Critical Thinking Skills: Definitions and Examples

Critical thinking skills allow you to understand and address a situation based on all available facts and information. When using critical thinking skills, you will sort and organize facts, data and other information to define a problem and develop effective solutions.

It’s a good idea to reflect on the critical thinking skills you currently possess and what critical thinking skills you may need to develop. You likely already possess several critical thinking skills that you can include on your resume and discuss during interviews.

In this article, we’ll discuss what critical thinking is, why it’s important and how you can improve your skills in this area.


What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the act of analyzing facts to understand a problem or topic thoroughly. Critical thinking often occurs in order of a few steps from identifying a problem or issue to developing a solution. Here are common steps that occur when using critical thinking for problem solving:

  • Identify a problem or issue
  • Create inferences on why the problem exists and how it can be solved
  • Collect information or data on the issue through research
  • Organize and sort data and findings
  • Develop and execute solutions
  • Analyze what solutions worked or didn’t work
  • Identify ways to improve the solution

Part of being a good critical thinker is being objective. That means analyzing the problem without allowing emotions or assumptions to influence how you think about it. Instead, you should only analyze the problem based on the context and facts you are able to collect.

Critical thinking skills are essential in every industry at every career level, from entry-level associates to top executives. Good critical thinkers will work both independently and with groups to solve problems.


Why are critical thinking skills important?

Critical thinking skills are important because they help businesses run smoothly by solving problems, developing solutions and creating new ideas. Many areas of improvement like process inefficiencies, management or finances can be improved by using critical thought. Because of this, employers value and seek out candidates who have demonstrated strong critical thinking skills.

For example, if you’re working in human resources and must resolve a conflict between two employees, you will use critical thinking to understand the nature of the conflict and what action should be taken to resolve it.


Critical thinking skills list and examples

There are several various critical thinking skills you may find valuable to include on your resume. Here are a few examples:


1. Observation

Observational skills are the starting point for critical thinking. Employees who are observant can quickly sense and identify a new problem. Those skilled in observation are also capable of understanding why something might be a problem, and may even be able to predict when a problem might occur before it happens based on their experience.


2. Analysis

Once a problem has been identified, analysis skills become essential. The ability to analyze the situation includes knowing what facts, data or information about the problem are important. You will also find analysis is an essential skill to eventually solving the problem.


3. Inference

Inference is a skill that involves drawing conclusions about the information you collect and may require you to possess technical or industry-specific knowledge or experience. When you infer information about a situation, that means you are developing answers based on limited information. For example, a car mechanic may need to utilize inference skills to determine what is causing a car’s engine to stall at seemingly random times.


4. Communication

Communication skills are important when it comes time to explain and discuss issues and their possible solutions with colleagues and other stakeholders. Communication is an important skill to have and improve on for many purposes at work including critical thinking.


5. Problem solving

After you’ve identified a problem, analyzed it and discussed possible solutions, the final step is to execute the solution. Problem solving often requires critical thinking to implement the best solution and understand whether or not the solution is working as it relates to the goal.


How to improve your critical thinking skills

While you might already possess many of the skills above, you might also consider your areas for improvement—especially for specific skills listed on a job description you’re applying for. It’s possible to improve your critical thinking skills through practice and extended educational opportunities.

To improve your critical thinking skills, consider taking some of the following steps:

  • Expand your industry-specific or technical skills to help you more easily identify problems
  • Take additional courses in your industry that require critical thinking and analysis
  • Actively volunteer to solve problems for your current employer
  • Seek advice from professionals in your field or desired industry
  • Play solo and cooperative games that require critical thinking skills, such as analysis and inference

Asking a friend or colleague to assess your current skill set can also help provide you with an objective view of your strengths. You may find it necessary to practice your critical thinking skills to improve the strength of your resume, or to help with career advancement.

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