Inductive Reasoning Definition and Examples

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What is inductive reasoning, and why is it important? Inductive reasoning is a type of logical thinking that involves forming generalizations based on specific incidents you've experienced, observations you've made, or facts you know to be true or false.

What is Inductive Reasoning?

Inductive reasoning is an approach to logical thinking that involves making generalizations based on specific details. Inductive reasoning is an important critical thinking skill that many employers look for in their employees.

Inductive reasoning is an example of an analytical soft skill. Unlike hard skills - which are job-specific and generally require technical training - soft skills relate to how you interact with people, social situations, and ideas.

Employers value workers who can think logically as they solve problems and carry out tasks.

For jobs that require inductive reasoning, employers need individuals that can discern patterns and develop strategies, policies, or proposals based on those tendencies. That makes it a useful skill to highlight in your job applications and job interviews.

Inductive Reasoning vs. Deductive Reasoning

Inductive reasoning is different from deductive reasoning, where you start with a generalization or theory, and then test it by applying it to specific incidents. For example, in grade school, our teachers may have taught the difference to us as "going from big to small" when using deductive reasoning and "going from small to big" when using inductive reasoning.

Scientists may use deductive reasoning to test a hypothesis in a lab, whereas many law enforcement, military, or corporate leaders must be able to use inductive reasoning by taking quick sweep of a situation and making a vital, but time-sensitive decision. Inductive reasoning allows individuals to accurately “see the signs” of something bigger at play.

Examples of Inductive Reasoning

In practice, inductive reasoning often appears invisible. You might not be aware that you’re taking in information, recognizing a potential pattern, and then acting on your hypothesis. But, if you’re a good problem solver, chances are that these examples will feel familiar:

  1. A teacher notices that his students learned more when hands-on activities were incorporated into lessons, and then decides to regularly include a hands-on component in his future lessons.
  2. An architect discerns a pattern of cost overages for plumbing materials in jobs and opts to increase the estimate for plumbing costs in subsequent proposals.
  3. A stockbroker observes that Intuit stock increased in value four years in a row during tax season and recommends clients buy it in March.
  4. A recruiter conducts a study of recent hires who have achieved success and stayed on with the organization. She finds that they graduated from three local colleges, so she decides to focus recruiting efforts on those schools.
  5. A salesperson presents testimonials of current customers to suggest to prospective clients that her products are high quality and worth the purchase.
  6. A defense attorney reviews the strategy employed by lawyers in similar cases and finds an approach that has consistently led to acquittals. She then applies this approach to her own case.
  7. A production manager examines cases of injuries on the line and discerns that many injuries occurred towards the end of long shifts. The manager proposes moving from 10-hour to 8-hour shifts based on this observation.
  8. A bartender becomes aware that customers give her higher tips when she shares personal information, so she intentionally starts to divulge personal information when it feels appropriate to do so.
  9. An activities leader at an assisted living facility notices that residents light up when young people visit. She decides to develop a volunteer initiative with a local high school, connecting students with residents who need cheering up.
  10. A market researcher designs a focus group to assess consumer responses to new packaging for a snack product. She discovers that participants repeatedly gravitate towards a label stating “15 grams of protein." The researcher recommends increasing the size and differentiating the color of that wording.

Types of Inductive Reasoning Skills

The following are some of the skills that individuals with strong inductive reasoning abilities have.

Attention to Detail

No one can draw conclusions on details without first noticing them. That’s why paying attention is crucial to inductive reasoning. If you are trying to develop better inductive reasoning, begin by first noticing more about the things around you. Be mindful of your five primary senses: the things that you hear, feel, smell, taste, and see.

Recognizing Patterns

Those that have strong inductive reasoning quickly notice patterns. They can see how certain objects or events lining up in a certain way can result in a common outcome. Teachers working with students with different personalities and intellectual abilities must practice inductive reasoning when figuring out which approach best helps each student. Financial analysts use inductive reasoning to examine data and draw conclusions.

  • Data Analysis
  • Mathematics
  • Observation
  • Adaptability
  • Language Skills
  • Troubleshooting

Making Projections

Closely related to recognizing patterns is then being able to predict (or intuit) what the near future will hold by taking certain steps now. Leaders must be able to know that certain decisions will lead to more group cooperation and greater success. Among the most common demands for inductive reasoning is being able to build financial projections for a startupinsurance companyinvestingaccounting firm, or for an executive of a medium-to-large firm.


Often, you will notice a few details and then recognize them again months or years later. Your inductive reasoning is often directly connected to your ability to recall past events and the details leading up to those events. For those that worry that their memory might fail them, they may learn to take notes (by hand, smartphone, or audio recording device) so that they can reference them later on.

  • Organization
  • Curiosity
  • Mnemonic Skills
  • Research
  • Reflection Tactics

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Different than raw intellect (known as IQ), emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to perceive emotions motivating social moments that otherwise might be mysterious to those lacking EQ. People with high levels of EQ are frequently more understanding of others and better able to “get to the heart” of issues between two or more people.

Showing Your Inductive Reasoning Skills at an Interview

Job interviews provide an ideal opportunity to show employers that you have inductive reasoning skills.

Before the interview, review your past roles and identify situations in which you have applied inductive reasoning. Specifically, think of times when inductive reasoning resulted in positive outcomes, where you independently applied knowledge learned on the job in order to adapt quickly to your role.

When highlighting your inductive reasoning during an interview, use the STAR interview response technique. This is an acronym that stands for:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

First, describe the situation: Where you were working? What project were you working on?

Then describe the task: What was your responsibility? What problem did you have to solve? What observations did you make?

Next, explain the action you took: What solution did you implement? How did you translate your observations into a solution or action?

Finally, explain the result: How did your action help the problem, or help the company more broadly?. This technique will clearly show the interviewer that you have inductive reasoning skills that can add value to the company.