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Critical Thinking Skills: Definition, Examples & How to Improve

Critical Thinking Skills: Definition, Examples & How to Improve

Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Career Expert

You came to the right place to learn all you need to know about critical thinking skills: how to apply them in the workplace and everyday life, how to improve them easily, and how to show them off during your job search.

 

And why is critical thinking important?

 

First of all, that’s what almost every employer seeks.

 

Secondly, in the era of fake news, contrasting data, and so much information to process every day, critical thinking is the only way to make sense of the world.

 

This guide will show you:

 

  • The best definition of critical thinking skills.
  • How to use critical thinking skills step by step.
  • A list of the most important critical thinking skills for the workplace and how to use them to get more job offers.
  • Tools and ideas for improving your critical thinking skills fast.

 

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1

What Are Critical Thinking Skills and Why You Need Them?

 

Before we jump into defining critical thinking skills, let’s run a quick experiment.

 

We’ll try to find out if drinking coffee is good for you.

 

First, google “reasons not to drink coffee.”

 

Wow! Decreased anxiety (source), healthier teeth (source), weight loss (source), and a healthier heart (source)!

 

Oh God! I’ll never touch a cup of coffee again!

How about “reasons to drink coffee?”

 

Lower rates of depression (source), memory boost (source), longevity (source), and, wait for it, a healthier heart (source).

 

Oh well. I’ll never trust the Internet again.

 

The twist? These are not some random unsupported online claims. There’s legit, peer-reviewed research that backs up EVERY single one of the above findings.

 

So how do you reconcile these contradictory claims?

 

By thinking critically.

 

What does that even mean, though?

 

What Is Critical Thinking?

 

Critical thinking is the ability to think in an organized and rational manner in order to understand connections between ideas and/or facts. It helps you decide what to believe in. In other words, it’s “thinking about thinking”—identifying, analyzing, and then fixing flaws in the way we think.

 

How to Be a Critical Thinker?

 

To become one takes time, practice, and patience. But something you can start doing today to improve your critical thinking skills is apply the 7 steps of critical thinking to every problem you tackle—either at work or in your everyday life.

 

Plus, there are some critical thinking questions to help you out at each of the steps.

 

Steps of Critical Thinking

 

1. Identify the problem or question.

Be as precise as possible: the narrower the issue, the easier it is to find solutions or answers.

 

2. Gather data, opinions, and arguments.

Try to find several sources that present different ideas and points of view.

 

3. Analyze and evaluate the data.

Are the sources reliable? Are their conclusions data-backed or just argumentative? Is there enough information or data to support given hypotheses?

 

4. Identify assumptions.

Are you sure the sources you found are unbiased? Are you sure you weren’t biased in your search for answers?

 

5. Establish significance.

What piece of information is most important? Is the sample size sufficient? Are all opinions and arguments even relevant to the problem you’re trying to solve?

 

6. Make a decision/reach a conclusion.

Identify various conclusions that are possible and decide which (if any) of them are sufficiently supported. Weigh strengths and limitations of all possible options.

 

7. Present or communicate.

Once you’ve reached a conclusion, present it to all stakeholders.

 

Let’s go back to our coffee example and examine it critically, point-by-point.

 

1. The problem in question was: “is drinking coffee good for you?”

 

This approach is way to broad.

 

First of all, what does “good” even mean?

 

Secondly, we don’t know if we’re talking about long- or short-term effects of drinking coffee. It’s also possible that drinking coffee might benefit some aspects of your health while being detrimental to others.

 

So, let’s narrow down the problem to: “is drinking coffee good for your heart?”

 

2. Listed above, there are only two pieces of research on the impact of drinking coffee on your heart.

 

The first one suggests that drinking coffee “could account for premature deaths in the region of 14% for coronary heart disease and 20% for stroke.”

 

According to the second one, “moderate coffee consumption was associated with a lower prevalence of the Coronary Artery Disease.”

 

We’ve made two other major mistakes in reasoning: first of all, two sources only are not enough.

 

Secondly, we haven’t taken into account that heart is a very complex organ: just like it is the case with the rest of our body, coffee might be good for some of its functions while bad for others.

 

3. Both articles cited have appeared in prestigious, peer-reviewed journals.

 

But—

 

The first one has been based on literature review only; no original studies.

 

The second one, although conducted in a large (25.000 participants) sample of men and women, includes only Korean population—people whose hearts can be affected by other factors such as diet or climate.

 

4. While the two sources don’t appear biased, we were.

 

We based our initial Google searches on assumptions: “reasons not to drink coffee” (assuming: coffee is bad for our health) and “reasons to drink coffee” (assuming: coffee is worth drinking).

 

Google’s search algorithms made sure we found articles in line with our assumptions.

 

So...

 

5. Considering all of the above, we can positively state that the information we gathered was not significant for solving the initially stated problem.

 

6. The only conclusion that can be reached is: according to the data we gathered, drinking coffee might or might not be good for our hearts, depending on many factors and variables we failed to take into account.

 

7. Even if the conclusion is “the question cannot be answered at this point,” it’s still worth presenting and communicating.

 

It’s good to know what the limitations of our knowledge on a given topic are.

 

The point is—

 

It’s really hard to be sure of something.

 

And critical thinking skills are necessary for us to accept the flaws in our reasoning and gaps in our knowledge, and take advantage of them!

 

Why Are Critical Thinking Skills Important?

 

When you think critically, you’ll constantly challenge what seems given. Say, in your job, even if something appears to be functioning properly, critical thinking will help you try and identify new, better solutions.

 

Critical thinking skills are the cornerstone of self-development and improvement. That’s why they’re so critical to have in today’s job market.

Just think about this—

A recent report by the AACU revealed that 93% of employers value critical thinking over the candidate’s undergraduate degree. So—

 

Let’s go through how you can showcase your critical thinking skills to boost your chances of landing a better job!

And if you want to learn more about other job-winning skills, we've got you covered! Check out our dedicated guides:

 

 

2

Critical Thinking Skills List for Your Job Search

 

If you’re just looking for a list of the most important critical thinking skills, we’ve got you covered.

 

Top Critical Thinking Skills: Examples

 

 

The twist?

 

Raw lists of skills are pretty useless.

 

Say, you’re applying for a job and the job description requires “critical thinking skills.” You can’t just dump random entries from the above list of examples on your resume.

 

You need to prove you can think critically by giving real-life examples of how you used your critical thinking skills.

 

How to Put Critical Thinking on a Resume: Examples

 

The best way to present and validate your critical thinking skills is to include examples of them in your past job description bullet points.

 

Like in these examples:

 

Critical Thinking Skills on a Resume—Nursing

 

  • Evaluated and analyzed cases at hand to determine the priority of treatment.
  • Clearly communicated and explained my rationales to doctors and other members of the nursing staff.

  

Critical Thinking Skills on a Resume—Engineering

 

  • Identified 8 major hidden design defects with failed constructions.

  

Critical Thinking Skills on a Resume—Customer Service

  

  • Interpreted the results of phone surveys to develop a new strategy for handling customer complaints.

  

You get the drill, right? Show don’t tell.

 

Your critical thinking skills might also be evaluated during job interviews. Again, interviewers will want to see specific examples of how you put your critical thinking to use.

 

Pro Tip: Most of the interview questions that test critical thinking are situational interview questions. You can learn all about how to handle them from this guide: Toughest Situational Interview Questions and Best Answers

 

Critical Thinking Interview Questions and Answers: Examples

 

1. Describe a situation where you challenged the way you and your colleagues did their jobs?

 

Our online ordering page let clients order incompatible components, causing heavy complaints. I asked if we could put a product check in place. The software engineer added warnings when two products weren’t compatible. Complaints went down by 35%.

 

 

2. Describe a situation where you saw a problem and took steps to fix it.

 

Our rechargeable forklifts had two different plugs. If you used the wrong one, you could wreck a $3,500 battery. I added zip-ties as cord-shorteners so you could only reach the right outlet. We haven’t lost a battery since.

 

 

3. Tell me about a time you had to persuade someone to see your side of things.

 

The owner was convinced our gift shop was a moneymaker. I analyzed our cash flow and found it was running at a 10% deficit. I built data visualizations that showed we could increase store revenue 40% through focusing on more popular products.

 

 

Don’t feel like a good enough critical thinker? Not to worry. There are easy ways to improve your critical thinking. You can actually start today!

 

Because you'll need them—

 

Employers test your critical thinking skills in many different ways, including on the job interview stage when they ask you lots of different questions.

 

But these questions actually repeat so you can prepare best answers in advance. How? Read our guide: Most Common Job Interview Questions—And Answers to Impress Your Recruiter 

 

If you came across critical thinking as a job requirement, to land that job interview you also have to list it on your resume and include it in your cover letter, too. Try Zety resume builder and get your resume and matching cover letter ready in a flash. Here’s a resume and cover letter sample made using our builder:

 

matching set of resume and cover letter

See more cover letter templates and start writing.

 

3

How to Improve Critical Thinking Skills

 

To start working on your critical thinking skills, begin with applying these simple strategies:

 

1. Ask Simple Critical Thinking Questions

 

  • What do I already know?
  • How do I know that?
  • What am I trying to prove?
  • What are my motivations?

 

2. Oppose “Common Sense”

 

The problem with common sense is that it’s so… common.

 

“No way this business idea can ever be profitable.”

 

Oh really? Why exactly not? Ramit Sethi is making a killing selling a $300 online course on how to choose a good personal assistant. If that’s profitable, think what else can be.

 

3. Be Aware of Your Biases

 

The most common types of cognitive bias you need to avoid are:

 

  • Confirmation Bias: we always subconsciously assume we’re right.
  • Action Bias: we act too quickly before thinking something through.
  • Association Bias: why did the rain dance always work? Because they’d dance until the rain came.

 

4. Read a Lot

 

This will not only help develop your critical thinking skills but actually most skills you can think of. To get a sound start on the theory and strategies behind critical thinking, check out:

  

 

Want to practice important skills even more? Check out these two guides: Situational Interview Questions [+20 Answers to Nail Your Interview] and Behavioral Interview Questions and Answers [STAR Method]

 

Key Takeaway

 

Here’s all you need to know about critical thinking skills in a nutshell:

 

  • The key critical thinking skills are: analysis, interpretation, inference, explanation, self-regulation, open-mindedness, and problem-solving.
  • In order to apply the basic principles of critical thinking, follow these steps: identify the problem, gather data, analyze and evaluate, identify assumptions, establish significance, make a decision, and communicate.
  • To become a better critical thinker: ask simple questions, challenge common assumptions, be aware of your biases, and read more.

 

Do you have any questions about critical thinking skills? Maybe you’d like to share some tips on how to think more critically everyday? Let me know in the comments. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

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Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Michael, a Certified Professional Résumé Writer (CPRW) is a career writer and the newsletter coordinator at Zety. Apart from sharing his own resume-writing expertise, Michael reaches out to recruitment and hiring gurus to help you learn the most effective strategies for managing your career.
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