What It's Like To Be An Estimator

If you’ve ever had to tell someone what you do for work, you’re probably familiar with the question: “So what’s it like to be an estimator?” Outside of the construction industry, most people might have never even heard about estimators—and even inside the industry, there’s still a lot of confusion over what estimators actually do!

Are you looking for more resources on construction estimator jobs? We answer your biggest questions! Click the links below to learn more:

Architects talking about construction plans A lot of people think estimating is just about numbers, but it's a lot more than that.

We could share some stories from our clients, or even our own employees, as several of us were in preconstruction before making the move to construction estimating software. But we decided it might be a little more interesting to think outside of the box and go somewhere that isn’t normally associated with estimators: Reddit! Reddit is an online repository for various forums of different interests that people can join to discuss those interests, and it just so happens that there is a forum for estimators. To get a close-up at what it’s really like to be an estimator, we took a look at some of the experiences shared on the Reddit estimator's forum.

  • It can be stressful
  • There’s a lot of pressure
  • You make more money compared to many construction roles
  • There’s a lot of Excel

It can be Stressful

We don’t have to tell you twice. With owners constantly wanting more in less time, deadlines looming, and change orders lurking on the horizon, estimating is stressful! One user describes it as, “Think accountant and dentist had a baby in a casino and that will get you close. Dealing with numbers and pulling teeth all while gambling. You will learn a crazy amount of stuff—it’s a fast-paced career generally.”

Does preconstruction promote a workaholic culture?

But take heart, especially if you’re just beginning your estimating career—it does get better as you become more experienced. Another user says, “It can be stressful, and it was challenging to get into when I started as I knew literally nothing about civil/site work. Nowadays, I am rarely ever stressed out. Some deadlines are ridiculous and you just gotta plow through to the end. A typical work week is 45 hours/week and I’ve only stayed late once in the last 5 years.”

There’s a lot of Pressure

woman looking tensely at two other women in discussion Estimators face a lot of pressure - just a couple of mistakes can cost an owner tens of thousands of dollars.

Just like the first point, there’s really nothing surprising here. Between juggling design teams, subcontractors, project owners and more, estimators face a lot of pressure from all sides. That’s not even getting into the immense pressure to avoid making any mistakes in your estimate.

A user puts it this way: “You will always be under pressure. The ability to multi-task high level job functions is imperative. Depending on if you guys do federal contract work, that could make it even more stressful.” However, this same user also adds that the payoff for making a breakthrough is worth all of that pressure: “If you get in with the right company that is patient with your transition/growth, then I would definitely give it a shot.”

You Make More Money Compared to Many Construction Roles

So far, being an estimator may not sound all that appealing! But for every cloud there’s a silver lining, and in the case of estimating, part of that is definitely the paycheck. A quick look at Indeed.com tells us that the average salary for a construction estimator in the United States is about $71,000 per year—not bad, considering that the average annual wage in the U.S. as a whole is $52,000.

This is especially true, though, if you’re leaving field work and hoping to make more in the office. One user says, “If you’re coming from constructing and looking to go into estimating to make more money, you’re on the right track.” Another user adds, “I now make more than almost everyone I know except my doctor friends even though I started out lower than almost all of my peers. I make 154k, and my friends with PE (Professional Engineer) and MBAs are in the 100-120k range.”

There’s a lot of Excel

The biggest common denominator in the answers to what’s it like to be an estimator? Excel, without a doubt. There were over thirty replies to the question, “What’s it like being an estimator?” and at least half of them mentioned “lots of Excel/you’ll need to know Excel.” When listing some of the requirements to be a good estimator, several comments mentioned having a general understanding of Excel.

Even though Excel is a pretty limiting tool and has several more comprehensive competitors—our own DESTINI Estimator software included—it’s still used by many preconstruction teams because it’s accessible and because it’s what a lot of estimators have cut their teeth on.

What do you think it’s like to be an estimator?

We hope some of these answers resonated with you, and we also hope you’re excited to change some of them. Estimating is an intense job with high reward, and there will always be an element of stress and pressure to it. However, some of that stress around owner expectations and accurate estimates can be removed with the appropriate preconstruction tools. Do you agree? 

Related Posts

man looking perplexed.
5 Tips to Keep Your Estimators Happy Struggling with High Turnover on Your Team? Team morale. Employee retention rate. Labor shortage. These are all terms you’ve heard tossed around a …
Read more
Capture Every Estimating Pain It's easy to say there is one magical software to capture every estimating pain but isn't that too good to be true? Estimators are expected to …
Read more
How to Streamline Today's Estimating Process This post was published in the January/February edition of DCD Magazine.
Read more