How to Become a General Contractor

Learn how to become a general contractor. Research the education and career requirements, licensure and experience required for starting a career as a general contractor.

Do I Want to Be a General Contractor?

General contractors, who may also be referred to as construction managers, oversee and coordinate construction projects from start to completion. They may work on residences or office structures, as well as on infrastructure projects such as bridges, roads, hospitals, or schools. Among a general contractor's responsibilities are managing the project budget, hiring and supervising contractors and laborers, choosing materials, keeping the project on schedule, problem solving, and coordinating with other project leaders such as engineers or architects. To make sure structures are legal, general contractors must understand and comply with all relevant safety codes and regulations.

Construction managers work at least full-time, although their schedules include on-call and longer hours, as needed in order to meet deadlines. Such managers split their time between an office setting, sometimes on the construction site, and on the field of construction, overseeing progress. Some travel may be required to multiple construction sites. Many general contractors are hired project-by-project and lapses between employment are possible.

Job Requirements

Associate's and bachelor's degrees in construction management can be useful to an aspiring general contractor depending on prior experience and goals. Those with an associate's degree may need several years of experience before obtaining a general contractor position. Those with a bachelor's degree may work as assistants before earning a promotion. Certification is not required, but may be valuable when seeking employment. The table below includes information about how to become a general contractor.

Common Requirements
Degree Level Associate's or bachelor's degree*
Degree Field Construction management*
Certification Voluntary certification is desirable*
Experience 2-7+ years of experience in the field, depending on the position and type of construction***
Key Skills Communication, time management (with ability to meet tight deadlines), decision making, personal initiative*
Computer Skills Proficiency with spreadsheet software, such as Excel, and construction software, such as Timberline**
Technical Skills Knowledge of latest construction technology, read blueprints and technical drawings, interpret contracts*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ** job ads (July 2012), ***

Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers increasingly prefer general contractors with experience, as well as a bachelor's degree in a construction-related major, such as construction management, construction engineering or architecture. Programs in these majors provide training in construction, design and business, and also give students practical experience through internships. Specific topics may include construction materials, sustainability, surveying, blueprint reading, estimating, risk management and contracting.

Those already working in the construction industry may find that having an associate's degree in construction management or construction technology could increase advancement opportunities. Associate's degree programs focus on topics like accounting, project scheduling, building codes and contracts. Students learn construction techniques such as roofing, finishing and framing. Instruction on how to read blueprints, estimate project costs, use construction tools and operate machinery is also important.

Success Tips:

  • Consider an associate's degree if a bachelor's degree isn't an option. Enrolling in a bachelor's degree program right out of high school may not be an option for everyone. An associate's degree in construction management may open the door to entry-level work in the industry and, after graduating, academic credits can probably be transferred towards a bachelor's degree program later on.
  • While in school, focus on sustainability and energy efficiency. The use of green technology is growing for both new construction and the retrofitting of already existing structures. This includes not only private construction but the nation's infrastructure of roads, sewers, bridges, airports and dams as well. General contractors who are well-versed in green technology could find good job opportunities waiting for them.

Step 2: Get Management Experience

Working as an assistant to an experienced general contractor provides an on-the-job education that can help those new to the profession segue into management positions. Typical duties include overseeing purchasing orders, tracking permits, collecting documents and keeping general contractors informed of any problems.

Step 3: Obtain Certification

Though not required, being nationally certified demonstrates a general contractor's professional knowledge and skills. The Certified Construction Manager (CCM) credential is offered through the Construction Management Association of America. To earn this designation, applicants must complete a self-study course and pass a technical exam.

Additional certifications are available through the American Institute of Contractors. General contractors who meet the experience requirements can pursue the Associate Constructor (AC) and the Certified Professional Contractor (CPC) credentials.

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