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Written by Paul DruryPaul Drury

Critical thinking skills: What are they and why do employers care about them?

15 min read
Critical thinking skills: What are they and why do employers care about them?
Artwork by:Stas Podgornov
Thinking through a difficult problem with a logical and unbiased approach lies at the heart of great decision making. Critical thinking skills are highly prized by all employers, so make sure to talk about them during your job search.

Being able to conceptualize, analyze and evaluate information to generate appropriate outcomes is the primary driver of corporate decisions. Disciplined and critical thinking skills lead to creative approaches, free of irrational biases and self-interest.

Employers understand that decision making is inherently complex, so when it comes to meeting a potential new employee, critical thinking skills are often at the top of the agenda. When left unchecked, lazy workplace thinking can cause damage. If your boss knows that you have turned over every stone in the search for a solution, they will sleep easy.

In this blog, we will consider critical thinking from a job seeker’s perspective:

  • What are the typical steps of a critical thinking process?
  • Why does your future employer care about critical thinking?
  • 7 examples of critical thinking skills.
  • How to improve your critical thinking skills.
  • How to highlight critical thinking during your job search.

Being able to “think about thinking” is central to self-awareness and career success. 

Expert tip

Six steps of a critical thinking process.

  1. Identify the issue and understand why it is important.
  2. Find out as much information as possible to inform your thinking.
  3. Interpret the data from as many angles as possible – build a picture.
  4. Consider your assumptions – are there any biases involved?
  5. Work out what is relevant to help you to reach a useful conclusion.
  6. Weigh each piece of evidence to come to a balanced judgment.

Critical thinking is an essential skill and should be highlighted in your cv and cover letter. If you need any additional inspiration, check out our resume examples, and cover letter examples.

Why your future employer cares about your critical thinking

Employers want people who can consider a problem from multiple angles and take into account the context before they decide on a way forward. If you do not take the time to explore the nuances, the level of uncertainty in terms of the outcome will be high.

If everyone in the team is comfortable with thinking critically, every debate will be well informed, and every decision will be optimized.

Critical thinking skills allow an employee to:

  • See the links between ideas - suggest synergies and find solutions.
  • Consider a discussion and be able to weigh the importance of each argument.
  • Build upon arguments to create a consensus and find a way forward.
  • Highlight errors in reasoning and challenge inconsistencies in decision-making.
  • Adopt a systematic and transparent approach to problem-solving.
  • Reflect on assumptions and be flexible to amend assumptions where required.
  • Understand the implications of ideas and find the best solutions for implementation.

Critical thinking is a complex topic. As you read through this blog, have a think about how you can frame your decision making to shine a light on how you came to your conclusions. You might be surprised at just how interested your future employer will be about how you got there. Sometimes the process of thinking is as important as the result.

Expert tip

The benefit of foresight in critical thinking. Thinking through the impact of workplace decisions is critical in any dynamic workplace. Show your future employer that you can pause and consider the deeper ramifications of your actions. You will only achieve the best outcomes if you evaluate the potential outcome from multiple angles.

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7 examples of critical thinking skills

The following seven critical thinking skills form a roadmap for making an informed decision:

Observation

Being observant at work means sensing the undercurrents of what is going on and how the future might change as a result. Employees who can perceive a problem before it has arisen will be better placed to deal with it. Observational skills often revolve around an understanding of patterns of behavior – if you have seen something happen before (in similar circumstances), there is a fair chance that it will happen again. 

Critical thinking skill: Be an observant and perceptive sounding board.

Research

When thinking critically, the ability to compare and contrast various information is key to reaching a balanced conclusion. Where do you source your information? How do you verify its validity? Be open minded about where you inform yourself and do not be satisfied with a narrow range of sources. Industry echo chambers are real – especially on social media. Go out of your way to solicit contrary opinions and be dispassionate in your evaluation.

Critical thinking skill: Thorough research forms the foundation of a sound opinion

Analysis 

When you are faced with a mass of information at your disposal, you need to be able to analyze what will help you to make the best decision. Review the data, examine the sources, and interrogate the findings. The quality of the data set will determine the quality of the conclusion. If you make a decision based on shaky sources, you will be fumbling in the dark. Collecting and categorizing information at the early stage of any critical thinking process might take longer than you hope, but this investment is central to an optimal outcome.

Critical thinking skill: Analyze exactly what you need to include in your thinking.

Inference

When there is not enough information to make a fully informed decision, you sometimes need to make an educated guess. Inference is the ability to take raw data and fill in the gaps to make the best possible decision. The ability to extrapolate information and infer the correct conclusions is an incredibly valuable skill in the workplace – it requires sound judgment and an ability to solve an incomplete puzzle.

Critical thinking skill: Making an educated guess with incomplete source data.

Problem-solving

As the process of critical thinking is rarely straightforward, the ability to tackle problems and resolve conflicts is central to smoothing the path. Adopt a self-critical mindset and constantly ask yourself the question: “is this going to get us to where we need to be?” Problem solvers view setbacks as opportunities for exploring a different path and know that the resultant insights will move them one step closer to a conclusion. There is nothing scarier than admitting that something isn’t working, but such feelings should be embraced.

Critical thinking skill: Problem-solving turns scary setbacks into unexpected opportunities.

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Self-Awareness

It might sound obvious, but your critical thinking abilities are bound by the limitations of your mindset. If you are not self-aware enough to monitor and correct your assumptions, your thinking can be impaired. The ability to be self-aware and adaptable enough to correct your course when you are in a stressful situation is one of the hallmarks of a critical thinker. If your fixed mindset does not allow you to change direction, your potential is limited.

Critical thinking skill: Self-awareness means that you can adapt to change course.

Curiosity

Why? Pondering this simple word has the potential to reveal insights and question assumptions. Having the curiosity to explore the unknowns can tell you much about the problem that you face and throw up multiple other questions. You might not always find a satisfactory answer but allowing these questions to linger at the back of your mind proves an ongoing driving force for your intellect. Critical thinkers are not afraid of questioning everything like a five-year-old. 

Critical thinking skill: Curiosity opens up avenues of thought you didn’t know existed.

Expert tip

How do you improve your critical thinking skills?

  • Put yourself in new and challenging situations where you need to act differently.
  • Forget about common sense for a minute – practice thinking differently.
  • Invest in your education to broaden your theoretical knowledge base.
  • Ask open-ended questions and follow up on what the answers might mean.
  • Network with a wider range of people and seek their perspectives regularly.
  • Be clear about your objectives and narrow your focus in accordance.
  • Be aware of your biases in any new situation – avoid instant judgements.
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Potential employers are interested in exploring how you went about making your decisions as well as their outcomes. When different problems come along, they want to be sure that your critical thinking ability is robust enough to make the right moves.

Showcase your critical thinking both in your job search writing and during an interview.

Resume and cover letter

One effective way of highlighting your critical thinking in your written job search documents is to outline the journey that you took to your decisions. This is easier to do in a long-form cover letter than a resume, but you can still include impactful action verbs in bullet-pointed resume achievements.

You should make it clear that you do not take the big decisions lightly. Touching on aspects of the six critical thinking skills listed above will prompt a hiring manager to explore further during an interview. Analyze your thought processes and crystallize your approach.

Interview

There will be many situational questions during an interview where you will be able to share the thinking skills that led to the result. If you choose to tell your career stories using the STAR method , you can weave your critical thinking skills in between the task and action parts. In some ways, it should read STTAR. You can’t take action without critical thought.

When you are outlining your critical thinking during an interview, it is important to consider the culture of your potential employer. Is short-term tactical thinking preferred over longer-term strategy? Are decisions made by collective agreement or are individuals trusted to do the right thing within their remits? How open are senior management to being challenged?

Don’t just talk about your thinking skills in an interview – back up your claims with proof.

Expert tip

An example of critical thinking: Think about something that someone recently told you. Who said it? What did they say? When did they say it? Why did they say it? How did they say it? Considering the wider context of a problem will lead you onto further questions.

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Key takeaways

  • If your future boss can understand the thought processes behind how you make decisions, it will be easier for them to imagine you making the right moves in your new role.
  • The ability to outline how you think is essential to gaining their trust in your decision-making.
  • Develop a narrative around critical thinking successes and share an example in the interview. It is only through real-life examples that an employer will gauge the depth of your thinking.
  • Don't forget to showcase your critical thinking skills in your cover letter and resume by using impactful action verbs that describe your achievements. You can find even more insights on how to highlight your critical thinking skill in our cover letter examples and resume templates.
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Build your resume in 15 minutes
Build your resume in 15 minutes
Use professional field-tested resume templates that follow the exact ‘resume rules’ employers look for.
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