Give job applications a boost by highlighting your key critical thinking skills
Information, data, facts, figures, analyses. Nowadays, they're all to hand at the mere click of a mouse or a speedy search online. Gone are the days when you could mull over a tricky question from a mate, argue about it over a pint, and eventually give up on searching out the answer because you didn't have the means by which to find it - apart from the copious volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica that your parents kept in their dining room.
Now, at the touch of a button, you can find out anything, from a whole variety of sources. It's just so easy. But how to differentiate between what's real and what's not? And when you've got all these facts at your fingertips, what do you do with them?
This is where critical thinking skills come to the fore. It's what you do with all that information, data, and facts that really counts.
What are critical thinking skills?
How do you define critical thinking? It's when you deconstruct a situation through analyses, reveal any hidden bias, and come to the best decision possible. It's all about questioning the information you have, rather than just accepting it. This means you can identify different points of view, put together viable arguments, and evaluate those arguments made by others.
The purpose of critical thinking skills
So what's the purpose of having these critical thinking skills? How can you apply them in the workplace or use them to land a new role? Those colleagues that possess excellent critical thinking skills are vital to companies, as they can help a business to run smoothly - which in turn can deliver heightened customer satisfaction and save money.
By developing outstanding critical thinking skills, you can:
Resolve problems for your clients, your customers, or your team
Arrive at solutions that have the best interests at heart for all the applicable parties
Come up with innovative ideas that potentially improve on efficiency, functionality, and productivity
Prevent any up-and-coming problems with new policies and procedures
Examples of critical thinking skills
Mastering critical thinking skills will come naturally to some, but to others… not so much. Pinpointing exactly what they are will help you to focus on how to improve them - something that's detailed out further down this article. So what constitutes a critical thinking skill?
Being able to adjust to different conditions and new environments, or change your mind on the basis of new or updated information, shows great critical thinking skills. It means you can adapt and change as new circumstances present themselves. It also means that you can be up-to-date with the latest industry trends, technology, and workplace changes.
Example: A Customer Service Assistant adapts the style of service when dealing with someone face-to-face as opposed to over the phone.
Displaying analytical intelligence is key when deciphering which information is the most important to take into account. Methodically analysing an issue or situation involves taking that information, carrying out detailed research and data reviews, then arriving at logical conclusions. With analytical skills, you can swiftly hone in on the more relevant aspects of something, seek out reliable research sources within your chosen industry, draw conclusions, and implement your findings.
Example: A Video Game Developer applies analytical qualities to identify which part of the code is causing a problem, researches forums and trusted sites for solutions, fixes the issue, and then determines a faster course of action if the error occurs again.
Possessing effective communication skills can go a long way to making things easier all round in the workplace. If you can articulate and discuss ideas with work colleagues in a non-patronising and amenable way, you're going to make friends and influence people! It also helps when summarising complex or copious amounts of information and justifying your arguments based on what you've observed or learned - whether that's through talking or writing to them.
Example: A Team Manager updates their team on the status of the latest project in easy-to-digest terms, with the emphasis on the next stages and what the overall objectives are that need to be achieved.
This is the time when you need to step back and take in the bigger picture, to consider all angles and flaws, and to assess how reliable the evidence is and its validity. The process undertaken means that you can arrive at conclusions that are embedded in sound reasoning, rather than in personal bias or emotion.
Example: A Scientist looks at the evidence from her study, evaluates whether the data is corrupted, and ensures that the methodology is robust enough to determine if the evidence is valuable or not.
Identifying strengths and weaknesses
Contemplating the strengths and weaknesses of something, and not just taking it at face value, in order to come to a viable decision, requires critical thinking. It helps to avoid bias and prevent problems further down the line.
Example: A Business Development Manager has to weigh up the pros and cons of infiltrating a new market for the company's product. Evaluating both the strengths and weaknesses of this new venture will help to form a more rounded argument as to whether it's worth going ahead with the project or not.
Deducing or concluding something from evidence and reasoning, rather than from explicit facts and statements, is so worthwhile in situations when you don't necessarily have all the facts at your disposal. You can draw intelligent conclusions about the information you have, and that can mean that you possess specialist technical or industry-specific knowledge or experience.
Example: An IT Service Manager infers what the cause of a network malfunction was by taking advantage of her previous experience and a deep-seated understanding of the technology.
With advanced observational skills, you can spot when problems arise before others do and send out an early warning. You might even be able to predict that something will happen based on your prior experience.
Example: A Doctor uses their observation skills to recognise a list of symptoms that relates to a condition they've treated before. This can help when prescribing medication and recommending the proper testing.
This is the willingness to consider different points of view and evidence that might actually contradict what you've always believed. If new evidence comes to light that shows your beliefs to be either outdated or wrong, you need to apply critical thinking in order to take that on board. If you don't challenge your mindset or you remain closed to other viewpoints, you won't be able to move forward.
Example: A Product Manager, who's been using the same system for years, is shown a new way of packaging the company's product that reduces waste and plastic content. He researches further and accepts that this new way could help the business to increase profits.
Through research, you can gather as much information as possible, using the best and most trusted resources, to arrive at a logical decision or conclusion.
Example: A Computer Engineer, new to the role, might consult experienced colleagues to get feedback on an issue they've come across.
Lack of communication can lead to conflicts. You need to apply failsafe strategies that can overcome this and resolve them amicably. Gelling together as a team requires collaboration and the same focus on the end goal. Being able to solve conflicts requires diplomacy, tactfulness, and a sprinkling of leadership competencies.
Example: A Marketing Manager has one member of staff who believes spending more revenue on advertising will be beneficial in the long run, and another employee who believes the opposite. By capitalising on effective conflict resolution strategies, the manager can understand both arguments, research benefits and disadvantages of both, then produce a compromise and solution based on the discussion and information presented.
Critical thinking skills are required when solving problems to apply a trial and error approach in order to initiate solutions and then to understand if the solution is working or not.
Example: An Architect is designing a building that must meet different needs, including sustainability and visual elegance, as well as being within a strict budget. Figuring out how to successfully solve all the problems, while working within the constraints of the budget, requires outstanding problem resolution skills.
Asking questions is vital to critical thinking, as you're forcing yourself to consider the information more deeply, as well as collating information from those with different perspectives. This, in turn, gives a better understanding of the issue in hand and helps you to come to more valid conclusions.
Example: A Nurse wants to validate a diagnosis that's been given to a patient, so he questions all the evidence and notes before him.
Steps to take when applying critical thinking
- Collate relevant data, arguments, and opinions. Identify a variety of sources that present different points of view.
- Analyse and evaluate that data. Are you sure that the sources are reliable? Are the conclusions data-backed or just opinionated? Is there enough data that supports the hypotheses?
- Identify any assumptions. Are you sure that the sources you found are unbiased? Make sure you don't apply unconscious bias when searching for sources or answers.
- Establish the significance. Define which information is the most important. Have you provided a sufficient sample size? Check that the arguments and opinions actually relate to the problem you're attempting to solve.
- Come to a decision or reach a satisfactory conclusion. Identify various possible conclusions and decide if any are sufficiently supported. Weigh up the pros and cons of all the possible options.
- Present or communicate. Once you've reached your conclusion, you can then present your findings to stakeholders.
How can I develop critical thinking skills?
No matter how good your skills are at the moment, there's always scope to improve critical thinking skills. Consider taking some of the following steps:
Expand your education
Embrace lifelong learning by taking yourself back to the (remote) classroom and strengthening any technical or industry-specific skills that'll help you to stretch your critical thinking skills and identify problems more easily.
Volunteer to solve issues
Be proactive by volunteering to resolve problems that arise at work, for example a task requiring detailed research and analysis or an issue with a project.
Make networking contacts
Reaching out to those professionals in your sector with more expertise than you is always going to help, so network like mad! Attend events at work, through social media, or at university, and connect with the right sort of people. Then, when you encounter an issue at work, you can call on your networking buddies to help solve it by extracting information from them as to how they solved and prevented similar problems.
Get your gaming head on
By entering the virtual world of games, you can take the lessons learnt there and apply them to the real world. Seek out the type of games that require critical thinking skills, including observation, adaptability, and problem resolution.
Be aware of confirmation bias
We're more likely to accept something as true if it confirms what we already think is right and, in the same turn, dismiss those areas that contradict our views. This is especially true when our views are deeply held or are emotionally driven. So don't rush in, all guns blazing, but take the time to actively change your mind if the situation requires it.
Incorporating critical thinking skills into your CV
A CV is the place to boast, so including a variety of critical thinking skills in your CV shows a prospective employer that you mean business! There are two ways in which to do this.
You can include a variety of skills in the Skills Matrix section of your CV, an area placed just below the Professional Profile, which details tailored keywords and key phrases of skills you possess that match the job description of the role you want to apply to.
You can also weave critical thinking skills into the responsibilities and achievements of roles within your Career Summary.
- Provided business analysis to introduce cold drink equipment scanning and accurate invoicing measurements, which resulted in the project being judged as one of the most successful SAP implementations within a multinational business
- Revised a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that increased the shelf life of materials by producing an inventory of raw materials and scheduling chemicals
- Analysed the difference in effort required for each process step and the effort required for new tasks, such as the collection of retail customer experiences
All of this will help to promote you and what you can offer an organisation.
Ways in which to illustrate your critical thinking skills during an interview
If you're fortunate enough to attend a competency-based interview, you're more than likely to be asked questions and given scenarios where you can highlight your critical thinking skills and illustrate how you've applied these in the past.
Adopt the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) when answering, to give a clear picture of how you overcame something.
The company I worked for used a number of outdated and laborious systems to allocate work to subcontractors. I could see straight away that they were wasting time and money. I had a chat with my line manager with a proposal to replace these manual systems with a streamlined one that would use software I'd been adapting in my previous job. It was a low cost solution and, with my knowledge of it, my line manager agreed. I spent a few weeks setting it up. Once it was up and running, it freed up some of my time so that I could help my line manager with other tasks. This, in turn, added to my skill set, and meant my manager could focus on other issues.
Here, we can see the interviewee is illustrating adaptability, problem solving, observation, and effective communication with just one example from his previous job, showcasing excellent critical thinking skills all round.
Ideally, you want all of your critical thinking skills to shine through on your CV without making it look too forced. If you feel unable to achieve this, reach out for professional help. Check out our free CV review, where you can upload your CV and receive a well-balanced overview of how your document stacks up in today's job market.
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