How to Grow As An Estimator

When you ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, they’ll probably answer with some popular but high-level ideas, inspired by TV shows and books: things like a doctor, a scientist, or even a construction worker. But you’ll probably never heard any kids say “I want to be an estimator!”

man wearing a hardhat working on a high-rise skyscraper What most people probably envision when they think of working in construction!

This sort of attitude towards estimating and preconstruction, in general, isn’t just limited to kids who don’t know any better, though. Even when you get to college and beyond, you aren’t going to find many people with a passion to make their mark in the world of preconstruction. There is often a perception that fieldwork is far more dynamic and interesting, while office work tends to be dull and reserved for people who are finally ready to settle down from the rigors of fieldwork. As a result, if you are interested in moving into preconstruction, it can be difficult to know where to start as well as how to grow.

While much can be said about how to alter that perception—you can read more tips for that—we want to focus more on practical steps you can take not just toward becoming an estimator, but toward building a robust career in preconstruction, moving from junior to senior roles.

Drawing from several industry experts and estimators themselves, we came up with three ways you can grow your estimating career whether you’re just about to graduate or you’ve just started out as a junior estimator.

  • Network and find a mentor
  • Make sure you know how to read plans and specifications
  • Don’t neglect fieldwork

Network and Find a Mentor

It’s no surprise that this recommendation hits the number one spot on the list. Curt Kluznik, Senior Estimator at Life Time Construction, says, “I entered the construction industry as an intern with a large general contractor and was initially assigned to a team that self-performed concrete, masonry, and carpentry. I was tutored by one of the Vice Presidents in that team.”

We often learn the most from those who have already gone ahead, and more importantly, mentors can help open up doors that you might not have been able to on your own. This also means that when you’re offered an opportunity to network, to go to that conference, or grab that dinner—take it! On the flip side, don’t be afraid to initiate. Let’s say you go to that conference and hear a senior estimator present on a topic that really speaks to you. Instead of just taking notes, go ahead and add them on LinkedIn if they have a profile, and send them a note to see if they would be open to a one-on-one conversation.

Additionally, don’t neglect joining professional organizations that are in your area, like ASPE, AGC, and Builder’s Exchanges to name a few. Although it might feel like it at times, preconstruction doesn’t exist in a bubble. You won’t be able to fully flourish in your career and advance to the next level without a few helping hands.

Check out the latest preconstruction opportunities.

Know How to Read Plans and Specifications

In today’s high-tech world, many preconstruction tasks are automated, requiring no more than a few clicks of a mouse. But Kluznik advises new estimators not to get complacent: “It is true that many firms are using a 3D model for design activities and estimating. While this speeds up take-off activities, an estimator should know how to read plans and specifications.”

Top view of architects talking about construction plans with blueprint, analysing annual financial reports. Businesspeople designers discussing in office using digital gadgets and papers working. Understanding how to read plans and specifications without always relying on technology is essential to moving into a senior estimator role.

Being willing to innovate and try new ways of doing things is a huge component of standing out and making a reasonable case for a promotion. However, it’s equally as important to be well-rounded, and to understand that there are often good reasons behind “the way we’ve always done it.” And the truth is, sometimes Internet goes down or computers crash. In those instances when technology does fail, you want to be sure you still know how to read basic items such as standard plans and supplemental specifications.

Don’t Neglect Fieldwork

Although bachelor’s degrees are definitely still important if you’re trying to become a senior estimator, it’s just as critical to have some knowledge in the field. Many people, particularly if they took an MEP path in their degree, might start their office experience early.

But having a full understanding of what field/operations do, and how buildings come to life, is key to truly excelling as an estimator and moving from a junior to a senior position. If you don’t begin in the field, make sure to take opportunities to at least go on job site visits or talk with some of the superintendents to hear the challenges and accomplishments they’re seeing in their roles.

Like the steps mentioned above, ultimately the journey from junior estimator to senior estimator involves expanding your knowledge base, innovating while also integrating old-school tricks, and never being afraid to ask questions and admit areas where you need help.

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