Episode 243 — Going Against the Grain



How confident are you that your reel is going to stand out of thousands of reels? Where do you stand in that spectrum?

This is the big problem: We just send in our reel and we feel that someone owes us a job. And then we get upset when we get rejected. We get frustrated when we don’t get a call. When everyone is applying for the same position on the website, maybe you should be going against the grain.

In this Podcast, Allan McKay talks about ways to stand out when applying for a job — how to think outside the box — and gives you actual strategy tools to have a better change of getting hired.


[03:01] The Importance of Empathy
[05:39] How Could You Stand Out?
[08:08] How to Create Your Network
[09:11] Why a Demo Reel is Not Enough


Hi, everyone! This is Allan McKay.

Welcome to Episode 243! I want to talk about going against the grain. In other words, I want you to start thinking more creatively about job applying process: How are you getting work? When you aren’t getting the results you want, you need to start having empathy and taking responsibility. I want to shed light on the core mindsets, more than anything else.

Please share this Episode with others so that you and others can succeed. I want you to give back and help others. That would mean the world to me!

Let’s dive in!


[01:14] 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? 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 The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[09:41] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!


[03:01] So I was on LinkedIn the other day and I saw a post from a recruiter in India; and she was saying that she had someone apply for a job as a junior who didn’t have any experience at all. When she said that the position required at least 5 years of prior experience, he ended up swearing at her and getting really abusive. The thing is — she still wanted to help him! She saw the problem that he had: He had no experience while everyone was saying, “You need experience”. But where do you get this experience because no one would give you the chance? And I get that! She was making a post about wishing that there were programs to help people out in the beginning [of their careers]. In other words, she had empathy for this person. She saw what it must be like to be in his shoes.

[4:03] The thing is: Swearing and abusing people is not going to do anything but blacklist you before you get started. This is the problem that everyone has when they’re starting out. They don’t think about what the other person is going through. Why is a recruiter looking for experience in the first place? The studio is going to get thousands of juniors sending their reels, while having little or no experience. And that’s exactly why they’re hiring a recruiter: All the studio is getting is people with zero experience. They’re asking the recruiter to go find that junior person with experience.

[04:41] This is the critical thing: The recruiter is hired to find someone with experience. If you have empathy — if you put yourself in the shoes of the other people — you start to realize that everyone else is sending in their reels too. Where do you stand in that spectrum if everyone with zero experience is sending their reel? Even if nobody without experience going to apply (which is unlikely), it means that your reel has to be better than everyone else’s. How confident are you that your reel — as it currently stands, without any studio experience — is going to stand out of thousands of reels? At that point, you’re playing the numbers game.


[05:39] This is the big problem we’re having: We just show up. We send in our reel and we feel that someone owes us a job. And then we get upset when we get rejected. We get frustrated when we don’t get a call. That’s the problem we run into. [06:03] Mark Twain said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” I couldn’t agree more! When everyone is applying for the same position on the website, maybe you should be going against the grain. Maybe you could be researching who the Head of the 3D Department is, or the Art Director. Who are the decision makers? Once you know that, you can probably go and reach out to them — and stand out that way. If you email them directly, they’ll know who you are. Most people don’t do this — and it drives me nuts! If I were starting out, I would research who the decision makers were. I would look for the gatekeeper and put my stuff in front of them. That would give me a chance to stand out way more than if I were just a name on a spreadsheet!

[07:32] These are the things we don’t think about. We don’t put ourselves in the shoes of the other person. We just instantly think: We have to do what everyone else is doing. We’re going to be the cattle. We’re going to play the numbers game, because that’s so much more fun. What we need to do instead is think outside the box:

  • What’s my strategy?
  • How am I going to stand out and get the job?

Because just having a reel and no experience is not going to get you the job. It’s [about] the relationships that you’re building and the hustle that you’re doing; and going against the grain of what everyone else is doing.

[08:08] I’m hoping this resonates. I’m hoping this sparks an idea in your head because if you aren’t getting the wins that you want, you have to figure out how to stand out. For me, I never have to apply for another job. I have plenty of work and I’m very fortunate to be in this place. I’ve paid my dues to get here! But that doesn’t mean I’m not constantly doing outreach. [08:31] Your network — is your net worth. And it’s all about raising your social capital. And in the beginning, nothing holds more value than knowing the right people. Those are the people who really help. A friend of mine used to go over and play Quake at a local studio in Germany, where he was based. In the end, they hired him because they knew who he was. They were willing to take a chance on him, not because of his skill sets but because they’ve gotten to know him and he’s built a relationship with them.

[09:11] It’s not just about your reel. Your reel proves that you can do the job. But what’s going to capture their attention and get them to know who you are and take the risk in hiring you — is because you’ve hustled and built a rapport with them. Go against the grain and do something different from what everyone else is doing; rather than doing the same thing — and expecting a different result!

I hope you found this Episode valuable. I will be back next week with more good stuff!

Until then —

Rock on!


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