Are there good jobs for people who aren't detail-oriented?
March 12, 2013 11:39 PM   Subscribe

It seems like almost every job posting asks for someone who is "detail-oriented", but I'm coming to realize that I'm not actually detail-oriented, even though I fake it pretty well. I feel like a slacker and like no one will want to hire me, but I've been hearing that's not true. So, if that's the case then what sorts of jobs are actually out there for people who aren't detail-oriented?

I'm slowly coming to accept that I'm not a detail-oriented person. I can do it pretty well, but it's stressful and exhausting especially when there's a lot on the line. I guess I'm what people call a big-picture thinker, or more of a relationship person than a project person, although I'm still figuring out exactly where I fall on the continuum.

The thing is, are there good jobs out there for people who aren't detail-oriented? I feel like everything I can think of requires attention to detail or project management, which feels overwhelming when I look up at higher level positions and the responsibility they hold.

I figure there must be options out there for but I just don't know what they are or what to look for. But I do think they would probably fit me much better than the jobs I've been working thus far. I'd love to get your insight, especially relating to fields that are out to make the world a better place, like in social justice and community development.

Thank you in advance. :)
posted by inatizzy to Work & Money (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The thing is, are there good jobs out there for people who aren't detail-oriented?

Looks for jobs where you take things as they come to you, and you have to think on your feet, rather than planning ahead. Things like customer service or call center jobs. It's really going to limit advancement opportunities for you, though. Being detail oriented is a learned skill. Try picking up a book like Getting Things Done, it can help a lot.
posted by empath at 12:44 AM on March 13, 2013

Community arts worker? Counsellor? Youth worker? Life coach? Charity fundraiser?
posted by dontjumplarry at 1:15 AM on March 13, 2013

Best answer: You're over-thinking this.

The part of your question where you say " I can do it pretty well , but it's stressful and exhausting especially when there's a lot on the line" actually describes what most employers are looking for when they say they want detail-orientation. You are assuming that everyone who does well in these positions is a sort of zen master of long lists of figures, and that's not the case. "Detail oriented" in a job description just means "willing to sit still and think things through, willing to finish projects, not a total airhead/goof-off." There is no real-life dichotomy between detail and big-picture/relationship thinkers.

Senior project-management roles always look daunting from outside, but keep in mind that you (ideally) don't get promoted into those roles until you have learned the skillset they require working lower down the ladder. By the time you get there, most of what they do is stuff you've been doing for years, and there's only 1 job's worth of new stuff to learn. Plus, there are all sorts of systems and tools for project management that help you break things down into small, manageable steps and tick them off when finished. Most people who manage projects don't just use their computerlike superbrains to do so! A smart person can do those jobs without being anything close to the Rainman ideal you've built up in your head. Much of project-management is actually all about leading teams and building relationships - in other words, perfect for what you like to do.

Really, what you've figured out about yourself is useful info about what kinds of work you enjoy. Probably accounting, software testing, medical billing, and civil engineering aren't the fields for you...but that leaves you a ton of options! There are even forms of large-scale project management that are ideal for "relationship" people. Think event/conference management, HR strategy, business process consulting, training and staff development, etc. The "third sector", where you'd like to work, has tons of these "relationships and detail" roles - campaign management, social marketing and social marketing research, large-gifts campaigns, youth and senior outreach efforts, volunteer program coordination, etc. Just steer clear of nonprofit accountancy and database maintenance (which you clearly won't enjoy) and you will be fine.
posted by Wylla at 1:54 AM on March 13, 2013 [20 favorites]

Just chiming in to second what Wylla said. In most normal jobs/careers, detail-oriented is code for "pays attention and gives a crap." Once you have some experience in a position, it will become less stressful.

That said, I would also look for positions that require strategic thinking, "action orientation" (code for "does something even if it is not perfect rare than sits in the dark crying in the absence of 100 per cent certainty or perfection).
posted by rpfields at 2:35 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well if you can fake it pretty well, how about the non-profit/social justice/community development equivalent of a salesperson, like someone who solicits large donations from companies or solicits company participation in a non-profit's community programs or recruits volunteers? There are lots of different sorts of approaches to sales but many of the successful salespeople I've known are people who are almost skillful at ignoring details - bulldozing over objections, shrugging off rejection and moving to the next lead, and taking everything in stride while just relentlessly focusing on "closing the deal".
posted by XMLicious at 3:03 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Massage therapist. Handling appointments with clients might be the most important detail oriented aspect of the job.

I think certification requires that you take an anatomy class, so not completely smooth sailing.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:47 AM on March 13, 2013

If you can get yourself onto a management track at a highly political organization, where people doing detail-oriented jobs would be reporting to you from the beginning, that might be your answer.

Even if others don't report to you, with some political maneuvering, you might be able to de facto force them to. Say there's a major project, you might be able to ask for a series of favours from a detail-worker in another department, then threaten to blame that department's non-cooperation if they don't do tasks for you on an ongoing basis.

You need to have a thick skin for this, combined with a certain air of conviction that detailed work is beneath you. It will only work if your work is what gets rewarded and the detailed tasks in question are ones that are not rewarded by the company. You may have to be willing to flat-out refuse to learn certain skills that are usually seen as necessary to do your job, but again, that can work if you have some brazenness and the alleged necessary skills are ones that the company doesn't reward.
posted by tel3path at 4:28 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Being more of a "people person" than a "details person" seems quite valuable, actually. A lot of work in large offices is extremely inefficient. Gains in productivity don't typically come from making the "details people" work faster, they come from smart, skilled management staff that know how to reduce friction and build relationships between departments to get things done. If you're good at looking at "the big picture" and greasing the wheels, all while saving face and making your people look good, you have a bright future. Don't over-think it!
posted by deathpanels at 6:17 AM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: "Detail oriented" goes in job descriptions of jobs like administrative assistants and schedulers in order to filter out people who can't spell of aren't attentive to their work. Unless you become a lawyer or an accountant, I don't think you will be faced with a career where you will have to spend time doing the kind of "detail oriented" work you're being asked to in the kind of jobs you're applying to now.
posted by deanc at 6:35 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: "Detail orientated" is a buzz word, or buzz phrase I guess. I doubt any potential employer can even verbalize exactly what that means to them. Don't worry about it. If your resume and cover letter is free of misspellings and typos you pass the "detail orientated" bar for almost all jobs you'll be applying for.
posted by COD at 7:20 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The vast majority of corporate salespeople I've ever met are NOT detail-oriented. Most CEOs aren't great with details either, they are idea people.

That is why they need/have admin people who ARE detail oriented.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:56 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing Wylla. In a previous job I had an employee who was TRULY detail-oriented and it was horrible, as this person was so focused on the details that they were unable to see the larger picture, and thus unable to make the correct decisions as to where to invest their time and effort and, what's worse, argued bitterly with me on the subject when I told them to stop doing X in favor of Y, and such. (I so wish I'd had the ability to fire people in that job, but *my* boss was the person with the power, and was not on-site, and thus did not understand the problems. We had a lot of communication and management issues there.)

Anyway, that employee was also unable to manage our part-time workers who were less detail-oriented because they could not realize that the job the part-timers were doing was adequate for our purposes, and it led to serious strain because that employee was demanding unnecessarily perfectionist results from people who were incapable of giving them.

So: your level of detail orientation is probably adequate for most jobs (the exception being the previous military job held by the one part-timer we had whose quick, accurate results were satisfactory to everyone involved because they had been trained to build bombs! Although my employee horked this person off for other reasons)
posted by telophase at 9:10 AM on March 13, 2013

Thanks for this question. In my ESL Classes, when I teach about how to get a better job, the textbook introduces this expression and I've had trouble coming up with a good definition, in fact I often go off on a tanget about "the Orient" and "oriented" (but of course, never 'orientated').

Anyway, there's a career counselor I hear on the radio occasionally who's addressed the issue of 'slacker jobs'. I think he's kind of a jerk, but he does have some good ideas. Here's his lists of 40 Slacker Careers and the Top 38 Slacker Jobs.
posted by Rash at 10:47 AM on March 13, 2013

Some employers might take detail-oriented to mean careful, conscientious, mindful, focused. If you are none of those, then your options are more limited, but if you have some of those traits, then you need to play to those strengths and not be as concerned that you don't like spending eight hours a day looking at a spreadsheet!
posted by Dansaman at 12:48 PM on March 13, 2013

I am you. I am not detail oriented at all. AT ALL.

1. They put this in job description all the time and I've had plenty of jobs that put it in there and there was not detail oriented task to be found.

2. In this job there are tons of detail oriented things to do, but so many that everybody makes some mistakes. I make far more than everyone else, but, guess what, it's so detail oriented that firing me and training someone else is a huge pain in the ass.

3. There are some things you'll never get and you'll never be good at. My advice is to not seek out jobs that are detail oriented, but don't shy away from those that are described that way.
posted by josher71 at 2:41 PM on March 13, 2013

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