Most Important Critical Thinking Skills (With Examples)

By Abby McCain - Jun. 9, 2021
Skills Based Articles

Find a Job You Really Want In

If you start reading through job postings, you’ll see that no matter what industry the job is in, hiring managers want candidates who have the ability to communicate well, remain positive, and be a good team player, whether they’re hoping to be an intern or join upper management.

These soft skills, as they’re commonly called, are what make you employable, no matter how many technical skills you have. They make you a pleasant person to work with and ensure that you will help the organization run smoothly instead of creating more problems. Some of the most valuable soft skills you can have are critical thinking skills.

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the process of analyzing facts and turning them into conclusions and solutions. It’s what your elementary school teachers were trying to teach you when you did story problems in math and book reports in English, and it’s how we as humans are able to keep ourselves alive and improve the world we live in.

Critical thinking takes place when you step away from the emotional aspects of a problem and methodically come up with a solution.

Why Are Critical Thinking Skills Important?

Aside from keeping you alive in your day-to-day life, good critical thinking skills make you an independent and effective employee. These skills are what allow you to solve problems, manage your time and come up with innovative ideas. You’re going to need these skills throughout your career no matter what industry you work in.

Whether you use them to create a successful new product, put efficient teams together, or solve a conflict with a customer or employee, your employer wants to know that you can handle issues and make decisions without much supervision.

Types of Critical Thinking Skills

  1. Observation. The first step in critical thinking is identifying current or potential problems. After all, you can’t work to solve a problem when you don’t know it’s there.

    This skill will also help you spot weak spots in plans and projects, allowing you to prevent issues before they do any actual damage. Observation is also essential to finding the information you need to create effective solutions.

  2. When you have good observational skills, you might notice:

    • Patterns

    • Unanswered questions

    • Discordant or missing data

    • Assumptions without evidence to back them

  3. Analysis. Once you’ve observed a problem or pattern, you need to take it a step further and figure out how the information you’ve gathered is working together. This is how you find the root cause of the problem, as well as other important information you need to start finding a solution.

  4. Analysis can require:

    • Looking at and interpreting data and research reports

    • Asking “why” questions

    • Having a healthy skepticism of conclusions that are handed to you without evidence

  5. Inference. Being able to draw conclusions from the evidence and information you have is vital to good problem-solving skills, as this is where the solution comes from. This can be dangerous if you have incomplete information, so it’s important that you go about this process carefully, especially when it comes to large decisions.

  6. This is also where you need to be careful about noticing and removing your own biases and emotion, as they can blind you to factors that you don’t want to see. Inviting trustworthy people into your thought process at this stage can help bring new perspectives and point out your blind spots.

    Aspects of inference include:

    • Creative thinking

    • Asking the experts

    • Following evidence to its logical conclusion

    • Checking your conclusions with others you trust

  7. Communication. Your other critical thinking skills will do you no good if you can’t communicate effectively. Solving problems in the workplace usually involves more than one person and requires that they all be on the same page, so you need to be able to bring others into your thought process.

    Communication is a two-way street, though, so you need to make sure you’re listening to others and supporting their conclusions when you need to as well.

    Examples of good communication skills include:

  8. Problem-solving. This skill is where you take all of your conclusions and put them together to create something you can act on. Simply discovering a problem and what is causing it doesn’t do anyone much good if you don’t also find a solution that actually works.

    Be careful that you aren’t just mitigating consequences, though. You need to fix the root issue and make sure that your solution doesn’t create additional problems.

    Effective problem-solving requires:

  9. Research. Whenever you set out to learn more about a topic, you need to engage in research. Knowing where to look for quality sources and how to spot untrustworthy ones is a big part of critical thinking.

    Employers love employees who can perform independent research, because they less frequently need to burden coworkers and supervisors with frivolous questions. Additionally, some jobs require extensive research skills for day-to-day responsibilities.

    Research involves:

    • Evaluating sources

    • Identifying biases

    • Synthesizing information

    • Fact-checking

  10. Logical approach. Critical thinking is all about focusing on an issue or question in a logical way. That means following a few clear-cut steps to arrive at a solution:

    • Identify the problem. The more specific your identification, the easier time you’ll have finding a useful answer.

    • Conduct research. Collect quantitative and qualitative data relevant to the topic you’re considering and from varied sources.

    • Evaluate based on your analysis. Start analyzing your findings and considering the relevance and reliability of your primary sources.

    • Determine significance. Figure out the most important finding(s) from your data relative to your initial problem.

    • Make a decision. Decide what to do based on the information available and your analysis of it.

    • Enact that decision. Put your decision into action or communicate the results of your findings to the relevant party.

  11. Open-mindedness. Critical thinking requires you to approach an issue with an open mind. While it’s often time-saving to build on your previous knowledge and experiences, doing so leaves us vulnerable to biases.

    While nobody is able to perfectly remove themselves from a subjective frame of mind, you can at least identify your initial expectations and assumptions as a way of mitigating their ability to blind you to contrary results.

    Open-mindedness involves:

    • Honest assessment of biases

    • Objective consideration of the facts

    • Actively listening to parties with differing opinions

    • Avoiding confirmation bias

  12. Decision-making. Last, but certainly not least, the ability to make good decisions is central to critical thinking. Depending on your role, you may only be tasked with presenting findings and making recommendations rather than authoritatively declaring a course of action.

    Regardless, you still have to decide the best way to present information in a way that leads to the best implementation of your ideas. It doesn’t matter if you apply great critical thinking skills to a problem if you’re left without a final decision. Don’t give in to “paralysis by analysis” — act, or that careful, logical approach was all for naught.

How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

  • Practice empathy. The next time you have an opportunity, no matter how small, to use your critical thinking skills, practice looking at the situation through more than one lens. Think about everyone involved and put yourself in their shoes.

    How will your decision impact them? What would you do if you were in their situation?

    Often this requires that you actually go ask for their perspectives. Getting into this habit will help you find blind spots much more quickly, avoid making decisions based on false assumptions, and create solutions that truly solve the problem on all fronts, not just yours.

  • Evaluate yourself. Everyone has blind spots, so try to find yours before you make an important decision by asking someone you trust to point them out. Prepare yourself for future problems by checking yourself for biases and noting how your thought processes usually work.

    Do you typically jump to conclusions? Are you too easily swung by other people’s opinions?

    By knowing where your strengths and weaknesses are, you can better avoid making a mistake when it’s time to use your critical thinking skills.

  • Engage in healthy skepticism. Practice noticing and questioning assumptions you and others are making. For example, if you work for a bakery, you may think that because chocolate chip cookies were your top seller in your flagship location, they’ll be the top seller at every location.

    This assumes that everyone in every town has the same tastes, however, which isn’t necessarily true. By recognizing this, your company can save itself a lot of money on chocolate chips and research what is actually selling well instead.

  • Think through all consequences. Strong critical thinking skills aren’t just used for solving problems, but to prevent them in the first place. Practice spotting issues in advance by envisioning how the decisions you make throughout the day will play out.

    For example, if you’re trying to decide if you’re going to get another cup of coffee before your meeting or not, think through how successfully you’ll be able to get it there without spilling, if you’ll fall asleep without it, or if you’ll need to leave the meeting to use the restroom after drinking it.

    This helps train your mind to do this for bigger decisions such as restructuring teams, implementing a new workflow strategy, or creating a new product.

  • Learn from the experts. Because critical thinking skills are in such high demand, there are quite a few seminars available that can help with this. Whether they’re at your local college or university, at a conference, or online, consider taking one of these to help boost your skills, no matter how developed you think they are.

    Or, if you know someone whose critical thinking skills you respect and admire, reach out and ask them if they’d be willing to share the thought processes they use when they have to make a decision.

There are three main ways to highlight your critical thinking skills during a job search:

  1. On your resume. So, how do you show potential employers that you have good critical thinking skills? Show them, and don’t put them in the skills section of your resume.

    Think through times you’ve used critical thinking in your career and make sure you incorporate them into your experience sections. Use words like “analyzed,” “identified,” “developed,” and “managed.”

    Share the steps that you took to complete a project and include as many specifics about the results as possible. If you took any classes or seminars, be sure to include those as well. And, as always, if the job description you’re applying for lists some attributes that they want you to have, be sure to incorporate those keywords. Here are some examples of how to do this:

    • Developed project management system that increased number of projects completed by my team by 10%

    • Identified and fixed design flaws in four building projects before construction began, saving $25,000

    • Implemented budgeting strategy that cut costs by 5% while maintaining quality standards

    • Analyzed past marketing campaigns to create best practices for department to follow

    • Negotiated contracts with vendors in order to stay within the project budget while maintaining quality standards

    • Resolved 10+ customer questions and complaints each day

  2. In your cover letter. While it’s important to include as much as you can on your resume, your cover letter is where your critical thinking skills can really start to shine.

    Think of one or two situations where you put these skills to good use and then work them into your letter, still remembering to point out your qualifications that match the job description.

    You can do this by saying something like:

    By surveying parents about their communication preferences and the concerns they had about their children, I was able to implement new systems that allowed me to communicate with them more effectively. Because I was able to work more closely with parents, the class’s average grades and test scores went up by about 6%. I also received praise from seventh-grade English instructors for thoroughly preparing my students for their courses and was asked by the school board to share my methods with the rest of the teachers.

  3. During an interview. When it comes time for your interview, make sure you’re prepared with several anecdotes that highlight your critical thinking skills.

    These can be longer versions of the examples you put in your cover letter, but you should also have one or two additional ones at the ready, whether they’re as simple as customer service problems you solved or as complex as new systems you created.

    Potential employers want to see how you have put these skills into action in the past and how you will do the same for them in the future.

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Author

Abby McCain

Abby is a writer who is passionate about the power of story. Whether it’s communicating complicated topics in a clear way or helping readers connect with another person or place from the comfort of their couch. Abby attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in writing with concentrations in journalism and business.

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