Episode 176 — Job Email Teardown


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Episode 176 — Job Email Teardown

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 176! I’m doing the first ever Email Teardown: Reviewing what works and what doesn’t. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while: I’ve been getting work applications, resumes, emails from vendors and clients asking if I’m available for work. But mostly, it’s freelancers who contact me for work. I want to point out what not to do. Those who write amazing emails — I try to respond to. I also mark their names as potential hires.

To get a studio to call you back, they have to look at your reel. To look at your reel, they need to read your email. Just by sending, “Hi, I’m an artist, hire me!” — I don’t know how to place you. That’s why cover letters are so important. The emphasis here is to be productive, not negative.

If you’re not in my Inner Circle, please go to www.allanmckay.com/inside/. I will be publishing canned emails.

Let’s dive in!


[00:46] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Here is the thing: Most of us think that we can put our latest work on our reel, add some music — and get the job. A lot of us aren’t aware that the majority of reels sent to a studio are skipped through and sometimes never even watched in the first place.

Everything we’re taught about being an artist is wrong! Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write a book from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. I want to:

  • Give you the formula to be the obvious candidate for the job;
  • Tell you how to build a reel and put it up on YouTube — that brings studios to you!

You can get this book for free right now! Whether you’re in design, film, tv or games, go to www.allanmckay.com/myreel!


The biggest mistake people make when applying for jobs — is not thinking about the person who is receiving your email: a Department Head, a VFX Sup, a Manager. How are you going to make someone stop whatever they’re doing — managing their team, supervising a job, dealing with their bosses, putting together bids, etc. — to pay attention to your email? How do you position yourself to make them stop and talk to you?

These days, your email — is your cover letter. Before you can get them to look at your portfolio, you need to have a captivating email and it has to have a captivating subject line. Your email needs to sell them on your stuff. You have to tell them why you’re worth their time.

Your reel is the most critical thing you can have, with the exception of your contacts. However, no one is going to look at your reel unless you have a captivating cover letter.

In this Podcast, Allan McKay explains what not to do when emailing potential employers — and provides ammunition on how to grab their attention with a killer outreach email!


[06:36] I’ve wanted to do this Podcast for a while. I get hundreds of emails every day. People reach out to me to apply for jobs or offer their services. I’ve been secretly collecting these emails for a while because I’ve wanted to go over some of these. I will do other Podcasts on this in the future. But I want to show you what not to do — and in some cases what to do. Some emails I get are so well written, I will want to point those out as well. But for now, I want to tackle the worst of these, to explain why you may not be getting a response to your emails. I’m selecting these randomly.

[09:26] A lot of the time, when we’re apply for jobs, we are thinking about ourselves: “Me, me, me!”. When you’re applying for a job, you need to consider the fact that the other person you’re contacting (like a Sup or a manager) is very busy. They have to deal with their actual job, on top of looking at these emails. You have to consider that you’re interrupting their day. I was just at a cafe watching two people trying to stop people on the street to sell them something (while it was raining). I realized how much harder it is to stop people who are in motion. Of course, it is smart to choose a corner of the street. But it’s so hard to stop someone going about their day and give you all of their attention, even if it’s for a good cause. That’s why those two people were at the corner of a street: The traffic light will make the people stop.

[12:40] You need to think about that as well: How are you going to make someone stop whatever they’re doing — managing their team, supervising a job, dealing with their bosses, putting together bids, etc. — to pay attention to your email? The number one problem is that we don’t think about the other person — and that’s the problem with these emails. How do you position yourself to make them stop and talk to you?

[13:45] In this case, there are so many examples. Like I said, these are random emails I’ve selected. Early in my career, I would cut my reel and I would send it off again and again. I would play the numbers game. Someone would have to eventually reply, right? I should’ve been thinking about how to change my strategy. How do I capture their attention? I’ve done so many talks and published so much material on this:

  • How to write a cover letter;
  • How to do an outreach;
  • How to compose an email subject.

You have to put a lot of thought into this. Before you can get them to look at your portfolio, you need to have a captivating email — and that has to have a captivating subject line. Your email needs to sell them on your stuff. You have to tell them why you’re worth their time.

Subject Line Matters

[10:49] I have an email right in front of me. I mentioned one of the key things: Your subject title. If the subject title doesn’t stop me, why would I look at your email over hundreds of the ones I get from strangers. You have to sell me on your services. The subject line of this particular email says “RECRUITMENT” — and it’s not spelled correctly. I could maybe guess this person was French because of this misspelling, but that’s me being lenient.

  • This subject is not going to grab me.
  • The misspelled subject line doesn’t give me much confidence.
  • They sent this to our sales department rather than our Human Resources.
  • The email is non-personal.

Since the subject line didn’t gram me, how would I know to whom to forward this email?

[14:07] The actual email starts with “This is the work I’ve done in my spare time…” There is no address, “Hi, how are you?” That again shows that you haven’t done any research on my company or who we are. There is nothing wrong with reusing a template, but you have to customize them to every person you’re sending that email template to. This hasn’t sold me on anything. Again, think of my perspective: I’m busy and I look at this and this email doesn’t make me care.

  • What’s your English proficiency?
  • Where are you located?
  • What skills make you stand out?
  • What skill sets do you have?
  • What are your salary expectations?

[16:30] You have to front load your work. You may be really talented; but if there is not work put into it, I’m not going to stop what I’m doing. It doesn’t work that way. You need to sell who you are. The more you classify what you do — the better chance you have of grabbing my attention. “I specialize in large scale fire effects.” “If you ever need a building destruction effects, I just finished Allan McKay’s course.” Be very laser focused on the skills you’re selling! For someone who’s very busy, there is no chance I’m going to find time to look at an email like this.

Be Meta!

[27:05] This email is from a compositor. The subject says, “Compositor. Just Moved to Town.” The actual email says, “Hi, guys! I just moved to Santa Monica from NYC. I’ve had 3 years of experience. I’d love to stop by and say hi. Here is a link to my work. (And there is no link included!)” Anyone high up (a producer, an HR person) will be able to see where this person comes from or where he / she ends up. This particular applicant ended up getting a job in Santa Monica: Congrats! Great job! But to go through this:

  • This email was sent to our sales department, not our HR.
  • The sales department is looking for jobs and clients.
  • The subject line may get lost. In general, you want to reach out to Supervisors or HR. There are strategies on how to find the right people to send your stuff to.
  • There is no link included.

[28:55] I make my emails very meta. Whatever you search for in your emails — my name is going to come up! An effects person, a TD, a Supervisor. I carefully write my emails to include those key words. I’m also going to be highly sociable. It’s good to be that way!

[29:47] If someone is really busy, I want to make it easy for them to decide to read my email. So to start, my subject line will say, “20 Years Experience VFX Sup / TD”.

  • This way I am positioning two roles I can land.
  • I am also sharing how much experience I’ve had.

With this email we’re examining, this person couldn’t stated her length of experience in her email subject as well. But this email does have some personality.

[31:06] But the biggest things is that this email doesn’t have a link to her work. So I would have to email back and ask for the website. But this already shows me the attention to detail. It’s such a small thing but it’s the one that’s a big red flag. It sounds so trivial, but whenever you’re hiring, you pay attention to these small details. Whenever I post a job listing via my Insiders List (www.allanmckay.com/inside), I already set some qualifiers. I was just looking for a Character Modeler. I posted a heads-up on Facebook and I asked to not post their portfolios on Facebook. By doing that, I’ve already posted a dis-qualifier: If someone doesn’t read the instructions and still posts something on Facebook — we’re already having a miscommunication issue. On a micro-scale, it represents a much bigger problem. With some jobs, I’ve asked to respond with a specific subject line — and then I set up an automatic filter that disqualifies those emails right away.

[33:23] This particular email is personable and not intrusive at all. She says, “I want to quickly stop by…” Words like “quick” and “quickly” are set a great non-intrusive tone. It’s actually quite good, in general. This email is well written and not pushy. But it doesn’t have much personal information: what kind of compositing does she do? which studios has she worked for? I would add more information. Qualify yourself first — and then get personal!

Do Not CC Other Companies!

[37:00] I have a really awesome email here. It’s a few years old now. The subject line looks like a forward. So this email hasn’t even been addressed to me. It’s already not personal! I’m going to read it: “Hi, hiring manager! I’m sending my resume and cover letter. It’s been my dream to work for your studio. Working at an international studio gives an opportunity to gain knowledge. Gaining this opportunity would be a start to my career. Signed, this person’s name and number.”

  • Subject line isn’t personal and it’s being forwarded. So this person wasn’t putting any effort in!
  • This email was sent to sales, not HR.
  • The spelling is wrong all over the place here.
  • It has no personal information.

These days, I would consider your email as your cover letter. I’ve talked about this extensively: It is more important than your resume! Your reel is the most critical thing you can have, with the exception of your contacts. However, no one is going to look at your reel unless you have a captivating cover letter. It must be the thing that qualifies me to click on your reel. But: There is no reel here! If someone’s reel is really good, you may not need a resume.

[41:06] Here is the biggest thing: This email was sent to my company and then a bunch of others that are based in Australia. This personal has CC’d his job email to a bunch of email. He’s not even BCC-ing! There are so many things wrong with this! Five years ago, when this email went out, I wanted to respond to everyone. Such an email shows a minimal effort you’re willing to put in to apply for a job. On top of that, there is no reel attached or any other information about who this person is. The only thing it has communicated is that this person put in no effort at all.

[43:57] This did inspire me to go see if this person has sent me any other emails since. He has! Three months later, he sent another forwarded email. He’s learned how to BCC, but he’s obviously sending this email to dozens of studios. You aren’t showing yourself in the best light. The email is identical, including its typos. The only difference is that he’s added one line, “I am applying for SENIOR COMPOSITOR (in all caps).” It’s been added in probably because someone may have emailed him back asking him what position he was looking for. Good thing: He’s learned to BCC!

[46:10] A year later, he sent another email (still BCC-ing), “Hi, recruiting team! I’m writing to express my interest as a Nuke Compositor position at your respected firm. My combination of talent and managing people will help your team to grow. I have the ability to work within a team. Currently working in Mumbai and looking for new opportunities. If you have something coming up at your firm, please consider my attached portfolio. Regards,…” I am picking on this guy because I get these emails from many people.

  • He did not attach his email or resume.
  • He’s BCC’d several companies.
  • He’s upgraded his subject line to “Nuke Compositor”.
  • The jargon seems very complicated but it doesn’t mean anything.
  • The email does not use the industry language.

[45:00] There are subtle things that state on whether we’re in the same industry. I just spoke to a designer who just got an email from a potential employer, “You’re a bit too expensive, but we want to work with you.” The person wanted to respond in a formal manner which would not have been appropriate. You can’t start alienating people. In this email, the person uses the word “firm”. That’s not the language of the industry. It’s such a subtle thing but it signifies this person doesn’t work for the same industry.

[53:33] There are so many things you can learn from this email — on what not to do! We all make mistakes and we all need to learn. This person positioning himself as a Senior Compositor — and what that position rates — and then to make these mistakes and put in minimal effort and spamming his email to other companies shows minimal thought or effort. And if you do forget to attach your stuff, you can follow up — and use it as an opportunity to break the ice. You can own up to your mistake and then still attach your stuff. This is your chance to make it part of your strategy. That’s happened to me plenty of times.

[56:52] I’ve put out so much information about reels: www.allanmckay.com/myreel/. This applicant has sent me so many emails: Why do I need so many copies of his reel? In general, when it comes to reels — less is more. Looking at his resume, he has links to his reel and LinkedIn profile. He lists his technical and software skills and other skill sets (team leader, honesty, etc.) He is communicating he’s a Senior Compositor. If you’re applying for that position, you have to be 100% at the 2D compositing (not the 60% he mentions). In general, this is a really bad application. His CC-ing everyone shows no care; and then he copies and pastes the same email just a few months apart. I’m not trying to be harsh here but I am.

[59:23] I do demo reel reviews for my students. I’m never disrespectful, but I have to be honest with them. I want to tell them what they need to know. Here, I am going to be disrespectful when it calls for it.

Don’t Ever Lie!

[1:00:14] Here is another emails. The subject heading is “Artist Avail.” I think the applicant was trying to be cool and casual. But the word “Artist” is so general and non-specific. The English in his email is really bad — but his work looks really great! The email reads, “Hi, guys! I’m reaching out to say I love your work. In the past, I’ve been contacted by your studio. I will available later in the year. I hope we get to work together.” I thought this was really interesting. I don’t care the spelling much. But I must point out that you could do a spellcheck. I myself dropped out of high school at 13 years old but I can still spell. If you’re from another country, I’m not going to laugh. But I need to point this stuff out.

[1:03:03] It’s really smart that he complimented my studio’s work. It’s not really personal and it can be sent to anyone, from a design company to ILM. However, at least he communicates casually that he showed interest in my company’s work. But the reason I’m pointing this one out because neither me nor my team have ever contacted him! However, it is clever because it pre-qualifies him. I’ve gone into interviews where I’ve been told, “Look, we’ve been trying to hire you for years. This interview is just us selling our company to you.” This is what his email says to me. Without sounding cocky, it’s a good line because it makes it sound that he was really busy for my company before. And because he lead into it with a compliment, it made me pay attention.

[1:06:17] by the way, I did respond to him. I thanked him for applying and complimented for this work.

A Pay-to-View Reel? NEVER!

[1:06:40] This person emailed me saying, “Give me a job”. When I responded, I got an automated response. It’s a spam email that says that I need to pay this person in order to email them. I knew someone in New York who was getting a lot of emails about his reel. In order to view it, I would have to pay him. Which means, the studios would have to pay him as well. The whole thing was ridiculous! He would just get blacklisted by every company he applied for.

[1:09:37] This email doesn’t say anything. It just attaches a link with a reel that has a password. I don’t trust anyone who send me a password protected reel. If you’re work (like Avengers) isn’t out yet, that’s also a giant red flag. Who is to say you wouldn’t show the work you’d do at the new studio? All it requires is an explanation for why the reel is password protected.

Don’t Forget Your Reel

[1:11:57] Here is another application for a Compositor: No link, no resume. The same person emailed me again three days later and then again 6 months later. He just copied and pasted the same email. He doesn’t mention any of his previous employers. In the email he sent 6 months later, he is applying as a 3D Artist. He says a lot but none of it qualifies him. He mentions that he’s “a great communicator”. Meanwhile, he’s so bad! He also mentions that he’s worked for 7 years — but mentions no actual employers.

[1:17:30] I will do more of these email in the future. I’m hoping this email is a bit of a wake-up call. Even if it inspires your to step up a little bit, it might make all the difference. I’ve had my team bring my attention to someone’s email — because it stands out in a positive way. So you can see how you can stand out with some effort!

[1:19:07] If this content interests you, please join my VIP Inner Circle List at www.allanmckay.com/inside/. I will be doing more of these teardowns and sending out some helpful material.

  • Next Episode, I am interviewing Goro Fujita at Facebook. Goro and I have wanted to do this for a while. We’ve just been waiting for Facebook’s approval. Goro is an amazing artist!

I will be back with more content soon! Until then —

Rock on!


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