Estimating Your Career

By Stan Shook | Dec 15, 2011




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This article is for all you junior and associate estimators who are trying to decide what you want to be and do for the next 30-plus years of your lives. I’ll begin with a simple but very serious question: Do you want to be a career estimator?

Don’t answer yet. Take your time. Really think about it. Keep in mind your answer could determine your future income, job security and possibly your long-term sanity.

Career estimators only need apply
In our industry, good estimators have always been highly sought after. It’s truer today than ever before. The hiring pool of qualified estimators has become very small because colleges and universities primarily focus on producing project managers, engineers and construction business graduates. Additionally, many estimators grow up in the industry, taught by their fathers or grandfathers with the plan (and hope) they will someday take over the family business. Thus, they eventually stop being only estimators.

Adding to this problem is the loss of estimators to other, seemingly more attractive (and sometimes higher paying) positions of project manager or business development specialist. Many estimators view these jobs as higher rungs on the ladder, and at many companies, they are. But they also are positions that come with their own special set of stresses, overtime and hard work. They also are not well-suited to every personality type.

My point is that, due to the shortage of good ones, the position of estimator is no longer a low-rung, low-paying gig. It truly is one of the most vital to an electrical contractor’s business. It can be a very honorable and highly rewarding career.

Careers change, and so did I
Some of you who have followed me these past six years know that about six months ago, I made a serious career decision and signed on as a senior estimator with Rosendin Electric of San Jose, Calif., thereby ending my 15-year-long adventure as an independent estimator and small business owner.

Even though I knew my career as a business owner was over (I was certain of that), this decision did not come easily. I seriously pondered this, asking myself questions: “Can I actually work for someone else?” “Can I be just an estimator?” “Do I really want to stay in this industry of crazy deadlines and lost weekends?”

I was still considering my career and whether or not I was going to be doing exactly what I wanted to do. I had to be sure I wasn’t lying to myself. I also wanted to ensure I wasn’t lying to my future employer. I didn’t want them to invest time and money in someone who was not 100 percent committed to his career and their business plans. Ultimately, I decided to move forward in this new adventure with Rosendin.

What does it take?
First, ask yourself these questions: Can you sit in front of a computer all day, every day? Can you deal with high stress levels? What is your work ethic? Are you the type of employee who will stay with it no matter how tough it gets? Will you work late nights, weekends and and occasional holidays? I’m not joking here. This is what a career estimator has to do in order to be successful, but know this: so do career project managers, engineers and anyone else who wants a successful business—especially bosses.

A career as an estimator will require unwavering dedication to perfecting your work skills. It requires more than just putting in time at work and reading my articles. A career as an estimator requires continual development; a need for specialized education; and focus on specific knowledge of the National Electrical Code, electrical engineering, time management, specialty software, database management and development, cost and labor analysis, and more.

Some of these things you will learn on the job. I hope you have an employer who believes in providing advanced training and education. But most of the extra effort will be on you: taking night classes at a local college and a lot of (unpaid) home study. Know this: the more you learn, the better you will be, the stronger your career will be and the more money you will be able to make.

Be all you want to be
Do you want only to be an estimator? Or are your sights set on the seemingly more glamorous and glorious position of project manager? Maybe you want to be a boss someday, run the show? Well, that’s certainly a great aspiration you should follow, that is, if you really believe it is the journey you must take.

All this being said, the most important thing is, in order to do something all day, every day, all week, every week, year after year after year, you have to really like what you do. The last thing you want to be is an estimator who wants to be doing something else. It could be quite a miserable existence and will likely lead to a very unsatisfying and less-successful career.

SHOOK has been estimating for more than 23 years. Until recently, he operated a fully staffed estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He is currently focusing on writing, teaching and speaking about electrical estimating. Read his blog at or contact him directly at [email protected].

About The Author

Stan Shook was ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR's estimating columnist from 2005 to 2012. He works as an electrical estimator in California. Read his blog at or contact him directly [email protected]


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