According to the annual survey of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, one of the top skills sought by employers is a combination of critical thinking and analytical reasoning. Our own sample of 162 employers who attended the Job and Internship Fair in March 2016 has confirmed this finding: 89% of them were looking for candidates with this particular skill combination. These employers range from not-for-profits and businesses to government agencies and international organizations in various fields and industries.
What do the employers mean by “analytical” and “critical thinking” skills? Why are these skills so much in demand? Do you possess these skills? If you do, how would you demonstrate that to your potential employer? What activities would help develop analytical reasoning and critical thinking?
Find out this and more in my two part blog.
First, what are we talking about?
We are talking about two higher order cognitive skills. Both analytical reasoning and critical thinking help understand the information, topic, problem, data, etc. They enable one to tackle a problem and make the right decision in a more efficient way. However, these skills are not identical.
Analytical reasoning refers to a thinking process that entails breaking the information (topic, problem, data, etc.) into the parts, researching, and evaluating each part separately, to comprehend the complexity of the topic, discover connections, causes and effects, patterns, etc.
Critical thinking refers to a thinking process that entails coming up with questions, searching for flaws or strengths, evaluating possible scenarios, etc., to interpret the complexity of the topic based on the facts as well as prior knowledge and experience. Critical thinking involves figuring out the “Why?” and “Why not?”
For sure, I have simplified the definitions of these skills — there is much more to both analytical reasoning and critical thinking.
Why do employers look for analytical reasoning and critical thinking skills?
There are three major reasons:
First, employers look for these skills because of the complexity of the today’s workplace. Such complexity involves multiple sources of information, numerous stakeholders, complex challenges (economic, social, or political), increasing competition, etc. To achieve success in whatever organizations do (development or implementation of products, programs, services, projects or policies, etc.) in such complex environments, employers need analytical and critical thinkers who can grasp individual components and their relationships, as well as probe deeper to figure out what is important and what is not.
Second, many organizations have concluded that the decentralized structure of decision-making help them work more efficiently. This means that junior staff get more responsibilities to make decisions, come up with solutions, and recommend innovations. All these tasks call for good analytical reasoning and critical thinking skills.
Finally, the employer prefers new hires who will be able to become effective in their job as fast as possible. This requires figuring out how the organization operates, your tasks and expectations, where to get mentorship, communication channels, etc. To master all this information fast, the new hire should use analytical reasoning to understand these important components and their relations at the new workplace.
Obviously, different fields and industries would require their own analytical approaches and modes of critical thinking. Research assistants in the science fields would use different inquiry methods than research assistants in policy organizations. Business professionals of various specializations would employ different analytical tools to meet their goals. Educators, media and communications specialists, program coordinators or event planners — all would use different analytical approaches, strategies and techniques in their day to day job. However, the principles of analytical reasoning and critical thinking are universal, which makes them essential transferrable skills.
Now, while I am working on my second part of this blog, I would like to suggest that you get busy as well.
First, put on your analytical reasoning cap and analyze your academic, internship, leadership, work and other experiences to find suitable examples of utilizing analytical reasoning and critical thinking skills. Think of specific projects and tasks that you have accomplished where you had to figure out components (factors, aspects, steps), research, and evaluate them separately and together. Think of any examples where you identified information gaps, flaws, or thought through and/or suggested possible alternatives.
Next, put on your critical thinking cap and try to assess your performance on these tasks and think of specific ways you can continue further developing these skills.