Critical thinking abilities are valuable in almost all roles and industries. As a result, interviewers often ask questions to assess your skills at identifying problems and developing optimal solutions using logic. You can impress potential employers by using examples that showcase the analytic thought process behind your decision making. In this article, we provide critical-thinking interview questions that you may encounter along with sample answers that you can use to prepare.
Critical thinking interview questions with sample answers
Here are 10 common interview questions aimed at evaluating your critical-thinking skills, along with sample answers:
Tell me about a time when you had to convince your supervisor or team to use an alternative approach to solve a problem
Interviewers test your critical thinking skills by learning whether you can make decisions based on logic and then communicate your reasoning to persuade others to follow you. They want to see influential behaviors, such as using data to establish trust in your decision rather than supporting an idea based on opinions or feelings. When answering, provide an example of when you successfully convinced someone using evidence to back up your proposal.
Example: "At my previous job, I regularly had to search for information within a company database and create a spreadsheet with the results. Traditionally, this was a manual process, but I discovered a way to automate it. I raised this new approach with my supervisor by explaining the program we would need to use and showing them how the process worked. I detailed how this automated method would save us time, enabling us to move onto more important tasks.
Because I had data to back up my suggestion, they implemented this solution. This change resulted in a more efficient and streamlined workflow for our team."
Tell me about a time when you needed to make a decision quickly
Interviewers want to see how you approach decision-making when under pressure. A sign of strong critical thinking is the ability to maintain your use of logic and reasoning to make the right choice, even within time constraints. Answer this question with a situation where a quick decision resulted in a positive outcome.
Example: "One time, my manager had to leave the office an hour before a scheduled presentation. We did not want to cancel the meeting with our clients, which meant we had little time to determine who would take over presentation duties. Because I spent so much preparing with my manager and had the best idea of the points they wanted to make, we decided I was the best choice.
We also asked another manager who was more familiar with these negotiations to support me and help answer client questions. The clients were impressed with our presentation and ended up approving our proposal. My manager was so pleased with our quick thinking and results that they began trusting me to handle more client presentations in the future."
How would you handle a situation where you noticed your supervisor made an error in a report or presentation?
Interviewers want to see how you would handle a difficult and possibly uncomfortable situation with an authority figure. When responding to this question, explain what action you would take and the thought process behind your decision. Your answer should show the potential employer that you can take a professional approach.
Example: "If I noticed a mistake in my supervisor's work, I would wait until I could speak with them privately. I would then show them the mistake and offer to help them fix it. I believe having the conversation in private shows my supervisor that I respect them and their authority. My previous supervisors appreciated this honesty, and my last manager even had me perform the final review of all their drafted documents."
Describe one of the most difficult decisions you have had to make at work
Interviewers ask this question to learn whether you have experience making decisions in challenging situations. Your answer should display your thought process behind a difficult choice, including how you used critical-thinking skills to determine your options and find the right solution.
Example: "At my last job, I helped set up a new learning platform for a specific department. We met with five vendors to provide online training, but I had to make the final decision on which one to hire. I compared the five vendors against requirements related to our budget and the needs of our learners. I also asked our stakeholders, who participated in the meetings with vendors and tested their content, which they liked best.
I chose the vendor who best met all of our requirements and was most popular with the stakeholders. As a result, we saw significant productivity improvement from our learners and received positive feedback on their training experiences."
How would you handle a situation where a colleague presented you with a new or unusual idea?
One of the key elements of critical thinking is open-mindedness. Potential employers want to see your ability to consider new ideas to improve processes or solve difficult problems, so give a specific example from your past. Your answer should also include how this open-mindedness benefited you and your work.
Example: "I once collaborated with a coworker on a project, and they suggested taking a completely different approach than I usually took. I asked them to walk me through their approach and explain how it has worked for them in the past. The steps they suggested taking seemed easier than mine, so we decided to use their method. As a result, we got the work done much faster than I usually do—and I found a new favorite approach for doing similar projects."
How would you solve a disagreement among team members on how to approach a project?
You can develop your critical thinking abilities by evaluating opposing viewpoints and using them to form viable solutions. Looking at different sides of a situation can broaden your perspective, which can often lead to better solutions. Show the interviewers that you can make decisions that work best for your team.
Example: "In a team situation where there are opposing viewpoints, I ask everyone to present their idea and the reasoning behind it. Rather than just going by what is popular, I have the team look at the evidence or logic to determine which choice is the best for our needs. For example, I was on a team where there was disagreement on how often we should hold meetings on project progress updates.
At first, the majority wanted weekly meetings, but a few people were adamant about short, daily check-ins. After listening to the reasoning behind these ideas, our group determined that a daily 15-minute meeting would be more beneficial in keeping us on task. We found that this plan did not take away time from our responsibilities and helped us finish the project sooner because the frequent check-ins held us accountable for our assignments."
Have you ever anticipated potential problems and developed steps to avoid them?
Potential employers are interested in seeing whether you can look at a situation and anticipate potential challenges. This ability incorporates strong observational and problem-solving skills, which are essential to critical thinking. Your answer should show that you can identify issues and logically determine ways of resolving them before they even happen.
Example: "In my previous job, I was responsible for scheduling staff members. I knew that scheduling was more complicated during the holiday season. To combat this, I established procedures for requesting time off during that period that enabled me to set schedules further in advance. I also implemented a program that trained staff on how to complete the responsibilities of different jobs, which provided flexibility in the event of last-minute absences. As a result of these changes, I had a plan of action in place when scheduling difficulties arose. Our team felt prepared and avoided productivity disruptions."
How do you handle making a decision when you don't have all of the information?
Interviewers often want to see you how you conduct your thinking process within certain limitations. Your answer should display how you were able to use logic and resourcefulness to come to a rational decision. When including an example in your response, focus on the thought process rather than the results.
Example: "I like to have as much information as possible when making decisions, though I realize this is not always realistic. In this situation, I would try to find as much information as I could and use context to fill in any missing areas.
I once had a question about a proposal for a client. My supervisor was not available, so I reviewed the client's creative brief for insights. The brief provided enough information that I found a possible solution to my problem. When I made my presentation, I felt comfortable with what I had prepared and only received a few changes from the client."
When solving a problem or completing a task, how do you determine when you need help from others?
Potential employers may ask about your ability to seek support from colleagues, as this can display that you can act sensibly to create optimal outcomes. Provide an example of a situation where you needed help, how you came to that decision and how it benefited you.
Example: "In the past, I have realized that some situations require support from others. I will make this decision when I recognize a task is too large to handle on my own or when I need additional viewpoints on an issue to find a solution.
Last year, I agreed to create a report for an internal client with a short deadline. As I worked on this report, I realized I would not be able to finish it in the given time and reached out to a coworker. With their help, we completed the report within the deadline, and the resulting product was much better than if I had rushed to complete it by myself."
How would you handle a situation where a colleague is having trouble understanding your process or solution?
For this specific example, you should discuss how you would take different learning styles into account to best communicate with the other person.
Example: "When I notice that a colleague is having trouble understanding my explanation, I pause and ask how they are feeling so far. By doing this, I can learn where they began to get confused. Now I have a new starting point to build their knowledge upon and can adjust my explanation to suit their needs. This may require me to use visual aids or examples to relay the information or use language that is less technical depending on the type of learner.
I recognize that not everyone receives information or instruction in the same way, so I usually try to prepare a few methods of explanation beforehand. That way, if they need a visual aid, for example, then I can already have one ready to use."