As a job applicant, you can expect critical thinking interview questions and you must be prepared with logical answers. Matt Plummer, writing for the Harvard Business Review, cites one survey of nearly 64,000 managers who felt “critical thinking is the number one soft skill” managers feel new applicants are lacking.
Critical-thinking skills are what enable you to use reasoning to reach logical conclusions when dealing with problem-solving, conflicts, and contributing to a group effort. Interviewers typically evaluate applicants’ critical thinking skills by asking critical thinking interview questions related to the applicant’s on-the-job experience. Applicants can also expect to react to hypothetical critical thinking scenarios with answers.
While brainteasers and fun critical thinking interview questions are popular with some organizations, most prefer to challenge candidates with more complex, job-related critical thinking questions.
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Here are 12 critical thinking interview questions examples with answers, or suggested approaches to crafting responses:
1. What does the term “critical thinking” mean to you?
This is a challenging question, because there is no universal consensus on what critical thinking actually is. Critical thinking is best defined by its differentiation between emotion and logic and the ability of the critical thinker to eliminate bias through self-knowledge and avoidance of group thinking.
Sample answer to Question 1:
“I believe critical thinking is arriving at answers and solutions to difficult questions and problems in a methodical way that removes bias and uncovers every aspect of the problem.
“Critical thinking, to me, is the opposite of emotional and biased judgment. It is asking the right questions by always questioning assumptions, using reasoning and logic, and respecting the collaboration process without getting stuck in an echo-chamber of group thinking.”
2. How would you describe your decision-making process?
You can expect this question because decision making and critical thinking are directly related. The interviewer wants to have an understanding of how you make decisions, so answer this question step-by-step, showing how you make thoughtful and smart decisions based on information and data.
Sample answer to Question 2:
“My first step in making a decision is to seek and gather information relating to my decision. I want multiple perspectives and I like to anticipate a variety of possible outcomes.
“Next, I think about how my decision will impact my workgroup and the company. If necessary, and depending on the situation, I often seek a second opinion so that I didn’t miss something I may have overlooked.”
3. How do you process new ideas and approaches?
This question evaluates your open-mindedness, which is also central to critical thinking. Critical thinkers are not afraid of abandoning traditional methods when something better turns up. Likewise, critical thinkers exercise judgment and evaluate the veracity and reliability of new information.
Sample answer to Question 3:
“I know that new ideas drive innovation in any organization, and I always try to be receptive. If something can be improved, I know that solutions are out there and have probably been tested and evaluated. If those ideas have applicability and potential, I test them on a limited trial basis before recommending they be applied on a large scale.”
4. Describe a time you had to use critical thinking to solve a problem.
Here is where the employer wants to find out if you have actually had to use critical thinking to find a solution to some problem or challenge. This is an ideal way to bring up examples of past accomplishments you have already documented on your résumé.
How to answer Question 4:
State the problem, and how it may have been an unexpected challenge. What were the obstacles that you overcame with critical-thinking, rather than knee-jerk responses? Describe how effective teamwork and communication made it possible to arrive at a solution.
5. How do you go about completing a task without clear information?
When short-fused deadlines emerge, you often have to make decisions lacking all the information you need. Your response will be evaluated on how you demonstrate resourcefulness and perform well in the face of those limitations.
How to answer Question 5:
Say that you prefer to make decisions after taking in all the facts, but you recognize that sometimes you need to act quickly. Describe how you look critically at all the information available and use your intuition and good judgement to fill in any information gaps.
Describe how you may have relied on similar experiences in the past with successful outcomes. This is also an opportunity to demonstrate that you are not averse to asking for help.
6. If you are faced with multiple projects but only have time to complete three, how do you decide which projects to work on?
This is a way to demonstrate how you can prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency. Critical thinking helps you distinguish what is important from the routine by applying criteria related to time, effort, and value.
Sample answer Question 6:
“If I was faced with multiple time-sensitive tasks, rather than rushing to complete any one of them, I would list the tasks in a single document according to urgency and deadline. I would farm out the less urgent tasks to subordinates or co-workers.
“Next, from the tasks remaining, I would flag those that are both important and urgent. For those tasks, I would order them based on their importance to the organization, as well as those that could cause damage to the organization if they cannot be completed. That would also include identifying the tasks that have the highest return on investment.
“After that process of elimination, I would choose three tasks that 1) bring the most value to the business, 2) are urgent, and 3) only I can complete.
“I would deal with the tasks that didn’t make the cut by either delegating them or seeking reasonable deadline extensions.”
7. How would you present a new idea or technique to your team?
In jobs that require presenting new concepts or skills to the team, employers want to know how effectively you can share information with others.
How to answer Question 7:
Think about your learning style—visual, audible, kinesthetic, verbal—and find a way to incorporate your style with the way you present information to others. Describe, for example, how presenting information to your team includes an understanding of learning styles and knowing that people can be engaged through a variety of visual presentations.
Provide specific examples of your past successful presentations.
8. How do you respond to opposing viewpoints in your workgroup?
Critical thinkers weigh both sides of any argument. Be prepared to address how you deal with opposing perspectives respectfully and constructively, even when one view is worse than the other.
How to answer question 8:
Demonstrate that you’re always open to a variety of well-meaning perspectives in the workplace. Listening to those opposing viewpoints refines your own opinions, which has the benefit of bringing opposing views to a middle ground.
Think about a time when you and a colleague disagreed on how to proceed on a project. Describe how you listened respectfully to your colleague, presented your case, and factually demonstrated how your approach could ultimately produce the best outcome.
9. How often do you ask co-workers for help?
Self-awareness is an important element of critical thinking. You need to know when to seek help from others when you encounter difficulties or obstacles on a project.
How to answer Question 9:
Your answer should demonstrate a balance between burdening busy co-workers and being stubborn to the point of freezing progress on a project.
Mention that you normally try to avoid asking co-workers for help, since they are busy with their own work.
However, you do recognize that a fresh approach and new eyes can help you overcome obstacles. Mention, too, that you are always ready to help out when asked.
10. How should friction between team members be dealt with?
Conflict resolution is a valuable critical thinking skill. Your ability to work with people who have different values and opinions is the key element in conflict resolution skills. You need to show a proactive, patient, impartial approach to defusing volatile situations.
How to answer Question 10
Mention that workplace disagreements can promote a healthy diversity of opinion. But when those disagreements become personal, they serve no purpose and can fester into grudges and long-term, toxic workplace problems.
Think about a time when you either helped deescalate a conflict or when you observed how your supervisor was successful in handling troublesome co-workers and conflict situations.
11. How would you deal with a situation where a weak link in the team is affecting the quality of performance?
This is one of those critical thinking interview questions that assesses your ability to cope with a particularly sensitive workplace problem and how you tackle it proactively. You need to demonstrate that you don’t shy away from having uncomfortable conversations in a confidential and respectful way.
This is a hypothetical question you can answer either through thoughtful preparation or based on past experience—a group project in a college class, for example.
How to answer Question 11
In a job setting, you could describe how you would cope with a team member who was disrupting the delivery of a project. Your approach would be to consult with your manager in a respectful and confidential way.
Rather than pointing fingers, to offer solutions. You need to identify the cause of the colleague’s poor performance and recommend remedial action, more training or reassignment to a project where the team member could perform better.
12. What would you do if you noticed your supervisor made a mistake?
There could be a time when you will need to correct a mistake of a higher-level employee. Your challenge is to demonstrate critical thinking skills and find a professional way to correct the mistake in an ethical, professional, and polite manner.
How to answer Question 12
Say that your approach would be to meet with the senior employee privately to tactfully and kindly explain the mistake they made. You’ll need evidence and a suggestion on how to correct the problem.
Senior employees will appreciate the private meeting and the chance to consider ways to correct their mistake.