you don’t have much to show – yet. There’s a sense of desperation when you need to find a job, and if you only have a couple credits or brief job experience, it can seem impossible to get a foot in the door. The solution for some people is embellishing, exaggerating and fibbing about credits or experience, but what they don’t realize is that it can come back to hurt you in the long run.

My first time fibbing was also my last. My first internship out of school only lasted a few weeks, but I had it on my resume as many months. When I interviewed at another studio, the interviewer looked at my resume and said, “You worked with ‘John’? He’s a buddy of mine. I’ll ask him about you.” I’m sure I turned completely pale because it hadn’t crossed my mind that these guys might know each other, and they might know each other well enough to compare notes. I knew that John would expose my fib saying, “I don’t know her well cause she wasn’t here long” and probably add “she quit after a few weeks.” I’m sure it didn’t make me look very good to either of them.

What I’ve learned over the years (being on both sides) is that it’s very common for people to compare notes when hiring someone. The person hiring may not call your reference if they personally know someone else you’ve worked with. I’ve interviewed with people I didn’t know who said, “I’ve heard good things about you from (a colleague, an old boss, a friend).” It’s a little weird at first, but it’s a good sign when it’s shared with you. This under-the-table talk is usually very respectful and professional. It might be a phone conversation or simple text exchange, but it usually plays out something like this:

Colleague: “Have you ever worked with Johnny Smith?”

Me: “Yeah, at XYZ studio. He’s a great engineer and super nice guy.”

Colleague: “He’s interviewing here, and they asked if I knew him. I’ll let them know.”

Or this:

Me: “Did you know Jenny Smith when you worked at ZYX studio? She might be doing some work with me.”

Friend: “She was an assistant back then, but she was fantastic. I thought she was mixing now.”

Me: “Yeah, it’s a mix gig. Have you heard any of her stuff?”

Friend: “Not yet. She worked with Steve not long ago, so try checking with him.”

The industry is all about connections, so everything you put on your resume, credit list, or website is a reflection of your relationships. If anyone you worked with can’t back up your story, it can reflect poorly on you.

I was put in an awkward situation because of someone’s embellishment. A former co-worker interviewed for an assistant job at a studio I was working at. The studio owner told me after that he really liked ‘Bryan.’ The owner asked, “Was he a good assistant?” I replied, “He wasn’t an assistant when I was there.” The owner seemed surprised and said Bryan’s resume said differently, and they talked about it in the interview. I was on the spot: Am I honest with my boss, or do I vouch for Bryan? If it came out later that Bryan didn’t have the level of experience he claimed, it would reflect on me, too. I told my boss, “Bryan did his job well, and everyone liked him, but I can’t speak to his assisting experience or knowledge. I didn’t work with him in that capacity.” Bryan didn’t get the job. What’s really too bad was that the owner was willing to train someone if they didn’t have assisting experience.

The reason trust is so important for me is that when I hire someone for a gig, I have to know that they can handle the difficulty of the project, can meet a deadline, and that they feel comfortable with the workload. A lot of work is time-sensitive, so if someone can’t do what they say, it can put me in a really bad position. I have a lot more respect for someone who says, “I don’t think I can handle that” because I know they’re thinking about what’s best for the project, not just for them. If I know that up front (or as soon as a problem is recognized), we can come up with a solution, like adjusting the workload or doing some extra training.

Check out these job description/titles, followed by a description of the actual experience. Would you find these honest or dishonest?

Vocal producer for a major album

(“I was hired as an assistant to the vocal producer, but he asked my opinion on some things, and let me tune and edit vocals on some songs.”)

Studio consultant helped redesign rooms for audio acoustics and equipment setup

(“I helped my friend set up some gear in his bedroom”)

FOH mixer for XYZ venue

(“My job title is A2, but FOH lets me run the board at the end of the night sometimes. The boss may or may not know.”)

Composer for a major television series

(“I have some cues in a music library. The show paid to use one cue once for one episode”)

Experienced re-recording mixer

(“I’ve mixed a couple of shorts and one indie film”)

ADR engineer for major Hollywood blockbuster movie

(“I recorded the French-overdubbed version”)

Invited to be a member of the prestigious XYZ professional group

(“Anyone can apply by filling out the paperwork and paying. The credentials needed to join are not very strict.”)

All you have to do is imagine what you’d say in an interview if someone in the know asked you, “What does that mean, exactly?” Write your resume as though the person reading it knows your boss from every job. Credits (on albums, tv/film, etc.) are incredibly easy to verify by iMDB.com or allmusic.com, and employers do check. Here are some tips on how to improve the above:

Be honest about your actual/hired job title “assistant vocal producer,” “additional music,” “ADR engineer for foreign release”. Then, add to the description if you had opportunities beyond your job title.

If you only worked on a couple of songs of an album, say “select tracks” or the specific song titles. If you didn’t work on the full season of a show, add “partial season” or the episode numbers.

If your work is uncredited, add “uncredited” on your CV (this is an option for iMDB.com credits, also)

If you’re looking to pursue something but don’t have much legit experience yet (like the studio consultant), be upfront about your interest level and that you’re taking the initiative to learn. It could be in an “interests” section of your resume (if there’s room), or if it’s relevant to the job, mention it in the cover letter. Enthusiasm and willingness to learn will go much further than claiming to have the experience that you don’t.

If your work/credits hold on their own, you’ll never need words like “experienced” or “seasoned.” “Prestigious” is in the eyes of the beholder (especially when it comes to colleges, awards, and professional organizations). It’s good to include recognitions, awards, memberships, etc., but present it neutrally.
If you’re trying to “over-sell” your experience, remember that it doesn’t take much effort to look online and verify if it’s true or not. It may only take a text or email to vouch for your credentials – and ethics. It takes patience to get to the job that you want, but the experience you’ll get in the meantime will probably be worth the wai

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