While the quality of your work is important to many jobs, certain roles require a high level of attention to detail. It is important to highlight your expertise in managing the quality of your work when responding to these job postings. This is a common requirement for positions involving decisions that are difficult to reverse (loan officer) or life critical (nursing, pharmacist). High attention to detail is also required for many finance and administrative roles.
What Is Attention To Detail?
In a professional setting, this often takes two forms. First is the ability to carefully check a work product (letter, article, spreadsheet) and ensure every detail is correct. For example, I expect my tax accountant to have very high attention to detail to prevent a visit from the IRS. Second, it may involve being able to notice small patterns that can lead to larger insights. When I worked as a fraud investigator, many of my colleagues had very high attention to detail. Similarly, many financial analysts and business consultants often have high attention to detail. And - this will be a surprise - the very best sales representatives often have outstanding attention to detail when it comes to noticing customer behavior.
The recruiter and HR manager are likely referring back to some kind of job competency sheet. It will list off characteristics such as:
- Provides accurate, consistent numbers
- Provides information in a useable form and on a timely basis
- Maintains lists and schedules to ensure details are not overlooked
- Able to manage tasks in compliance with company policies and operating procedures
- Writes down important details so the details are not lost or forgotten
- Work requires little or no checking
In simple terms, they want to know they can trust you to complete your work accurately and notice small details when they are important. People with high attention to detail can be trusted to work alone and on sensitive tasks.
Demonstrating Attention To Detail On A Resume
Merely writing "attention to detail" doesn't add a lot of credibility to your resume. To convince an employer you have good attention to detail, you have to show that other employers trusted you in critical detail-oriented roles. Better yet, you should highlight accomplishments that showcase the quality, sensitivity, and insightfulness of your work.
Some good things to talk about to showcase your attention to detail:
- Managing Sensitive Paperwork: Were you responsible for handling your company's application for a quality or industry certification? Were you responsible for handling an audit? Keeping careful records? Mention that.
- Quality Improvements: Did you make changes in work processes or procedures which made it easier to detect errors? What about preventing errors in the first place? If you can show you improved a quality metric, mention it...
- Signs of Trust: If you performed a highly trusted role, describe your duties and who your boss is. For example: "Coordinated SEC and IRS audit preparations for the CFO and senior executives." That would indicate someone had placed a high amount of trust in the quality of your work.
- Managing Complicated Projects: Did you have to manage a complicated project with a lot of moving parts? Describe it!
- Proofread Your Resume: It should go without saying that a manager looking for attention to detail will be very sensitive to resume errors. Use spell check liberally - or even use a tool like Grammerly to check for other errors.
Improving Your Attention To Detail
Did you get feedback you need to improve your attention to detail? Try these tips to see if you can sharpen your skills.
- Proofread your work. The human eye jumps to spelling and grammatical errors. Like it or not, this is the first impression your work leaves on the reader and can be very difficult to overcome. Invest the time to proofread your documents and get them correct. Finish your memos and reports in advance and give yourself time to revise and edit them several times. Proofreading is an important skill because it proves that if you care about the quality of your work. In the mind of the reader, if you invest the time to get a single document correct, you’ll likely do the same for any larger, more important projects they entrust to you.
- Make lists. If you have a number of things you need to accomplish in a particular time frame, make a list and check off each item as it's completed. If you can’t finish everything on the list, start a new list for the next day and include those leftover tasks.
- Practice Active Listening: Take the time to understand other people’s emotions and intentions. Listening is critical if your job is investigation or negotiations. Relax, sit back, and let the other party speak instead of rushing to talk. You will get priceless insights into their position and goals.
- Take Notes: Simple yet powerful, especially when combined with active listening. First, the mere act of having a notepad and writing down important points shows respect to the other party. Taking notes indicates you are taking them seriously. The act of writing things down also helps you remember the meeting and the flow of the conversation (beyond the notes themselves). Finally, the act of note taking forces you to listen rather than speak - and can slow your brain down enough that you spot the larger patterns.
- Create a detailed work plan for your daily jobs and key tasks. This could take the form of a process map or checklist. Use this as a guide if you find yourself getting distracted or confused.
- Reduce distractions. Scientists have learned that being exposed ringing phones and text messages are as bad as being drunk when it comes to work quality and attention to detail. This is particularly true if you're doing detailed technical or financial work. It often takes a little while to get back in the flow of things after being interrupted. Don't be afraid to close your door or set specific office hours if you have a problem with unscheduled visitors. Use headphones if you've got a lot of noisy distractions around you. Worst case, set aside some time each day in a quiet place where you can take some time to plan your day and make a checklist of what you need to accomplish.
- Manage Your Workload. Be aware of how much work you are taking on and do what you can to prevent being overloaded. While a little pressure can be good, be wary of putting yourself in situations where you don't have time to adequately check your work or update your notes.