Here’s how to tell if you’re detail oriented, and how to showcase it.
In 1962, NASA was set to send its first interplanetary probe, Mariner 1, to Venus to collect and transmit scientific data about the planet. But, moments after takeoff (290 seconds, to be exact), the craft exploded.
Why? After so much carefully planning and research, what caused that untimely destruction? It all came down to a missing hyphen.
Yep, a seemingly small error in the code meant that the craft veered off course and needed to be destroyed by the range safety officer.
It’s a fitting example of the importance of being detail oriented, a skill that’s highly sought after among employers. In fact, one survey found that employers rank this competency ahead of other valuable requirements like technical capabilities and interpersonal skills.
What does it mean to be detail oriented?
What does detail oriented mean? Well, detail oriented people pay close attention to the specifics of problems, questions, and projects. They’re often observant, meticulous, and thorough, which makes them effective in a variety of positions.
Being detail oriented means you’re not content to accept glossed over, high-level answers or directions and instead prefer to track down, understand, and remember all of the finer details.
13 signs you’re detail oriented
Being detail oriented is a valuable and desirable skill. But, how can you tell if you actually possess this quality yourself? Here are 15 telltale signs that you have a true love for specifics.
1. You triple-check your own work.
You’re never one to send off a project or assignment without carefully checking it over yourself—at least twice (and usually more than that).
2. You ask a lot of questions.
You aren’t known for your ability to take a direction and run with it, because you’re not willing to take things at face value. You always ask plenty of clarifying questions to drill down to the details.
3. You have an impressive memory.
You have a mind like a steel trap. Your love for details means you remember almost everything—whether it’s your deskmate’s coffee order or the entire timeline for your team’s current project.
4. You work methodically.
You’ll admit it: Quick decisions stress you out. You want plenty of time to think through all of the puzzle pieces, and you don’t pride yourself on your ability to work at a breakneck pace.
5. You produce high-quality work.
It’s not often that people are pointing out errors in your work or complaining that you dropped a ball. You’re not one to let things slip through the cracks.
6. You have perfectionist tendencies.
For you, “good enough” is never quite good enough. You have the tendency to obsess over every last detail of your projects in order to ensure they’re perfect.
7. You’re sometimes viewed as a micromanager.
Because you’re so invested in the finer details of your work, it can be frustrating when people don’t exercise the same level of care and caution that you do. You prefer to handle things yourself and ensure the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, which means you sometimes come off as a micromanager.
8. You’re the go-to person for checking things over.
You like to think of yourself as your team’s resident proofreader. Whenever anybody needs a second set of eyes on their work, you’re the first person they bring it to—because they trust you to catch things that would otherwise slip by unnoticed.
9. You need to frequently remind yourself of the bigger picture.
It’s easy for you to get so hung up on a detail that you end up missing the forest for the trees. You need to issue yourself frequent reminders to take a step back and get a grasp on the bigger picture. Not every detail is worth obsessing over, especially when that piece doesn’t have much of an impact on the whole puzzle.
10. You like to get granular before starting a project.
You’re not a fan of operating with little information. You prefer to hash out all of the details before rolling up your sleeves and getting started on your work, rather than figuring things out as you go along.
11. You struggle with brainstorming sessions.
Brainstorming sessions might be a struggle for you. It’s not that you lack creativity, but that you often get bogged down in the specifics. That makes it tough for you to let yourself truly explore the off-the-wall ideas that come up without getting sidetracked by all of the logistics.
12. You don’t accept the first answer.
You don’t readily accept the first answer to a question. You’ll dig in and understand all facets, which makes you particularly skilled at troubleshooting. You love combing through problems to find a comprehensive answer.
13. You’re the one who notices changes.
You’re often the first one to notice that the brand of coffee in the break room changed or that your coworker got a haircut. Even the seemingly inconsequential details don’t slide by you.
How to be more detail oriented
Being detail oriented is a skill that some people just inherently have. Jealous? You don’t have to be. Because, while this is a competency that some people are fortunate enough to be born with, it’s also a capability that you can work on refining.
If you’re wondering how to become more detail oriented, here are a few tactics to try.
1. Know your strengths and weaknesses.
When improving any skill, it’s smart to get a baseline to see where you rank. This is where a platform like Fingerprint for Success can be particularly useful.
Within F4S, look at your own motivations to find “depth.” Depth represents your motivation for detailed information and working with specifics and sequences.
Where does this motivation rank for you? Is it in your top five? Your bottom five? Somewhere in between? If it’s in or near your top five, that means you’re already highly detail oriented. But, if it’s one of your lower motivations, paying attention to specifics is going to require more conscious effort on your part.
In short, this step is about getting a handle on your starting point so you know just how much work you have to do on this competency.
2. Take a breath and slow down.
You have a lot to get done, and your average workday feels like a race against the clock. If you’re constantly working at a frantic pace, it’s challenging to pay attention to details. You simply don’t have the time.
If you truly want to strengthen your “detail muscle,” you need to slow down. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done, especially when more than half of workers say they’re stressed at work on a daily basis.
Remind yourself that working too quickly will often waste time (as counterintuitive as it seems), because you’ll need to go back and fix mistakes later.
3. Stop multitasking (seriously).
Similarly, when you’re focused on too many things at one time, you don’t have the mental capacity to attend to the details.
That means you’re bound to miss important things. In fact, research on brain development shows that splitting attention between tasks can contribute to more mistakes.
You can increase your accuracy and efficiency by challenging yourself to do one thing at a time. Close out your email tab when you’re zoned in on a project and work with your phone in a desk drawer or in another room. Eliminate distractions so you can stay singularly focused on the task at hand. You’ll have a much easier time paying attention to details that way.
4. Commit to double-checking and proofreading.
Finishing things feels good, doesn’t it? That’s because when you complete a task or project, your brain releases a surge of dopamine. It’s not only a feel-good neurotransmitter, but a great source of motivation—because you’re eager to extend that pleasurable feeling.
Your desire to check things off might mean that you’re writing projects off a little too early. You shouldn’t be counting something as finished until you’ve double-checked and proofread your own work.
Build time for that into your own project timelines so that you leave adequate space for a thorough review of your work. Here’s a helpful tip for content-related projects: During your final read-through, read things from the bottom to the top. That forces your brain to focus on each individual sentence, because it’s not as easy to skim.
5. Break large projects into smaller milestones.
When you’ve bitten off more than you can chew and you feel overwhelmed, it’s even easier to lose track of the smaller details. Just think: You’re way more likely to lose a needle in a haystack than in your wallet.
Help yourself by breaking large projects down into more digestible pieces. This approach makes the project more manageable and also gives you the opportunity to keep a closer eye on the details—because they won’t get buried in that big, daunting haystack.
The pros and cons of being detail oriented
Being detail oriented is a valuable skill, but it’s not without its drawbacks. Here are a few pros and cons of this competency.
The pros of being detail oriented:
1. Detail oriented people do great work.
“Sloppy” is one of the last words used to describe people who have a close eye on the details. They typically produce undeniably high-quality work, because they make sure every last element of their project is polished up.
2. Detail oriented people are efficient with highly detailed projects.
People who are detail oriented don’t necessarily work quickly. However, in many types of projects that require an eye for detail (programming, design, research, etc.) they end up being more efficient in the long-run because they don’t need to spend as much time returning to past projects to patch up mistakes.
3. Detail oriented people are highly trusted.
Because they frequently turn out top-notch work, detail oriented people are valued and relied upon on their work teams. Their colleagues trust them to not only meet expectations, but exceed them.
The cons of being detail oriented:
1. Detail oriented people can be slow to get started.
People who are committed to details like to have as much information as possible before getting started. But, unfortunately, that’s not always a realistic possibility in the working world. Detail oriented people sometimes drag their feet on getting started, because they struggle to get moving without all of the specifics.
2. Detail oriented people can get easily overwhelmed.
Have you heard the saying that “done is better than perfect”? That’s a tough concept for detail oriented people to accept. And unfortunately, their tendency to obsess over every last detail means they can easily become overwhelmed—because there simply isn’t time to refine every last little point.
3. Detail oriented people are viewed as micromanagers.
Not everybody has the same commitment to the specifics, and that can be frustrating for people who are detail oriented. That frustration and mistrust can drive them to take over projects and monitor everybody’s progress and accuracy, which can be discouraging for team members.
This is especially true if you’re also highly motivated by shared responsibility — you’ll have the tendency to ‘lend a hand’ to your colleagues to help them perfect the details, which can be interpreted as nitpicking, even though your intentions are good!
How to list detail oriented as a skill on a resume
Potential pitfalls aside, being detail oriented is still a skill that many employers find valuable. But, how do you share this important attribute on your resume?
Of course, you can list “attention to detail” as a bullet point in your skills section. However, be aware that many hiring professionals indicated in a survey that they view “detail oriented” as an empty word.
So, to go beyond fluff and showcase this skill on your resume, make sure that you:
- Provide concrete and quantifiable examples of times that you used this skill in the bullets of your job descriptions (i.e. caught a critical reporting error that saved the company $250,000).
- Proofread your resume and then proofread it again. There’s nothing worse or more ironic than saying you’re “detail oriented” if you’ve submitted an application riddled with mistakes.
- Follow the application instructions to the letter. Do they want your resume as a PDF with a specific file name? Make sure you honor those directions.
Those types of details will catch recruiter’s attention way more than an unsupported term in your skills section will.
How to show you’re detail oriented in a job interview
Your resume gets you in the door, and the job interview is when you prove that you can actually walk the walk. Here’s how to demonstrate your commitment to specifics in a job interview:
- Ask clarifying questions ahead of the interview: Where should you park? How many people will you be interviewing with? Not only do questions like these help you come prepared (and avoid last-minute scrambles), but they also show that you like to understand the nitty gritty.
- Arrive early: A detail oriented person would pay close attention to what time the interview is scheduled to start, right? Take careful note of your start time and arrive 10 minutes early. That’s early enough to show that you’re on top of things, but not so early that you’re pesky.
- Provide details in your interview answers: Being detail oriented is about an obsession with the finer points. That applies when you’re answering questions too. So, make sure you give enough detail in your anecdotes and responses. You don’t need to get bogged down in irrelevant specifics, but offer enough that you aren’t glossing over your experiences.
- Ask targeted questions about the job and the employer: You should have done your research ahead of time, and it’s smart to use that to inform the questions you ask at the end of your interview. Whether you inquire about a recent award they received or you ask about the new feature they launched, asking highly-personalized questions shows that you paid close attention to the details during your research process.
5 jobs you might find stressful when you’re detail oriented
So, what jobs are a good fit for you if you consider yourself highly committed to details? Start by being wary of the following adjectives in job descriptions:
Those types of descriptors might indicate a work environment where you need to think on your feet and operate with limited information—and that’s a culture that might not mesh with your preference to take your time with specifics.
Honestly, most positions can benefit from a keen attention to detail. However, any sort of occupation that requires you to blindly roll with the punches or make fast, gut decisions can cause undue stress. With that in mind, here are five positions that might not be a great match for your capabilities.
1. Public relations manager
A big part of this role involves responding to crises or unforeseen circumstances. Public relations managers need to act quickly to save reputations, and there often isn’t time to grasp all of the details of scenarios before responding to them.
In most companies, CEOs are the ones setting the big picture direction, and they generally don’t have time to get too into the weeds. Instead, COOs or CFOs are the ones who handle more specifics.
3. Project manager
Being detail oriented is a great skill to have as a project manager. But keep in mind that this position requires that you collect details (like timelines, deliverables, etc.) from other people. That can be frustrating for you if you prefer to handle all of the details yourself.
Whether the market is good or the market is bad, stockbrokers need to act quickly and they often make a lot of difficult decisions based on instinct alone, which could be stressful for people who are extremely detail oriented.
5. Emergency dispatcher
The entire purpose of an emergency dispatcher is to respond to emergencies in a timely manner. That doesn’t leave ample time for collecting all of the details. Their goal is to get only the nuts and bolts so that they can react appropriately.
10 occupations that are good for detail oriented people
Knowing what careers you might want to cross off your list is only half of the process. Now, you want to know what positions might be a great match for your skills. Below are 10 different occupations that benefit from a high level of detail orientation.
1. Accountant or bookkeeper
In a now widely-known accounting error, Bank of America overstated its available capital by $4 billion for years—an error went undetected by the bank’s accountants and auditors. It’s stories just like these that illustrate why accounting and bookkeeping are career fields where being detail oriented is non-negotiable.
2. Proofreader or editor
The very point of a proofreader or editor is to catch mistakes. That requires a high level of focus and a commitment to reviewing things with a fine-tooth comb.
3. Help desk technician
Help desk technicians resolve other people’s technical problems. There is a lot of troubleshooting involved, and that requires someone who is committed to exploring the intricacies of complex problems to find fitting solutions.
4. Executive assistant
From managing schedules and creating agendas to reviewing reports, executive assistants handle a lot of important tasks. Since they’re often assisting people who are short on time and can’t be bothered with specifics, executive assistants are the ones who need to be on top of the details.
Journalism involves a combination of conducting thorough research, questioning facts and assumptions, and lots of careful proofreading. Each of those tasks requires a commitment to details.
Pharmacists ensure that people not only receive the correct prescription, but also the correct dosage. Errors in this profession can quite literally be deadly, so pharmacists simply can’t afford to skip over details.
7. Computer programmer
Code is a different language, and computer programmers not only need to write the code but also review and test it. Failing to pay attention to the specifics means computer applications simply won’t work the way they’re supposed to.
8. Quality assurance and compliance specialist
People who work in quality assurance or compliance positions are tasked with testing things to ensure they meet rigorous standards. That requires that they’re relentlessly thorough and committed to evaluating even the seemingly inconsequential details.
9. Data analyst
Identifying trends in numbers is no easy task, but it’s at least a little less challenging when you’re naturally energized by paying close attention to specifics.
10. Customer service specialist
In a customer service position, you need to do everything from troubleshooting to tracking down specifics of orders and interactions. Your commitment to solving problems and memory for customer details will make you skilled at delivering superior service.
Detail oriented? It’s a great strength in the right career!
From NASA to Bank of America, there are plenty of high-profile examples of what can happen when professionals aren’t detail oriented. It’s no wonder why so many employers seek candidates who are committed to being thorough and accurate.
A keen attention to the specifics will serve you well in a variety of occupations. Use this post as your guide to not only hone this important skill, but also to find a career that will make great use of that strength.