Attention to detail will get you far in your job search. Here’s how to tell if your eye for specifics has some room for improvement.
When you’re job searching, you want your resume to stay as far away as possible from the recycling bin. But, unfortunately, there’s one surefire way to end up straight in the trash can: including typos.
You’re not perfect, so letting the occasional mistake slip through on your resume seems like an inconsequential thing. It’s not. In fact, 77% of hiring managers say that typos or bad grammar on a resume are immediate deal breakers.
Why do those seemingly innocuous blunders carry so much weight in the eyes of recruiters? Because they show a lack of attention to detail.
What does attention to detail mean?
Somebody with a high level of attention to detail keeps a close eye on the finer points of projects, questions, and problems. They don’t paint with broad strokes and instead are skilled at observing and remembering the nitty gritty.
Some attention to detail synonyms you’ll often hear include detail-oriented, fastidious, meticulous, and thorough. But, they all boil down to the same trait: People with attention to detail skills are good at identifying, understanding, and memorizing the specifics.
The good: 5 benefits of high attention to detail
Attention to detail is a sought after trait. But why? What are the advantages of this skill? People who have a keen eye for the finer points offer the following benefits:
- Producing consistent, high-quality work
- Being efficient, as they don’t need to return to fix past mistakes
- Being trustworthy, because their work rarely needs a second set of eyes
- Having an impressive memory
- Solving problems efficiently and effectively
It’s for those reasons and more that employers look out for candidates who have a high attention to detail. Need proof? One survey found that employers rank this competency ahead of other valuable attributes, including technical capabilities and interpersonal skills.
The bad: 5 drawbacks of high attention to detail
Possessing strong attention to detail will make you a valuable asset on any team. However, like any skill, it’s not always positive. People who are always zoned in on details can fall into several pitfalls, including:
- Losing sight of the bigger picture
- Being perceived as micromanagers
- Feeling overwhelmed, because all of the details seem important
- Delaying the start of projects until they feel they have all of the details
- Continuously refining projects, rather than wrapping them up
Even so, the benefits of a high attention to detail outweigh the potential disadvantages for many roles. Plus, simply being aware of these drawbacks can help detail-oriented people navigate around them.
6 signs you’re not paying enough attention to detail
You know attention to detail is a valuable skill, but you also want to make sure it’s something you honestly possess before you boast about this competency during your job search.
After all, as bad as typos are, dishonesty is even worse. A separate survey found that 97% of recruiters say discovering a resume lie would cause them to reconsider—or potentially even dismiss—a job candidate.
But, not everybody has a high degree of self-awareness to know what skills they actually bring to the table. Recent research suggests that only 10-15% of people are actually self-aware (despite the fact that 95% of us believe we are).
Fortunately, the below indicators can help you identify whether or not you honestly possess a high attention to detail. Here are six signs you really don’t have an eye for the details.
1. You frequently submit incomplete work
You forgot to include the attachment with your email. You answered some questions, but not all of them. You showed up at the meeting on time, but you forgot to bring the resources you were supposed to hand out.
Those are just a few examples of scenarios you might find yourself in. The point is that you never quite check all of the boxes right off the bat, and other people frequently need to chase you down for additional elements or information.
2. You continuously have to go back and fix mistakes
When you do submit projects, it’s usually not the last time you see them. Your work comes back to you like a frustrating boomerang.
More often than not, your supervisor or your colleagues need to bring your submissions back to you and ask that you patch up some slip ups and omissions they spotted as they were reviewing your work.
3. You’re always working at a breakneck pace
“Fast” is one of the first words people use to describe your work style. It’s true—you crank through your assigned tasks at record speed.
While your efficiency is admirable, it also means you don’t have a ton of time to keep an eye on the details. When you’re constantly working quickly, the finer points tend to slip by you, completely unnoticed.
This is a key trait for successful entrepreneurs, but can come back to haunt you in roles that require a high level of precision like programming and design.
4. You’re not proud of your previous work
There have been times when you’ve looked back at previous projects, and you can’t help but cringe. Now that you look at them with fresh eyes, you spot all sorts of mistakes and things you wish you would’ve done differently.
While you’re catching those blunders now, this could mean that you aren’t keeping as close of eye on the details as you should in the heat of the moment.
5. You’re never the final set of eyes on your team
When working on a shared project, you’re never the one asked to look it over last. The final deliverable always lands on someone else’s desk before it’s considered finished.
It stings, but it could mean that your team doesn’t trust you to give things a final once-over, because you don’t pay close enough attention to the details.
If this is the case, don’t stress. It could be a sign that you're a brilliant ‘big picture’ thinker and would thrive in a visionary or leadership role, with a detail-oriented team member to have your back on the nitty gritty.
6. You often say, “We’ll worry about that later”
You’re starting a new project, and somebody asks a more intricate question about how something will work. You respond by saying you’re not going to worry about it right now, and you’ll figure it out as you move forward.
Somebody with a high attention to detail wouldn’t be content with that answer. They want to ensure they have the logistics ironed out before they get too much time and energy invested in the project.
Attention to detail test: How to tell if you possess this skill
The above signs will help you clue you in on whether or not you’re an expert with the details. But, it’s certainly not a perfect science.
If you’re really eager to know where your strengths lie, it can be helpful to take an online assessment, like what you’ll do with Fingerprint for Success. When you get started with F4S, you’ll complete a questionnaire (set aside about 30 minutes to give yourself enough time to think critically) that suss out your motivations at work.
Immediately after you complete the assessment, you’ll get your results. Look specifically for the motivation called “depth,” which represents your desire for detailed information and your commitment to working with specifics.
If “depth” is represented by a bigger bubble and a larger number, that means you possess a high attention to detail. But, if it ranks much lower (with a smaller bubble and number), that means you likely prefer the bigger picture.
How to pay attention to detail: 5 tactics to improve this skill
You’ve decided that your attention to detail needs some improvement. Now what? What actionable steps can you take to give this skill a boost? Here are a few things to try.
1. Work at a slower pace
You treat your workday like a sprint, not a marathon. It’s a frantic scramble to get as much done as humanly possible.
You might be getting a lot accomplished, but try taking a step back and focusing on quality rather than quantity of tasks. Take a deep breath and slow down.
Using a time management method like the Pomodoro Technique can help you work in more manageable time blocks and pay closer attention to how you’re managing your tasks and working hours.
2. Focus on one thing at a time
Are you guilty of having at least five browser tabs open at a time? Do you frequently rip your attention away from the task at hand to check your email or scroll through your phone?
That divided focus is not only sabotaging your productivity (multitasking reduces productivity by as much as 40%), but also decreasing your mental capacity to attend to details. In fact, research on brain development shows that splitting attention between tasks can contribute to more mistakes.
Challenge yourself to focus on one thing at a time. You’ll have a much easier time noticing the details when your focus isn’t spread so thin.
3. Make templates and lists for yourself
If consistency is a problem for you, templates and checklists can help you take care of the details time and time again.
Have an email you frequently send? Save it as a canned response. Have a task or project you complete on a regular basis? Create a template that has the barebones started, and make a checklist to ensure you handle all of the little elements that are easy to forget.
It’ll involve a little bit of time and energy upfront, but is a super effective way to boost your consistency with details moving forward.
4. Enlist some help
Relying on the advice and feedback of others is a great way to strengthen your eye for details—especially if you don’t quite trust yourself to spot the finer points yet.
Once you’ve completed something, ask a colleague or friend (preferably one who prides themselves on being detail-oriented) to review your work.
When they’re done, take some time to look over their feedback and any errors they caught. Those are things you’ll want to keep an eye out for moving forward.
5. Break down larger projects
If you feel overwhelmed, you’re less likely to pay close attention to the details. You feel like you just need to make some progress, and quality takes a backseat.
Prevent this by breaking your bigger projects down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Not only does that make those daunting to-do’s feel more approachable, but it also gives you more regular pauses where you can reassess and refocus on specifics.
Attention to detail interview questions: Be prepared to answer these
Anyone can say that they’re detail-oriented on their resume (and, in fact, hiring managers rate it as one of the worst words to include).
To go beyond fluff and buzzwords, employers will use the job interview as their opportunity to evaluate whether or not you actually possess the skills you listed on your document.
How do they determine whether or not you have a high attention to detail? They’ll pay attention to things like:
- How prepared you are for the interview
- Whether or not you show up on time
- How much detail you provide in your interview answers
- What types of questions you ask at the end of the interview
However, they’ll also use their interview questions to determine whether or not you have an eye for the details. They might ask:
- What systems do you have in place to check your own work?
- Tell me about a time when you caught an error or problem...
- Tell me about a project you worked on that required a high level of accuracy…
- Tell me about the first steps you take when starting a new project…
You’ll notice that many of the above are behavioral interview questions—you know, those dreaded ones that start out with, “Tell me about…”
These types of questions are valuable for employers, as they allow them to go beyond generalities and hear about real-life times when you used a specific skill. So, be prepared to answer them with a detailed anecdote.
The STAR method is helpful here, as it walks you through a framework you can use to provide enough information in your response. It stands for:
- Situation: Describe the scenario you were in.
- Task: Describe the specific role you played in that scenario.
- Action: Describe the steps you took.
- Result: Describe what you achieved (quantify when you can).
So, imagine that your interviewer just asked you to tell them about a time you caught an error within your company. You could respond with:
- Situation: This happened in my previous job at CompanyXYZ, where I was working as part of the content team.
- Task: I was assigned a project that involved identifying our biggest traffic sources.
- Action: I took a fine-tooth comb to our Google Analytics and found out that we had been misclassifying all of the traffic that came from our social media advertisements.
- Results: I updated the links so that traffic sources would be clearer, and it allowed us to better tailor our content efforts and boost traffic by another 15%.
Remember, you want to give enough detail to make your answer impactful—but you don’t need to get into so many specifics that the crux of your answer gets lost. The interviewer doesn’t need to know that it was a rainy Tuesday and you had a BLT for lunch that day.
Identify, improve, and harness attention to detail in your job search
Sure, employers are looking for related experience and technical capabilities. But, there’s another thing they’re keeping an eye out for: a strong attention to detail.
Fortunately, much like any other skill, this is something you can improve. Use this as your guide to figure out your starting point, boost your competency, and showcase this important qualification in your job search.
Do that, and your resume will land at the top of the hiring manager’s pile—rather than at the bottom of the recycling bin.