The devil is in the detail, a popular saying goes. But how to assess the level of attention to detail of a job applicant? I know about several ways of doing so, and targeted questions are just one of them. Let’s analyze five methods, one by one.


Their job application will already tell you a lot

You can actually learn a lot about someone long before you shake hands in the interviews. Just look at their job application. Did they include only their resume, or did they attach cover letter, references, and perhaps even a link to their online work portfolio?

Did they follow the instructions from the job description to the point, or did they forget to send something (for example cover letter)? And what about their resume? Did they adjust it to your job offer (changing the objective perhaps), or does it look like a general document they send to every employer?

Do they use any special format, or layout of the document? And do they include details, such as exact dates of their studies and employments?

All these things already tell you a lot about their attention to detail. There is just one catch, a reason why this method isn’t bullet proof: many people use professional resume writers, or they craft their resume with a help of an online resume builder.

So while you can learn a lot from the documents, and if attention to detail plays a pivotal role for you, you can screen out some candidates at this stage already, you will have talk to the rest of them to get a complete picture…


Simple test of an attention to detail can tell you everything

I actually led several interview processes for positions in which attention to detail belonged to the most important abilities. I always included a simple test in such interviews, one page long. Job applicants had to solve several problems that were seemingly simple, but actually tested their attention to detail.

For example, one point in the test said: Write your last name and first name in capital letters, in parallel to the lines on this paper, starting from the right bottom corner of this page, and draw two circles around your writing.

Sounds simple? I can tell you than less than 50% of job applicants typically got it right! They either did not write the text in parallel to the lines, or started with first name instead of last names, or didn’t use capitals, or forgot about the circles, etc.

Surely, stress played a role (* if you tend to be stressed, check our guide on how to overcome interview nerves), but such a test always gave me a good idea about whether a person pays attention to details, and whether they can follow written instructions properly (which is also important for many jobs).

Job candidate is nervous on the call with the employer

Interview questions that target attention to detail

You can always add few question to the mix, questions that somehow indicate the level of attention to detail of each job applicant. To such questions belong:

  • Give us a detailed description of a typical day in work in your last job. (You observe whether they point out particular times, employees, roles, tasks, etc, whether there is any logic in what they are saying.)
  • Would you describe yourself as a detail-oriented person? (Ask them directly and see how they describe themselves in this regard.)
  • What do you know about our company? (Did they do their research? Do they know something about your vision, products, achievements, employees? If they do, it suggest that they pay attention to details.)
  • What do you do to avoid mistakes in your work?
  • If you should characterize yourself with five qualities or skills, which skills would you pick? (Five is quite a big number, detail-oriented should make the list if they consider it their strength.)
  • Tell us about your most successful project. (Do they include details and numbers in their answer? Listening to their description, can you envision the work they actually did?)
  • Tell us about a time you found a mistake someone from your colleagues made but did not notice.


Contact their former boss for feedback

Another method of learning more about their attention to detail (and about anything else ) consists in contacting their former bosses. You can inquire directly about any quality, or you can simply ask them to describe the employee, and see whether they include “detail-oriented” in their description.

This method has some drawbacks, however. First of all, if you interview a fresh graduate who never had any job then there is no employer to call to. Secondly, as you surely experienced first hand, not all employer-employee relationships end on good terms.

I remember several instances when I contacted former employer to get some feedback on the skills of a job applicant, and their former boss told me things that contrasted sharply with everything I learned about the job applicant up to that point, with the help of tests and questions… Something was not right.

Calling former employers to get references is definitely a good idea, but you should not based your judgment solely or primarily on that, unless you know their former boss and are sure that you can rely on their judgement.


Get a general impression during the interviews

At the end of the day, you should be able to make a decent picture of the skills and personality of a job applicant, without inquiring them about something special.

Observe how they talk about their former jobs, colleagues, whether they ask relevant questions, whether they talk to the point, and so on. Their behavior and answers should help you indicate whether they pay little attention to detail, or perhaps even too much…


Conclusion, questions to test other important skills and abilities

From the moment the job applicant contacts you for the first time, until the handshake at the end of the interviews–you have plenty of opportunities to judge their attention to detail.

Reading their resume, asking them targeted questions, contacting their former bosses, or giving them a simple written test, just like the one I described in this article. Each of the methods has some flaws, however.

If attention to detail really stands on the top of your list of criteria for an ideal job applicant, you should use at least two or three methods, to crosscheck your findings (for example questions, practical test, and references from their past employer). I wish you good luck, and hope you will choose the best candidate!

May also interest you:

Matthew Chulaw
Latest posts by Matthew Chulaw (see all)