Becoming an Estimator: The Keys to Making It a Career

Becoming an Estimator: The Keys to Making It a Career

In keeping with this month’s theme of workforce development, I was asked to write about electricians becoming estimators. No problem. Electrical estimating has been a great career for me.

Anyone with field experience as an electrician already has an important prerequisite covered: a full understanding of electrical materials and how they are installed.

Another prerequisite is having the ability to think critically. To be a good estimator, you’ll need skills in analyzing, applying standards, discriminating, finding information, logical reasoning, predicting and transforming knowledge. Critical thinking is something most of us do all our lives, and it involves asking and answering questions about events and processes. It’s simply a deliberate thought process. Basically, it means using reason and logic to come to a conclusion about an issue or situation you are dealing with.

It is also helpful if you enjoy solving puzzles. Despite how much I complain about the poor bid documents estimators work with, I really like solving the problems they present. My success in solving the problems when completing the estimate magnifies the joy of winning a bid. I especially like finding more cost-effective ways to solve problems with the design.

Another important skill is the ability to communicate. You will need to communicate accurately with many people, including vendors, customers and your employer. It is my opinion that poor or insufficient communication is the cause of more construction problems than any other single factor.

If you think you may not have these skills, don’t worry. For the most part, they can be acquired. For instance, early in my career, I was the king of stress and overreaction. Just one seminar about personal management solved that problem. Communication skills can also be learned in college classes and online.

Another part of estimating I enjoy is creating and maintaining relationships with vendors and customers. These relationships are an important part of being a successful estimator. Maintaining loyal partnerships with customers and vendors willing to work with you significantly increases the number of jobs you can win.

Two decisions you’ll need to make when becoming an estimator are about where you want to work, and the size and types of projects you would like to work on. Most new estimators are started on smaller and simpler projects for training reasons. However, ask yourself, where do you want to go from there? I became bored with small tilt-ups and office buildings fairly quickly, and started looking for more interesting work. After a layoff, I got lucky when I went to work for an electrical contractor who specialized in rehabilitating historical buildings. I really liked this work, and still do today. Old buildings are fascinating, and often challenging. You can look for a position that offers the type of challenges and advancement possibilities you desire.

You’ll also have to consider the size and type of company you want to work for. The size and structure of contractors varies from small owners working out of their garages, to international companies with hundreds or thousands of employees. Each has its own unique culture and personalities to deal with, which means there are a lot of possibilities for you to find a fit for your goals.

Estimating can be a career path to other positions. Many estimators spend some time as project managers, as I did. My actual title was estimator/project manager, a position that was very rewarding, as I managed most of the projects I won. There is a great feeling of accomplishment when you build the projects you estimate. Another position I held was chief estimator. Management positions require different skills beyond those needed for estimating. Make sure you are ready before accepting one.

If you need more information about getting estimating training, please see my October 2018 article “Upgrade Yourself.”

Finally, it is a great time to become an electrical estimator. I just did a search on the internet and found over 1,000 open electrical estimator positions.

About the Author

Stephen Carr

Estimating Columnist

Stephen Carr has been in the electrical construction business since 1971. He started Carr Consulting Services—which provides electrical estimating and educational services—in 1994. Contact him at 805.523.1575 or, and...

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