How to Become a Cost Estimator

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Table of Contents

1. Overview: Job Responsibilities, Salary, and Common Requirements

2. A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Cost Estimator

3. What Does a Cost Estimator Do?

4. Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Cost Estimator

5. How Do You Become a Cost Estimator?

6. What are the Knowledge and Skills Needed to be a Cost Estimator?

7. Popular Schools and Colleges in the U.S. for Aspiring Cost Estimators

8. How to Get a Job as a Cost Estimator

9. Learn About Geographic and Location Pay Differentials

10. Make Your Resume Stand Out

11. Ace Your Cost Estimator Interview

12. Top Online Courses for Aspiring Cost Estimators


Job Responsibilities

  • Figure out the different factors affecting the cost of products, such as production time, materials, and labor
  • Prepare cost estimated or quotations by reading blueprints and technical documents 
  • Collaborate with clients and other affiliated professionals such as engineers, architects, and contractors
  • Calculate, analyze, and adjust the estimates prepared
  • Find and recommend ways to reduce costs using the factors identified
  • Collaborate with members of sales teams in order to prepare estimates and bids for clients
  • Keep and regularly update records of estimated and actual costs

How Much Does a Cost Estimator Make?

Cost Estimators made a median salary of $65,250 in 2019. The best-paid 10 percent made $111,350 that year, while the lowest paid 10 percent made $39,380.


Common Requirements

  • Bachelor’s degree in Construction Management or Engineering, Business or Finance
  • On the job training
  • Knowledge of industry-specific software
  • Previous work experience in the construction industry

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Operations Research Analysts

Common Skills




Time management

Cost estimation

Computer-Aided Design (CAD)

Building Information Modeling (BIM)


$65,250 per year
$31.37 per hour





A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Cost Estimator

Cost estimators gather and evaluate different types of data in order to determine the cost of constructing infrastructure, cost of manufacturing products, or undertaking projects. The cost they identify are not only in terms of money but also in time, labor, materials, and other resources. They are an integral part of many large projects, such as construction of infrastructures, not only limited to buildings.

What Does a Cost Estimator Do?

Cost estimators determine the value of a project or product. They calculate the possible total value based on the cost of production, construction, or manufacturing. Here are some of the more detailed responsibilities of a cost estimator:

  • Figure out the different factors affecting the costs of products, such as production time, materials, and labor
  • Prepare cost estimated or quotations by reading blueprints and technical documents 
  • Collaborate with clients and other affiliated professionals such as engineers, architects, and contractors
  • Calculate, analyze, and adjust the estimates prepared
  • Find and recommend ways to reduce costs using the factors identified
  • Collaborate with members of sales teams in order to prepare estimates and bids for clients
  • Keep and regularly update records of estimated and actual costs

Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Cost Estimator

Cost estimators have specific traits and characteristics that define them and make them successful in their careers. If you are naturally endowed with several of these traits, you might want to consider having a go at this job. Here are tell-tale signs that you can assess for yourself that would tell you whether you are cut out for this job or not:

You enjoy budgeting

If you appreciate the entire process of creating a budget and canvassing, you will definitely have fun in being a cost estimator. The main job of a cost estimator is figuring out how much things cost and provide estimates. At the same time, they also find out ways to cut down on costs -somewhat similar to a budget. 

You pay attention to details.

For a cost estimator, even the most minute details can have a significant impact on the overall cost of a project or product. That is why it is important for a cost estimator to be conscious of details. Having an eye for each detail ensures that you conduct your job with precision and that each estimate you put out is as close to reality as possible. Producing such an output is highly prized by industries since it is the basis for company costings.

You are good at Math.

Since you will be dealing with numerical estimates, a solid foundation in Mathematics is a definite advantage. You will be calculating the cost of materials, labor, and equipment for each project. These calculations need to be done with sheer accuracy. Math skills are also needed to adequately read and interpret data extracted from special software and databases.

You manage your time well.

Just like most other jobs, the ability to manage time properly is a valuable trait for cost estimators since they usually work with tight and strict deadlines. These professionals need to learn how to plan in advance so that they are better able to cope with the tasks, function effectively, and accomplish everything that they need to accomplish at any given workday.

You are an efficient communicator.

As a cost estimator, you will be working with clients and other professionals whose work relates to construction management such as engineers, architects, contractors, and businessmen. You need to be able to coordinate and communicate well with any given professional that you encounter in the course of your work. You should be able to relate to them and communicate well in order for you to achieve your goals and come up with projects of excellent quality.


How Do You Become a Cost Estimator?

Becoming a cost estimator takes only three simple steps. What you do need to make sure to be able to be successful at the job is to practice dedication as it takes years of experience to become a trusted estimator. In detail, here are the things you need to do in order for you to become a cost estimator:

Finish a Bachelor’s Degree in a related field

A few cost estimator positions might not require a bachelor’s degree, but those jobs are usually reserved for people who have had extensive experience in construction. Usually, cost estimator jobs would require applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree in construction management or any related field such as engineering, finance, or business. These degrees usually include courses that are highly relevant and useful for the responsibilities that the job entails.

Obtain some relevant work experience

You will find that contenders with work experience in  any industry related field, on top of having a bachelor’s degree, are much more favored by employers. As mentioned above, some cost estimators get their titles despite not having a bachelor’s degree, owing to their extensive experience in terms of work.

Is this the best path to becoming a cost estimator?

It depends on how you started, and what level of work experience you already have. If you have been working for construction firms for a long time already, say, as a surveyor, you can advance to become a cost estimator without a degree if your employer sees you as a fit candidate.

However, if you are just starting out your career, or are just fresh out of school and have no experience at all, investing some time and resource in obtaining a bachelor’s degree can be more rewarding in the long term as you have more options to advance into positions like project management as part of your job growth.

Learn some industry-relevant skills 

Most industry-relevant skills would be learned on the job. Examples of these skills are computer-aided design (CAD), building information modeling, and familiarization with the specific software and databases that are used by the company. If you can learn some of these skills ahead of time to give you at least a rough idea on how to do the job smoothly, that could give you a defining advantage.

What are the Knowledge and Skills Needed to be a Cost Estimator?

Being a cost estimator is no joke. It requires a robust set of specialized knowledge and skills that would enable one to perform the tasks and responsibilities that come with the job. Here are some of the most crucial knowledge and skills that are needed to be a cost estimator:


Computer-aided design (CAD) software like AutoCAD involves the use of computers in creating, modifying, analyzing, or optimizing a design. CAD was created to help increase efficiency in design, improve the quality of a designer’s output, document designs, and create databases for manufacturing.

There are many perks in learning CAD, as a cost estimator, it is not only useful but also, and more importantly, required. Some CAD software provides automatic cost estimation along with the design, and that is one crucial data that cost estimators need to work with.


Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a process that is widely used by professionals in the architecture, construction, and engineering field to gather insights and tools in order to better plan and execute designs. It is also useful in infrastructure management.

Since cost estimators fall under this field of profession, it is only right that they should have some understanding of BIM. The entire process is made up of various tools and technologies that you should also be familiar with.

Cost estimation

As expected, cost estimators need to have the fundamentals of cost estimation down to the core. Cost estimating is a process that produces a single value estimate that is made up of several component values. These are usually derived from materials used in engineering and construction when you are in the job, as well as how to estimate the time allocation as part of manpower resource cost estimates.


It is only natural for a profession that deals largely with numbers to require some high-level analytical skills. As a cost estimator, you will be evaluating and considering various manufacturing and construction methods. You will be presented with several different options, and you have to carefully analyze each one so that you can decide on the best method that meets the desired specifications while demanding the least cost. 

Business and Finance

Cost estimators have exposure to both sides of a project -the engineering and the business side. It is, therefore, important to have some business intelligence. Some cost estimators are even business graduates, and that’s because a significant portion of a cost estimator’s job revolves around the business side of things. Cost is a major element in running a business, and to be able to achieve success, one should have the fundamentals of proper costing and financial management.

Construction management and estimating software

Construction management software and cost estimating software allows you to have a better overview of the project workflows, and the project plan and helps you better understand whether a project is profitable before it’s finished. Plus, you can always check the project progress and align your estimations accordingly. You’ll also need to learn estimate and invoice software like Joist to automate some of your tasks, eliminating project redundancies. 

Below are some of the most popular schools that offer degrees in Construction Management:

  • Arizona State University – Tempe, Arizona
  • Wentworth Institute of Technology, Massachusetts
  • Virginia Tech, Virginia
  • University of Oklahoma Norman Campus, Oklahoma
  • Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College, Louisiana
  • Clemson University, South Carolina
  • Brigham Young University – Provo, Utah
  • Milwaukee School of Engineering, Wisconsin
  • John Brown University, Arkansas
  • Washington State University, Washington
  • Drexel University; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Norwich University; Northfield, Vermont
  • North Dakota State University – Main Campus; Fargo, North Dakota
  • Lawrence Technological University; Southfield, Michigan
  • University of Northern Iowa; Cedar Falls, Iowa
  • Ferris State University; Big Rapids, Michigan
  • Appalachian State University; Boone, North Carolina
  • University of Wisconsin – Stout; Menomonie, Wisconsin
  • Pittsburg State University; Pittsburg, Kansas
  • Northern Arizona University; Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Western Illinois University; Macomb, Illinois
  • Minnesota State University – Moorhead; Moorhead, Minnesota
  • Minnesota State University – Mankato; Mankato, Minnesota
  • The University of Texas at Tyler; Tyler, Texas
  • Missouri State University – Springfield; Springfield, Missouri
  • University of Alaska Anchorage; Anchorage, Alaska
  • Boise State University; Boise, Idaho
  • University of Central Missouri; Warrensburg, Missouri
  • Northern Kentucky University; Highland Heights, Kentucky
  • Central Connecticut State University; New Britain, Connecticut

For Civil Engineering degrees, below are some of the most top-rated schools: 

  • University of California–Berkeley; Berkeley, CA
  • Stanford University; Stanford, CA
  • University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign; Urbana, IL
  • Georgia Institute of Technology; Atlanta, GA
  • University of Texas–Austin (Cockrell); Austin, TX
  • Purdue University–West Lafayette;West Lafayette, IN
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Cambridge, MA
  • University of Michigan–Ann Arbor; Ann Arbor, MI
  • Carnegie Mellon University; Pittsburgh, PA
  • Virginia Tech; Blacksburg, VA
  • Cornell University; Ithaca, NY
  • Northwestern University (McCormick); Evanston, IL
  • University of California–Davis; Davis, CA
  • Arizona State University (Fulton); Tempe, AZ
  • Auburn University (Ginn); Auburn, AL
  • Brigham Young University; Provo, UT
  • California Institute of Technology; Pasadena, CA
  • California State University–Long Beach; Long Beach, CA
  • Case Western Reserve University; Cleveland, OH
  • Clarkson University; Potsdam, NY
  • Clemson University; Clemson, SC
  • Cleveland State University (Washkewicz); Cleveland, OH
  • Colorado School of Mines; Golden, CO
  • Colorado State University (Scott); Fort Collins, CO
  • Columbia University (Fu Foundation); New York, NY
  • CUNY–City College (Grove); New York, NY
  • Drexel University; Philadelphia, PA
  • Duke University (Pratt); Durham, NC
  • Florida A&M University – Florida State University; Tallahassee, FL
  • Florida Institute of Technology; Melbourne, FL

And for Business and Finance courses, check out these prime universities:

  • University of California—Los Angeles; Los Angeles
  • University of California—Berkeley; Berkeley, California
  • University of Michigan—Ann Arbor; Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Harvard University; Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Stanford University; Stanford, California
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan); Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Columbia University; New York City
  • New York University (Stern); New York City
  • University of Chicago (Booth); Chicago
  • University of Pennsylvania (Wharton); Philadelphia
  • University of California—Los Angeles (Anderson)Los Angeles

How to Get a Job as a Cost Estimator

Looking for a cost estimator job near you? It might be less tricky if you try out the following cost-estimator job hunting suggestions:

Directly apply with companies that hire cost estimators.

You can directly apply for cost estimation positions in companies that require such service. There are actually a couple of industries where cost estimation is in-demand. Below are the top industries that hire cost estimators:

Specialty trade contractors

These firms provide services that specialize in specific areas of the building construction process or non-building related tasks. 35%, the largest concentration of cost estimators, are found in specialty trade contractors; and that is because specialty trade is comprised of numerous industries that cost estimators can get into. Here is a breakdown of the different industries that specialty trade contractors serve:

  • Plumbing, heating, and air conditioning
  • Painting and paper hanging
  • Electrical work
  • Masonry and stonework
  • Tile setting and plastering
  • Carpentry work
  • Floor laying and other floor work
  • Roofing, siding, and sheet metal work
  • Concrete work
  • Water well drilling
  • Structural steel erection
  • Glass and glazing work
  • Excavation work
  • Wrecking and Commercial Demolition
  • Installation of building equipment


Construction firms have some of the highest concentrations of cost estimators in the industry. In this field, cost estimators are responsible for forecasting the cost of building a structure. The cost estimates that they provide then used by project owners and businessmen to determine the value and scope of a project, how to allocate funds, as well as its feasibility. 

For a more in-depth look at the role of cost estimation in construction, check out this article, which tackles construction cost estimating.


Around 12% of cost estimators are found in manufacturing. The manufacturing industry will always have a place for cost estimators because of the importance of the role that they play. Cost estimators estimate the time, money, labor, and materials required to make the act of manufacturing possible. Most of the time, estimators specialize in a specific product or line that a manufacturing facility produces. This is because different products undergo different processes, require different materials, and have different costs.

Automotive repair and maintenance

Another industry that requires the services of cost estimators is automotive repair and maintenance. Around 7% of cost estimators are found in this field. During the course of auto repair and maintenance, price quotations are a regular requirement. Costing for service or labor, as well as materials, are often requested by patrons prior to availing automotive services. 

Heavy construction and Civil engineering construction

Constructing buildings is vastly different from constructing non-building structures like bridges. It requires a different level of engineering, different processes, and different materials that may affect cost.

Here are some examples of heavy civil construction that make use of civil engineering principles:

  • Seaports, dams, and bridges
  • Roads and other transportation infrastructures like airports and runways
  • Waterways like canals
  • Large scale facilities such as spaceports and shipyards
  • Energy infrastructures such as wind farms

Look at online job search platforms.

Probably the easiest way to find cost estimator jobs is by searching online. There are various job search engines that you can choose from, and many of them post cost estimator jobs from different companies and industries. You can even create a profile in which potential employers can check you out and invite you to apply.

Here are some of the most popular job search websites today:

Look within your company

In case you are already employed in the construction or engineering field of duty, you might not need to look too far for a cost estimator job. Sometimes, companies like to do internal hiring because this eliminates the need to acclimate new members into the culture. Internal hiring also has other benefits, such as:

  • Reduction of the hiring process since the “new” hire will need to undertake fewer steps like the ones he or she has already taken when initially absorbed into the company.
  • Shortened onboarding time since the person is likely already familiar with the general processes within the company.
  • Less cost due to lesser process needs like background checks, job postings, and search engine subscriptions.
  • It gives other employees something to look forward to since they won’t see their position within the company as a dead-end job because of the option for career advancement or change within the company itself.

Learn About Geographic and Location Pay Differentials

Cost estimator salaries vary from state to state. If you want a bigger pay, you should try to consider relocating to states where the compensation is a bit higher. Here is a table comparison of the cost estimator pay differentials per state according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

State2019 Mean Annual Wage
Alaska$ 85,450
Hawaii$ 85,120
Massachusetts$ 81,270
Connecticut$ 79,780
California$ 79,610
New York$ 78,120
Washington$ 76,860
New Jersey$ 75,880
Texas$ 75,250
Colorado$ 74,630
Virginia$ 74,210
Maryland$ 73,950
Wyoming$ 72,910
Illinois$ 71,890
Missouri$ 71,620
Oregon$ 71,270
Georgia$ 70,760
Rhode Island$ 70,630
Delaware$ 70,500
Pennsylvania$ 69,740
North Dakota$ 69,730
Utah$ 69,450
Iowa$ 68,530
Louisiana$ 68,440
Minnesota$ 68,130
State2019 Mean Annual Wage
Vermont$ 67,730
Arizona$ 67,710
Tennessee$ 67,710
Ohio$ 67,030
West Virginia$ 67,020
Kansas$ 66,780
Nevada$ 66,770
New Hampshire$ 66,770
Maine$ 66,290
Kentucky$ 65,430
Michigan$ 65,110
Oklahoma$ 63,520
Indiana$ 64,820
Florida$ 64,000
North Carolina$ 63,930
Mississippi$ 63,840
Arkansas$ 62,870
South Carolina$ 62,490
Alabama$ 60,840
Idaho$ 60,540
Wisconsin$ 60,380
Nebraska$ 59,480
New Mexico$ 59,450
Montana$ 59,070
South Dakota$ 57,660

Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Make Your Resume Stand Out

With so many job applicants out there, you should aim to get noticed -in a good light. Your resume can easily do this for you, provided that you know how to tweak it in such a way that it not only catches but also retains the readers’ attention. Here are a few resume writing tips you can try when making your resume:

Keep it plain and simple

Choose a plain white or neutral-colored background for your resume. Avoid distracting colors that might be unpleasant and unprofessional-looking to the hiring manager. Additionally, choose a plain and professional-looking font that is simple and easy to read. Avoid cursives at all costs since those can sometimes be hard to decipher and may make your resume end up looking like a wedding invitation. It would be best if you also avoided chunky or awkward-looking fonts. The goal of crafting your resume is to look serious and not funny or artsy.

Use bullet points and avoid long paragraphs

Hiring managers go through so many applications on any given day. The hiring manager who reads your resume will likely be in a rush. If you wind them along with lengthy sentences and paragraphs, you might quickly lose their interest and lose your chance at being noticed. Lengthy paragraphs are one of the reasons why some resumes never get noticed.

Instead, write important details in bullets so that the one who reads it can quickly scan through it and get the gist of your qualifications without wasting much time.

Begin at the end

Since experience can play to your advantage in this type of job, it would be advantageous for you to detail your work experience first -starting from the most recent and then down to your first. This way, your potential employer will see your most relevant experience and how it makes you the perfect candidate for the job.

Include any additional credentials

If you have any additional credentials such as certification in specialized software like CAD, make sure to include those and highlight them in your resume. Place them at the top or a boxed corner where they will be noticed. Having credentials to relevant special skills makes you a more favorable candidate in the eyes of an employer since it means that you have invested in your skills, and you are a potentially valuable team member if they choose to hire you.

Ace Your Cost Estimator Interview

Once your resume gets through, it’s time to prepare for your interview. Here are a few examples of interview questions you might encounter when applying for a cost estimator job and how you can tackle each:

What software programs are you familiar with?

There are a lot of software programs that are available for you to determine cost estimates. These electronic resources are available for professionals to be able to come up with the most accurate results. This question aims to uncover how tech-savvy an applicant is when it comes to technologies that may be useful in the job. You should be able to name a couple of software programs that professional cost estimators commonly use.

How well do you think you can handle presenting reports to upper management?

Part of your role as a cost estimator is to present finished reports to decision-makers. The reports you produce will be used by them to come up with logical decisions in terms of how a project may proceed and how it will be budgeted. Not only do you need to relay information, but you should also be able to deliver it clearly enough so that it is understood by all -even and especially the ones who have to background in cost estimation.

How do you get an accurate cost analysis?

Every estimator has his or her own process in coming up with cost analysis. When answering this question, try to walk the listener through the steps that you undertake when determining costs. If you can, it would be better to provide an example of a project or situation wherein you come up with a cost analysis in the end. Your process shows the employer how you work, what methods matter to you the most, and whether or not you are a suitable candidate to match the company’s needs.

How do you deal with estimates that are off?

There are situations where your reports might not be as accurate as needed, and this might have some repercussions on the project or construction at hand. This question does not test your perfection, but rather your resilience and how you cope with adversity. If you can, try to recount instances when things didn’t go as planned and how you dealt with it. Give them a glimpse of your abilities to adapt to change and recover from setbacks.

Top Online Courses for Aspiring Cost Estimators

Sharpen your skills in cost estimation by taking these top online courses

Here are some carefully curated online courses that you can take to level up your knowledge at work and give you a defining edge against others in the field:

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"Great strategies to help improve and optimize your LinkedIn profile. I would recommend this course to all job seekers."

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