Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Eckhart Square Circle

When I was little, I attended a few events in a small, wooden cabin back home.  The unassuming cabin was painted white, inside and out, and decorated with stuffed heads of wildlife and black and white photos of current and former members.

My grandfather, Charles Gilbert "Gib" Rase (we called him "Pop") was a member, as was my dad and many uncles; their faces appearing now and then in those photographs.  Pop is in the photo at right - back row, far left - about to be kissed on the head by a deer.  I used to know the names of the other men, but I don't recall them anymore.
On a side note, one of my two middle names is Charles, named after Pop.  I sometimes wish my parents' would have nicknamed me after him.  I think Gib is a cool name.  And he and I apparently share dispositions.  I mean, look at him in that photo.  He just can't even.
The little white cabin was the home of the Eckhart Square Circle Club, an outdoor and rifleman's club which was part of the larger Western Maryland Outdoor Life Federation Sportsmen Association in the Cumberland, MD area, which spawned several "units" or chapters throughout Washington, Allegany and Garrett Counties.  The Eckhart Chapter was founded by George Walters in 1937.

George and Pop were lifelong friends.  When Pop was at home, dying of cancer, George visited him every day - every day - and would sit and talk to him.  Sometimes, Pop wouldn't even look at him, but George came every day, sat with him, talked to him, and sometimes prayed with and for him.  George and  his wife, Elizabeth, remained close with Granny long after Pop's death in 1971.  George would pick Granny up every Saturday night and take her to church.  Likewise, George, Elizabeth, and Annie Groeter (Granny's aunt - married to her mother's brother John), would get together most Friday nights and play pinochle.  They mostly came to Granny's house; I would sit in the living room and watch TV.  Occasionally I would go out to the kitchen and George always tried to explain the game to me.  He was one of the kindest, friendliest men I've ever known.  I remember him always with a smile on his face.

The Square Circle club members held regular quarterly meetings beginning Sunday, October 2, 1938 at McMurdo's Garage in Clarysville, MD.  It was relocated to a small building on Frog Hollow (now Piney Mountain Road) in 1939.  Each meeting was opened with the recital of the club's creed:
I give my pledge as an American to save and faithfully to defend from waste the natural resources of my country - its soil and minerals, its forests, waters and wildlife.
The club's first slate of officers was elected on January 14, 1939.  Not happy with meeting in a garage, work began on building the new clubhouse the week of June 3, 1939 (three weeks before my dad was born).  The clubhouse was built by its members and stood about 500 feet from the entrance to Piney Mountain Road from US Route 40.  The new clubhouse was completed before the end of the calendar year.  An indoor rifle shooting contest was one of its first events, held December 6-7, 1939.

The club's 3rd Anniversary banquet was held on January 29, 1940.  The newspaper article about this event is shown at right.  I was struck by the evening's planned entertainment:  a German band, a boxing match, and not just A black-face artist but THE black-face artist in the area.

The club was active in conservation and ecology projects.  Objectives of the club were to protect the interests of sportsmen in legislation of licenses, seasons, limits, etc.  They planted thousands of trees and shrubs to provide feed and cover for game and to protect against soil erosion.  I could have, quite possibly, been a member myself as I support what the organization was all about: gun safety and fairness to hunters.  This club was, for all intents and purposes, very popular and necessary in its day, which lasted about 40 years.  By March 1975, it was the last club of its kind in the United States. per Charles Garner, Inland Division of the National Resources Police, who spoke at the club's 1975 induction of officers, which would be its last.  I'm not sure when the club formally disbanded, but I would expect that it's demise coincided with George Walters' death in 1977.

The clubhouse building is still standing, but in an almost-unrecognizable form.  It was sold to someone who renovated it and turned it into a private residence.  If you remember the building, you'll see traces of the old clubhouse.  But otherwise, you might drive right passed it.

So why am I writing about this?  Because I couldn't find ANYTHING on the internet - the whole wide internet - about this club and the building I remember so well; no articles and no images.  To share the information that I have, I needed to join a newspaper archive website and research old newspapers to piece together the Square Circle's history.  And of course, I relied on my fuzzy memory.  This place and its members were an important part of my family history.  My family attended parties at the cabin.  At the age of 7, I attended Uncle Bill and Aunt Susie's 25th wedding anniversary party there in 1973.

And as savvy and informed as we think we all are, it raises the question that despite everything we think we know and how easy it is to access information, how many small organizations just like the Square Circle are completely unaccounted for in the world's virtual encyclopedia.  Once my generation dies out, which is not in the far too distant future, this club and its clubhouse will cease to exist, even in a living person's memory.  So I wanted to put something out there on the internet and encourage others to do the same.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Troutman Vineyards and Winery

So I'm just driving down Route 30 across Ohio - you know, like you do - minding my own business and listening to NPR talk about who should be using which public restroom, when I come across a sign along the side of the road that states "Troutman Vineyards - 3 Miles" with an arrow pointing to take the next right turn.  Naturally, I slammed on the brakes.

First of all, it's rare to see my last name printed on anything other than my checks and utility bills.  Second, the mere thought that my last name is associated with a vineyard is just too good to be true.  And C) the actual fact that such a place exists and that it is within meet yards from where I am,  traveling on an unplanned route across one of the most non-scenic states in the country was . . . well, just short of a miracle.

So I made the next right turn and drove down some back country roads to Route 3, hung a left, and lo and behold a few miles down on the left sat Troutman Vineyards and Winery.  And they closed 15 minutes ago.  So I continued on my journey, but chose to drive the same route back to Chicago for the sole purpose of stopping at the Winery when it was open - which I did and it was exactly one week later.

You can review their website for all the information, but suffice is to say that it's an interesting place with a colorful past.  The store of the Winery is located in the farms old chicken coop, which I thought was pretty fun.  Their website doesn't have a store, but they do sell items.  I bought a bottle of wine, a tee shirt, and 4 glasses.  And they gave me a bag of corks, perhaps because of my surname.  I kept a glass and shipped one to my 3 siblings, along with a few corks to give to their kids.  I probably should have purchased at least two bottles of wine because I'm not sure if I want to open the one that I did buy.  And since the Winery does not ship out of state, its hard to say when I will acquire another bottle, if ever.

And now for the big question:  Are the Troutmans from the Vineyard any relation to me?  The short answer is Probably Yes, but very distantly.  I didn't actually get to meet any Troutmans during my visit, but I looked on their website for some history and the only information they provide is about a "Johannes Trautmann who immigrated to the colonies in 1748" from Schriesheim, Germany.

So two things here:
1)  No Trautmanns came to America in 1748.  Trust me when I say this.  I have spent the past 16 years researching the Trautmann/Troutman lineage in America and I know exactly when they all came over.  There was a Johannes Trautmann born in 1713 is Schriesheim who came to America in 1738 aboard the ship Robert and Oliver (Alice) (see the ship's passenger list).  Five years later, his brother, Hyronimus, came to America aboard the St. Andrew.  This is according to research done on this family and presented in The Trautman/Troutman Family History, Volume II, by editor Steve E. Troutman who mostly concludes that all Troutmans in the United States today are related, however distantly.
Fifteen years Johannes arrived, 4 more Trautmanns came from Reichelsheim to America. Wilhelm Trautmann - my ancestor - was among them.  Based on ages, we could surmise that Johannes and Hyronimus were perhaps uncles or older cousins of the 4.  All 6 of these men started out in America as farmers. 
2)  Schriesheim is only about 20 miles from Reichelsheim so its very probable that the Trautmanns from those two small towns were related.
 So in any event, this was a fun bit of happenstance.  This is the kind of roadside attraction that we love to come upon; the wonderful stuff you find when you choose to not drive on the interstates.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

My Case Against Recruiting And Staffing Agencies

Perhaps I just don't get it.

Let me start off by stating that I this blog is a reaction to the culmination of the past 10 months in which I remained unemployed (until recently, thank the universe) as well as the year we lived in Miami.  I've been noticing a trend during that almost-2-year period that I truly feel hindered my job search efforts and, I suspect, the efforts of millions of others.  And that trend is this:  it seems these days that one cannot get a job interview without first going through a recruiter in a staffing agency - a 3rd party person who does not work for the company, but is tasked with finding candidates for open positions. Let me be clear here, I'm not talking about corporate recruiters who actually hire for the companies at which they work.  They are a completely different sub-sect.  I'm talking about those people, recruiters, who work for staffing agencies - agencies like Ajilon and Manpower and Robert Half.

Make no mistakes, my job-seeking friends, despite what they tell you, these recruiters are not on your side. Most recruiters are neither educated in HR disciplines nor do they have the breadth of experience of an HR professional.  They know nothing about employee relations, engagement, or even diversity and inclusion; they do not handle performance issues, coach managers or tackle the many other day-to-day nightmare matters surrounding workplace regulations like the ACA, FMLA, ADA and FLSA.  Recruiting and staffing are inherently not functions of human resources.  However, in many companies, the job of talent acquisition falls to the HR department because it seems to make sense.

Ultimately, recruiting talent is a sales job, not an HR function.  Recruiters are motivated by the sale; the first person to make the sale wins.  Recruiters spend six seconds evaluating online resumes/CV's.  That's it: 6 SECONDS.  They report that they spend approximately 4 to 5 minutes, but reality has disproved that statement with eye-tracking techniques.  So to sum up so far, your future is being decided upon in a 6-second timeframe by someone who most likely has no experience or background in human resources.

So what are they looking for on your resume (and very quickly, I might add)?  Boxes to check in order to put you in front of the actual hiring team.  They serve their client - the one who is paying.  And despite their reassurances to the job-seeker that you have great experience and are a marketable candidate, you may never hear from them again after your initial (and most times, only) visit with them to get started.  They might like you, but will you make them guaranteed bank?

To combat this, recruiters request that job-seekers take control of their own destiny by being a "pro-active partner" to the recruiter in their endeavor.  This means, recruiters have created a double language, RecruiterSpeak if you will, so that they can say what they want while still telling you what you want to hear.  Example:
"Visit our website often and let us know about the jobs that interest you.  And also, let us know about any other jobs out there that you might be interested in. You never know, we might have a relationship there"
 which in RecruiterSpeak means
 "Stay in touch with me to remind me that you still exist and tell me about other jobs that are listed because I don't have time to just sit and scour job boards all day long like you do."
Until recently, I spent 10 months constantly job-searching and speaking to at least 50 recruiters along the way.  At the end of that time, I was at a loss as to what I was supposed to do to strengthen those "partnerships":

  • I'd redesigned my resume at least 7 times based on their different requests. 
  • I'd registered with 11 recruiting and staffing agencies - 2 of which I heard from now and then; the other 9 I'd never heard from beyond our initial meeting. 
  • They'd tell me to go through them first before applying for jobs I'd find because they might have an "inside connection" to help me out.  I'd see jobs that interest me and send emails to the recruiters, most of which were neither acknowledged nor answered.  The few times my communication was acknowledged (no less that 5 DAYS LATER), I learned that the recruiter didn't know anyone at that company.  So then I ended up applying for the job 5 days after everyone else.  I'm sure my resume wasn't even seen. 

I realized that the 10 jobs I might see on LinkedIn or Indeed were most likely the same job registered with as many staffing agencies.  So what might have looked like a booming job market was actually just a few jobs multiplied by however many staffing agencies were working on it.  That is, IF the job exists at all.  Many agencies list bogus jobs just to build their "stable" of eligible talent.  So that job that sounds perfect that you found online?  Might not even be real.

What REALLY baffles me is that recruiters aren't bending over backwards to help any HR professional in his/her job search.  The HR connection in any company will be the one who reaches back out to the recruiters in order to help find future staff.  So why the recruiting agencies have not picked up on the "You scratch my back/I'll scratch yours" mantra, I can guarantee that job-seeking HR professionals are remembering the recruiting and staffing agencies who have helped them along the way.

I've already talked about how recruiters are extremely poor at communicating and building relationships ... at least with job hunters ... at least in my experience.  My overall concern is the trend of relying on someone we most often don't even know to help us with the biggest decision of our lives.  And research has shows that recruiters are disinterested and mostly uneducated when it comes to the actual world of human resources.  If companies continue to go the route of 3rd party acquisition, they will run the risk of missing out on candidates who have more to offer than a few buzzwords in their resumes that may or may not capture the attention of the software that's scanning it.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Total Resumes Sent: 307

As you may be aware, I was laid off from my last job on July 17, 2015.  It's been a humbling experience, to say the least.  Back in 2013 when we moved to Miami, I blamed that city for my inability to get a job, screaming loudly to anyone within ear shot that the city is inefficient and unable to function as anything other than a tourist destination.

I was unemployed the entire year we lived in Miami. I sent out 130 resumes - a number I thought was astronomical - and from those received just 2 interviews.  To give you some frame of reference, there are exactly 130 colored balls in the picture at right, each one representing 1 resume that was sent from April 2013 to February 2014.

I vowed that this would NEVER happen to me if we were still living in Chicago.  I was confident that my vast professional connections would help me find employment easily.  And while I stand by my original observations that Miami is wholly a disaster of a city, I can no longer fully place the blame of my unemployment on the way that city and its inhabitants operate.  When I was laid off in July, I remember thinking that I will most likely have a job within two weeks.  All I needed was to update my LinkedIn profile and spread the word to my network that I was back on the market.

Or so I thought.

It's been a long, arduous journey to get here that involved sending out a total of 307 resumes since July 2015.  Read that number again:  THREE HUNDRED AND SEVEN.  For reference and comparison, the image to the right contains exactly 307 balls.  If that still doesn't seem like a ridiculous number, consider that each ball is more than just sending out a resume: it's filling in the required data on the application despite uploading the parsed resume that already contains all the data being requested; it's rewriting the cover letter to tailor it to the job requirements and the specific organization; it's doing research to learn the name of the appropriate individual at each company to whom the cover letter will be addressed; it's scouring many websites daily, even several times a day, to find those jobs that are appropriate; it's comparing job postings to each other to ensure I am not simply applying for the same job multiple times through different agencies; it's sending out the resume with the fervent hope that this is "the one" and that this entire process can end just so I can get back to doing what I love and what I've trained my entire career to do.

And then there's the waiting.  Throughout this most recent process, I was struck by the number of times I was NOT considered for a job.  Of course, my vanity forces me to think I am the perfect candidate for every job, but it wasn't as if I was applying for jobs that were outside of my experience.  I was extremely realistic in my search.  Out of the 307 resumes I submitted, I heard back from exactly 80 of them.  That's a paltry 26% response rate.  How do I know this?  I kept a spreadsheet!

Mostly so that I wouldn't keep applying to the same jobs over and over, I started keeping track.  The spreadsheet listed the name of the company, the title, any contact information, the date I applied, and any updates after that (phone interviews, in person interviews, responses or passes).  In Chicago, I didn't expect a response on every resume I sent, especially from the smaller companies.  But I was surprised by those companies with high profiles that provided no type of confirmation of receipt or other type of follow-up; companies that I expect to have advanced technology to help recruiters stay in touch with applicants.  Companies like Groupon, Aetna, Expedia, Heinz, Potbelly, United Airlines,  and Canon,

Moreover, I was shocked by the number of recruiting and staffing agencies that didn't respond at all.  I mean, that's the gig!  These people are supposed to be expert relationship builders, yet there were MANY high-level recruiting agencies that either didn't respond to my resume, or return a communication (phone call or email) or both.  Agencies like Ajilon, Office Team, Robert Half, and Manpower.

Companies need to do better.  Recruiting agencies must do better.  I don't understand why the people in my profession seem to forget the human part of human resources.  That's why we all get into this business in the first place.

The good news here is that it's all over, at least for me.  I am no longer "off the market" and am excited about some new opportunities.  The bad news is that there are still about 8 million people who are unemployed in the U.S., most of whom are experiencing exactly what I've gone through.  Imagine the frustration this is causing across the country?

Monday, May 02, 2016


Most friends who know me these days don't necessarily know that I am a fairly good artist.  In my teens and early 20's, I was constantly drawing portraits and caricatures of family and friends.  A tribute to my teachers won a blue ribbon in my high school annual art show, as did an acrylic painting that my mom still has hanging in her house.

Kevin is always urging me to get back to it, to buy paint supplies or colored pencils.  But the truth is, being artistic has always been something I take for granted.  It's handy to have the ability in life, but creating art has never been something I've wanted to pursue, much to my parents' exasperation.  To be honest, I am rarely confident enough in my style or taste to know if I am truly any good or not.  So it's just something that I like having in my back pocket.

After high school, I dabbled in projects - doing things like creating pieces for my friend, Judy's class room bulletin boards  She brought me a doll that she asked me to draw for her and it turned out pretty good when you figure I did it all with crayola markers on posterboard:

and painting Santa Claus faces on my parents' front door every Christmas:

and after moving from home and not being able to paint the door every year, painting a wooden Santa Claus that Mom still hangs outside her front door at Christmastime:

In college, I created caricatures of all my friends, some who used them for different reasons:

So you can imagine how appalled I was when Kevin and I went to an art show in Ft. Lauderdale the year we lived in Miami and allowed a local artist to create our caricatures.  Below is what the artist drew of Kevin:

(I'll spare you the Baby Huey portrait he drew of me.)

Now, I understand that we all see things differently, but the idea behind creating a caricature is to take a person's most noticeable features and accentuate them.  On Kevin, it would be his eyes and smile which, ironically, are the two features that are played down on the caricature.  So one night sitting in a restaurant a few days later, I took a crayon at the table and quickly drew Kevin's caricature on the brown paper tablecloth.  I'll admit it's not perfect, but I ask you to compare them: