Randall in the Navy and now. Seems the smile got even bigger.

“My Transition” #29: Randall Niznick — Navy Seabee to Facilities Manager

Randall has served around the world with Navy construction crews and now uses those skills in his new career.

Batavia, IL— Some of us are just lucky enough to fall into a career that we love. That’s the case for Randall whose “short enlistment” as a Seabee turned into a 23 year career and then rolled over into his career in facilities management. From disaster response to building projects and program management, his career has given him more than he ever expected.

DJS: Why did you join the military?


I come from a big Navy family, my step-father, brother and cousin all served in the Navy. Additionally, my step-father had me working with him at a press-stampings plant working in the maintenance department, my step-father was the Plant Director. He specifically stated he did not want me to follow in his footsteps and stay with that company, he wanted me to get out of Ohio and experience the world so he said “join the Navy”.

At that time I did not have any intention of making it a full career but I did, serving 23 honorable years in the Navy Seabees!

DJS: What was your favorite job in the military?


Too many too list and for different reasons. I will summarize with a few highlights:

  • The two humanitarian/disaster recovery missions I was on (1993 Haitian migration; 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami): You cannot explain how helping others in time of despair is just so gratifying, the work we did for our fellow man is a proud moment for me.

You cannot explain how helping others in time of despair is just so gratifying, the work we did for our fellow man is a proud moment for me.

  • Facility Manager for Bancroft Hall at the US Naval Academy: Being a part of the facilities team, we managed the world’s largest single-dormitory. This was my introduction into Facilities Management and was the defining moment for me to decide this was what I was going to pursue post-military.
  • Special Programs, Dept. of State, Diplomatic Security: What can I say, I learned from and worked alongside some of the best technical security professionals, bar none! And my boss in Germany was a prior enlisted Marine who now is Senior Executive Service. He taught me a lot about leadership “after the uniform” and a lot of other great skills that helped me when I transitioned out. We still keep in touch, he is a stellar leader in the foreign service and a great mentor to me.

DJS: Any good stories?


A lesson in leadership and “never giving up on those you are blessed to lead” (one of my personal quotes).

I had a Seabee who was always in trouble, always late for musters, and always finding themselves in bad situations. They had a bad addiction and it was taking over their life. But, there was something about this Seabee that made me not want to give up on them. I never took them to Captain’s Mast or NJP. Between myself and the platoon commander, we just constantly counseled and coached this Seabee. It was very trying but I just knew that if we sent this Seabee up to CO’s mast it would not be good for them.

We returned to homeport and I transferred out of the command. Years later (like around 7 years later) this Seabee reached out to me on facebook and thanked me for never giving up on them. They said they were recovered from their addiction, going to school for their Master’s and just got their life together.

This is perhaps my single-most proudest lesson in leadership. I chose not to give up but rather took the tougher route of constantly counseling and handling it at my level….and it paid off. If my Platoon Commander and I threw in the towel, who knows where that Seabee would be today.

DJS: What were the most important skills or lessons that you learned?


Emotional Intelligence and remaining calm under stressful conditions are at top of list. There are tons of other skills and lessons but I will keep it to these two. In the field I work in now, facilities management, there are fires to be put out almost daily. I watch how some people get totally worked up over the silliest of things and I just kind of laugh. The majority of people out here in corporate America have no idea what real stress is like we do in the military. They get spun up about the stupidest stuff, it’s somewhat comical.

DJS: Did you know what you were going to do when you left the Navy?


As I mentioned earlier I was blessed to be given the opportunity to be a facility manager while serving in the Navy Seabees. That experience led me to pursue facilities management post-Seabees.

DJS: Did you face any struggles during transition?


Oh boy, did I ever….where should I begin?!

  • Not knowing my worth. Under-selling/under-valuing myself to potential employers.
  • My own EGO!!! My wife constantly told me to get the damn chip off my shoulder but I was having a hard time with that. After all, I was a Chief in the Navy!!!! Anyone who knows anything about the Navy knows that advancing to Chief is a HUGE accomplishment and comes with some of the largest responsibilities for an enlisted member as compared to the other services. So I thought (excuse my French), “my shit don’t stink”. Little did I know how much I had to learn to become acclimated to corporate America.
  • Not having too many senior enlisted who already made transition to corporate America that I could turn to. Unfortunately, many senior enlisted/officer roll into FedGov work upon military retirement, not many transition into corporate America and kind of “start over, cold turkey” so to speak.

DJS: Tell me about your initial job search process?


“Fire for effect”. I shot off hundreds of applications with no real direction other than they were all facilities management related. I had no idea about networking, hidden job search, etc..

But, it still worked out for me in the end. I had a job right after retirement with no gap in employment which is a good thing when you have a family and bills to pay! But was it the most efficient job-search strategy, heck no!

I shot off hundreds of applications with no real direction other than they were all facilities management related…

DJS: What was most challenging about going from military to civilian life?


Decompressing and calming down. I was very high strung, stand-offish, and unapproachable. This is NOT how you want to be if you want to be an effective manager. It wasn’t until 2–3 years after retirement that I finally “got it” and I calmed down and started to open up to my associates.

Once I opened up and started telling my colleagues about my military experiences and answering their questions I realized that they were just curious. They just wanted to know more about me and my service, no stereotyping or anything like that, they were just genuinely curious.

Now, 4 years later, I am a totally different person in regard to how I communicate with others who have no military experience/exposure.

Once I opened up and started telling my colleagues about my military experiences and answering their questions I realized that they were just curious.

DJS: Did your military skills transition well into other jobs?


Yes, and in two different professions.

My first job out of the military I was a field service/operations manager. Once I started understanding the job, I realized it was pretty much what I did as a Chief in the Navy. I used my technical skills to assist with system problems but also used my administrative skills and leadership in developing, leading and coaching my field service technicians and managing the budget. Lastly, I was the interface between my company and the client. The communication skills I developed while serving at the Naval Academy and on special programs with Dept. of State came in real handy for client disputes.

**I recommend any senior enlisted member who has a technical background and a 4-year degree to look into field service management, it is a great fit.**

Then of course being a Seabee and my rate of Utilitiesman (HVAC, plumbing, electrical, etc..) has served me well as a facilities manager. I learned facilities and all the systems that make a building “run” while in the Seabees and worked on them directly. Now I am better able to manage the built environment and apply those hands on experiences when managing vendors who now perform that work in my buildings.

DJS: How did you go from Navy to DoS?


This was a US Navy Special Programs assignment. But the back story is interesting. While at Naval Academy as a facility manager, we held the 2007 Peace Conference. The majority of this conference was held in my facility. I worked with Diplomatic Security personnel before, during and after the Peace Conference. There was a prior Marine Officer who I worked with a lot during the conference. He wanted to hire me on the spot but I told him I was going to serve 20 years because I was still having “fun” and wasn’t ready to hang up the uniform.

A few months passed and I received an email from the Operations Chief of the Naval Support Unit, Dept of State. He said my name was given to him by that prior Marine Officer (I forgot his name) and I needed to apply for the program…and the rest is history!

**I didn’t know it at the time, but this was kind of my introduction to networking!**

DJS: You got a full education while working for DoS? How did you manage this and what advice would you give to other service members about education?


It was NOT EASY! I had a wife and two kids during the time of my studies. There were plenty of times where I started homework at midnight and went until 0300–0400 and then crawled into work at 0700.

As far as higher education, I have a lot to say about it. But for sake of keeping this article short, I will just repeat a quote my wife told me when I first started my path to a degree:

“The world can take many things away from us, but our education is not one of them.”

DJS: What did you enjoy most about working at State Department?


The interaction with senior foreign service and other federal agencies. Learning about the mission of Dept of State and seeing Diplomacy in action. I learned a lot about how things work in the federal government which is great intel to have prior to transition.

DJS: How did you land your current job?


I just applied online, no real secrets or tricks, and got a call the next day. Interviewed within a week and was made an offer the next day. It was just meant to be and in God’s timing, that’s all I can really say about it.

DJS: Did you use any veteran networking strategy to land any of those jobs? If so, how did you make those connections?


Not really but I do have one interesting story. While still in the Seabees, I found a prior Civil Engineer Corps Officer (Seabee) who was the VP of Facilities at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) on LinkedIn. We made a connection and had some small talk on LI messenger. Then about 5 months later he contacted me about a position at IIT. Long story short, they flew me in from Maryland, and I had a 7 hour long interview…yes you read that right, a 7 hour long interview!

I really thought I had the job and was excited to start my civilian career. Well, believe it or not, they went with another candidate. Then about a year later, my contact once again contacted me for another IIT position. I interviewed again and again I was denied. It was frustrating but I’ve come to realize that it was just not in God’s plans for me and my family for me to work at IIT.

It’s all good and that contact I made, we still keep in touch. Needless to say, he hasn’t approached me for anymore positions at IIT….

DJS: What skills from the military translated into your jobs and made you successful in those roles?


More soft skills than hard skills in my opinion. Veterans have top notch professionalism and how we carry ourselves is just a cut above the rest. We just bring that little extra something to everything we do, you can’t really define it but you know it when you see it.

Veterans have top notch professionalism and how we carry ourselves is just a cut above the rest.

DJS: Are there other veterans in your workplace? If so, how is that dynamic?


We have other veterans within my company but unfortunately, we are spread across the US. I work independently at my client site so I do not have the opportunity to speak with other veterans in my company that often, if at all.

DJS: If you knew one thing before the transition process that would have made your experience easier, what would that be?


Define, hone and market your personal brand. There are a ton of resources and you tube videos on personal branding. Please, take the time and learn about this ever important concept that every veteran needs to develop.

Trust me, you can write your resume, you can lean on veterans assistance groups to help with interviewing skills and salary negotiations and all that other stuff. However, none of that will do you any good if you haven’t truly defined yourself and what you want to do post-military.

I learned the hard way… I just bounced around a bit from job to job with no real direction. It wasn’t until I honestly defined my personal brand that I became more strategic and defined in my career pursuits.

Define, hone and market your personal brand.

DJS: What was the hardest piece of transition?


Realizing that I was not as “great” as I thought I was! I have been blessed with some unique experiences and I am very proud of my achievements in the military. But, there are many out here in corporate America who bring a lot of talent and skills too. If you just open yourself up and are willing to really learn and listen, you will realize that life is a continuous path of learning, it never stops. And although your military experiences are unique, it does not make you entitled to anything out here. You need to work hard at defining who you are and what you can do for an organization, period.

If you just open yourself up and are willing to really learn and listen, you will realize that life is a continuous path of learning, it never stops.

DJS: What one piece of advice do you have for anyone reading this?


Never stop growing, learning, and developing yourself. Even after 23 years of successful military service and leading Seabees, I still have learned a hell of a lot about leadership and management from my civilian mentors and associates whom had no military backgrounds.

Also (I know, you only asked for one but this is very important): DO NOT DEFINE YOURSELF by whether you were enlisted or officer!!!! Define yourself by your personal value proposition (PVP). Once you hang up the uniform, you are a veteran, not an enlisted veteran or an officer veteran, you are a veteran. If you think in terms of enlisted or officer you may discredit your abilities and what you can do out here in corporate America.

Never stop growing, learning, and developing yourself.


Randall served in the US Navy Seabees (Naval Construction Force) from 1990–2013, retiring at the rank of E-7, Chief Petty Officer. He served in two Naval Mobile Construction Battalions (NMCB) and various other assignments CONUS and OCONUS throughout his career. He Retired in 2013 and after a couple short stint jobs, landed a civilian job as a facilities manager.

In the later part of 2016, he began to strongly advocate on behalf of military veterans and the facilities management (FM) profession. FM is experiencing a talent gap, and he knows many veterans would be a perfect fit for this challenging and dynamic profession and could help to bridge that talent gap.

If anyone is interested to know more about facilities management please reach out to him on LinkedIn!

Top resources

American Corporate Partners — American Corporate Partners (ACP) is a national nonprofit organization focused on helping returning veterans find their next careers through one-on-one mentoring, networking and online career advice. ACP focuses on helping veterans find meaningful employment opportunities and develop long-term careers.

Veteran Mentor Network group on LinkedIn — The mission of the Veteran Mentor Network is to help Military Members, Military Spouses, and Veterans establish and achieve job search, career and life goals.

Lida Citroen — Personal branding for veterans (I also highly advise following Lida on LinkedIn).

Personal Branding video from Tim O’Brien — This is a long video and the gentleman may come across as a little cocky, but it provides a great explanation of personal branding.

Seabee Ball 2010 at a Castle in Germany
My final re-enlistment, 2009
Performing a facility damage assessment after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami
As I look now, 4 years post-military (I’m actually smiling!)

Are you interested in sharing your story of transition? Or are you a military transition specialist who would like to share some tips? Send me an email at MilitaryTransitionStories@gmail.com

The goal of this series is to bridge the military-civilian divide in three ways: 1) Highlight the incredible skills and value that military veterans of all generations and backgrounds bring into the workplace. 2) Help transitioning veterans understand their true value and therefore aim as high as possible in their employment and educational goals. 3) Discuss the common struggles, pitfalls and indicators of success in veteran transition, in order to provide better transition assistance from both military and civilian sides.



The goal of this series is to bridge the military-civilian divide by highlighting the incredible skills and value that military veterans bring into the workplace and to help them aim higher in career, educational, and personal goals.

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David Smith

Hubby & daddy. USMC veteran. Marketing professional. Entrepreneur. I like mountains, whisky, travel and mischief. Live in Norway. Insta: @americanvikinginnorway