Building better relationships! What general contractors want in subcontractors.
September 3, 2021
Tyler Riddell
What general contractors want in subcontractors.

As subcontractors, there is no better way of getting a consistent stream of work than by developing a good reputation among your local pool of general contractors.

All too often, subcontractors think that a proficient skill set is all that a general contractor wants. Therefore, when subcontractors bid for jobs, they point towards their qualifications, licenses, and examples of past work as evidence of why they should be hired.

As a general contractor (GC) myself, and one who has hired hundreds of subcontractors, having the sufficient technical skills to do the required job properly is taken as read when assessing the suitability of subcontractors for projects.

Everyone else bidding for jobs will have the qualifications and (in most cases at least) the experience to prove that they can adequately do the “nuts and bolts” of the job. 

Instead, general contractors want to know that subcontractors will contribute to the successful delivery of a project as a whole. Therefore, softer skills are seen as important as technical skills, and demonstrating these skills is often the decider between who gets a subcontracting job.

Therefore, we will go through the soft skills that GC’s want in their partners and how subcontractors can leverage these when networking and bidding for jobs.

1. An appreciation of the bigger picture of a project

General contractors are often left frustrated by subcontractors who focus on their specific job without a proper appreciation of how it fits into the more comprehensive building project as a whole.

This type of tunnel vision often leads to delays due to a lack of appreciation for how their job is meant to synchronize with other project parts and sometimes other subs. This ultimately eats into a general contractor’s margin.

Rather than pure trade specialists, general contractors are looking for tradespeople who are willing to take the time and engage with the broader construction project as a whole. Every job that gets subcontracted out needs to have workflows that coordinate seamlessly together. Getting this right starts with hiring subcontractors that see the bigger picture in this way.

How subcontractors can demonstrate the big picture to General Contractors

The best way to demonstrate to general contractors that you take a bigger picture approach to projects is by having a deep understanding of the Subcontractor Agreement when it comes to your bid.

Many subcontractors skim through the agreement, seeing it as little more than a formality to sign to get a job. This leads to problems when unexpected issues arise, such as delays and change orders. The agreed way to handle these is usually laid out in the agreement.

Directly addressing the finer details of an agreement when you are bidding for work, or asking questions about contract details when a general contractor is interviewing you, demonstrates that you appreciate the general contractor’s need for a project to run smoothly as a whole. This should put you in good stead when a general contractor decides who will win the contract work.

2. A strong sense of accountability

General contractors look for subcontractors who can complete jobs reliably and without too much supervision. In addition, subcontractors should make general contractors feel like they take personal responsibility for ensuring that the client will be satisfied with the final work, rather than just ticking the boxes needed to fulfill their Subcontractor Agreement.

Taking this accountability in your work can be cashed out in several ways, including turning up for work on time, cleaning up any mess at the end of the day, making your punch lists, and managing budgets properly.

How to demonstrate accountability when bidding for jobs

There are a few ways that subcontractors can demonstrate a strong sense of accountability for their work when bidding for jobs. These include:

  • Having your own General and Professional Liability Insurance;
  • Being able to show testimonials that mainly talk about your strong sense of accountability;
  • Having some project management experience yourself;
  • Demonstrating a solid record of completing jobs on time, within budget.

3. Teamwork and communication skills

We all know that things rarely go exactly to plan in construction projects and that delays and slight hiccups are inevitable. What is essential (to general contractors) is how subcontractors communicate any delays or alterations to them and the rest of the team.

This ties back into accountability, but general contractors want subcontractors who will “own” any problems they have and be willing to admit to problems and propose solutions to them so that delays to a project can be kept to a minimum.

Since construction projects will see many people who do not know each other working together, potentially over an extended period, general contractors also want to be reassured that subcontractors will not be a disruptive force to others. You’d be surprised how important absolute basics like someone’s sense of common courtesy to others are when deciding who to hire.

How to demonstrate teamwork and communication skills when bidding for a job

In all honesty, most general contractors get a vibe of how people are likely to work and communicate with others just by speaking to them. But, again, small factors like good communication skills and common courtesy can go a long way in instilling trust in general contractors when bidding for work.

This is why networking with other construction professionals is so essential for subcontractors. Not only can networking increase the number of general contractors that end up approaching you for work, but the very fact that you can build an extensive network shows that you have the requisite communication skills to work well as part of a team.

4. Have a strong safety record

Even if a subcontractor has professional liability insurance, general contractors are still negatively affected by unsafe practices. These negative consequences for the general contractor can range from paying out compensation to other affected subcontractors to having their reputation damaged from having a hazardous work environment.

General contractors are therefore cautious when screening subcontractors’ safety records. Be prepared to have safety records for at least the last three years when bidding for jobs.

How to demonstrate a strong safety record when bidding for work

It is standard during bids to have to show three years of safety records. So the further back you can go with a clean record of safety, the better.

If you do not have a clean safety record over the last few years, you will need to think of how you can explain any accidents that happened and how you adjusted your policies and practices going forward. In addition, demonstrating that you can learn from past mistakes can instill confidence in a general contractor.

5. Professionalism is key

Ultimately, the softer skills that general contractors look for in subcontractors can fall under the umbrella of professionalism. Demonstrate professionalism throughout the bidding process and in all your dealings with general contractors and fellow tradespeople. You should be ahead of many of your competitors when it comes to getting consistent work.

Volodymyr Karabakh contributed to this article. Volodymyr is the Owner and Project Director of the general contracting company Fortress Home.