Career Development

What Is Inductive Reasoning? (Plus Examples of How to Use It)

June 9, 2021

This article has been approved by an Indeed Career Coach


When you make a decision, you typically go through a subconscious process of filtering observations through your past experiences. For example, if you look outside and see a sunny sky, it’s reasonable to think you will not need an umbrella. Because many past sunny days have proven this thinking correct, it is a reasonable assumption. This thought process is an example of using inductive reasoning, a logical process based on specific experiences, observations or facts.

An essential tool in statistics, research and probability, inductive reasoning supports us in identifying patterns and making better decisions in the workplace. In this article, we explain how inductive reasoning works with examples of how to use it in your job search and other professional settings. We also explain how inductive reasoning differs from abductive and deductive reasoning.

Related: Inductive vs. Deductive Reasoning

What is inductive reasoning?

Inductive reasoning is a method of logical thinking that combines observations with experiential information to reach a conclusion. When you can look at a specific set of data and form general conclusions based on existing knowledge from past experiences, you are using inductive reasoning.

For example, if you review the population information of a city for the past 15 years, you may observe that the population has increased at a consistent rate. If you want to predict what the population will be in five years, you can use the evidence or information you have to make an estimate.

Examples of inductive reasoning

Even if you haven’t heard of inductive reasoning before, you’ve likely used it to make decisions in a professional environment. Here are a few examples of how you might apply the inductive reasoning process in a professional environment:

  • After analyzing high-performing and successful employees in the marketing department, a recruiter recognizes they all graduated with a degree in business, marketing or journalism. She decides to focus on future recruiting efforts on candidates with a degree in one of those three disciplines.

  • A salesperson notices when they share testimonials from current and past clients with their prospects, they’re 75 percent more likely to make a sale. Now they share testimonials with all prospects to improve their close rate.

  • Taking time to review comments from past customers is always beneficial. In addition to a positive customer review you can share with future clients, it can also inform you of any problems past customers may be experiencing.

  • After noticing assisted living center residents’ moods improve when young children visit, an activities leader develops a volunteer initiative with local schools to pair students with center residents.

By taking time to look for and identify patterns in positive business outcomes, you can inform future efforts and recreate your success.

Related: 5 Critical Thinking Skills to Use at Work (And How to Improve Them)

Types of inductive reasoning

There are various ways to use inductive reasoning depending on the situation. Here are the three most commonly used types of inductive reasoning:

Inductive generalization

In this type of inductive reasoning, a situation is presented, you look at evidence from past similar situations and draw a conclusion based on the information available.

Example: For the past three years, the company has beat its revenue goal in Q3. Based on this information, the company will likely beat its revenue goal in Q3 this year.

Statistical induction

This type of inductive reasoning utilizes statistical data to draw conclusions.

Example: 90 percent of the sales team met their quota last month. Pat is on the sales team. Pat likely met his sales quota last month.

In this case, you are using statistical evidence to inform your conclusion. While statistical induction provides more context for a possible outcome or prediction, it is crucial to remember new evidence may vary from past research and can prove a theory incorrect.

Induction by confirmation

Induction by confirmation allows you to reach a possible conclusion, but you must include specific assumptions for the outcome to be accepted. This type of inductive reasoning is used often by police officers and detectives. Here’s an example:

Renee broke into a building.

Anybody who breaks into a building will have opportunity, motive and means.

Renee was in the area and had lock picks in his bag.

Renee likely broke into the building.

In this situation, you develop a theory, and to prove it true, you must have specific evidence. Knowing that Renee was in the area where the building was broken into and had a lock pick in his bag are strong points to him being the one who broke into the building. Understanding the various types of inductive reasoning allows you to better implement them in your day-to-day operations within the workplace.

Related: The Best Ways to Strengthen Your Logical Thinking Skills

When to use inductive reasoning

Inductive reasoning is not always the best way to reach a conclusion. Here are the pros and cons of using this decision-making method:

The benefits of inductive reasoning

Inductive reasoning allows you to work with a wide range of probabilities. The assumptions you make from presented evidence or a specific set of data are practically limitless. However, inductive reasoning presents you with a starting point so you can narrow down your assumptions and reach an informed conclusion.

Inductive reasoning also allows you to develop multiple solutions to one issue and utilize your research to evaluate another hypothesis. It allows you to leverage knowledge gathered from past experiences to form judgments and make decisions in new situations.

The limits of inductive reasoning

One weakness of inductive reasoning is also one of its most significant strengths—you are only able to establish theories based on limited evidence or knowledge. While it provides you with the opportunity to explore, it also limits the foundation available for you to use.

For example, if you observe 100 cats and notice they all hiss at dogs, you may conclude that every cat will hiss at dogs. While this is sound reasoning, the data you are using is limiting. Because you only observed 100 cats, your conclusion may not be true for every cat.

When using inductive reasoning, it’s important to recognize there is always room for error. While your guess or theory may be incorrect in some cases, you can use that information to help you continue your research.

While you can use data and evidence to back up your claim or judgment, there is still a chance that new facts or evidence will be uncovered and prove your theory wrong. That’s why it’s important to learn to use inductive reasoning skills in conjunction with other types of reasoning.

Related: 4 Ways To Use and Improve Your Logical Reasoning Skills

How to demonstrate your inductive reasoning skills

Professionals who possess logical thinking abilities—like inductive reasoning skills—are often better at decision-making efforts. That’s why you must highlight this skill throughout the job search and hiring process.

Inductive reasoning skills on your resume

While you can list this soft skill on a resume, it’s especially important if an employer specifically mentions inductive reasoning or critical-thinking skills in the job listing or description. Consider providing a specific example of when you used inductive reasoning skills in the workplace on your cover letter.

Inductive reasoning skills in an interview

During a job interview, an employer may ask about your decision-making process. Take time to think about specific instances when you used inductive reasoning, especially when it resulted in a positive outcome. Providing a clear example can help prove to employers you’re able to make insightful observations, retain information and apply your knowledge to make well-informed decisions on the job.

Inductive reasoning skills using the STAR method

Utilizing the STAR (Situation, Task, Action and Result) technique is an effective method for communicating your inductive reasoning skills to potential employers clearly and concisely. Here are the steps for using the STAR method:

  1. Describe the situation. Where were you working? What was your role in the project or task?

  2. Describe the task. What was your specific responsibility? What problem or issue did you face? What observations did you make?

  3. Explain in detail the action you took. What conclusion did you reach? How did you translate your conclusion into an actionable solution?

  4. Share the result. How did your actions address the problem? What was the outcome, and how did it affect the company or team?

Understanding inductive reasoning and how to effectively apply this logical thinking process in your work environment is essential to success in any position. Learning to recognize your inductive reasoning skills will help you highlight them during your job search and make a positive impression on employers during the interview process.

Related: 26 Logical Fallacies and How To Spot Them

Inductive reasoning vs. deductive and abductive reasoning

Reasoning skills are one of the most important soft skills employers seek in potential candidates. In addition to inductive reasoning, there are two other types of reasoning—abductive and deductive—that are important to understand and apply both in and outside of the workplace.

Inductive vs. deductive reasoning

Where inductive thinking uses experience and proven observations to guess the outcome, deductive reasoning uses theories and beliefs to rationalize and prove a specific conclusion. The goal of inductive reasoning is to predict a likely outcome, while the goal of deductive reasoning to prove a fact.

Both types of reasoning bring valuable benefits to the workplace. Employers specifically like to see inductive reasoning on applications because it highlights your aptitude for critical thinking and problem-solving. In addition to including it on your resume, note it in your cover letter and at the interview.

Example of inductive reasoning:

  1. "I get tired if I don’t drink coffee."
  2. "Coffee is addictive."
  3. "I am addicted to coffee."

Example of deductive reasoning:

  1. "Human beings need breath to live."
  2. "You are a human."
  3. "You must need breath to live."

Related: How to Improve Your Deductive Reasoning Skills (With Examples and Tips)

Inductive vs. Deductive
Image description

Inductive vs. deductive:
Inductive reasoning is the act of making generalized conclusions based on specific scenarios.
Deductive reasoning is the act of backing up a generalized statement with specific scenarios.

Inductive vs. abductive reasoning

Abductive reasoning allows for more guessing than inductive reasoning. For abductive reasoning, you analyze information or observations that may not be complete. You can guess or hypothesize possible outcomes based on the available information.

The medical field often uses abductive reasoning when making diagnoses in the absence of information such as test results. For example, when a patient presents symptoms, medical professionals work to develop a logical answer or a diagnosis based on the minimal information they have to develop a conclusion.

While abductive reasoning allows for more freedom than inductive or deductive reasoning, it can also result in several incorrect conclusions before you uncover the true answer.

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