Good estimators are worth their weight in gold, but it's not just about crunching the numbers.
A successful construction project starts with a solid bid, and estimators are key in putting together a thorough and accurate proposal. What do companies today look for in an estimator? Some obvious and not-so-obvious qualities.
Math skills and attention to detail
Many estimators, particularly ones working for subcontractors, spend a lot of time performing quantity takeoffs, which involves tabulating the amount and type of materials required on a project along with the necessary labor. An estimator for a general contractor might also evaluate subcontractor bids by doing takeoffs of their portion of the project.
This provides the basis for bids, and leaving an item out or assigning the wrong value to a unit of material or labor can throw off the numbers enough so that the company loses the job or, worse, is the low bidder on a job that won't pay enough to cover the bills.
Brian Binke, president and CEO of Detroit-area construction executive search firm The Birmingham Group, said that for hiring managers, nonstarters include a lack of math skills and an eye for detail. "You need someone who can add and doesn't forget to put a zero at the end of the figure," he said.
Basic knowledge of estimating software
Binke said some companies request experience with a certain brand of estimating software, but don't get too hung up on it. "If somebody is good at picking up one software they just have that aptitude. If you bring in another software, they can pick it up."
Someone who still works only with paper and pencil or on an Excel spreadsheet, he said, would be difficult to place.
A good track record
Companies want to know that the estimator they hire has a history of successful bids. "What have they been able to win?" Binke said. A qualified estimator can also help their new company win work by taking advantage of prior relationships. It helps if an estimator comes into his or her new position with a lot of contacts to facilitate getting on bid lists, or if the person has a good following of subcontractors they can bring with them.
On the ball
An estimator has to be aggressive in gathering subcontractor bids if working for a general contractor, and persistent in accumulating and maintaining current supplier pricing. The latter is important for subcontractor estimators as well. This means a lot of phone calls, texts and emails — whatever it takes to get the best numbers on schedule.
A good estimator, Binke said, also pays attention to deadlines and does what it takes to meet them. "If a bid is due at 3:00 this afternoon, it's due at 3:00 this afternoon, even if you have to pull an all-nighter."
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.