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Today’s Top Skills #2: Critical Thinking

critical thinking skills

This article is part of a series in which Reverse Tide explores some of the most critical skills in today’s economy. While not every job necessarily requires such skills, these are some of the most in-demand generic skills found on job postings and employer wish lists. For those of you looking to expand your career, make yourself more attractive to prospective employers, or learn some of the most topical skills, we will explain why we believe these are so important. 

Critical thinking, despite being one of the most pronounced trait of high performers, is a bit difficult to define. How can you tell if you have good critical thinking skills or need to develop them? The answer is honestly not very straightforward. Learning critical thinking skills requires re-training your mind to process things differently than the way you’ve been taught your whole life. Schools, from early ages to university, far too often just don’t teach critical thinking skills. Instead, they teach following orders, memorization, and accepting the teacher/textbook’s word as indisputable fact. When these students graduate, they eventually reach the working world with exactly the same thinking and behaviors.

The place to start in this subject is a formal study done by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AACU). In Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success, Hart Research Associates asked employers to give feedback on their graduating hires including what skills are most important to them and which graduates do/don’t exhibit. The results are a poor indicator for university performance, as employers rate graduate hire skills rather poorly. Critical thinking is tied for fourth on their importance list (tied with ethics and only behind communication and working effectively with others!). Obviously this is a massively important topic! It is even more important considering employers only believe 26% of graduating students do a good job of critical thinking in their job!

Obviously this is a very concerning statistic and one that graduates and experienced employees need to pay attention to. In our own experience, the top performing workers in any job have good critical thinking skills, and the average/low performing workers have poor critical thinking skills. However, let’s go back to the original question of how we can evaluate our own aptitude in this skill. We’ll do this through a series of questions we’ll ask you to apply to your own job:

Reverse Tide Online Education - You Can Lead a Horse to Water
You Can Lead a Horse to Water… by tuchodi – CC BY_SA 2.0
  • Imagine the CEO of your company walked up to you and called you into his/her office. They asked you to think of three ways to cut costs and three ways to cut revenue. Could you answer them on the spot?
  • A friend of yours chats you up about your company at a social function. They say they are considering investing in your company but want your feedback (without giving away insider information of course!). Could you explain what the share price is, how it has performed recently, and what the outlook is for appreciation in the short and long term ahead (with good reasoning)?
  • A customer walks into your workplace and demands for you to solve a problem you’re completely unfamiliar with. Let’s say it’s a piece of technology you don’t know much about and you’re the only person in the office to fix it. Could you respond in a way this is satisfactory to the customer?
  • Could you give a performance review to your boss? How about your boss’ boss? How about the CEO?
  • Pretend time travel existed for a moment. Someone from 100 years ago suddenly travels into the present. Could you explain what your business sells, why they should buy it, and give a demonstration of features (to someone that obviously will have no background in that product at all)?

A lot of these scenarios don’t occur too often, if ever. Your reaction at this point might be, “I don’t need to talk to time travelers or grade my CEO… my job is to go into the office at 9:00, do whatever the procedures of my job are, get feedback from my boss, and go home at 5:00.” So why are we asking these questions? This is what critical thinking is all about. It’s identifying a problem and coming up with a comprehensive solution to solve it. Many people lack the motivation or skill to diagnose problems or opportunities, while others lack the motivation or skill to apply their knowledge and experience to possible solutions. A good critical thinker not only can do these things well (no matter what the problem is) but seeks it in their everyday work. In your everyday jobs, a good critical thinker can do the following:

Reverse Tide Online Education - Blank Sketchbook
Blank Sketchbook by Wonderlane – CC BY 2,0

1. Rather than having to be told what to do by their boss or a neatly written procedures document, a good critical thinker knows what needs to be done. They are much more independent and can anticipate the work that needs to be done, as they understand the broader reasoning for why they are hired and what their role is.

2. A good critical thinker is always looking for new, improved ways to do their job. If a process isn’t working well, they spend time identifying the reason for this and proactively propose solutions.

3. A good critical thinker is always considering their company’s performance beyond just their own role in it. They are genuinely interested in other aspects of the organization’s strategy and can confidently put forth their perspective on it.

4. A good critical thinker rarely plays the victim card. They understand the reasons they are employed, the reasons for their performance reviews, the reasons they are compensated as they are, and the reasons for either staying in their current position or moving up/lateral in the organization. They are able to identify why such decisions were made, and what it takes to improve their own circumstances.

5. A good critical thinker will rarely present problems to their teams or management. They will instead be the solution person! Any problem is solvable in any number of ways for those thinking critically about it. A good critical thinker won’t shy away from complications or issues, as they take pride in offering and implementing such solutions.

Does this sound like you? Everyone has room for improvement and practice, however, if you feel weak in any of these areas, perhaps it’s time to bolster your skills! Although it’s difficult to quantify on a resume, a good critical thinker will typically interview well, as they can easily speak of accomplishments, give examples of solving business problems, and ask insightful questions.

*** Work with us directly on your critical thinking skills and resume!!! Reverse Tide has launched its own personalized career & education services. We want to work with YOU to build the best critical thinking skills and give you the best chance at the jobs of your choice. We offer tons of services where we interact and work with you directly!  For more information on what we offer, check out Reverse Tide Personalized Career Services

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