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Resume Skills: Demonstrating Attention to Detail

What Do They Want and Why Does It Matter?

Attention to detail is a common requirement for jobs where the consequences of a mistake are particularly drastic or difficult to fix. For example, pharmacists and nurses often need to be very diligent in ensuring the details of a medication are correct, since the wrong medicine at the wrong time could injure or kill a patient. In an office or retail environment, this skill may be required for people who manage money, important documents, and sensitive relationships with important customers and public officials. If getting the details of a task wrong would cost the company money or embarassment, they will probably ask for this skill. The ability to notice small things and ensure they are handled correctly is often called to as "attention to detail" and people who are good at this are labeled "detail oriented".

So What Are They Looking For?

While almost every employer expects you to follow instructions, some jobs are particularly sensitive to small mistakes. An executive assistant who doesn't spell a customer's name tag or write down a message correctly might offend an important customer. A billing clerk entering the invoice as a $5000 charge rather than a $500 charge could cause countless hours of drama when the customer realizes their bill is wrong. A lawyer missing a single word (or comma!) in a hundred page contract can cost the company millions of dollars! In other cases, certain mistakes may be very hard to correct (loaning money to the wrong person) and the company will want to prevent these errors.

The recruiter and HR manager are probably referring back to a job competency sheet. It will list off characteristics such as:

We can boil all this down to a couple of key ideas. First, you are capable of carefully reviewing your work to find mistakes. Second, people with good attention to detail will organize processes and policies to prevent errors for complicated projects. Furthermore, you can spot when something is out of place and figure out why it is important. Above all, you are trustworthy: you can be relied upon to follow orders and complete your work within the expected time.

For an example of the first one, checking your work, this is a common requirement for many marketing positions. One of my first jobs involved working on direct mail campaigns, where we mailed a letter with a credit card offer to millions of people. Each letter had several phone numbers, the terms of the offer (how much credit, an interest rate), legal terms and conditions, and a website address. We had to check every letter template before they were mailed, to ensure all of the necessary legal language was present, the details of the offer were correct, and the phone numbers worked. Being successful required two things: organizing the list of things you had to check into a process and being disciplined enough to consistently follow that process. It can be surprisingly hard to do this well!

The second idea, organizing policies and processes, gets into how can you ensure you are delivering quality work on an ongoing basis. This set of skills is particularly important if you are going to be regularly managing large and complicated projects. It also is an important requirement for managers, since you must think about how to check your team's work (without redoing every task yourself).

For an example of the third idea behind attention to detail, spotting subtle insights in data, this is very common in fraud investigation and financial analysis. When I worked as a fraud investigator, many of my colleagues had very high attention to detail. Many fraud cases start when someone notices a very small thing that is out of place, which leads the investigator to a larger problem. Along the same lines, high attention to detail is often required of financial analysts and business consultants who are asked to figure out the truth behind a report or rumor about a business. And - this will be a surprise - the best sales representatives often have outstanding attention to detail when it comes to noticing customer behavior.

And finally - trust. You mean what you say and are capable of following through on your commitments.In simple terms, your future boss wants 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.

How to Demonstrate Attention To Detail On A Resume

This is a suprisingly tricky skill to describe on a resume. Merely writing "attention to detail" or "detail oriented" at the top of your resume doesn't add a lot of credibility. Honestly, it probably hurts you - everyone does this and thus, it doesn't really mean anything anymore. Focus on showing rather than telling future bosses you have good attention to detail. You can do this a couple of ways:

Again, think "show" vs. "tell". When everyone writes "detail oriented" at the top of their resume, the words lose their impact. But if you hand the hiring manager a resume that shows how you have repeatedly been trusted with complicated and sensitive tasks, especially if you have been given progressively more important tasks. Here are some other good things to talk about to showcase your attention to detail, which you can use as resume bullets:

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.

Resume Bullets That Show Attention To Detail

Here are a few good examples of resume bullets that show attention to detail:

Note the key points here of a good "proof of skill" bullet for your resume. First, talk about the complexity of the assignment. Next, offer some indication that you satisfied your objectives in a timely or impactful fashion. Statistics are great, particularly if you can tie them back to measurements that direct show how you helped the business perform better. Finally, offer "social proof" that your bosses were happy with your work by referencing awards, positive feedback, and increases in your responsibilities.

Preparing for The Interview

The best way to prepare for an interview for a job where attention to detail is important is to think about several stories you can tell the interviewer which feature this skill. You have more flexiblity in the face-to-face environment of the interview to describe how you were able to apply your talents to help past employers succeed. Along the same lines, be ready to showcase examples of where employers trusted you with sensitive tasks, particularly as a reward for having performed well before. That is a very convincing indicator of being trusted.

Want more examples of how to set yourself apart on your resume? Check out our guides on career strategy:

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