Why Detail Orientation Is a Top Soft Skill — and How to Spot It

Employees who are highly detail-oriented get their work done accurately and reliably — and are great brand ambassadors for your organization. Here’s what to look for to verify this desirable skill.

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Why Detail-Orientation Is a Top Soft Skill — and How to Spot It

Here's what you need to know:

  • Detail-oriented candidates exhibit exceptional organizational and time management skills
  • These candidates also have flawless resumes and job applications and proofread their work
  • Detail-oriented workers also demonstrate analytical skills, curiosity, and active listening skills

Attention to detail on the job is a skill employers value. Workers with high levels of detail orientation get their work done accurately and reliably. They understand it’s faster to do it right than do it twice.

Detail-oriented workers look for glitches and potential. They find issues before they become problems, and spot opportunity when it presents itself.

A small 2020 training survey asked managers what they thought was the result of poor attention to detail. About 30% cited reduced productivity; 26% said decreased product quality; and 16% said decreased customer service quality.

If more than 40% of your customers are experiencing diminished products or services, it might be time to spot talent with high attention to detail, and train existing employees to develop the skill.

The same survey found more than 80% of managers believe detail orientation is a trainable skill set. If you can find candidates with high attention to detail, they should be top choices when you hire.

And if you have existing workers with the skill, they should be on the fast track for promotion. If you don’t have (or don’t have enough) workers with the skill, training might be the solution.

How important is detail orientation in workers?

In 1999 the Mars Orbiter broke into pieces. NASA analysts later found an error converting metric measurements to conventional English units caused the $125 million craft to crash land and explode.

Thousands of hours of planning; millions of pieces of data compiled to execute; and untold resources for the mission failed due to the smallest calculation error. Details matter.

Your organization may never experience such an expensive and catastrophic mistake, but detail orientation is just as important. Your reputation relies on providing the best products and services to your customers.

Physical safety can be at risk when employees fail to notice details. Opportunities for growth and expansion may be right under your nose, but if nobody notices them, they’re lost.

Many people list detail orientation on their resumes as a talent — some deservedly, others because they think it looks good and is hard to validate. Here’s what to look for and questions to ask to verify this highly desirable skill.

How do I recognize attention to detail in employees?

It can begin as early as the application or resume. A candidate with high attention to detail will not send in a sloppy resume that includes even 1 typo or grammatical mistake.

These people are proofreaders: they understand their application is the 1st introduction to you. They will do no less than make a great 1st impression.

You may want to adjust for style — don’t get into an ‘Oxford comma’ war, but a clean resume or a neatly completed application is the 1st sign of a detail-minded candidate. Here are some others:

Organizational skills

People with high attention to detail are extremely organized. They like systems and processes and scorn clutter. Their physical spaces are set up for maximum productivity and performance.

They leverage structure to their advantage: they don’t waste time looking for things or information, they know exactly where it is.

When recruiting, ask candidates organizational questions. ‘Could someone find something at your desk if you weren’t available?’ If the response is their space is neat and easily navigated, you may be looking at someone with great attention to detail.

Ask about project management — how they break down projects and manage timelines. Their answers may provide insight into their organizational thought processes.

Time management skills

Highly detail-minded people manage time as well as they manage data and spaces. If they show up late for an interview, it might be a bad sign overall, but a definite red flag for detail orientation.

Unavoidable things occur. The candidate may have been involved in an accident on the way to the interview. If not, they may not be the right fit for a job that relies heavily on detail-orientation.

Ask about time management skills directly and indirectly. Ask them to provide examples of how they prioritize work, or how they handle last-minute requests.

Another angle is to ask for situations when time got away from them, and how they were able to get the work completed.

Analytical skills

People with strong analytical skills factor ‘proofing time’ into their work. They reread before submitting; double-check against the list before sealing the box; verify data once more before they hit send.

These workers compile as much information as possible before they start the work and make sure it’s correct before they finish.

Ask candidates for situations when they were thrown for a loop: a problem they had to solve without all the necessary information.

These workers compile as much information as possible before they start the work and make sure it’s correct before they finish.

How were they able to come up with a solution? You may want to ask them to describe instances they had to plan for or troubleshoot an issue — what processes did they use, and was it successful?

Curiosity

The devil’s in the details and detail-oriented people want all the deets! They’re naturally curious and leverage that inquisitiveness to compile information and skills that turn out quality.

They’re not just interested in their own workspace, either. They want to know the big picture and how they contribute to its execution.

When interviewing, ask the candidate where they fit within their organization and how their efforts contribute to the big picture. A detail-minded worker will have an intelligent answer — someone who isn’t as hung up on the deets may offer a more generic response.

Active listening skills

Getting all the details means listening actively. Active listeners compile data to get a task done, learn a new skill or grow their knowledge base. They ask questions and listen to the answers.

These are people whose follow-up questions are relevant and insightful. Active listening takes practice, but once mastered it’s a key component of detail orientation. An open mind hears what others think and suggest, adding to the data they use to perform, predict, and avoid problems.

Questions can help uncover whether or not someone is an active listener. Ask about times they’ve had to ask for clarification and why.

Ask for a situation where they handled a problem that arose from miscommunication. What caused the situation? How did they resolve it? You’ll want to hear they went back to clarify instead of just making assumptions and moving forward.

Grammar geeks

The detail-oriented candidate has a flawless resume, but they go beyond proofing their own work. These are the employees who catch typos and grammatical mistakes before they go out the door. They understand the disastrous difference between ‘no, price is too high,’ and ‘no price is too high.’

For work that requires the written word, ask job seekers about their proofreading process. How do they get a set of ‘fresh eyes’ on their work before they hit send? Are they the person others ask to proofread for them?

If they rely only on spell- and grammar-checking software, they’re rookies when it comes to detail orientation.

Ask for the details

Particularly if an applicant has included ‘attention to detail’ or ‘detail-oriented’ on their resume, ask for details. It’s easy to include, but you’ll want more information on why they feel it’s a skill they hold.

Ask for specific examples of why they feel they’re detail-oriented, and how it helps them in their own work and helping others.

Even if they haven’t cited it as a skill, it’s a great subject for interview discussion. Whatever the work — attending to customers at the front-line, creating miles of code, researching, or promoting — detail orientation is needed. Ask every candidate if they feel they have it, or if they’d be interested in developing the skill.

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Detail-oriented employees are great brand ambassadors

Workers with attention to detail are brand ambassadors for their company. They spot small issues before they turn into big problems. They represent the organization professionally and proudly.

These are the go-to staff members who reliably turn out high-quality work and help others do the same. If you see detail orientation in a job seeker, move quickly to get them on the payroll.

Bonus tip: if a candidate uses (and reuses) detail ‘orientATed’ instead of ‘oriented,’ they’re not. Orientated may be commonly used by the British, but unless they’re from across the pond, oriented is correct in the U.S.

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