How They Did It: Candance Chow & Melanie Wright
Each month we feature inspirational women who've made it to the other side of career change. Learn how they did it and take away usable tips from their professional journeys!
Meet Candance Chow and Melanie Wright, co-founders of NextGroup, a recruitment firm for mid-career talent (and EvolveMe partner!).
Before founding NextGroup, the Kellogg grads worked together in various volunteer capacities, having put their careers on hold to raise their families. They understand the challenges of relaunching a professional career in midlife, and now they're paying it forward to other midcareer women. Read on to learn How They Did It!
What's your personal mantra, mission, or manifesto?
Melanie: Don’t be afraid to ask, the worst thing anyone can say to you is “No”.
What is unique about returning/pivoting in midlife? Challenges & opportunities?
Melanie: Most women returning or pivoting midlife have discovered they have a new perspective on life and work and that their goals and priorities have changed.
The challenge (and opportunity) then comes down to finding an organization and ultimately a role that matches with those new found personal and professional goals.
What’s one intention you have for your work this year?
Candance: My intent would be to expand our ability to reach and support professional women in engaging in work flexibly and in a way that gives them purpose and balance.
What are you most passionate about right now?
Melanie: Growing the NextGroup business.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Candance: The thing I most love about owning a small business with a social impact focus is that I can use both my management skills and my desire to enable people to reach their goals simultaneously.
A typical day includes meeting with women who are exploring a career re-entry or change to brainstorm strategies and possible opportunities with our employers. Then I may be doing financial projections or marketing planning with my partner. And, I would spend a fair amount of time working directly on specific searches or connecting with employers who may need our services. The variety and level of interaction and relationship building is the highlight for me!
What’s the one thing that has advanced your career in the last year?
Melanie: I couldn’t just pick one - Continuing to stay involved in my community through board work and staying connected with my network (this is a must for anyone).
Who’s your “tribe” when it comes to professional inspiration or support?
Candance: My tribe includes a group of about 10 women friends who I have developed over the last thirty years. We have come together in varying ways - starting as work colleagues to college/graduate school to PTA members and workout partners - but I trust these women with everything from decisions on how to take care of my ailing mother to advice on making the plunge to start NextGroup.
Favorite book, app or podcast?
Melanie: I am thankful for my book club, they keep me reading. I really enjoyed Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and I loved Trevor Noah’s Born and Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood - the Audible version of Trevor Noah’s book is the best)! Hearing Trevor’s imitation of his grandmother and his beautiful storytelling voice was entertaining and just a treat.
You’re granted an extra hour in the day, how do you spend it?
Candance: Being much more deliberate about my self-care and especially increasing the time that I meditate and/or am out in nature - walking, hiking, biking, etc. Or maybe a daily massage if I am really feeling fancy.
The advice I wish I had given to my 20-year-old self is…
Melanie: The first piece of advice I would share with my 20-year old self would be to listen to yourself and put yourself first more often. The second piece of advice would be to take more walks with the people closest to you.
The advice that I want to give to my 75 year old self is…
Candance: I hope you do not still have the feeling that you haven’t done or aren’t doing enough in the world. You have done a very good job. You should eat and drink what you want; be active for your health; and travel, travel, travel. Your joy will help others. I know it will.
Your theme song that played every time you walked in a room would be?
Melanie: “Party Train” by The Gap Band.
Best career advice for other women?
Candance: Always take stock of your accomplishments or successes. You may just want to send emails to yourself periodically regarding projects or interactions or problems you solved yourself or as part of your team.
So many women tell me that they can’t recall their accomplishments over a long period of time but if you are tracking week to week you have a wealth of information to pull from when looking for that next opportunity. Also, share these successes with coworkers and managers. it doesn’t have to be bragging, but when someone asks how you are doing, you can say “I’m really feeling good about x or so glad my team and I were able to y.”
Finally, cultivate relationships not just upwards but outwards and with junior colleagues. In a few years, those junior colleagues may be in senior leadership, and having a cross-generational network is critical in today’s workplace.
When did you feel you got “you” back?
Melanie: I got “me” back four years ago when I finally decided to put myself and my family first and decided to walk away from my full-time job (and I should have done it sooner). I had taken a step out of the workforce once before when I left a consulting firm to care for my newborn daughter, but walking away from the full-time job this time was different. I wasn’t leaving to care for a young child or an aging parent, I wanted (and needed) more time for me and my family.
What’s up next?
Candance: NextGroup is going to at least double its talent network in 2022 and the jobs,
opportunities and advancement for women and NextGroup will follow.