Detail-oriented employees: Common traits and best careers

a pink haired woman examining things as being detail oriented

Attention to detail can be the key to success in any field. Being detail-oriented means paying close attention to even the most minor details and taking pride in your work.

But how do you develop this trait?

Fingerprint for Success (F4S) can help you sharpen your skills so you can fast-track your career growth. Our courses on communication, time management, and more can help you develop the soft skills you need to stand out and succeed.

Table of contents
What does it mean to be detail-oriented?
Common traits of detail-oriented employees
How to be more detail-oriented
The pros and cons of being detail-oriented
How to list detail orientation as a skill on a resume
How to demonstrate that you’re detail-oriented in a job interview
5 jobs you might find stressful when you’re detail-oriented
10 occupations that are good for detail-oriented people
Detail oriented? It’s a great strength in the right career!

What does it mean to be detail-oriented?

Being detail-oriented means wanting more information and not settling for basic answers. Instead, you prefer to track down, understand, and remember all of the finer details. Detail-oriented people pay close attention to the specifics of problems, questions, and projects. They’re often observant, meticulous, and thorough, making them effective in various positions. They are able to identify and correct errors, plan and organize effectively, and are able to deliver high-quality work. They take pride in their work and aim for excellence in everything they do. They are also able to think critically and analytically.

How to tell if you’re detail-oriented, and showcase it

In 1962, NASA was set to send its first interplanetary probe, Mariner1, 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 careful 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 survey2 found that employers rank this competency ahead of other valuable requirements, such as technical capabilities and interpersonal skills.

Common traits of detail-oriented employees

Being detail-oriented is a valuable and desirable skill. But, how can you tell if you actually possess this quality yourself? Here are 13 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 don't 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 an exceptional memory and recall almost everything. including mental reminders for your deskmate's coffee order and the timeline for your team's projects.

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 the 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 grammatical errors that would otherwise go 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 developing.

If you’re wondering how to become more detail-oriented, here are a few tactics to try.

1. Know your strengths and blind spots

When improving any skill, it’s helpful to get a baseline to see where you rank. This is where a platform such as Fingerprint for Success can be particularly useful.

After you've taken the free assessment (it only takes 15-20mins), you'll receive a comprehensive report outlining your motivational traits. This allows you to see your strengths and it will also highlight any blind spots. Blind spots are traits you have low motivation for.

F4S allows you to benchmark where your motivational traits lie in relation to the rest of your local working population. If you set up a team in F4S, you can also see how you compare to the rest of your team.

F4S workplace assessment shows your strengths and motivations at work

You can then look at your 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? Is it in 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 the details is going to require a 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. If your motivation for Depth is low, you can set a goal in the F4S platform to develop this.

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 because you’ll need to go back and fix mistakes later.

3. Stop multitasking (seriously)

Similarly, when you’re focused on too many things, you don’t have the mental capacity to attend to the details.

That means you’re bound to miss important things. Research on multitasking shows that multitasking can lead 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 to ensure you give the task at hand your undivided attention. You’ll have a much easier time paying attention to tasks 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 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. 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.

6. Use task management software

Task management software can be a useful tool, especially if you're breaking down a project into smaller steps. Monday, Asana, and Trello are task and project management apps that can you improve your attention to detail.

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 produce undeniably high-quality work because they make sure every last element of their project is polished.

2. Detail-oriented people are efficient with highly detailed projects

People who are detail-oriented don’t necessarily work quickly. Being detail-oriented leads to fewer mistakes in projects such as programming, design, and research. Resulting in more efficient work in the long run.

3. Detail-oriented people are highly trusted

Because they frequently turn out top-notch work, detail-oriented people are valued and relied upon by their work teams. Their colleagues trust them to not only meet expectations but exceed them.

The cons of being too 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. Unfortunately, in the working world, it's not always possible to solely focus on an urgent task without distractions. Detail-oriented people may delay starting work because they want every detail to be covered before starting.

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 examine 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!

If you’re unsure what your top workplace motivations are F4S can help. Take the free F4S assessment to learn more about yourself and start setting professional or personal goals. You’ll receive a detailed guide with personalized insights and recommended coaching plans to support your success. 

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How to list detail orientation 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 empty words 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 US$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 the recruiter’s attention way more than an unsupported term in your skills section.

How to demonstrate that you’re detail-oriented in a job interview

Your resume gets you in the door, and the job interview allows you to 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? Asking questions such as these shows attention to detail and helps avoid last-minute problems.
  • 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, without being too early.
  • 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 detail 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. Ask personalized questions, about awards, or new features. This shows you're well-researched and have great attention to detail.

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:

  • Fast-paced
  • Quick-thinking
  • Multitasking
  • Juggling
  • Flexible
  • Agile
  • Adaptable

A "fast-paced" or "high-pressure" work environment may require you to think quickly with little information. And that’s a culture that might not suit your preference to take your time with specifics.

Honestly, most positions can benefit from 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 the reputation of an organization. And there often isn’t time to grasp all of the details of scenarios before responding to them.

2. CEO

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 of the 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 (such as timelines, deliverables, etc.) from other people. That can be frustrating for you if you prefer to handle all of the details yourself.

4. Stockbroker

Whether the market is good or the market is bad, stockbrokers need to act quickly. 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 occupations that benefit from a high level of detail orientation.

1. Accountant or bookkeeper

In a now widely-known accounting error, Bank of America3 overstated its available capital by US$4 billion for years. An error went undetected by the bank’s accountants and auditors. Stories such as these show why you have to pay attention to details if you want to work in accounting or bookkeeping.

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. Troubleshooting complex problems requires being detail-oriented and committed to finding solutions.

4. Executive assistant

Executive assistants handle a lot of important tasks. Executive assistants need to be on top of the details because they often help people who are short on time and don't want to deal with the details.

5. Journalist

Journalism involves a combination of conducting thorough research and questioning facts and assumptions. It also includes lots of careful proofreading. Each of those tasks requires a commitment to detail.

6. Pharmacist

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 have to test things to make sure they meet strict rules. Being thorough and evaluating all details, even small ones, is crucial.

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

When you work in customer service, you have to do everything. From fixing problems to finding out details about orders and interactions. Your willingness to solve problems and remember details about customers will make you good at giving great service.

Detail oriented? It’s a great strength in the right career!

There are many high-profile examples of what can go wrong when professionals don't pay attention to details. 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.

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1. Mariner 1, NASA, https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mariner-1/

2. Kaitlin McManus, What’s the Number One Skill Employers Seek?, (2020), https://firsthand.co/blogs/admit-one-vaults-mba-law-school-and-college-blog/what-s-the-number-one-skill-employers-seek

3. Eavis, P & Corker, M. (2014), Bank of America Finds a Mistake: $4 Billion Less Capital, Available at: DealBook, https://archive.nytimes.com/dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/04/28/bank-of-america-suspends-buyback-and-dividend-increase/#:~:text=The%20mistake%2C%20which%20had%20gone,capital%20than%20it%20actually%20had.

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