How making a “baller list” can help you choose a career, find mentors and get a job
Networking can feel like an impossible equation to crack unless you’re born connected, effortlessly charming and knowing exactly what career you want. But a handy tactic called “a baller list” can turn networking from a secret art form to a strategic mission — and, in turn, help you choose a career, make contacts and land a job.
Emily Carrion — the VP of marketing at Vesper, six-time startup veteran and networking and mentorship expert — first discovered the inspiration for the “baller list” when she was 22, freshly graduated with no idea what she wanted to do next.
Seeing this dilemma, Carrion’s mom set up informational interviews with professionals in 10 different industries. “I met a banker, a lawyer, a PR person, someone in government,” Carrion remembers. These interviews were scary but also confidence-building and informative, ultimately helping her decide to pursue jobs at startups. “It was such a gift because I realized very quickly from these conversations what I didn’t want to do, like law or finance.”
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Soon after starting her first job in marketing at a startup, she adapted this tactic to help her stay up-to-date with interesting peers and role models. “Anytime I heard about or met someone cool in my field, I’d find them online and add them to a Twitter List that I titled ‘Baller List,’” she says.
Carrion quickly came to consider her baller list as a virtual mentor. “If they read a book, I ordered it. If they talked about a conference, I looked into going. Even just reading about a thought they were processing or a strategy they were trying at work — there was so much I could learn in this streamlined way,” she says.
The baller list became even more valuable when Carrion was offered her first leadership job. She decided to try to have meetings with people on the list who were one level above her: marketing directors or VPs of marketing at other B2B startups.
“I picked eight people who were exactly the kind of professional I wanted to grow into,” Carrion says. “I said, ‘Hey, this is how I found out about you. I’m at this new job. It’s my first time in a leadership role at a startup. I really admire your career for XYZ reasons, and I’d love your advice on how to make the most of my first 90 days. Can I take you to coffee?” Not only did six out of eight say ‘yes,’ but these relationships have continued paying off to this day. “A couple of people from my baller list have become very good friends and IRL mentors,” she says.
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Whether you’re looking to choose a career, switch jobs or grow within your field, a baller list can help you do it. Here’s how to get started on using this strategy yourself.
Make your list
Start with companies or organizations you would want to work for and list leaders in the departments you’re interested in. Look up who has your dream job. Look up books about your field and add the people who wrote them. Read news stories and interviews in publications that cover fields you’re interested in to see who’s getting buzz. Aim for at least 15 people, but know you can’t have too many folks you find interesting and want to start keeping an eye on.
Watch and listen
Next, start following these people somewhere online, whether it’s on LinkedIn, Twitter, Substack or anywhere else they are active. (If your “baller list” is spread out across platforms, it may be smart to have a note or Google Doc with everyone in one place.) Start regularly reading and listening to what they’re putting out. Take note of people who seem especially smart, friendly, accessible and inspiring as well as anyone you have things in common with (from a hometown to a hobby to a value).
If someone on your list isn’t very active online, look for other opportunities to learn about their background and expertise, like articles or podcasts they’ve been interviewed in, talks they’ve given, papers they’ve written, etc.
Pick a handful of people to ask for an in-person meetup
When you’re at the point where you want some professional guidance, pick five to eight people to ask to get a coffee or hop on a Zoom. (It sounds like a lot, but they might not all get back to you or say yes.)
“When you’re making the ask, be as specific as possible about what you want to talk about,” says Carrion, suggesting a short email along the lines of: “Hey, I think you’re awesome for [reasons you admire them]. I’m a [student/job title] at [school/company], and I‘m looking to [professional goals]. Is there any chance I could talk to you about [specific topic]?”
Given you’ve been following these folks for a while, you should have plenty of fuel for your conversations. Study their LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and come prepared with questions about different aspects of their work or career trajectory, projects they worked on and problems you’re looking for guidance on.
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“You’re trying to reverse engineer how people got where they are,” says Carrion. “How did they get here? Did they get their MBA? Did they do a certain training?”
Want more tips on making the most of your time together? Check out how to master every “pick-your-brain” meeting.
Keep your list growing
The baller list is not a one-time thing. You’ll keep learning about new, interesting people throughout your entire career. If you start building your list now, it’ll be there for you when you need it.
“There are times in my career when I’m not doing as much networking and times I put my foot on the gas,” says Carrion. “But the baller list is always there for me when I need it. Those relationships you build along your career are so important. You never know who or what’s going to come back around later. “
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