EXCLUSIVE! MELISSA SPEAKS! When you decide to start design and manufacturing fake diplomas for a living, there isn’t a how-to-guide making the steps to success much easier. Most people are introduced to the industry and learn the ins-and-outs as they go along. I had a moment to sit down and talk with Melissa, who herself is a fake diploma designer producing custom documents for customers at DiplomaCompany.com. Her employer is one of the cutting edge leaders in the industry. The website makes it their mission to focus on high quality documents in an industry where quality can often be lackluster.
I had a chance to ask Melissa about her past experiences, what brought her to Diploma Company, what she thinks of the workplace, and what a day in the life of a fake diploma designer is like.
JAMES S: Thank you for taking a moment to talk. How are you doing today?
MELISSA: Very busy. We’ve had a ton of requests come in last night so our work load is intense but we all seemed to be focused and ready to roll and roll today.
JAMES S: Tell me a bit about yourself and your background and what lead you to designing fake diplomas?
MELISSA: I was born just outside of Pittsburgh. Growing up I had a love for art and design. I tried photography and had tiny passion for it, but when I discovered graphic design and toyed around with programs like Illustrator and Photo Shop during high school, I just fell in love with it. After graduating, I attended a local college and earned a bachelor’s in fine arts. I spent two years after school, mocking up print ads for a local lifestyle magazine in the area.
MELISSA: I wasn’t necessarily designing diplomas but design is design. I mean you design an ad for a florist whose offering 10 rose at a killer deal or a custom diploma from some college, the skill set as a graphic designer is the same.
JAMES S: How did you hear about Diploma Company? What were your first impressions?
MELISSA: “It’s not every day you hear about a site that sells fake diplomas, right?” she said to me with a big smile on her face.
JAMES SO: So just like that...
MELISSA: Not exactly, I saw an ad on Craigslist of all places. They were looking for somebody with graphic design experience. The job mentioned something about being able to work independently, being organized, etc. It was a pretty vague ad but I thought I had nothing to lose so I might as well send in my resume and see what happens.
JAMES S: So was it like ...
MELISSA: Sorry. I mean, ugh, so I got a call a few days later and they called me in for an interview.
MELISSA: The first person I was introduced to was Michael who was a floor manager at the time. We went to his office to discuss the job. I was immediately was flabbergasted by these random diplomas that Michael had hung up on his office wall. I just remember thinking to myself, “who in the world needs all these diplomas?” Plus they had random names on them so I’m just thinking to myself, “what in the world is the guy’s deal?”
MELISSA: About a third of the way through our talk, which was mostly generic questions about my past, he made a remark about how he noticed I was looking at the diplomas on his wall. “Of course, who wouldn’t?”, I thought.
MELISSA: I guess it was a good lead way because then we started to talk about the business concept of Diploma Company and what they did. He mentioned the diplomas behind him were some mock ups done by other designers and staffers.
MELISSA: Obviously from there I learned about the company, what my role would be, etc.
JAMES S: I assumed they found you to be a good fit and offered you the role… did you take the position right away?
MELISSA: The job was extremely appealing. The pay was more than generous, the hours were flexible and it was everything I needed in my life at the time. The thing that stuck with me was the workplace vibe which was very laid back and cool. I remember everybody Michael introduced me to that day was super friendly and as a company, it felt like a unique opportunity for me. So obviously, I did say “yes'' to the job and I distinctly remember setting the start date for like two weeks as I needed to put in a notice with my old job.
JAMES S: Did you move from home to start this new design job?
MELISSA: Yes I did. It was the first and last time I resettled for a career. The staff was very accommodating with the transition and even helped me locate an affordable place to rent nearby. I actually still live at that same loft these days. It’s not huge but there’s enough room for my cat Penny who's a super cool American Bobtail. Some people think Bobtails are boring but they never met my yellow tailed scrappy fellow. As far as work, I’m conveniently located about fifteen minutes from the office. I take the bus every morning and usually grab a coffee at latte at Starbucks on my way in. They have coffee in the break room. It’s good just not THAT good. “Don’t tell Michael, I said that” she replied.
JAMES S: Besides finding a good cup of job, do you have any other loves or hobbies?
MELISSA: When I’m bored, I collect comic books and bake. I’m actually rather boring outside of work. Feel free to keep the questions about Diploma Company as you’ll find me a boring read.
JAMES S: O.K., fair enough … So how long have you been with Diploma Company? How has your role changed?
MELISSA: It will have been four and a half years next spring. The time has flown by. I enjoy it because my role is constantly changing here and it’s becoming more challenging. When I first started they basically had me do quality control checks on orders that the lead designers were working on as customer’s placed orders. Then I advanced to be a lead designer myself which was exciting. Now I do a cross of lead designers and also manage the ticketing system where clients are writing us about order proofs, order statuses and more. It’s more of an organizational role but it was refreshing to branch out to a different side of the production department.
JAMES S: Take me through an order, a customer orders a document. Then what happens?
MELISSA: It’s funny how I said earlier the original job ad stated something like, “must be organized, etc” because organization is definitely a crucial skill set to have here. The production department is all about organization and I can’t stress that enough.
MELISSA: So as a customer you would go on our site and place an order. Let’s say you want a novelty diploma from a college, so you’d go to our college diploma section and choose a product. The order form is going to ask you to confirm what school we’re making. We’d obviously need to know your name because we’re printing it on there. Dates like a date for graduation are important too. We basically collect all sorts of information. Some customers know everything and some are confused as to what they should put but we try to figure things out with them.
MELISSA: So they place an order on the website and their done at that point. This is when we get to work. We actually take a look at the order form and let’s say the client wants a fake diploma from Toronto. She gives us the school, the dates, and we have a general idea of what she wants. Next, we look through our template catalog. Believe or not, we have this massive template catalog of diploma layouts. We’re talking individually constructed templates that capture the format and structure and real diplomas. They are organized by names and dates and their necessary resources for recreating the look and feel of real diplomas.
MELISSA: People will ask me if they are a 100% spot on duplication of the real thing. The business does have regulations and limitations to abide by but the layouts and formatting are all there. We’ve actually hired two other staffers in the department including Krystal and Joanna who both worked for competitors and they were astonished, upon starting here, at the sheer detail of the templates our database had. Being here for years, sometimes I lose sight at how impressive what Diploma Company has built is.
MELISSA: So without dragging this out, we basically edit that template with the client’s details. We then can send out a proof if they want to check our work before the final document ships.
MELISSA: Most orders I do leave in 24 hours, if their ordered during a work week, but when you start to get into things like raised text and seals it can delay things a bit.
MELISSA: JAMES S: Wait, you do raised seals and text? Don’t real diploma have that?
MELISSA: This is a new venture for us. So we recently started to offer raised text and embossed seals. The process we use is an additive process where we build up layers on the final document until you can rub your finger over it and immediately you know it’s raised off the paper. It’s super cool.
MELISSA: Yes, you are correct, many real diplomas do have this feature. The downside is that it's very time consuming to print. We don’t recommend it for most buyers and I would argue less than 10% actually need it on their document but some buyers have demand it so we’re trying to accommodate their demands.
MELISSA: Those diplomas, the ones that are raised, are just taking the exceptional quality we put out to another level. I remember the first time we started to do production runs of custom printed diplomas with the raised print effects, a few jaws dropped during the staff meeting. Krystal, who I mentioned previously worked for a competing supplier, said something like, “There is no way my last job could have pulled that off.
MELISSA: In fact a lot of other suppliers out there, from what I can tell, will try to create raised seals using something called embossing powders. Basically you print a seal, add power and then heat that power during some sort of heating tool like a heating gun. The power gets hot, it melts and puffs up and dries hard. We experimented with this and what we found was the powder would bubble up and dry clumpy. I would argue it is a fine method as an art and craft project with your kids but when a customer spend hundreds of their hard earned dollars, it's kind of a low rent amateurish approach imho.
MELISSA: The being said most real diplomas don’t use an additive process of building layers or powders. Most would use die casts. The issue with die casts if you have to have unique casts made for everything your printing. Most schools print one type of diploma so that’s one single cast that is required. When you get into literally hundreds of templates (maybe thousands now that I think about it) that is a ton of casts. The process of printing layers can achieve the same look and quality that a die cast would but it eliminates the need for stocking all those individual casts which would create a logistics nightmare.
JAMES S: As a designer for an industry leader, what are your biggest challenges?
MELISSA: It seems like every week there is a new fake diploma website popping up. A lot of times they over promise and under deliver. Hearing from some customers that I might be working with, buy into the hype of a new site and decide to cancel an order and try a competitor instead can be frustrating. What can be more frustrating is to hear another site scammed them out of their money. Nothing was shipped and their purchase was never protected. I try to warn people because there is a lot of crooked suppliers out there but a lot of customers tend to be hard headed if I can be frank. I guess sometimes the grass seems greener on the other side and I don’t always recommend clients throw caution to the wind.
JAMES S: Do you have any silly or interesting tales about working as a fake diploma designer that you’d care to share?
MELISSA: I can think of a few. Off the top of my head, I had a woman from India who ordered a custom diploma for her mother. It was a high school diploma from many years ago. It turned out her mother, who had graduated, was very old and wanted to leave behind a scrapbook for her grandchildren showing her past accomplishments including the diploma.
MELISSA: She had a ton of problems getting her mother’s high school to replace the original diploma which isn’t an uncommon struggle for some. So, now knowing how much time her mother had and wanting to ensure her the replacement issue was taken care of, they opted for a fake diploma in place of the original which obviously was lost.
MELISSA: The story struck a nerve with me because her mother was the first woman in her family to graduate. Obviously my great grandmother was also the first woman in my family. So I found this connection with the customer and I was glad I could help them out.
JAMES S: Do most customer share with you such detailed stories
MELISSA: “No, not at all.”, she said laughing. I actually have a ton of work to do so the more focused we can stay on the task at hand the better.
JAMES S: I know you’re busy but is there anything else you want to add to the interview?
MELISSA: It was nice talking to you. I appreciate the questions and hopefully somebody finds this informative and helpful. I’ll leave this by saying that buying a fake diploma is not something you do every day. I was shocked when I heard there were businesses out there making these and I wondered who would buy such an item. Being here for a few years, I get the purpose, I get the need and I understand the fears that consumers have.
MELISSA: My advice is to be smart and realize a lot of sites like Diploma Company have real people working there and we’re trying to work through the daily grind and help build a business by offering great customer support and superior products. Each of us put our best foot forward everyday to make that a reality.
MELISSA: If you’re in the market for a fake diploma from a high school or college, we would love if you’d contact us today and gave us the chance to talk about how we may be of assistance.