Career Choice: Cost Estimator

Career Choice: Cost Estimator
  • Opening Intro -

    Cost estimators take on a critical role for senior management.

    When a project is being considered, management turns to cost estimators to learn what those expenses will be.


This professional will provide a cost estimate as close to the project total cost as possible, offering a figure that management will consider and budget if the project is green-lighted.


Cost estimators work in a variety of industries, but are particularly used in manufacturing and in construction. These professionals liaise with senior management, consult with vendors and construction foremen to discuss and devise pricing estimates. Estimators review blueprints and related documentation, considering the cost of materials, labor and the time required to complete a job.

Cost estimators meet with contractors including architects, construction teams, property owners and engineers to prepare their estimates. They will assess costs and monitor same, and produce reports for management review. Cost estimators may conduct special studies to evaluate and implement cost reduction methods for future project considerations.


The typical cost estimator is analytical, organized, well-connected and confident. This individual is highly skilled in a number of areas including engineering, computing, finances and communication.

Most cost estimators have a bachelor’s degree although the US Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that, “some highly experienced construction workers with analytical abilities may qualify,” even without that degree. Those with a degree are expected to have a background in their chosen field whether that be mathematics, finances or engineering. On-the-job-training is a key component of the learning process, with new cost estimators working with experienced professionals as they learn their job.

Certification is voluntary and is available usually after two years of work and by passing an exam. Publishing a paper in the field may also be a requirement. The Society of Cost Estimating and Analysis, the American Society of Professional Estimators and the Association for the Advancement of Cost Estimating International each offer certification.


The average median annual wage for cost estimators was $58,640 as of 2011 according to the BLS. Those professionals in the 10th percentile earned $34,500 per year on average, while those in the 25th percentile made about $44,400. Cost estimators in the 50th percentile earned $58,400 per year on average in 2011. Those in the 75th percentile averaged $76,400 per year, while those in the 90th percentile earned $96,000 per year on average.

Top pay for cost estimators was found in far-flung regions of the United States. In the US Virgin Islands, cost estimators earned $78,300 per year on average. In Alaska, the average salary was $77,900 per year. In Guam, cost estimators averaged $73,000 per year.

On the other end of the pay spectrum, professionals in Puerto Rico earned $31,100 per year, far below any state. In South Dakota, the average salary in 2011 came in at $44,800 per year.

Job Outlook

If you pursue a career as a cost estimator, your job prospects are bright. The BLS has estimated a 36 percent job growth from 2010 to 2020, for one of the fastest growing careers. That growth compares to a 14 percent increase for all jobs.

Growth prospects look particularly good in several areas including construction, as an aged national infrastructure needs to repaired, updated or replaced. The BLS notes that budding professionals that understand Building Information Modeling (BIM) software are particularly prized by employers.


O*Net OnLine: 13-1051.00 – Cost Estimators

US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Cost Estimators

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Categories: Career Planning