In some past postings I have described what you might be looking for in the ideal production manager, the ideal lead carpenter, and the ideal office manager. Let’s look now at the ideal estimator.

What does the right hire look like? Here are some things to keep in mind. I will be referring to DISC, a personality assessment tool, as I describe the candidate.

The Profile

Imagine a graph with a horizontal midpoint. Across the top are the letters D, I, S, C. If the person is high-D then the point on the graph below “D” would be high up. If the individual has a bit of D, then the point on the graph would be nearer to the middle of the graph, likely just below the midpoint, and so on for all four quadrants.

“D” refers to Dominant, one of the four quadrants of the DISC. An estimator is likely to have little “D” in his profile.

Having D below the midline of the graph indicates that the individual is able to take direction from others, is not an overly aggressive take-charge person, and might not be able to say what is on his mind without letting a lot of issues build up. A lower amount of D in the profile does make it so the estimator will be able to follow directions well. When interviewing the candidate, ask about his preferred way of being given direction.

The complete absence of D might make the candidate too uncomfortable with conflict to be able to “manage” the trade contractors and suppliers he will need to be interacting with.

“I” refers to Influencer. Many good salespeople are higher-I. A good estimator candidate is somewhere around the horizontal midpoint of the graph or below it. In other words, she is not controlled by this aspect of her personality.

Having higher-I inclines someone to talk more than less, often usually about himself. If the estimator were to talk a lot, several things can happen. He might be prone to making more mistakes than someone who is more focused on the work. And he might not take direction as well as he needs to because he is not paying close attention to what is being discussed.

This could turn out to be a disaster for the company, as the estimator is supposed to be figuring out the scope and costs of projects and truly needs to be able to focus on that work. If the estimator has a tendency to talk about matters that are not relevant to the job he is supposed to be doing, then the company will be in bad shape.

“S” refers to Steady or Supporter. Your estimator candidate should have “S” near the horizontal midpoint of the graph. In other words, he would not be controlled by this aspect of his personality.

A high-S person wants the approval of those he works with. To get that approval, a high-S person will place his own needs below those of who he works for and with. This isn’t good for an estimator because he should be doing what the owner sets him up to do, not what the trade contractors and suppliers he interacts with want him to do. Again, the estimator’s manager needs to be checking in with these vendors to make sure the estimator does a good job making them feel valued while the estimator focuses on the company’s goals regarding getting the most work for the lowest price from a provider.

“C” refers to Compliant. Your estimator candidate would have “C” somewhere above the horizontal midpoint and the top of the graph. C refers to a person’s desire to follow the rules. If the estimator’s “C” was very low, then he would not follow the company’s rules and would not do what he was told to do. If his “C” is extremely high, he might get stuck trying to figure out solutions to inconsequential problems (paralysis by analysis).

Other Factors

OK, that’s it for DISC. But what else should be considered?

How does the candidate “fit” with the rest of the company? The estimator is an office person who needs to get the backing of the production department. Pay attention to the candidate’s ability to work well with others, while not wanting to or needing to have to work with others all day every day. If he cannot do it with grace, the production department is not likely to trust the information the estimator prepares.

Debra Thornton Photography

Time management skills and communication skills are essential. The estimator needs to be able to take the initiative and not be waiting for people to hold him accountable. The rub is that someone who is focused on getting and laying out accurate information can sometimes move slowly and deliberately in the pursuit of perfection. Finding the balance is difficult. The estimator will need a manager who is good at anticipating this issue and who will regularly be checking in with the estimator, providing focused feedback on how the estimator can become even better. When interviewing, pay attention to how the candidates make you feel. If a candidate does not make you feel that your wellbeing is very important to him, then be careful. At the same time, acknowledge that with a higher “C” person you will not experience too much warmth and fuzziness.

Know that, as with most positions, the first person you hire will likely not last long. Don’t hang on to someone who is driving you nuts hoping it will eventually work out. The estimator is too important to all those in the company — and to those that the company works with — to have someone who just doesn’t get it in that position.

If it doesn’t work out, then learn what you can and move on to the next candidate. Eventually you will have a keeper. Enjoy him while you have him!

—Paul Winans, a veteran remodeler, now works as a facilitator for Remodelers Advantage, and as a consultant to remodeling business owners. Contact him at