How to Assess Attention to Detail in Job Applicants (+ Interview Questions)
If you’ve ever sent an email while forgetting to add the attachment, you probably know the value of attention to detail. Indeed, this is one of the most sought-after qualities in job ads, regardless of industry or seniority.
Why is attention to detail so important and does it really matter all that much in your new hires? Today, you’ll find out...
- Why attention to detail is important as a work-related skill in employees
- How you can measure and assess it
- Interview questions to assess attention to detail
Let’s dig in!
Why is attention to detail important?
With so many job ads demanding being detail-oriented as part of personal employee skills, it’s clear that this is a highly desirable character trait for employers. While it’s not as important for every industry and role, for most vacancies, attention to detail ranks very high on the scale of importance. Here’s why.
Great attention to detail means better work.
Simply put, employees with high attention to detail don’t live by the mantra of “done is better than perfect“. They don’t let mistakes slip by and they’re not satisfied with sub-par work. In general, the quality of the work they do is much higher than with employees who lack basic attention to detail.
Attention to detail can make or break your company.
Small details can have big consequences, as Delta Airlines witnessed a couple of years ago. In 2014, the USA beat Ghana in a World Cup match, which Delta celebrated with a photo of the Statue of Liberty (representing the USA) and one of a giraffe (representing Ghana). There’s only one problem - there aren’t really any giraffes in Ghana.
In a somewhat related incident, American Apparel wanted to celebrate Independence day properly - with fireworks. On their Tumblr account, they posted a photo, not with fireworks, but with a photo of the Challenger space shuttle, which exploded in 1986. Needless to say, the general public did not find it very funny.
What better way to explain attention to detail as a core value in an employee than by using cold, hard numbers? In a case that now made history books, NASA launched Mariner 1 into space, the first interplanar probe the world has ever seen. Things were looking swell up until the launch moment, when the probe went off the planned trajectory and crashed. The reason for the failure was just one missing hyphen in the code. This fatal mistake cost NASA $80 million.
In another, even more dated incident, the US government’s 1872 tariff act exempted “fruit plants, tropical and semi-tropical for the purpose of propagation or cultivation” from the import tariff. There’s just one thing – there was supposed to be a comma between fruit and plants. The error resulted in $40 million of damage to the US economy, in today’s money.
While not every job carries the risk of multi-million-dollar damage for a tiny slip-up, cases like these illustrate the importance of attention to detail. Small mistakes such as typos or omitted punctuation marks can have dire consequences.
Your internal processes get better.
A detail-oriented person continuously works on improving their own workflow and processes and aims to be quicker, more efficient and have a higher quality of work. Having a person like this on your team benefits your company greatly as they can create new and improve existing processes to ensure everyone does a better job. This is of special importance for startups, which don’t have established standard operating procedures and workflows.
It’s important, but not for every position.
In a research by Center for European Policy Studies, they analyzed more than 30,000 job ads to find the most common requirements in education and formal qualifications, cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Attention to detail was listed as part of the reliability skill within the non-cognitive skills group.
According to research, reliability as a skill ranges on the scale of importance from 0-13% compared to rest of the non-cognitive skills, and it very much depends on the job position. In other words, the importance of attention to detail is highly dependent on the role in question.
Common ways to spot a detail-oriented candidate
So, what are the most common ways to find out if your job applicant has great attention to detail? Besides simply asking them, there are some more systematic ways.
Resume and cover letter
You probably already know by now that recruiters and HR managers spend mere seconds reviewing applicant resumes. When they do glance over a resume, they’re scanning for reasons to put candidates on the no pile, and spelling and grammar errors are one of the easiest ways to narrow down a large bulk of applicants.
According to research, 61% of recruiters automatically dismiss candidates based on a typo in their resume and cover letter. If the application goes through, 43% of hiring managers disqualify candidates based on spelling.
Finally, some more recent research data shows that 59% of all recruiters will reject a candidate over poor spelling and grammar.
This is one of the most common ways to assess candidates’ attention to detail. While spelling is hardly a relevant skill for a role such as a systems administrator, for example, it is relevant for showing how detail-oriented the candidate is in their application. Fair or unfair, there are hundreds of job applicants for a single position and by making their application pixel perfect, the candidate is sending a message they really want the job.
At Hundred5, we’re huge fans of testing (it’s what we do, after all). As such, we have to note that there are personality tests designed to assess attention to detail, the most famous being Culture Index. Here’s an example of a real-world test and accuracy – I’ll let you be the judge.
As any other personality test, take the results with a grain of salt. However, for practical, measurable results, this is by far the best assessment.
If the role is suitable for it, one of the easiest ways to assess attention to detail in candidates is to take a glance at their previous work. As they apply for the position, ask for a portfolio or a representative sample of what they do.
For example, I’ve had to hire and interview quite a few writers, and samples were always the easiest way to assess their attention to detail. As writing is one of those roles where this character trait is of utmost importance, I had to ensure that the writers I hire actually care about the quality of their finished work, besides knowing that present perfect is a tense and not an app similar to PowerPoint.
Likewise, many developers assess the quality of new applicants by taking a look at their code before even considering a resume. They want to know if the code is clean, if it can easily be read, followed and maintained.
Attention to detail – interview questions
The interview is the ideal place for you to review how detail-oriented a candidate really is. Since they have to respond immediately, there’s very little room for doctoring the replies that aren’t true to their nature. Here are some of the best interview questions you can use to assess attention to detail.
1. Tell me about a time when you made a mistake in your work. How did you find it and what did you to make it up? – Everybody makes mistakes, even the most detail-oriented of employees. Admitting they made a mistake is a sign they own up to their errors, and the weight of the mistake will tell you how much of a mishap it was. Finally, you get to see the methods for correcting the mistake.
2. What tools do you use to ensure that there are no mistakes in your work? – You can find out the processes and tools candidates use to double-check their finished work. E.g. for writing, I use Word’s spell checker, Grammarly, Yoast and the Hemmingway App.
3. How do you ensure quality when there are tight deadlines? Have you ever had to sacrifice quality just to meet a deadline? – See how well the candidate works under pressure and whether they prioritize quality of work or deadlines.
4. Have you ever found an error that wasn’t obvious from the start? – If the candidate can catch mistakes from other coworkers, it’s a sign of great attention to detail.
5. Have you ever had to explain to someone in a superior position that they made a mistake? How did you approach it and what were the results? – You can assess people and negotiation skills.
6. Have you ever worked on something where it was crucial to be accurate? – You get to find out candidate’s experience with tasks where attention to detail was of utmost importance.
7. Do you have a specific process you follow in your line of work? – If the candidate uses a standard operating procedure for everything they do, this is when they’ll show it off.
8. How do you manage your daily workload? – Candidates with great attention to detail can organize their time well. This is especially important in freelance and remote roles.
9. Are you a detail-oriented worker? – Sometimes, the simplest question is the best. See what the candidate says to a direct question about their attention to detail.
10. How do you go about getting all the important details from an important customer? – How well they pay attention in client-facing roles.
11. A customer/client sends over a request and you don’t understand it. What do you do? – Knowing all the details is crucial to getting the job done, as is wanting to know them.
12. Your co-worker makes a mistake in their work and you spot it. What do you do? – Find out how a candidate handles errors that others make.
While attention to detail is not equally important in all roles, it is one of the most essential personal non-cognitive skills for employees, regardless of the industry or job. While assessing is not always a walk in the park, it’s essential to know if a candidate is detail-oriented to ensure that they perform well in their role and benefit your company.
Who knows, maybe there’s a comma out there that could cost your company millions as well.
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