Sunday, January 9, 2011

How Detail Oriented Are You?

In my current career, which oscillates between consultant, rogue man about town, international man of mystery, retiree and business analyst depending on whom I’m talking to, I tend to read a lot of job descriptions. Mostly this is because my beloved sister, Bold Sharon, is convinced that the best way to get a job in this town is from or Workopolis. Every time we have a discussion about my sort of unemployment (which isn’t really full-time unemployment) – I like to think of it more as an interregnum between taking over the world and not taking the world – Bold (because she cares) is always on my case to concentrate less on networking and more on actual job postings, “Its great that you met with the CEO of a company, but does he have a job to give you?” Such is older sister love.

But back to job descriptions and back to the Seinfeld-esque, have you ever noticed joke that I’m about to make: have you ever noticed that almost all job descriptions contain the words: detail oriented (or the variant: strong attention to detail)? I don’t mean this as some sort of ode to late nineties observational humour; I’m being serious, every f’ing job description literally has that phrase listed as a final bullet point under the section “required skills”.

The problem – what if you’re not detail oriented? Does everyone simply lie as they write their hundredth cover letter, “as a detail oriented person I look forward to spreading my detail oriented-ness all over your place of employment. I also look forward to discussing just how detail oriented I am at your earliest convenience.” [Sidebar: You know who’d I’d like to spread my detail orientedness on by the way – Ryan Gosling.]

This is not to say that I am not detail oriented (dear prospective employees who are reading this blog I am so detail oriented you won’t know what to do with yourself) because I am. Well… I’m not. Sometimes I am very detail oriented – I can probably tell you when your hair colour changed, or as I type this sitting across from a random person at a coffee shop I can tell based on his ring that he’s Jewish (magen david ring), snowboards (small Burton sticker on his clipboard) and from his datebook, I suspect he may be cheating on his girlfriend (if I told you how I figured that out – I’d have to kill you). Does that make me detail oriented or am I just perceptive, a la Sherlock Holmes?

Detail orientedness has become some weird demand of our society; odd because I’m pretty sure NO ONE is actually that detail oriented, with the exception of those Type A people who freak the $hit out of me. If you’ve ever worked for a boss who is Blackberry/iPhone obsessed you’ve probably noticed that detail is often lacking in the smart-phone age. I had one beloved boss whom would write quick task oriented emails from the subway. What they lacked in detail (I quickly learned her short-forms and words she commonly misspelled on her blackberry) they had in earnestness. Actual task oriented missives meant more in terms of actual job productivity.

The reality is that most people aren’t that detail oriented. My dear friend M worked in advertising for many years before her own retirement to become a Calgarian socialite. Most account executive job descriptions in the advertising world say they want someone who is detail oriented. Yet at some point in her career M. had to stop the production of an advertising flier because there was a huge spelling mistake. How many “detail oriented” people do you think looked over and read the proofs and approved it? 2? 5?

Was everyone in this instance awesomely bad at his or her job? No, not really. “Detail oriented” isn’t a task; it isn’t a job description; it’s a falsity. We’ve created an economy where we somehow expect everyone to be detail oriented – because they lied to you in their job interview – but managers don’t often actually ask people to be detail oriented. Imagine if in the above situation, a job description specifically stated: must be able to proofread. Proofreading is different from being detail oriented; proofreading is a skill and subsequently proofreading is a specific requirement that not everyone can lie about. Because it is also specific employees view it as a task, NOT as an expectation.

Our expectations from employees shouldn’t be nebulousness. By demanding that everyone be detail oriented however, we risk creating an employment marketplace wherein we prioritize generalism (whatever, apparently that’s not a word) over requirements. In the interim – detail oriented has simply become a cliché of the HR world.

The time for rebellion is nigh!


  1. Sense of humor, I love it! :)
    I have to agree with you, Faux. Personally, the words "detail-oriented" have been on all of the job descriptions too long that we forgot what it really means. And I don't think it even matters to the HR. A lot of people who aren't detail oriented still lands a great job.
    However, we have to go back to you being unemployed and what your sister told you about those job sites. What I can advice you is that those job sites are over-rated. She might think posting your resume on Workopolis will immediately land you a job, but the ugly truth is, it wouldn't. There's a low rate of getting hired on Workopolis. You should try some other freelance sites like or There, it doesn't matter if you're detail oriented or not, it will open yourself to a lot of great job opportunities.

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