What to Look for in an Estimator

An estimator can make or break a project by winning it at the right price — and making or losing money on it.

An estimator is a vital part of any construction team, whether it’s a general contractor or subcontractor. He’s often the first person that customers, material suppliers, designers and other project stakeholders have meaningful interaction with. And his numbers can be the difference between winning the contract or not, and making money or losing money on a job.

First and foremost, an estimator needs to be proficient in math. No need for advanced calculus, but basic math skills are critical, as is a good grasp of algebra and geometry. There are plenty of estimating programs that can help with speed and exactness, but a quality estimator should be able to perform the job with only a calculator and get it right.

Of course, the numbers don't always represent the reality of a bid, so an estimator needs to be experienced enough to pick out figures that don't make sense or tell if something's missing. It should go without saying that being detail-oriented is a must.

If you happen to have an in with an estimator’s former employer, ask how many successful projects the person had a hand in. If the numbers were often too high — or worse, too low — move on.

This person is not only going to create a first impression of your company but will help sell the company's services, so personality matters.

Being a reliable team player is also essential. Estimators work with people in accounting to set up budgets. And even though the project manager is typically the point person and gets a lot of the credit when the job is complete, the estimator helps the project manager with value engineering, choosing subcontractors and the calculation of any change orders during the project.

Today's estimators can't be afraid of technology. Their numbers are used to populate all kinds of software programs used by different deparments, and they may need to organize their information accordingly. And progress, cost and achievement of project milestones may be tracked in those programs.

Estimators are not just number crunchers. They play a vital role in the success of a construction project. So hire a good one.