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Prove It: How Detail-Oriented Are You?

How to show an employer—on paper and in person—that you’ve got an eye for detail

Stephanie Olsen
Contributor

Day planner open on a desk

The phrase detail-oriented appears as a requirement on a lot of job postings. How do you show a potential employer that you’ve got this attention to detail? Do you list “attention to detail” as a skill in your resume? Or do you somehow demonstrate that attentiveness during the interview process? And is there anything you shouldn’t do?

Before proving you’re detail-oriented, you need to know what it means. 

It’s more than just having an error-free resume. The University of Dayton defines attention to detail as the ability to achieve “thoroughness and accuracy when accomplishing a task.” This includes following policies and procedures, recording important details, providing information to others who need to act on it, and maintaining checklists and calendars.

And you need to know why it’s so important. Managing details keeps projects and people organized and on track. It increases efficiency, productivity, and ultimately—profits. Careless errors, on the other hand, can quickly and cumulatively have a negative impact on a company’s brand and reputation.

How to provide examples of your attention to detail

Show, don’t tell

The best advice from recruiters is the same you probably heard in your English writing class: show, don’t tell. 

The editors at UpJourney asked HR professionals and recruiters how to best do this during a job interview. Career counselor Cathleen Carmichael says to describe how you use that trait to benefit employers: My innate attention to detail and accuracy has saved the company significant amounts of money over the years.

Ellen Mullarkey, vice president of business development at Messina Group Staffing agrees. She gives the example: I’m a strong teammate because I am highly organized and detailed-oriented so I can keep us on track.

Keep a work journal

Career consultant Debra Cruz tells us that she recommends keeping an ongoing work journal, using it to make note of whatever it is you’re working on. In addition to recording all the details that make up those tasks, you can mind-map their successful completion, noting how you solved problems and overcame obstacles.

This journal can then be your guide as you update your resume with concrete and comprehensive details of your work. Cruz says it’s a simple yet proactive approach to your career development in which you are your own coach, advocate, and spokesperson.

Outline it on your resume

Your resume should include real-life examples of your detail orientation, which can be listed under achievements or responsibilities, agrees Dr. Mary Dowd, dean of students at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Examples include:

  • Received merit pay for achieving a 97 percent accuracy rate in taking customer orders at a call center and achieving high customer satisfaction.

  • Conducted a three-month field study that involved recording detailed field observation notes of nesting pileated woodpeckers in a state park.

  • Successfully launched three major advertising campaigns during one month by organizing three cross-departmental teams to handle the small but critical details of each account.

Use active listening during your interview to demonstrate your attention to detail. The hiring manager will notice that you are responding in a way that proves you understand the job requirements. If it’s appropriate, address a point brought up by the interviewer earlier in the conversation. By doing this, you are displaying concentration and organizational abilities in real time, and that’s impressive.

What not to do 

We’re back to show, don’t tell. Don’t just state that you’re detail-oriented, describe a situation that proves it.

For example, when responding to the question, Are you detail-oriented? in an interview, the team at Top Notch Personnel says the wrong answer is, Absolutely! 

Instead, give an example that proves how meticulous you are and demonstrates how you achieve a desired outcome.

So, instead of simply saying you are responsible for making your boss’s travel arrangements, describe the process:

I would listen as my supervisor explained his travel itinerary. Then I read it back to him to confirm that I hadn’t missed something. I would then proceed to make the travel arrangements. After, I would schedule a brief five-minute meeting to go over the set arrangements, and to see if he wanted me to make any changes. If there were no further changes needed, I would then send him a written copy via email as confirmation.

Business reporter Marc Davis says not to use the term detail-oriented in your resume at all, calling it a resume cliché, which “are no longer effective in selling yourself to a prospective employer.” Instead of detail-oriented, write scrupulously vigilant about details. This small change can help differentiate your resume from the “usual run-of-the-mill submissions [and] will grab the attention of HR people or whoever does the hiring.”

If you want to show an interviewer that you’re detail-oriented when answering one of the most frequently asked interview questions (What are your greatest strengths?), give the interviewer the top two or three things you excel at, advises career coach Don Georgevich

“Don’t rattle off a list of strengths that are out of context with the job; don’t list strengths that you are unable to articulate through work experience.” Instead, use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method to answer: “Set up the Situation, then talk about what you did (the Action) and then about the Results of what you, your project, or team accomplished.”

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