attention to detail

What is attention to detail?

Attention to detail refers to a person’s behavioural propensity towards thoroughness, accuracy, and consistency when accomplishing tasks. For example, when drafting documents, employees with exceptional attention to detail will do their best to avoid spelling errors, avoid internal inconsistencies, and relay all important details that the document requires. Not only does this ensure that employees work to a high standard, it also minimises the amount of supervision that employees require, as employers can have confidence in their workforce’s ability to avoid errors.

The antithesis of attention to detail is carelessness, which implies a lack of appreciation or interest in the finer details. When someone cares little for the details, they will likely rush through their work, spending little time and effort to ensure accuracy or precision in their deliverables. Naturally, employees that are careless will require extra supervision, and their work will need to be thoroughly checked by multiple colleagues, supervisors, or managers before completion. As a result, attention to detail is a common core competency, and hiring managers often seek candidates that express excellent attention to detail.

Why attention to detail matters

Attention to detail is essential to performance in any role where errors can be costly to the employing organisation. For example, if a finance administrator accidentally lists the wrong figure on a large invoice, this could result in tangible financial losses for the organisation and may cause significant embarrassment in front of a supplier or customer. In more senior roles, a lack of attention to detail could result in poorly written contracts, policies, and procedures, which leaves the organisation vulnerable to legal challenges. Ensuring that relevant staff show excellent attention to detail minimises the risk of errors, and reduces the amount of checking, revising, and supervision that staff require.

As a competency, attention to detail is a very common performance criterion for highly processual work, or roles with a signification qualitative focus. These include, but are not limited to: administration, project management, legal professions, management, marketing, journalism, public relations, human resources, and customer service. As a general rule, roles which involve the adherence to strict processes, and / or involve a great deal of writing most commonly require staff to show excellent attention to detail and will be most negatively impacted when their staff display carelessness instead.

How to assess candidates on their attention to detail

Attention to detail as a psychological construct falls under the Big 5 personality trait of conscientiousness. Conscientious people are diligent, meticulous, and hardworking, and as a result the academic research shows a positive correlation between conscientiousness and job performance overall. At least in part, this can be attributed to greater attention to detail displayed by people who are highly conscientious, and similarly, poor performance can be attributed to the carelessness displayed by people who are less conscientious.

Although employment interviews often claim to measure a person’s attention to detail, research suggests that personality questionnaires are the only effective tool at measuring a candidate’s attention to detail. Ideally, a personality questionnaire that measures conscientiousness and its sub-facets should be used, allowing HR professionals and hiring managers to assess the most relevant personality sub-traits.

Our recommended Test Partnership assessments for measuring attention to detail Assessment(s):

Relevant TPAQ Trait(s):

  • Methodical: An individual’s attention to detail and their propensity to conduct tasks in a meticulous way.
  • Diligence: An individual’s propensity to follow the rules, uphold procedure and fulfil their obligations.
  • Discipline: An individual’s likelihood to remain productive and maintain focus during necessary day-today tasks.

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