Occupation Thesaurus Entry: General Contractor

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Find the perfect career for your character—one that will highlight his skills, challenge his fears, and either help or hinder him in his overall goalOccupation: General Contractor

Overview: A general contractor is the person in charge of a construction project. Whether the project is residential, commercial, highway-related, or anything else, the GC oversees it from start to finish. This means that their job begins well before the first hammer falls.

The GC is responsible for putting together proposals, including getting pricing on labor and materials and creating a budget and timeline for the project. Once they’ve landed a proposal, they are in charge of hiring subcontractors (plumbers, electricians, etc.) and keeping them accountable while the job is in progress. They will also oversee all the general workers, ensuring that the number of people with the right skills are employed each day and their work is up to par.

A general contractor who is skilled in certain construction areas (such as carpentry or drywalling) or is a jack-of-all-trades (proficient in multiple areas) may take on part of the work themselves and work alongside their people. Others take a more hands-off approach, choosing to outsource all the work and oversee its progress.

A GC’s hours will be dependent on the type of project they’re overseeing. New home construction, and much commercial construction, is often a 9-5 job. Highway work is likely to be done at night. Hours may increase or change as a deadline approaches.

Necessary Training: No formal education is required for a person to set themselves up as a general contractor. But companies looking to hire GC’s often want to see a certain level of experience and education—often in the form of an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Basic first aid, carpentry, haggling, knowledge of explosives, mechanically inclined, multitasking, predicting the weather, repurposing, super strength

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, alert, ambitious, analytical, cooperative,courteous, decisive, diplomatic, disciplined, efficient, honest, honorable, industrious, intelligent, just, loyal, meticulous, observant, organized, patient, persistent, persuasive, proactive, professional, resourceful, responsible, thrifty

NEGATIVE: Controlling, humorless, know-it-all, obsessive, perfectionist, pushy

Sources of Friction: Losing a bid on a promising project, prices that fluctuate during a project and drive up costs, falling behind deadline, receiving a shipment of incorrect or broken materials, someone being injured on the job, employees not showing up for work, not being able to find suitable workers for a job, unreasonable labor laws that make scheduling difficult, demanding or indecisive customers, sexual harassment on the job, workers cutting corners that result in a low-quality or unsafe structure, unforeseen circumstances that raise the cost for the customer or increase the time needed to finish, unethical or nitpicky inspectors, family members who are upset when one misses important events while working under a deadline, having to work the night shift, unpleasant weather making the job difficult, finding that a job is beyond one’s ability to properly oversee, the job stalling due to lack of funds, losing good workers to a competitor, having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, fears that make the job challenging (heights, enclosed spaces, being underground, etc.)

People They Might Interact With: general construction workers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, stone workers, ironworkers, roofers, painters, architects and engineers, clients, office personnel, members of management (if one works for a company), inspectors, distributors, delivery personnel

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: This need may be impacted for a character who wants to excel and grow but finds himself unable to land the right jobs or move upward. A similar situation arise if the character is skilled in the construction aspect of the job but struggles in other necessary areas (organization, finance, people skills, etc.).
  • Esteem and Recognition: A general contractor who chafes under the small-mindedness of those who look down on blue-collar workers may find his esteem negatively affected.
  • Safety and Security: Every construction site has an enhanced possibility of danger. As such, the safety and security of the workers there will be much more at risk than people working in other careers.

Common Work-Related Settings: Backyard, big city street, bridge, condemned apartment building, construction site, garage, hardware store, parking lot, salvage yard, tool shed, trade show, workshop

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype:

  • Obviously, women are hard to find in this career field; when you see them at a construction site at all, they’re typically doing general labor. Consider giving your female character the boss job—and the construction skills to go along with it.
  • Those who hire a general contractor often complain about common faults: they’re disorganized, have poor communication skills, don’t care about quality, can’t keep to a deadline, or are flat-out dishonest. Every character needs flaws; to make your GC more interesting, consider negative traits one doesn’t typically see in this field: extravagant, reckless, superstitious, or verbose.
  • To mix things up, consider a change of venue for your construction site. Maybe your GC is overseeing the restoration of an historical structure, building an amusement park, is in constructing a one-of-a-kind bridge, or is overseeing a project in a remote and rural location.

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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6 Responses to Occupation Thesaurus Entry: General Contractor

  1. Jay Calhoun says:

    Excellent assessment. I’ve been in it for the last forty years and you didn’t miss much. All I would add is the likelihood of having to work with some extraordinarily rough and vulgar characters….some of whom are extremely likeable, honest, talented and funny, despite the crudeness. Then there’s the interaction with the architects, some of whom seem to view the constructors and contractors as various species of insects. How about taking over a job where some previous contractor has failed-horribly. Failed in communication, failed in understanding the clients’ wishes, failed in schedule and performance…this client will keep you under the microscope until the last day of the job….it never gets dull!

    • These are great additions. My son works in the trades and you are right–personality conflicts and work ethic can cause a lot of problems. But it also causes people to problem solve because even if you can’t stand the people you work with or don’t respect their work, the job still has to get done. Thanks so much for adding these ideas, Jay!

    • Thanks for this insight, Jay. My dad was an electrical engineer who oversaw lineman crews for the power company, and he also talks about this dissonance in “hierarchy.” It’s totally there and would definitely be a cause for friction.

  2. I love these occupation entries! They are so helpful when figuring characters out. I can’t wait for your Mystery Thesaurus! Thanks, Becca and Angela!

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