Networking expert connects the dots 

J. Kelly Hoey
J. Kelly Hoey, UVic grad and author of Build Your Dream Network. Photo supplied

Lawyer-turned-author J. Kelly Hoey makes a case for showing up everyday

Unlike fellow New Yorkers Simon & Garfunkel, J. Kelly Hoey (BA ’87) is not a rock or an island. The UVic grad, writer and in-demand public speaker is a firm believer in the importance of making connections, not just in your career but everyday life. The problem is, we’re often not good at it or, at least, comfortable with putting ourselves out there. Which is where Hoey comes in. The lawyer-turned-author of Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships In A Hyper-Connected World will be in Victoria Nov. 16 to share her networking knowhow with UVic alumni and students as part of the UVic Alumni Signature Speaker Series. But before that, she found time in her busy schedule to discuss what New Yorkers have taught her about communicating, the roots of her fabulous footwear obsession and why networking isn’t a four-letter word. 

Q. Networking sometimes gets a bad rap, evoking images of liquid lunches, awkward mingling and the exchange of business cards. Could you reframe what networking is and why it’s valuable?

JKH: Networking absolutely gets a bad rap for the reasons you’ve mentioned along with it being perceived as an activity you undertake (in desperation) when you’re in need (i.e. need a new job, or new client). Networks are built on trust; so for me, networking is every single human interaction. How we show up routinely, matters. Those little ways we show up every day (be it at the office, or at school, on Twitter, Zoom, Slack, email etc.) ultimately matter more than working the room once.

Q. How has the pandemic changed networking?

JKH: We’ve all experienced network shrinkage (that’s the bad news). It’s simply a fact that there have been fewer opportunities to connect with people we don’t know well, or only see on occasion—and this segment of our networks has shrunk.

The good news out of this is we’ve realized how much those casual-acquaintance relationships add meaning to our lives. A greeting from the bus driver on your regular commute or chatting with the barista where you grab your morning coffee, those light exchanges are important, they make us happier and add to our overall well-being. Then there are the colleagues who perhaps you only saw at bi-monthly department meetings or during intermural softball season. Those relationships can also be a critical source of information and opportunity.

Q. Is it easier or more difficult to network in this new era of Zoom and working from home?

JKH: Depends on who you ask. For some, it has been easier as COVID combined with technology has democratized the opportunities to connect. Some interactions have improved because of technology (in one COVID interview I listened to, a college professor recounted how much more he enjoyed thesis-review meetings on Zoom, rather than the old way of gathering around a boardroom table). Networking has become more difficult too, as now we really need to think about this human activity, rather than working the room on auto-pilot, lazily resorting to ice-breaker questions that worked in the past. For better or worse, networking will continue to occur on Zoom (and online generally).

Q. What are your thoughts on Zoom backdrops? Book shelf, blurred background, vacation photos, a blank void? Does it even matter?

JKH: Do what works for you—and make sure the backdrop isn’t going to be a distraction for the people you’re connecting with. During one Zoom panel, I recall being unable to listen to a panelist’s remarks as her arms kept disappearing because of the backdrop.

Q. Much has been made about the strong personality of New Yorkers. What have you observed in the way they interact and communicate?

JKH: New Yorkers are very direct, get-to-the-point types. It’s equally efficient and amusing. New Yorkers don’t like their time wasted but, in the right circumstances, they will give you all the time in the world.

As for my communication style, after 21-plus years of living in New York, I’m a rather odd combination: the polite Canadian (who can happily wait their turn in line) and the brash New Yorker (who shouts when someone butts in). When someone I don’t know reaches out, I have a strong networking preference for being asked direct, specific career questions rather than vague ones. If I can direct someone to an answer, I want to be able to do so (quickly) and no, we do not necessarily need to discuss it over coffee or a Zoom!

Q. What’s the most common mistake people make when networking?

JKH: Failure to follow-up. Number one networking mistake and a shockingly widespread one, too. By follow-up, I mean both extending thanks when someone gives you their time, advice or both, and updating them as to what you’ve done with their guidance. For example, if someone writes a recommendation letter for you, they want to hear from you if landed the position (they don’t want to hear it from a third party). Following up is such a simple, considerate networking mistake to correct and one that adds strength to relationships, too.

Q. Is teaching people how to network more effectively a form of networking for you?

JKH: It sure is. Over the years, people I’ve met from speaking at conferences and events have become friends, business acquaintances, referral sources etc. In many instances, those people have reached out years later—another reason to take a long view on networking. Tweeting, posting and blogging have also proven to be valuable networking for me. It’s why I’ve spoken at the PGA Championship (multiple times), call bestselling author Tom Peters a friend and mentor and ended up on a British Airways hackathon (flight from SF to London) alongside tech luminaries that included Craig Newmark (founder of Craig’s List).

Q. I’d be remiss not to ask you about the impressive pink footwear you’re wearing in your promo photos. What is the story behind those?

hoey shoes
J. Kelly Hoey's shoes were made for talking. Photo supplied

JKH: Ridiculous, aren’t they? I’m a bit shoe mad. My shoe obsession started long before I discovered the shoe department at Bergdorf Goodman’s in New York. From my teens until I left Victoria, the annual sales at Munday’s Shoe Store on Douglas Street were not-to-be-missed calendar events for me.

Q. For a lot of people, university can be a bit of a safety blanket, and the thought of “putting yourself out there” once you’ve graduated can be terrifying. What’s one piece of advice you have for those people?

JKH: Don’t wait until you graduate to put yourself out there. Your networking building starts in university. Get involved on campus where you can. Talk to your professors, classmates, TAs and university staff about what you’re hoping to do after graduation, and remember be of service to them as well. The relationships you build during university have the potential to open a lot of career doors for you.

To attend the UVic Alumni Signature Speaker Series with J. Kelly Hoey on Nov. 16, visit

For more information on the speaker, visit

—Michael Kissinger, BEd ’94