Critical Thinking Definition, Skills, and Examples

Critical Thinking Skills and Keywords for Resumes, Cover Letters, and Interviews

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Critical thinking is one of the most sought-after skills in almost every industry and every workplace. What is critical thinking? It refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment.

You can demonstrate your critical thinking abilities by using keywords related to critical thinking in your resume and cover letter, and during your interview.

Why Employers Value Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking involves the evaluation of sources such as data, facts, observable phenomenon, and research findings. Good critical thinkers can draw reasonable conclusions from a set of information and discriminate between useful and less useful details to solve a problem or make a decision.  

Employers want job candidates who can evaluate a situation using logical thought and come up with the best solution. Someone with critical thinking skills can be trusted to make decisions on his or her own and does not need constant handholding.

The circumstances demanding critical thinking vary from industry to industry. Some examples include:

  • A triage nurse analyzes the cases at hand and decides the order by which the patients should be treated.
  • A plumber evaluates the materials that best would suit a particular job. 
  • An attorney reviews evidence and devises a strategy to win a case or to decide whether to settle out of court.
  • A manager analyzes customer feedback forms and uses this information to develop a customer service training session for employees.

How to Use Skills Lists

If critical thinking is a key phrase in the job listings you are applying for, be sure to emphasize your critical thinking skills throughout your job search.

Firstly, you can use critical thinking keywords (analytical, problem solving, creativity, etc.) in your resume. In the description of your work history, you can include any of the below skills that accurately describe you. You can also include them in your resume summary, if you have one. For example, your summary might read, “Marketing Associate with five years of experience in project management. Skilled in conducting thorough market research and competitor analysis to assess market trends and client needs, and to develop appropriate acquisition tactics.”

Secondly, you can include these critical thinking skills in your cover letter. In the body of your letter, you can mention one or two of these skills, and give a specific example of a time when you demonstrated those skills at work. Think about times when you had to analyze or evaluate materials to solve a problem.

Finally, you can use these skill words in an interview. Discuss a time when you were faced with a particular problem or challenge at work and explain how you applied critical thinking to solve it.

Some interviewers will even give you a hypothetical scenario or problem, and ask you to use critical thinking skills to solve it. In this case, explain your thought process thoroughly to the interviewer. He or she is typically more focused on how you arrive at your solution rather than the solution itself. The interviewer wants to see you use analysis and evaluation (key parts of critical thinking).

Of course, each job will require different skills and experiences, so make sure you read the job description carefully and focus on the skills listed by the employer.

Top Five Critical Thinking Skills

© The Balance, 2018


1. Analytical
Part of critical thinking is the ability to carefully examine something, whether it is a problem, a set of data, or a text. People with analytical skills can examine information, and then understand what it means, and what it represents.

  • Asking thoughtful questions
  • Data analysis
  • Information seeking
  • Interpretation
  • Judgment
  • Questioning evidence
  • Recognizing differences and similarities
  • Skepticism

2. Communication
Often, you will need to share your conclusions with your employers or with a group of colleagues. You need to be able to communicate with others to share your ideas effectively. You might also need to engage in critical thinking with a group. In this case, you will need to work with others and communicate effectively to figure out solutions to complex problems.

3. Creativity
Critical thinking often involves some level of creativity. You might need to spot patterns in the information you are looking at or come up with a solution that no one else has thought of before. All of this involves a creative eye.

  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Conceptualization
  • Curiosity
  • Imagination
  • Making abstract connections
  • Making inferences
  • Predicting
  • Synthesizing
  • Visionary

4. Open-Minded
To think critically, you need to be able to put aside any assumptions or judgments and merely analyze the information you receive. You need to be objective, evaluating ideas without bias.

  • Embracing different cultural perspectives
  • Fair
  • Humble
  • Inclusive
  • Objective
  • Observation
  • Reflection

5. Problem Solving
Problem solving is another crucial critical thinking skill that involves analyzing a problem, generating and implementing a solution, and assessing the success of the plan. After all, employers don’t simply want employees who can think about information critically. They also need to be able to come up with practical solutions.

  • Applying standards
  • Attention to detail
  • Clarification
  • Collaboration
  • Decision making
  • Evaluation
  • Grounded
  • Identifying patterns
  • Innovative
  • Logical reasoning