Cost Estimator Job Description

Duties, Earnings, and Requirements

cost estimator
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Before committing to project, whether it involves construction or manufacturing, most entities want to know how much it will cost and how long it will take to complete. This is where a cost estimator comes in. He or she calculates the approximate costs of completing a project, taking into account production time and resources including labor, raw materials, and equipment.

Quick Facts

  • A cost estimator's median annual salary is $61,790 (2016).
  • 217,900 people worked in this occupation (2016).
  • Employers include specialty trade contractors, building construction firms, manufacturers, automotive repair and maintenance companies, and civil engineering firms.
  • Most jobs are full-time positions, and 25 percent of cost estimators work over 40 hours per week.
  • The job outlook in this field is promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts job growth will be faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

    Roles and Responsibilities

    These are some typical job duties taken from online ads for cost estimator positions found on

    • "Obtain material pricing and organize all the information necessary to aid in creating and submitting proposals to our clients"
    • "Use trackable detailed spreadsheets and company approved formulas to calculate the projected costs of proposed projects"
    • "Review blueprints and product specifications to accurately determine amount of materials"
    • "Solicit and review subcontractor proposals and assist with contract negotiations"
    • "Document overall material needed, including all codes, brands, and contact information necessary to process orders"
    • "Work with designers, architects, owner's reps, and general contractors"

    How to Become a Cost Estimator

    You don't need a bachelor's degree to work in this field, but since many employers prefer to hire job candidates who have one, earning a college degree makes sense. It can be in a subject related to the industry in which you plan to work. For example, if your goal is to become a construction cost estimator, get a degree in construction management, but if you want to work in manufacturing, you can earn a degree in engineering, statistics, or physical sciences. Alternatively, you might decide, instead, to get a business-related degree.

    Some options to consider are finance, accounting, or economics. A strong background in math is also necessary.

    A degree may get you a job, but don't expect to work independently until the employer who hires you trains you to estimate projects the way it does it. Every company has its own method for doing things, and they want their employees schooled in it. This on-the-job training may take several months or even a few years.

    Although one doesn't have to be certified to work as a cost estimator, some employers will only hire job candidates who are. Three organizations that offer certification are the American Society of Professional Estimators (ASPE), the Association for the Advancement of Cost Estimating International (AACE), and the International Cost Estimating and Analysis Association (ICEAA). All three organizations require applicants for certification to pass a written examination. To become certified by the ASPE, individuals must pass two exams as well as write a technical paper.

    For an individual to maintain certification, the three organizations require continuing education or re-examination.

    Most employers will hire only job candidates who have already worked in the industry in which they are seeking a job as a cost estimator. You can get this experience by doing an internship or working in the industry in another capacity.

    What Soft Skills Do You Need?

    A degree and certification don't guarantee success in this occupation. You are unlikely to do well without particular soft skills, which are personal qualities that you were born with or acquired through life or work experience. For example, you must have excellent analytical, listening, verbal communicationcritical thinking, and time management skills. You should also be detail oriented.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    Job announcements on indicate that employers prefer job candidates who meet the following requirements:

    • "Ability to contribute in a fast-paced, deadline-driven team atmosphere"
    • "Professional demeanor and a courteous disposition are also required"
    • "Strong computer skills using Windows and MS Excel and Office suite"
    • "Must be detail oriented, well-spoken, and a self-starter"
    • "Good management and communication skills"
    • "Must have the ability to work collaboratively with all team members and stakeholders, and the ability to work independently and take direction from a supervisor"
    • "Effective presentation skills"

      Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

      Will being a cost estimator fit well with your interestspersonality type, and work-related values? If you have the following traits, you should be satisfied in this occupation:

      Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

      Title Description Annual Salary (2016) Educational Requirements
      Logistics Analyst Identifies and recommends changes to product delivery or supply chain processes $74,170 Bachelor's degree
      Accountant Makes sure organizations' financial statements are accurate, and laws and procedures are properly followed $68,150 Bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field
      Assessor Analyzes the values of homes to determine property taxes $51,850 Bachelor's degree
      Risk Management Specialist Identify and manage an organization's operational or enterprise risks $69,470 Bachelor's or Master's degree

      Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited March 15, 2018).