What is a career as a cost estimator like?

An online business degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham opens the door for graduates to pursue a variety of specialized careers in the professional world. As you consider earning an online bachelor’s degree, such as an online Bachelor of Science in Finance or an online Bachelor of Science in Industrial Distribution, keep the dynamic role of cost estimator in mind.

Let’s review the purpose and day-to-day activities of a career in cost estimation and what aspiring professionals can expect to see in a cost estimator job description.

What is a cost estimator?

A cost estimator is responsible for estimating the costs of a large-scale project, and must first collect and analyze project-specific data that will help them prepare estimates. They start by gathering financial data and use it to generate an estimate of the money, labor, materials, and production time it will take to complete a given project.

These professionals are often found in product manufacturing, where they are called manufacturing cost estimators, or in construction, where they are known as construction cost estimators. With the right skill set and experience level, they can work for manufacturers, construction firms, engineering companies, or third-party contractors.

In each work environment, their ability to accurately estimate manufacturing and construction costs is highly valuable to decision-makers — from leaders in the C-suite to construction managers and project managers. These professionals use the work of an estimator to help ensure the cost-effectiveness of any given construction project or manufacturing process.

What are the main responsibilities of a cost estimator?

In manufacturing, a cost estimator could help their company determine all of the financial commitments necessary for creating a new product. This includes everything from the raw materials and labor required to build the goods, to the cost of acquiring, storing, and distributing the components and finished products. A cost estimator working on a construction site would have a similar objective, but they would estimate costs related to a large-scale build such as an office complex, high-rise structure, or bridge.

Much of a cost estimator’s attention is dedicated to tracking down, analyzing, and interpreting pricing data that will help them make accurate projections. They may review technical documents and fee schedules for up-to-date figures and timeframes and use manufacturing or construction cost estimating software to process the data.

As any cost estimator job description will indicate, the role involves a great deal of communication. Professional estimators discuss cost data with suppliers, architects, and other partners. They also maintain relationships with sales teams to produce clean, client-facing reports and stay abreast of ongoing projects. In many cases, they are responsible for reviewing progress and spending activities to create adjusted estimates that take new information into account. As projects move forward, they look for ways to lower the expenses associated with these ongoing efforts.

How much do cost estimators make?

The cost estimator role can be a lucrative one for those who secure long-term employment in such a position. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median annual salary of a cost estimator was $64,040 in 2018.

A site supervisor reviews construction progress with a cost estimator.

The job outlook for cost estimators is also especially positive. The BLS estimates a 9% growth rate, resulting in a total of 236,100 cost estimator positions, including roughly 18,700 new job openings, by 2028. Compared to the 5% growth estimated across all occupations, this market is expanding faster than average.

What does a typical cost estimator job description include?

Students and aspiring professionals eager to enter this field should be aware of what the average cost estimator job description looks like, so they can prepare accordingly.

First of all, employers typically look to see that an applicant’s highest level of education includes a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as finance, engineering, accounting, business, or industrial distribution. They will also look for the right combination of technical capabilities and soft skills.

Technology drives modern commerce, so employers seek candidates with the aptitude for navigating a variety of computer programs and digital platforms, including accounting programs, analytics software, databases, project management tools, and sophisticated cost estimating software. Some experience with industry-specific software, like computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM), may also be important to some employers.

Furthermore, according to the BLS and O*Net, analytical skills like critical thinking and quantitative reasoning, as well as communication skills, are essential to success in this position. Cost estimation isn’t always a straightforward process, so professionals in this role should also demonstrate the persistence and detail-oriented approach it takes to develop well-researched and informative reports.

To successfully pass through the hiring process, applicants will need previous work experience in either the construction or manufacturing sector. A few years of experience in a lower-level position will allow emerging professionals to receive on-the-job training and increase their knowledge about the cost factors that estimators need to navigate.

How do you become a cost estimator?

To become a professional estimator, students will need to earn an undergraduate degree. In many cases, employers prefer a bachelor’s degree in engineering, accounting, finance, industrial distribution, or business. A strong understanding of accounting principles, standards, and processes is essential for students who aspire to be professional estimators. Locating, verifying, and analyzing financial information requires a solid finance background and business aptitude.

Earning an online BS in Finance or an online BS in Industrial Distribution from UAB’s Collat School of Business is a great way for professionals to start their journey toward this career. These programs offer a well-rounded business education, empowering professionals to develop the industry-specific skills and knowledge a typical cost estimator job description calls for.

The finance curriculum includes courses such as Financial Accounting and Information Systems to help students develop an aptitude for an estimator’s way of thinking. Similarly, the industrial distribution curriculum exposes students to Principles of Accounting, Microeconomics, and Macroeconomics.

In both programs, additional learning opportunities through upper-level core courses such as Operations Management and Business Communications give students additional context around the workflows of modern businesses, which helps to inform many cost estimation tasks.

UAB’s online program allows students to earn an online BS in Finance or online BS in Industrial Distribution on their own schedule in a fully asynchronous, digital learning environment. With UAB, learners can progress at their own pace while balancing their other professional and personal responsibilities. To learn more about earning an online business degree from UAB, get in touch with a program advisor today.

Recommended Readings:


Sales Engineer: Explore Careers and the Value of an Online BS in Industrial Distribution

Career Opportunities for Finance Majors


O*Net — Cost Estimators

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — Cost Estimators