Observation Skills: Definition and Examples

Updated August 9, 2022

When you're applying for jobs, it's imperative that you adequately communicate your strengths and highlight skills that are beneficial for the role you're seeking. Developing your observation skills makes you a more effective communicator and employee, which is why many employers look for candidates that possess this ability.

In this article, we explain what observation skills are, explore how you can improve them and utilize them in the workplace and provide ways to highlight these skills during the application process.

What are observation skills?

Observation skills refer to the ability to use all five of your senses to recognize, analyze and recall your surroundings. This practice is often associated with mindfulness because it encourages you to be present and aware of the details of your daily life.

Related: 10 Top Job Skills for Any Industry: Transferable Skills You Need

Examples of observation skills

Observation skills are dependent on several other abilities and attributes, such as:


Perhaps one of the most important aspects of effective communication is the ability to actively listen. When you possess this skill, you can dedicate your focus to the person speaking, comprehend their message and respond in an appropriate and thoughtful manner.

You do this by paying attention to the speaker's verbal and nonverbal cues, such as tone of voice and facial expressions. As a result, you can engage in the conversation and recall its details without needing to ask the speaker to repeat information.

Aside from improving your relationships and interpersonal skills, active listening ensures that your verbal and written communication is more accurate.

Emotional intelligence

The ability to evaluate and regulate your own emotions as well as recognize and empathize with the emotions of others is a skill that is known as emotional intelligence.

Though this skill's primary benefit is that it helps you connect with those around you and build meaningful relationships, it's also a powerful tool of observation. By identifying the emotional state of others, you can better recognize how you should interact with and respond to those around you.

Critical thinking

Your ability to think critically has a significant influence on your observation skills. Critical thinking, or the ability to analyze context and facts so that you can thoroughly understand a topic or problem, requires you to remain objective as you identify issues and develop effective solutions.

Attention to detail

Attention to detail is the ability to approach and accomplish tasks with thoroughness and accuracy. This skill plays a strong role in productivity, but it's also key to effective observation because it allows you to recognize small details and adjust your actions to accommodate them.

How to improve observation skills

You can follow these steps to improve your observation skills:

1. Look for details

Take some time each day to pause what you're doing and try to pick out as many details as you can from your surroundings. There are usually big or attention-grabbing things in your environment, but try to move past these objects to find some of the smaller, less noticeable attributes.

For example, you might immediately notice the computer, chair and desk in a colleague's office, but try to pick out details about the paint, items on the desk, pictures on the walls and even the carpeting.

2. Avoid distractions

Electronic devices, busy surroundings or even your own thoughts can easily distract you from observing the places and people around you. Instead of listening to music on your walk or commute to work, try paying attention to the sounds and sights to see what you notice.

3. Keep an observation journal

It can be helpful to carry around a portable journal with you so that you can write or draw the things you notice. You can also keep a document on your computer for small observations throughout the day. Focus on things like the:

  • Objects around you, including their placement, shape, size and color.

  • People present, including what they're doing and what they're wearing.

  • Things you see, hear, touch, taste and smell.

4. Quantify things as you notice them

As you observe, try to be as specific as possible. A great way to do this is to avoid generalizations like, "There were some people in the break room." Instead, count exactly how many people there were.

Observation skills in the workplace

Here are a few ways that you can use observation skills at work:

Be present

Whether you're having a conversation or you're in a meeting, focusing fully on the moment allows you to contribute in a more meaningful way. During a meeting, taking notes is a great way to ensure that you remain engaged.

Ask for feedback

Observing the other person's facial expressions and other nonverbal cues helps recognize how they're interpreting the information you're sharing, but it's still important to directly ask people for their feedback.

By giving them a chance to share what they're thinking or feeling and then actively listening to their response, you can make sure you’re communicating effectively and address any misunderstandings before they become bigger issues.

Notice how the details relate to the bigger picture

Being detail-oriented allows you to observe situations and surroundings more critically, but it's important to observe how these small details fit into the broader scope. This allows you to better understand issues so that you can develop solutions.

How to highlight observation skills

Observation skills are highly sought after by employers, so it's important that you showcase them throughout the hiring process.

Observation skills for resume and cover letter

One of the best ways that you can communicate your observation skills on a resume and cover letter is by crafting documents that are relevant to the position and free of errors.By tailoring your resume and cover letter to the role, you're emphasizing to hiring managers that you're familiar with the job description and actively interested in the opportunity.

Aside from showing that you possess these skills, you should include observation skills in your resume's skills section as well as some of the other examples of observation skills, such as active listening.

It can be helpful to mention how you used observation in past positions on both your resume and your cover letter. If you can, provide quantifiable results that demonstrate how your use of these skills contributed to the organization in some way.

Observation skills for the job interview

Because observation skills are key to communication, one of the best ways you can showcase them in an interview is by actively listening, asking thoughtful questions and responding to the interviewer's queues.

For example, you can try to match the interviewer's tone of voice and volume to ensure that you're speaking appropriately for the situation.

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