For people interested in construction, estimating may not be their first choice. Sometimes it’s simply because they’re in a specialized degree that will lead them down a specific path. But often, it’s because they don’t fully understand what estimating is and is not. There are still a lot of misconceptions about what it looks like to work as an estimator.
Recently, we’ve discussed the various paths you can take to become an estimator, as well as the 3 most important things a new estimator should know. But how do you know that estimating is right for you? We’ve compiled our extensive amount of knowledge—interviews, industry articles, partnerships—and concluded that there are four key questions you need to ask yourself to determine if being an estimator is a good fit for you and your goals.
- Are you one of the first people excited and willing to try new technology?
Estimating often gets an (unfairly!) bad rap for being way behind trends, still stuck using Excel and even pen and paper to keep track of data. That might have been true about five years ago or so, but today preconstruction technology is everywhere and only getting better. However, a lot of preconstruction teams need someone dedicated to testing and learning these technologies so that they can help onboard it to everyone else. No matter what path you take as an estimator, you’ll still need to be adaptable and able to pick up new techniques and technology on the fly. Johnny Rhea, Vice President of Preconstruction at Frank Dale Construction, shared how his computer savvy helped him become an exceptional estimator in this interview.
- Do you enjoy discovering patterns and solving puzzles?
A great estimator is one who enjoys studying data to find reoccurring themes so that successes can quickly be built upon and errors can be avoided. They can create an estimate that isn’t just accurate, but that is visually appealing—an estimate that can tell a story rather than just flash a bunch of numbers. A great estimator is also excited by challenge, not afraid to try a few dozen different things to see what works. If you can’t walk away from a problem until you have a solution, you just might be cut out for estimating.
- Do you want to work with and impact every department within construction?
Estimating is not an isolated career. In fact, an estimator will have to work with just about every department in their company in just the first few weeks of their career—design, field operations, engineering, sometimes even marketing. This type of collaboration isn’t optional, even though sometimes it can be treated that way. For example, there’s a huge amount of data generated in the preconstruction phase that still needs to be tracked in order to understand how it evolves in the construction phase. A significant aspect of tracking that data is being able to seamlessly receive input from the project managers out in the field.
Additionally, it’s just as important to have a good working relationship with the design team. The plans that they draw up may not be within the realistic scope of budget for the project owner, and it’s up to the preconstruction team to talk through these potential pitfalls and see where compromises can be made. To be an estimator, you’ll have to be okay with frequently sharing the spotlight.
- Can you talk about the weather and make friends with a wall?
Finally, if you’ve never met a stranger and leave coffee shops with invitations to birthday parties and weddings, estimating might be the right gig for you. The estimator who thrives is the one who possesses excellent soft skills and can communicate complex ideas in easily understandable terms. While these skills may not seem all that important at first glance, they are absolutely critical when you’re about to present a multi-million dollar estimate to a project owner who may or may not even know what a ceiling joist is and why it costs so much.
Communication and charisma will go a long way when you work with subcontractors, too. As an estimator, you’ll want to work with subcontractors you can absolutely trust, and the only way you’ll be able to get to that point is by building upon those relationships both on and off projects.
I Think Estimating IS Right For Me…Now What?
If you’ve found yourself nodding along to most or all of these questions, you already know that a career in estimating is probably right for you. But what’s the next step? Finding a mentor is a great stepping stone, whether you’re considering estimating or just started. Getting plugged in to your local chapter of ASPE (American Society of Professional Estimators) is another great resource.