How to hire a construction estimator in a difficult job market

Posted 28/3/2022

You’ve probably heard the stories and read the headlines. The “great resignation” has emptied offices everywhere, and companies are struggling more than ever to hire great people.

At the same time, in many parts of the world, there’s an aging workforce, and many have chosen to retire early during the pandemic.

Even under the best circumstances, one of the most complicated roles to fill in most construction companies is that of construction estimator. Here’s how you can beat the odds and find a great construction estimator for your business, even now.

Give Yourself Longer Than You Think You Will Need

Most of us have a timeline after which we hope to have a new construction estimator hired, using our construction estimating software and getting jobs lined up for our team.

Most of us also underestimate the time it can take to find the right person. Estimating is one of the most complex roles in any construction company. It’s technical, but also includes sales and marketing elements. Construction estimators need to have detailed product knowledge, but they also need to know how construction is done on site, so they can accurately estimate labour.

It’s part art, part science and a whole lot of hands-on experience, and that’s a tough combination to find in the workforce. It will take time, so resign yourself to that and take as much time as it needs to find the right person, and don't be in a hurry to hire just to fill the seat.

Be Specific in Your Job Ads for the Construction Estimator Position

Construction estimator is a very broadterm, in an industry where there are very few generalists.

Most construction estimators specialize in a particular field, and while there is some overlap at times, they usually try to stay in the same industry.

So, if you want to make sure you get the right kind of applicants for your industry, make sure you include all the information about the industry, the role, and your company. All of those things will help to narrow the field and ensure you don’t spend a lot of time interviewing people who aren’t suitable.

Know the Going Rate

When you’re hiring for any role, it’s important to offer a market related remuneration and benefit package. Construction estimators are very specialized, and there are not that many great ones out there, so this is even more important.

Spend some time researching what other people are offering for estimators in your city and industry. Use sites like PayScale to look up salary data for your area and base your offer around that information.

Good estimators don’t come cheap, but they’re worth the investment because they will bring in more business for your company.

Be Open to Hybrid Work and Flexible Arrangements

In a post pandemic world, research has shown that the single biggest factor for many people is being able to work from home – at least some of the time. In fact, many people who were surveyed said that if they had to return to the office after working from home during the pandemic, they would consider quitting.

Being open to flexible work arrangements or even hybrid work where some of the time is in the office and some is work from home might allow you to attract applicants that you might not have been able to reach otherwise.

There’s no denying that estimating can be a hands-on role, and your new construction estimator might have to spend some time in the office and even on site. But there are probably many things that they can do from home, and if they’re getting the job done, does it really matter where they are when they do it?

Consider Hiring Recently Graduated Students…

If you need to hire a construction estimator but you can’t afford someone who has many years of experience in your industry, there is another option: recently graduated students.

There are several fields of study that lend themselves towards the construction estimator field, including construction management, engineering, or architecture. There are also several construction estimators programs out there.

Contact your local technical colleges and other tertiary institutions and ask if they have a student placement program. These programs are designed to help students find jobs after they graduate. Provide them with the job description and other information, and they will help to connect you with suitable candidates.

… Or Promoting from Within

While it’s good to have formal qualifications before you become a construction estimator, it’s not absolutely essential. Many construction estimators don’t have much or even any formal training, and many come up through the ranks – sometimes even from the field.

If you’re struggling to hire a construction estimator for your company, consider looking at the staff you already have. There’s a good chance there is someone who is already on your team who has the aptitude and ability to become a construction estimator. Once trained, they are likely to do a great job because they have hands on knowledge about your industry and your company.

Use a Practical Test During Your Interviews

Sometimes, we all get blinded by credentials. When you’re hiring a construction estimator, it’s very easy to be convinced that someone is right for the role because the person has – at least on the surface – the “right” qualifications.

But being perfect for the role on paper doesn’t mean your prospective cost estimator has what it takes to get the job done in practice.

Consider giving potential hires a practical test during the interview process. Ask them how they would do a takeoff for a project, or how they might solve a particular problem. Give them a blueprint to interpret or ask them to write a specification for something you do regularly.

The results and answers they give you don’t have to be perfect, but you should be able to follow the thought process behind them. Estimatng is often about problem solving on the fly, and this is a great test to see if your candidates have what it takes.

Be Prepared to Train Extensively

It is an absolute myth that a construction estimator can walk into your company and start working with no training at all.

Every construction company is different. Each one uses different construction estimating software. You have different processes, different production rates, use different suppliers and have different labor-saving tools and equipment.

It will take most estimators (even those with training and experience) at least a couple of months to settle into their new role. Until they do, make yourself available to answer questions and provide information.

If this is the first time you are hiring a new estimator, or you haven’t hired one for a while, you might not be ready for the onboarding process. So let your new estimator drive the training period. They will tell you what they need help with and ask questions they need answers to.

Set Them Up to Succeed

If you’ve been doing your own estimating for years, and you’re not using construction estimating software, you’ve probably got a highly personal, somewhat complex system. Trying to teach your personal estimating system to someone else when it’s based on custom spreadsheets, calculations in pencil and gut feel is not going to work.

If you don’t already have construction estimating software, hiring a new estimator is the perfect time to implement a big change like this. They won’t have to try to master your complicated system, and you can finally get your estimating department up to date with technology.

Give Them Time to Settle In

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about hiring a construction estimator is that you need to give it time.

Even the best estimators will take some time to settle into a new role. They have to learn how you do things, how to use your construction estimating software and where you buy your materials.

They need to gather production information from the field, learn how you handle change orders and find their spot in your company culture.

Many construction company owners and managers get impatient a little too quickly and assume that a new construction estimator hire is not working out after just a few weeks. Try to remember that it has taken you years or even decades to master your industry – so it’s only fair to give them a few months to catch up!

CostCertified Makes Onboarding Estimators Easier

Training a new estimator is a complex process. It can take months or even years before your new construction estimator is completely comfortable in the role.

Construction estimating software like CostCertified can make the process a lot easier for everyone involved. In fact, once set up, your new estimator should be able to create new quotes in a matter of minutes.

CostCertified is also a cloud-based construction estimating software, so if you do decide to let your new construction estimator work from home part of the time (or hire a fully remote employee) they won’t have any trouble getting the job done.

So, if you need your new construction estimator to hit the ground running, it might be time to upgrade your software, and get the best construction estimating software on your side.

Make it easy for your new estimator to find their feet! Book a FREE 15-minute call now and discover how you can set your estimating team up to succeed.