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How to train yourself if you lack attention to detail

If you are the type of person who constantly gets markups and is told to check your work AGAIN, you probably lack attention to detail. Even though you check your work multiple times, some pesky typos always slip through. And every time you receive the dreaded markup, your Analyst scoffs at you to check your work better. If this is you, you are probably lacking attention to detail.

First off, don’t worry. This issue isn’t unfixable. We all started out with weak attention to detail. No worries. Attention to detail can be learned. Everyone can develop strong attention to detail. However, if you don’t fix it fast enough, lacking attention to detail might kill your return offer.

In this post, you will discover strategies you can use if you feel like you are lacking attention to detail. We will show you how to submit error-free work and documents. Save yourself time and effort. And get the credit you deserve.

Why attention to detail is so important

Your job is to save your team time. It does not matter if you are an Intern, Analyst or Associate. Everyone’s job is to save the Managing Director time. This is how you add value to the bank regardless of your seniority. Investment Banking is a tough business. We all know about the dreaded long hours in Investment Banking. That’s why we all want to get the job done, go home a bit earlier and catch some sleep.

If you lack attention to detail and submit work full of careless errors, we assume everything needs to be checked again. This is the exact opposite of saving time. This causes your team to lose time re-checking and re-doing your work. Interns work on a variety of tasks and might also end up working on live deals. But if you consistently mess up the smaller items due to lacking attention to detail, you will always be assigned boring and low-priority work. That’s where you don’t cause much damage if you mess up vs. a live deal and losing a client. Lacking attention to detail will kill your return offer and your career on the street if you don’t fix it.

On the other hand, once you have demonstrated strong attention to detail and established yourself as a strong performer, people will trust you more. You have proven yourself to be a reliable contributor who does not make careless errors. Eventually, you will be given more interesting tasks and can position yourself for a return offer. That’s why it’s crucial to establish yourself as a strong performer with great attention to detail early on.

How to improve attention to detail

1. Your first draft should be as final as possible

The first tip starts with a correct mindset. Attention to detail is not something that comes easily. It takes effort. Show your team that you are trying to get all the small details right. Don’t just treat your first draft as a first ugly draft and see what your superiors have to say. Your first draft should be as final as possible. It should be free of any careless errors. Any unclear items are clearly marked, so the reviewer knows what’s going on. Your first draft should show your team what you are capable of. You will get comments anyway. But it is easier to edit in a version that looks closer to a final draft than a rough draft with tons of typos and formatting errors.

2. Check your work multiple times

Accept that checking your work is equally important to drafting or outlining your items. It’s just part of the business. It is normal to check your work 3-5 times until you find every single typo. It’s just part of the process. Lacking attention to detail usually comes from skipping the review process and taking it easy.

If you want to make sure that there are no careless errors, you have to check your work multiple times. There is no way around it. Go over it again and again. You will not catch every typo and error in one go. That’s not what you should be aiming for. Think of it more as refinement steps. Each time you check your work, there will be fewer and fewer errors until there are none left.

Attention to detail does not come easy. It takes effort and the big secret is to check your work multiple times until you don’t find any careless errors.

3. Make a list of things you need to check

Skimming through your work is not good enough to catch every type of careless error. Chances are you will not catch every careless error in the first go. We recommend checking one time for each type of error. First, you check for formatting errors. Then, you check for typos. Then, you check whether the numbers make sense. Then, you do a final review of the document.

If you miss one of those items, it will make you appear “lacking attention to detail”. If you get your numbers right but the name of the CEO or company wrong, that does not look good. If you have zero typos but get your financials messed up, that does not look good either. Here is a list of things you need to check before submitting your work:

  • Formatting – Learn your company’s formatting convention. Ask for an old presentation that was sent to the client. This is your reference point. Do not try anything new. Be consistent with font sizes, font types, page titles and color schemes. Make sure everything looks clean and not “work in progress”

  • Typos, spelling and grammar – Check your spelling. Press F7. Get all the typos out. No typos or grammar errors. This goes without saying. But more importantly, make sure company names and C-level executives are correctly written. Copy/paste names. Never type names. Use CTRL + F to search for the old company name. This is a huge source of embarrassment and lack of attention to detail. Having a simple typo or grammar error is one thing, but having the wrong company name in the document can cost you your job

  • Financials and numbers – This is another great source of embarrassment. This is a hard right or wrong. Does this chart make sense? Do revenue and EBITDA figures make sense? Are all your cells linked properly? Are the currencies correct? USD millions vs. USD thousands? Make sure your numbers are 100% correct. With numbers, there are no room for errors. So, place extreme attention to detail with your numbers. One error can make you look like a fool

  • Markups and comments – Never miss any comments handed down to you. If you miss any comments given to you, it’s like ignoring your work instructions. This will make you look sloppy, aka lacking attention to detail. Take a highlighter and cross out the comments you have already processed

4. Print your work

The next tip is to print your work. Always print your work. Check your work in something other than the editing view of PowerPoint, Excel or Word. That way, you can spot careless errors easier. Checking your work on a computer screen, where everything is moving, makes it harder to catch every single error. It’s better to check your work in its final form (printed). This makes it more likely to spot more minor errors.

If you discover any minor nits, make the edits and then print it one more time before sending out your work. As others have mentioned in numerous forums, print out the document after you’ve made edits, and check it against your markups. It’s just very easy to miss things on your screen.

5. Pick a highlighter and mark your progress

If checking larger documents is too overwhelming for you and you constantly lose track of what you have checked or not, pick a highlighter and mark your progress. Re-checking your work that you have already checked is a great source of inefficiency. You are re-reading the same paragraph without making any progress. This becomes painfully obvious if you are checking a 35-page long document and end up re-reading the same pages.

Keep track of your progress. Print your work, pick a green highlighter and mark down the paragraphs or pages you have already reviewed. Then, you move on to the next page. Is this section correct? Does it make sense? If yes, cross it out and move to the next section. Whenever you have reviewed a section in your document, pick your green highlighter and cross that section out. That’s how you keep track of your progress without going crazy. You can also use a red or orange highlighter to mark things that need to be changed.

If you need to take a break, take a break. Walk around the office, return and continue where you left off. That’s how you prevent re-checking sections and getting all confused. That’s how you efficiently check larger documents – by keeping track of your progress.

Where does it leave us?

In Investment Banking, attention to detail is critical. Everyone is checking the work of other people. The Analyst checks the Intern’s work. The Associate checks the Analyst’s work. The VP checks the Associate’s work. If you want to survive on the street, there is no way around checking your work multiple times.

Attention to detail takes effort. But it is a skill that can be learned. There are no secrets, just a repeatable process to catch every type of error. If you think you lack attention to detail, here are a couple of steps to improve your attention to detail:

  1. Your first draft should be as final as possible

  2. Check your work multiple times

  3. Make a list of things you need to check: formatting, typos & grammar, financials & numbers and markups & comments

  4. Print your work to spot errors better

  5. Pick a highlighter and mark your progress not to get lost

That’s how you train yourself if you lack attention to detail. Don’t worry, attention to detail is a skill that can be learned. Following these steps will improve your attention to detail and help you get the credit you deserve.

Additional resources

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