What Does a Cost Estimator Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A day in the life of a cost estimator: Communicate efficiently with clients, handle large amounts of details information, analyze project requirements to accurately estimate costs

The Balance / Theresa Chiechi

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.

Cost Estimator Duties & Responsibilities

As part of their day's regular duties and tasks, a cost estimator may perform some or all of the following:

  • Obtain material pricing and organize all the information necessary to create and submit proposals to clients
  • Use detailed spreadsheets and company-approved formulas to calculate the projected costs of proposed projects
  • Review blueprints and product specifications to accurately determine the quantities of materials needed
  • Solicit and review subcontractor proposals and help with contract negotiations
  • Document total materials needed, including detail regarding all codes, brands, and contact information necessary to process orders
  • Work with various involved parties, such as designers, architects, owner's reps, and general contractors

Cost Estimator Salary

A cost estimator's salary varies based on the area of expertise, level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Education, Training & Certification

The cost estimator position involves fulfilling education, training, and other requirements as follows:

  • Education: 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.
  • Training: 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.
  • Experience: 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.
  • Certification: 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.

Cost Estimator Skills & Competencies

In addition to education and other requirements, candidates that possess the following skills may be able to perform more successfully in the job:

  • Analytical skills: You must be able to analyze project requirements to accurately estimate costs for each component.
  • Listening and verbal communication skills: You'll need to communicate efficiently, clearly, and effectively with various clients, colleagues, suppliers, and other parties.
  • Critical thinking: Critical thinking and solid decision-making skills are a must in this job.
  • Time management skills: You should be able to juggle multiple tasks and provide cost estimates in a timely manner to help projects stay on time and on budget.
  • Detail oriented: Project plans involve a large degree of detailed information, and cost-estimating mistakes can be potentially costly.

Job Outlook

The job outlook in this field is promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts job growth will be 11%, which is faster than the average of 7% for all occupations between 2016 and 2026. This growth is driven by continued growth in the construction industry.

Work Environment

Employers include specialty trade contractors, building construction firms, manufacturers, automotive repair and maintenance companies, and civil engineering firms.

Work Schedule

Most jobs are full-time positions, and 25% of cost estimators work over 40 hours per week. 

How to Get the Job


Highlight relevant experience on your resume and consider completing any additional coursework or certifications that could help you gain an edge in the hiring process.


 Attend industry and trade organization events to network and meet potential hiring managers and referral sources.


Look at job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also visit your college career center to find job openings.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in a cost estimator career also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018