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How Critical Thinking Skills Can Help Improve Your Future

career change
Julie Miller
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Published on July 14, 2014

“For every complex problem, there is a simple solution that is elegant, easy to understand, and wrong.” H.L. Mencken

Well-developed critical thinking skills will go a long way in impressing a potential employer.  A survey done in 2012 by the American Management Association polled 768 managers and executives, and found that critical thinking skills of their employees are considered crucial for the future success of their organizations, but 49% of those surveys reported that their employees’ critical thinking skills were either average or below average (www.amanet.org).  To put it short, employers want people whose skills are above average. The report states: “Today’s employee’s need to think critically, solve problems, innovate, collaborate, and communicate more effectively…They must excel at the ‘four Cs’: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.”

We all know communications skills are essentials, and the skills needed to communicate well have been given a lot of attention. We also all know that we need to have team spirit, to work well with others, and to “think outside of the box”. Because of this, pretty much everyone preps to go into an interview ready to demonstrate these skills. But, most people fail to acknowledge the importance of demonstrating their critical thinking skills.

It’s become trendy in our culture however for judgmental criticism to be considered thoughtful analysis. Critical thinking is not faultfinding, derogatory, disparaging, or judgmental. But  often times, in the employment world, it’s commonly seen in a proposal meant to show that someone has found the weakness in something, and as a result, is worthy of a raise, promotion, or some other form of personal gain. The solution might sound elegant and might work in the short term, but because it lacks genuine analysis, it is usually wrong and won’t work in the long term. You would get noticed for this, but not necessarily in the way you want to be noticed.

Working well together – collaboration – is a proven way to test ideas. Employers want to promote people whose contributions add value to the organization. People who are collaborators and work well with others can build on people’s ideas and encourage a higher level of innovation,which takes on a much higher level of critical thinking than simply pointing out the faults in other’s work. Therefore, critical thinking is not only fair-minded and analytical, but also judicious, diagnostic, and decisive.

This is how you DO want to be noticed: If you can lead the group to make a solid decision that can be backed up with a well-considered evaluation, you will impress your supervisor in a good way. To lead however does not mean to dominate; it means making sure ideas are free flowing and everyone’s voice is heard. Critical thinking encompasses the ability to gather relevant information, interpret the information’s significance, clarify its meaning, examining it from different perspectives (this means asking questions and looking at the big picture not just the immediate situation), and then evaluating what you’ve learned and considering multiple options, all before arriving at your final conclusion. If that sounds like a lot of work that’s because it is. Just remember that critical thinking is elastic, it’s a process which allows for unexpected variables. In other words, it’s open to changes in the plan to ensure successful outcomes.

Potential employers want to know if you have the thinking skills that will give them a competitive edge. You may be wondering how you should get the message across that you have honed your critical thinking skills and that you are exactly the type of person who can help the organization reach its goals. Well, you know those common interview questions, like tell me about yourself, tell me about your strengths, what was your biggest accomplishment, why do you want this job, what challenges and problems have you faced in a job and how did you handle them? All of those questions give you golden opportunities to provide proof of your critical thinking skills.

You know where else you can make your critical thinking skills shine? Networking. You may have heard the advice to follow-up with professionals who have agreed to network with you by sending them articles of interest to help foster a working relationship. Instead of simply forwarding an article of interest to your contract, write two or three lines that show you’ve given the article analytical thought and have drawn meaningful conclusions. If you meet a professional for coffee or lunch, when you discuss a topic of interest don’t just “pick their brains”, show them how well your own brain works. The people who are impressed with your critical thinking skills will refer you for interviews, tell you about openings they know, and may even hire you themselves.

Nowadays, some colleges and universities offer full courses in critical thinking. This would be a perfect way to get started on building your skills, or asking a professor or advisor what courses might be beneficial for you to take. It takes time to develop critical thinking skills, and no one expects a recent graduate starting a career to have the level of expertise that can swiftly provide an elegant, yet efficient solution. But if you take the time to careful examine the problem, you can arrive at a solution that is both easy to understand, and, most importantly, correct.

Julie Miller

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