Gary Fiehmann - Contractor's Licensing Exam Expert

Gary Fiehmann

Gary Fiehmann is the founder of Industry Schools one of the first online contractors licensing schools. Gary and his publisher have assisted over 75,000 contractors get their license in California over the last 35 years. Gary has personally designed and built thousands of residential homes and commercial projects and has held B01-General Contractor, C02-Insulation, C20-HVAC, C46-Solar and D65-Weatherization licenses in multiple states.

What has been some of your greatest accomplishments and challenges in your building career?

When I got my license I was one of the youngest California contractors at that time. I was 24. When I first started my construction company, I began by remodeling just bathrooms.  I and one helper could complete a typical bathroom remodel within one week. This included all of the trades required from start to finish.

A year or so later, I got a break and was awarded a project as the General Contractor for the remodel of a very popular restaurant in Los Gatos, California. The restaurant turned out to be one of the highest grossing restaurants west of the Mississippi for over seven years in a row.  This gave me a great reputation in the Santa Clara Valley.  I continued building restaurants for several years but moved away from that market to residential construction due to changes in the economy.

In the late 70s I got my Solar Contractors License when the government was offering tax incentives to homeowners for adding Solar Systems to their homes.  While living in Lake Tahoe I designed and built one of the first computerized solar homes.  Apple computers provided us with the computer to control the homes heating and cooling systems.  Later, I became the RMO for Sunland Solar Inc., where we installed over 50 solar hot water systems per month.

After the government stopped the tax incentive programs, I started one of the first Design and Construction Companies, Craftsmen's Guild, Inc.  We employed three architects, one engineer, two interior designers and five general contractors as our crews. The Craftsmen's Guild is a very successful company and lives on today in Cupertino, California.

After helping many of my employees get their own licenses I decided to use my knowledge to start ContractorsLicense.Com a contractors licensing information website.  I am currently the proprietor of Industry Schools, one of the first online Contractors Licensing Schools in California and proud that we maintain an (A+) rating with the Better Business Bureau.

How many contractors have you helped get their license?

We and my publisher have assisted over 75,000 contractors get their license in California over the past 35 years.  We offer all 44 California State Contractor's License exam preparation courses.

We have employed many of the top contractors within their trade to instruct our classes.  In addition, we have three editors that are constantly updating our study materials to stay current with the state law changes and new code requirements.

Included in our license preparation kits are all the state documents required to obtain your license.  I will assist any of my students in completing their state license application by phone or e-mail. In addition, I insist that each student fax their application to me before sending it to the state.  I am happy to review their application which typically avoids a 3 to 6 week delay in processing time.

Five years ago, we created a "Practice Exams CD" that emulates the states testing process so you can practice at home on your own computer.  After implementing our "Practice Exams CD" we began to offer our 200% pass or we pay guarantee.  And, we are proud to say, "Over the last five years we have only had to make good on that promise 4 times".

What made you decide to help others get their license and how do you help?

I started helping some of my best employees get their licenses when the work I had would slow down.  I knew most of them had families and needed to provide for them.  I would actually pay for their classes and to lend them the money for their state applications.

This also helped me when I got busy again and wanted to hire them back. This time instead of employees I would hire them as licensed contractors.

How many different classifications of contractor licensing exams are there?

In California, there are 44 contractor's license classifications and the breakdown is as follows:

  • There is one A-General Engineering Contractor classification
  • There is one B-General Building Contractor classification
  • There are 40  C-Sub Contractor classifications
  • There are 30 D-Specialty Contactor License classification and
  • And there are two certifications for Asbestos and Hazardous Removal

What do you consider to be the top most difficult licensing exams?

In my opinion, the General Engineering Contractor's license is the most difficult and encompasses the most difficult trades.  Next would be the General Building Contractor's license because you must know how to frame and waterproof a structure as well as how the mechanical components all fit together and all the interior trades.

The next three would be the major Mechanical trades, Plumbing, Electrical, and HVAC.  After those classifications would be the Solar Trade, because you will need to know both the electrical and plumbing components.  In addition, there are several other trade classifications that require you to know multiple disciplines across a single trade; for example, "Flooring" requires you to know how to install carpeting, tile, linoleum and hardwood.

What are some of the easiest contractor license exams?

In California, the easiest contractor's license exams would have to be the C-61 Specialty Contractor's license (or all the trades in the "D" classification). The state only requires that the contractor pass the Law and Business Exam.  All other California license classifications require the contractor to pass both the Law and Business has well as their specific trade exam.

Generally, what qualifications do you need prior to taking such exams and additional qualifications needed to get a license?

In California, you need to be a minimum of 18 years old.  You need a minimum of four years journeymen experience in the field.  Proof of your four years of journeymen experience will need to be provided by a contractor or business associate that is familiar with your work.  This individual will need to complete and sign the state documents "Certification of Work Experience" that needs to be included in your state license application.  The state may also review your apprenticeship work prior to becoming a journeyman.

You will need to submit an application for approval to the California state license board and provide your fingerprints and any criminal history.  You will need to have a minimum of $2500 of assets and show proof of a contractor's license bond.  And you will need to pay all state contractors licensing fees.

What are the top 5 most important contractor exam secrets you can share?

I don't know if they are secrets, but, here would be my top five:

  • When taking the exam read each question aloud in your head several times. So you completely understand what the question is asking. Look for words like "not included", "only" and "except".
  • The exam questions are looking for the most correct answer. So read each answer carefully before making your final selection.
  • Eliminate all answers that are not even close to your conclusion.
  • If you don't know the answer, note the question and go back to it later. You may find that one of the other questions have enlightened you to the correct answer.
  • Don't hesitate to challenge a question.  If a question sounds ambiguous or convoluted make sure you indicate that on your test before you finish your exam.

We have a complete checklist of everything you need to know to get your license included in our Contractors Licensing KITs.  Our Checklist includes many more suggestions, and what you will need and not need to take into your exam.

What are the most common reasons why people fail a licensing exams?

  • By far is the lack of current and sufficient exam preparation materials.
  • The lack of good study habits and enough time to study.
  • Test anxiety or what I like to think of as "you don't think you're going to pass". If you study hard, and are getting 90 to 95% on your practice exams, you should have no problem passing.
  • The test taker is in a hurry to get out of the testing center or to beat the other potential contractors in the room.  Take your time and go back and review your questions again.
  • Or maybe this should be the first reason, this happens when a test taker thinks they can pass the state exam without adequate preparation.

For someone to be able to build homes as a contractor, how many licenses would they need?  Or, is there a general contractor license that encompasses all trades?

In California, the B-01 General Building Contractor's license covers new construction, renovation, remodeling and addition to residential and commercial projects.  In California, there is no contractor's license for a handyman. To be a handyman, you will need a General Contractor's license.

How much commonality is there among the states for contractor licenses?

I focus on California, but several other States have similar trade requirements (Arizona, Nevada and Utah).  Each State has their own laws so potential contractors should obtain their State requirements before applying.  And then there are some States that don't even require contractors to be licensed

What other advice can you give people looking to pass their licensing exam to be a plumber, electrician or other building professional?

  • Become a PROFESSIONAL and KNOW your TRADE.
  • Learn from the BEST.
  • Understand that there are NO shortcuts.
  • Always stay within the LAW and CODES.

What does it take to become a professional contractor?

  • LICENSED AND LEGAL; always maintain your business as a properly licensed and legal entity.
  • KNOW YOUR TRADE; always stay current in your trades materials, codes, laws and trends.
  • INTEGRITY; do what you say you will do and don't hesitate to apologize when you were wrong
  • HONESTY; do not provide false information and always look out for the homeowner.
  • FAIRNESS; provide your best product at a fair price and keep your overhead low.
  • PROMPTNESS; show up on time, finish as promised.
  • FOLLOW THROUGH; Make repairs promptly, if something needs fixing, take care of it first.
  • GOOD COMMUNICATION; always stay in communication with the others on the project.
  • CONTROL EXPECTATIONS; don't overpromise, always set expectation levels, and then beat them.

Please provide us with a SUMMARY of LICENSING STEPS (California Example)...

1.     Apply for State Applications Original and Additional Contractor's License

  • Acquire the contractor requirements and license application for your trade and locality.
  • Make a copy of the original application and use it to document your original information.
  • Complete the application and answer each question honestly and to the best of your ability.
  • Questions? Get clarification from your school. You cannot be denied for telling the truth.
  • After updating your application be sure to make a copy and retain for your files.
  • Don't send in your application until you know you will be prepared to take your exams.
  • Send your application, required documents and fees to the appropriate state location.

2.     Acquiring your Exam Preparation Materials

  • Purchase your materials from a legitimate source. (Years in Business, BBB, Guaranties, Etc.)
  • Compare schools course materials, books and lecture sources that cover your trade's license.
  • Find a school that meets your learning style; live classes, home study, books, DVDs or ETC.
  • Verify the courses are current with ample practice test questions, answers and explanations.

3.     Study your Materials

·         Make a plan to study your materials, schedule a date to start and create a weekly plan.

·         Study a little every day if possible to better retain your knowledge.

4.     After sending in your application

  • Within several weeks the State should send a receipt of application with more instructions.
  • You may need to get a Live Scan (Finger Prints) at your local Sheriff's office that needs a fee.
  • The Sheriff's Office will send your Live Scan records directly to your State application file.
  • Within multiple weeks the State should send you "Notice to Appear" for your Exam.

5.     After Passing all Your Exams

  • After passing your exams the state should issue a confirmation letter and more instructions.
  • Review all instructions and complete state requirements.
  • Determine all required state fees and reoccurring fee and make current initial payments.
  • If required, provide state contractor's license bond information to all governing agencies.
  • Complete any additional forms required that pertain to your trade and local conditions.
  • Make a copy of all your final documents then send the originals to the State.

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