“It all started with an idea to help others,” recounts My Career Transitions’ founder, Bart Ruff. "My Dad was a successful HR vice president, and I saw him go through a painful job transition late in his career. Then in 2005, when I was in transition, I wasn’t sure which direction to take my career—but I knew I could use my marketing and brand skills to build something to help others.”
He did use those skills, honed from years of experience at Stroh’s and HBO, to build the foundation of what would become My Career Transitions. Armed with a strategic plan scribbled on a piece of paper and the tenacity to build a volunteer organization from scratch, Bart started the meetings with four people in the basement of a local library.
Over time, that core group moved out of the basement. As My Career Transitions (then known simply as Career Transitions) grew, it evolved and underwent multiple transitions itself, including a merger with Company of Friends run by Valeria Maltoni, and then another merger with ASTD’s Philly Transitions run by Theresa Hummel-Krallinger. A name change to My Career Transitions followed to eliminate confusion with other organizations’ names and to coincide with the organization’s new web address.
“I had a lot of ideas but I also knew I couldn’t build the organization by myself. Eventually other key people joined and helped, people like now-President Annamarie Walter. That’s what My Career Transitions is—ideas, refined and executed by good people, with the core product being information and support for greater Philadelphia professionals in job transition, so they’re not alone. It uniquely fits a need in the community.”
With an expanding network of members and volunteers, finding a large enough venue for regular meetings proved an ongoing challenge, recalls current President Annamarie Walter. She notes that a number of area colleges helped out, allowing the organization to host a meeting from time to time. Still, the group was essentially “homeless” for a year—that is, until Penn State’s Great Valley Campus in Malvern, PA, graciously opened its doors to My Career Transitions in January 2011. Thanks to the support of Penn State staff like Director of Alumni Career Services Cheryl Bonner, Carla Holway and Campus Chancellor Craig Edelbrock, My Career Transitions not only had a “home,” but the sponsorship of Penn State and the Great Valley Alumni Association as well.
“Moving to Penn State Great Valley was a major milestone for us.” Walter explains. They’ve provided the venue, plus stability, guidance, technical services, and event planning support by helping us with speakers. The partnership has been so significant for us.” Ruff attributes the success of the group in recent years to Walter, her team of volunteers, and the Penn State partnership.
Today, nearly 10 years later, My Career Transitions has helped more than 4,000 people by providing information and resources along with opportunities to network and learn new skills, so they’re not alone in transition. Monthly meetings (except August and December) feature guest speakers covering topics that range from resume and elevator speech development to tips for maximizing one’s LinkedIn profile. Before each of these general sessions, orientation meetings are offered for those new to transition, and the general session opens with a networking exercise so that everyone meets two new people in the first 15 minutes.
“My goal was to build My Career Transitions into a brand, an organization that was the best resource for professionals in the greater Philadelphia area who, despite successful careers and education, simply didn’t know how to navigate a downsizing or other career changes—a brand that would be around long after I had moved on to other things,” Ruff says. “Some people help in soup kitchens or other charities, I just happened to pay it forward by building an organization to serve a growing need. And over 20 volunteers carry that mission forward today.”
My Career Transitions achieved his goal—and then some. Attendance for meetings averages 100–130 people each month. In 2011, My Career Transitions was ranked the area’s top networking association by the Philadelphia Business Journal, and has been in the top three every year since. Not bad for an idea that was scribbled on a piece of paper by a marketing guy in transition 10 years ago.