What is Critical Thinking?
In order to understand the importance of hiring a critical thinker for your business, let’s start by defining “critical thinking.” Critical thinking can be defined as the ability to objectively identify, analyze, and solve a problem and/or situation through thorough research and understanding.
Critical thinkers follow the “Who, What, When, Why, and How” approach when addressing problems and/or situations.
When Are Critical Thinkers Important in the Workplace?
Most every position within a business requires a certain degree of critical thinking. For example, an accountant must be able to thoroughly analyze and interpret financial data of the business and successfully communicate the outcome of the analysis, while a marketing manager must be able to collect and evaluate information about the business’ target market and communicate the offerings to potential clients.
Critical thinkers ask all of the hard questions, they identify the strengths and weaknesses of the business, identify problems, and provide creative ideas and solutions to fix them. They think outside the box and look for important details. Many businesses find that hiring employees who have strong critical thinking skills is important and beneficial to their business; therefore, they are identified as assets to any business when aligned with the right roles.
Although many people are very good at thinking critically, not everyone has the ability to think in this manner. Experts state that critical thinking skills are developed over time and not all individuals are designed to be critical thinkers. Therefore, the challenge is to identify which specific critical thinking skills are required for a position.
If everyone is NOT a critical thinker, how do you know if you are hiring the right person?
There are several different categories of critical thinking skills. However, let’s focus on the top six types to look for in a potential candidate:
- Analytical: All critical thinkers have the ability to thoroughly analyze, dissect, and interpret information using logical reasoning. They are looking for “why” as they review specific information.
- Interpreter: Another trait of a critical thinker is the ability to interpret and understand the information that was analyzed. They are looking for the “what.” What is the meaning of the information?
- Evaluator: Critical thinkers have the ability to evaluate information to determine the accuracy and credibility of the information. They are looking for “how” the information was obtained and what facts are being considered.
- Problem Solver: A critical thinker is also known as a problem solver. A problem solver has the ability to synthesize information to form a reasonable solution. They are looking for “how” do you find the solution to the problem and/or what is the best resolution? They also determine if there are other solutions available.
- Communicator: A critical thinker has the ability to effectively communicate the results and final conclusion of the information reviewed, both through oral and written communication.
Now that we have identified which skill types to look for, how do we determine if a potential applicant has them?
Start by putting together a complete list of interview questions prior to the interview.
- The questions you choose must be designed to address specific requirements of the position and the type of critical thinking skill(s) needed.
- To uncover actual skill sets, behavioral questions are ideal. Behavioral questions present a sample situation/problem that most candidates can relate to, and asks how the interviewee has addressed them in past experiences while providing specific memories and examples from those experiences. The goal is not to imply a right or wrong answer, but rather the question is to be open-ended, forcing the interviewee to share their story honestly, rather than provide a designed answer they think you want to hear.
- Drilling for details keeps the interviewee from bluffing out with a generic answer, and reveals if they in fact had these experiences. It tells you a lot about their work styles and skills in how they dealt with the situation. More importantly, if the situation did not go well, behavioral questions ask what they learned or what they would do differently. The ability take past lessons and adapt because of them can be an important aspect of critical thinking and potential.
- Allow the interviewee the opportunity to ask clarifying questions if needed. This will help you assess not just their answer, but how resourceful they are in getting information when they need it.
Here are a few sample critical thinking / behavioral interview questions and how to drill for details if you don’t hear them right away:
Tell me about a time when you were the first to identify an error or problem in data, a process or a system you were working with.
- How did you address the situation?
- In follow up: What struck you as wrong when you came across it? Should others have noticed? Who did you tell? What was the result of your actions?
Tell me about a time when you had to make a critical decision with little information.
- How did you approach the decision making process? How long did it take to make the decision? What steps did you take and why? Who did you involve, if anyone? What was the result?
- If it did not go well, looking back, what did you learn and would have done differently?
Tell me about a time when you were the one presented with a problem that you had to solve in order to complete a project, launch an initiative, or to meet a deadline / objective.
- Describe the problem, your approach, and the outcome.
- Did you succeed? If not, what would you do differently if presented with the situation again?
As you can anticipate, the responses to the interview questions will be different for every applicant; however, the use of the same questions in search of specific behaviors allows you to evaluate and score their answers equitably.
That moves us to the second step: Analyzing the interview question responses.
It is important to look for responses that demonstrate strong critical thinking skills… analytical, interpretation, evaluation, problem solving, and communication. Did the interviewee successfully demonstrate strong critical thinking skills? Was their thought process methodical or haphazard? Did they maximize resources or work within a bubble? Did they present a solution or just ask for help?
There’s a benefit to tailoring interviewing to uncover critical thinking skills for those roles that need them to save time, money, and resources through more efficient, on-going problem solving. If you haven’t already assessed where you need these assets, it’s time to dust off the job descriptions, update them accordingly, and start purposefully hiring critical thinkers where they make the most sense.
Written by Julie Morgan, SHRM-CP and Valerie Juarez SPHR, SHRM-SCP
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