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Cost Estimator Career

Career Description

A Cost Estimator develops the cost information that business owners or managers need to make a bid for a contract or to decide on the profitability of a proposed new product or project. They also determine which endeavors are making a profit.

Common Work Tasks

  • Compile and analyze data on all of the factors that can influence costs, such as materials, labor, location, duration of the project, and special machinery requirements, including computer hardware and software
  • Gather information on access to the construction site; the availability of electricity, water, and other services; and surface topography and drainage
  • Determine the quantity of materials and labor the firm will need to furnish
  • Complete standard estimating forms, fill in dimensions, numbers of units, and other information
  • Analyze bids made by subcontractors and make decisions concerning equipment needs, the sequence of operations, the size of the crew required, and physical constraints at the site
  • Prepare a cost summary for projects, including the costs of labor, equipment, materials, subcontracts, overhead, taxes,  insurance, markup, and any other costs that may affect the project
  • Work with engineers  reviewing blueprints or conceptual drawings to determine the machining operations, tools, gauges, and materials that would be required
  • Prepare a parts list and determine whether it is more efficient to produce or to purchase the parts
  • Calculate the standard labor hours necessary to produce a specified number of units
  • Compare the cost of purchasing parts with the firm’s estimated cost of manufacturing them to determine which is cheaper

Other Job Titles

Cost Estimators are also known by other titles, including:

  • Price Analyst
  • Production Control Analyst
  • Operations Research Analyst
  • Construction Manager
  • Budget Analyst
  • Financial Analyst

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
  Job entry requirements for a cost estimator vary by industry. Most employers prefer to hire individuals with a degree in engineering, physical science, operations research, mathematics, or statistics or in accounting, finance, business,  economics, or a related subject. In most industries, experience in quantitative techniques is important. Estimators also receive much training on the job because every company has its own way of handling estimates. Working with an experienced estimator, newcomers become familiar with each step in the process.

Certification and Licensure
      Voluntary certification can be valuable to cost estimators because it provides professional recognition of the estimator’s competence and experience. In some instances, individual employers may even require professional certification for employment. Both AACE International and SCEA administer certification programs. To become certified,  estimators usually must have between 2 and 8 years of estimating experience and must pass an examination. In addition, certification requirements may include the publication of at least one article or paper in the field.

          Cost estimators should have an aptitude for mathematics; be able to quickly analyze,  compare, and interpret detailed but sometimes poorly defined information; and be able to make sound and accurate judgments based on this information. The ability to focus on details, while analyzing and overcoming larger obstacles,  is essential. Assertiveness and self-confidence in presenting and supporting conclusions are also important, as are strong communications and interpersonal skills, because estimators may work as part of a team alongside managers,  owners, engineers, and design professionals. Cost estimators also need knowledge of computers, including word-processing and spreadsheet packages. In some instances, familiarity with special estimation software or programming skills also may be required.


The median annual salary of a Cost Estimator is $55,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $91,000 annually, and the bottom 10 percent earn less than $33,000 annually. Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of cost estimators are:

  • Building Equipment Contractors - $61,630
  • Nonresidential Building Construction - $66,470
  • Residential Building Construction - $58,740
  • Building Finishing Contractors - $56,930
  • Foundation, Structure, and Building Exterior Contractors - $58,270

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  19%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 41,000
  • Employment 2006 : 221,000
  • Employment 2016:  262,000
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