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Cost Estimator

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6.8 percent

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A product or service is nothing without the eyes, ears and attention spans used to estimate how they will be manufactured, constructed, managed and priced. These are just some of the challenges cost estimators meet daily. Nearly every endeavor to launch a new invention or program needs someone to estimate what it will cost and analyze the reasons why, says Joe Wagner, executive director of the International Cost Estimating and Analysis Association. "You may estimate or analyze the costs of cars, aircraft, ships, software systems, bridges, electronics, manufacturing facilities, satellites, government programs, etc.," he says. "You also may analyze what something is already costing, or why it is costing more or less than previously estimated." Many cost estimators work in nonresidential building construction or for building equipment contractors. Unlike financial analysts, cost estimators don't directly counsel businesses and individuals on making investment decisions. They collect and analyze data to estimate the time, resources and labor required for product manufacturing or construction projects.

As companies continue their search for top-notch cost projections and cost-effective products and services, the need for cost estimators will rise. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment growth of about 26 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is much faster than the average for all occupations and translates to more than 53,000 new jobs.


With a median salary of $58,860 per year, cost estimators wade at the deeper end of the construction-work earning pool. However, they are employed in nearly any industry that offers goods and services. The best-paid earned an impressive $96,670 in 2012, while the lowest earners took home $34,520. Industries that compensate cost estimators the best include oil and gas extraction and wireless telecommunication carriers. The profession's highest-paid reside in the metropolitan areas of Santa Barbara, Calif., San Francisco and Taunton, Mass.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $77,130
Median $58,860
25th Percentile $44,630


While a four-year degree is not a requirement, a bachelor's degree in construction management or building science and related work experience in accounting, finance, business or economics will give applicants a leg up on the job hunt. Job seekers interested in estimating manufacturing costs should pursue degrees in engineering, physical sciences, mathematics or statistics. Shadowing a veteran cost estimator and on-the-job training are good ways to gain experience in the field. Hands-on experience is particularly important, as it gives applicants the chance to see and learn how the company handles estimates firsthand.

Reviews & Advice

Much like other construction jobs, cost estimators must possess a strong set of analytical and technical skills. Critical thinking, attention to detail, time management and strong speaking and writing skills are also important. Wagner says it's not difficult to break into cost estimating, but applicants should keep two crucial, job-search elements in mind: location and business-activity level. "Much of the cost world is oriented to major projects, programs and industries," he says. "You are much more likely to find a junior cost position in those places where large industrial or government projects and industries are located – particularly new and growing projects." Wagner encourages applicants to hone in on industries or organizations that are in a build-up or growth phase. "These young and growing projects are where costing is a critical function in new developments and where the most opportunities can be found," he says.

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility fair Average
Stress Level poor Above Average
Flexibility poor Below Average
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Last updated by Stephanie Steinberg.

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