What Does a General Contractor Do?

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: December 10, 2022  •  8 min read  •  Trade & Vocational
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With over 7 million employees and $1.3 trillion in revenue, the construction industry is booming! Now, more than ever, pursuing general contractor jobs is a smart and lucrative career choice.

From bidding on jobs to drafting blueprints and breaking ground, construction companies have a lot of responsibility. But exactly what does a general contractor do?

What role do they play in the construction process, and how can you become one?

Keep reading for the answers to these questions and more!

What does a General Contractor do?

What Is a General Contractor?

You’ve probably heard of subcontractors. Plumbers, carpenters, and electricians are just a few professions that fall under this category.

A GC (General Contractor) manages and oversees these individual contractors on a job site. General contractors coordinate and supervise all aspects of the job, including new builds and remodel projects.

As a GC, you need a solid understanding of the construction industry and to take control of a situation.

A lot more goes into these projects than some homeowners realize. General contractors schedule teams in the proper order. For example, an electrician may need to complete their work before the floors can be tiled.

Doing things out of order could result in big problems and even bigger expenses.

General contractors are also responsible for obtaining all necessary permits. This guarantees that all jobs are done legally and in good standing.

A qualified general contractor should only hire licensed and insured subcontractors that warranty their work.

General Contractor Responsibilities

In addition to obtaining permits and overseeing all subcontractors, general contractors have many responsibilities.

Providing Necessary Supplies

For starters, as the supervisor, GCs must provide all material, labor, and equipment on a job site. This includes tools and machinery.

They’re also responsible for all clean-up once the job is complete. Many contractors have dumpsters they bring on-site to collect and remove all debris and materials.

A reputable GC will leave the home looking just as good, if not better, than it did at the start.

Working Closely with Homeowners

General contractors are the ones who price out the jobs and speak with homeowners about their budgets and expectations. They then draft up a quote and provide a rough timeline for project completion.

GCs must be good at multi-tasking, problem-solving, and thinking on their feet with so many unpredictable factors. They must also be skilled communicators.

If there are delays in the project or issues with suppliers, it’s the general contractor’s responsibility to handle them. Because of this, general contractor jobs can be stressful.

GCs are also the ones to deal with displeased homeowners in the event the job doesn’t go as planned. But, again, being able to smooth things over helps keep the job moving forward.

Lending a Hand

Just because subcontractors are doing most of the labor doesn’t mean the GC’s hands will stay clean. As a general contractor, you should be prepared to roll up your sleeves and perform whatever jobs are needed.

That’s why GCs need a basic understanding of the building and remodeling process. While you don’t need to be a specialist in any field, you should have the skills to fix small problems and explain them to the client.

Insurance and Warranties

As the supervisor of any job site, the general contractor is held liable if something goes wrong. That’s why it’s imperative for GCs to carry liability insurance and worker’s compensation.

This protects you in the event of an injury on the job site or property damage.

Product warranties and guarantees give homeowners peace of mind. Most products like roofing, windows, and major appliances come with a warranty, but only if the materials are installed properly.

A general contractor ensures that all materials are installed following the manufacturer’s guidelines. This prevents a company from refusing to honor the warranty if something goes wrong.

Types of General Contractors

There are two main categories under the umbrella of general contractor jobs — traditional and design-build.

A traditional GC uses someone else’s plan or design to complete a specific project. An architect or engineer usually draws up these plans.

Once they evaluate the plans, the general contractor creates a bid. This bid details the cost and timeframe to complete the work.

A design-build contractor sees the job through from start to finish and is heavily involved in the design process. They sit with the client and help create a concept and vision for the project that fits their needs, style, and budget.

Then, the general contractor works with an in-house design team to make this concept a reality. Since they’re an integral part of the design process, these contractors have a more in-depth understanding of the client’s expectations.

They can also make modifications along the way if need be.

General Contractor Skills and Traits

Not everyone is suited for general contractor jobs. Like any profession, it’s important to look at your skills, abilities, expertise, and interests before choosing a career.

General contractors are responsible for overseeing everything from bathroom remodels to entire builds and home additions. This requires an eye for detail, organizational skills, and the ability to multi-task.

As the supervisor on the job, you’re the final say on all decisions. You’re also responsible for completing the job safely, correctly, and in accordance with specific deadlines.

You must manage a crew of multiple subcontractors and deal directly with clients and suppliers. Therefore, interpersonal and communication skills are a must.

General contractors must remain professional at all times, regardless of how stressful the situation becomes.

Although you’ll hire specialists for each job, from plumbing and electrical to painting, general contractors still need basic knowledge of each step in the process.

This allows you to troubleshoot unexpected problems, answer client questions, and make adjustments as needed.

Steps to Becoming a General Contractor

Now that you have a better understanding of what a general contractor is and what the job entails, let’s discuss how to become one. While there’s no official degree or certification needed to become a GC, there are several steps you must take.

It’s also important to note that rules surrounding licensing and insurance for independent contractors vary from state to state.

1. Build Your Skills and Portfolio

Becoming a successful general contractor doesn’t happen overnight. You need plenty of hands-on experience before you can take the reins and run your own job site.

While a degree isn’t required to become a GC, some people choose this path. Others opt for hands-on experience. Some of the most successful general contractors do both.

If you choose to get your bachelor’s degree, you can study civil engineering or construction management.

Nothing replaces hands-on experience. A few things you should learn before launching your GC business include:

Always be open to learning new things and staying up-to-date on changing laws, requirements, and design trends.

2. Get Your License and Pass the Exam

A license and license bond are requirements for GCs in nearly every state. You can obtain them at either the city, county, or state level.

Some states also require general contractors to pass an exam in addition to obtaining a license.

If your state requires an exam, you’ll need knowledge in the following areas:

You’ll gain most of this knowledge through hands-on experience, but test-prep materials are also available. Don’t forget you’ll also need insurance coverage to protect yourself and all the subcontractors you hire.

3. Create a Business Plan

The construction industry is vast and includes everything from building hotels and condos to redoing someone’s kitchen. So it’s time to decide where you fall on this spectrum.

Where do you want to focus your attention? Are you excited by the thought of working on large-scale projects? Or do you prefer small, local jobs where you work closely with homeowners?

Your business plan should detail what types of projects you want to tackle and where you’ll get financial backing from. It’s not a bad idea to create an estimated projection for the next six months to a year.

Where do you see your business going, and how do you plan to get there?

4. Build Your Reputation

In business, reputation is everything. General contractor jobs require you to do your own advertising and damage control in the event of a bad review.

Network within your community and the construction industry in your area. Introduce yourself to builders, subcontractors, and business owners.

Adopt an impeccable work ethic that makes you stand out from the crowd. Then, keep your promises and go above and beyond what’s expected.

Delivering quality work on time is a valuable attribute of any successful GC.

General Contractor Jobs are in High-Demand

Are you interested in construction and design? Do you have a knack for people and a good understanding of the construction industry?

General contractor jobs let you explore your interests and skills while also building a lucrative business. With the right experience, personality, and skill set, you can take advantage of this high-paced, in-demand career.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.