The Key Traits of a Great Estimator

September 18, 2017


By Greg Michael, communications specialist, On Center Software

Estimating is one of the most important jobs in construction. Demand for well-qualified estimators continues to grow because construction is on an upswing. Estimators are essential for companies to capitalize on the growth in construction.

To help the hiring process, On Center Software has created a guide on How to Hire a Great Estimator. During this process, we asked, “What are the earmarks of a good estimator?”

Colleges have strong programs in construction management, but they do not specifically teach detailed trade estimating. It turns out that most estimators develop their skills on the job. If there isn’t a standard list, what are the important attributes to look for when recruiting a new estimator?

We asked construction executives who have worked with the good, the bad, and the best (I bet you thought we were going to say ugly) this question. They shared some of the important traits for successful estimators. Here is a list of common characteristics found in great estimators.

Field Experience – Real experience, even if only from summer jobs, goes a long way. This experience can give the estimator tangible understanding of how a project is put together, the time and labor required, and provide insight into areas where projects have hidden profit. While not essential, candidates with field experience often outperform those without.

Blueprint Reading Skills – Even as schools have cut back on exposure to drafting and other shop classes, the benefits of an applicant who knows how to read drawings can greatly improve chances for success as an estimator. In addition to reading the blueprints, it is valuable to understand how to read the project specifications and interpret them on the drawings. Possessing the ability to identify fine details helps uncover a project’s hidden costs.

Big Picture – An estimator can, but probably shouldn’t, just rely on their “gut.” Possessing the ability to see the completed structure and how it’s assembled can help optimize bids for profitability before ever breaking ground. Thinking ahead is a critical must, and many of the best estimators spend about 10 percent of their time reviewing the project before performing takeoff calculations. This allows them to leverage their understanding of the project and make adjustments for winning the bid.

Communications Skills – An often overlooked trait of successful estimators is written and verbal communication. Project success is often hidden in the details and uncovering those can require calls to suppliers, collaborating with other contractors, RFIs with the GC, or extracting the critical information during meetings. Don’t mistake an outgoing personality as having these mastered, it is critical they can articulate and extract the most important information under pressure.

Analytical – This trait seems obvious. However, an estimator should be more than quick with numbers, good at math, and understanding the sequence of a project. The truly analytical mind will learn from previous work and apply those lessons to future projects. As a project is going through the estimating process, the true analyst will begin looking for pockets of profit through logistics, assembly, scheduling, and many other facets to ensure the company is maximizing its ability to be competitively priced and securing profit for future work.

Perseverance (Persistence) – Interviews might not reveal this trait, but this hidden gem can mean the difference between single- and double-digit profit growth. Estimators with this trait don’t give up easily. It’s not uncommon for them to hunt down the suppliers and get the required material quotes. They follow through on every aspect of the bid, meet deadlines, and ensure success regardless of the time needed.

Multi-tasker – Juggling multiple bids is a requirement for sustained growth. Great estimators do not work on one project at a time. While there will be times of hyper-focus on specific projects, they can be interrupted for calculations or clarification on other bids. It is important they have the ability to balance several tasks at once, while maintaining accuracy on the information pertinent to the conversation or project at hand.

For more insight on how to ramp up your team and find the right estimator, click here to download our easy-to-follow, 7-step hiring guide.

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