Professional Development

Is Critical Thinking A Soft Skill Or Hard Skill?

Is critical thinking a skill that can be taught and learned? I must admit I’m intrigued, pondering how to demonstrate critical thinking skill on resume when it can seem so abstract. I know I can’t be the only one wondering what type of skill is critical thinking?

This all started while scrolling through the numerous news articles that pop up on my phone every morning. I stumbled across an opinion piece on critical thinking and how it applies in today’s world of increasing misinformation and constant exposure to current events online. It got me wondering if maybe society thinks too critically when reading the latest news on Facebook or Instagram.

Perhaps people, and I’m one of them, are too quick to be outraged with what pops up online. In that case, is critical thinking a skill that can be learned and enhanced over time, or are some people just naturally much better at critical thinking than others? To figure this out, I’m going to look at soft and hard skills and where critical thinking fits in for the 165 million workers in the U.S.

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What Are Soft Skills?

When it comes to critical thinking and other essential qualities for the workplace, I hear a lot about soft skills. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, soft skills offer “a competitive edge” and are used by employers to evaluate work readiness. Soft skills include:

  • Work ethic
  • Professionalism
  • Communication (written and oral)
  • Teamwork
  • Problem-solving
  • Integrity
  • Organization

Critical thinking is often grouped in with soft skills, which 21st-century employers rely on to support collaboration and project management. While it’s advantageous to have workers who know their reading and math skills, employers need well-rounded workers and team players. Employees should support one another, be willing to keep learning, and work hard to get the job done.

What Are Hard Skills?

Academics, particularly those specializing in humanities, have long since argued that critical thinking can be taught in schools. After all, the education system is responsible for teaching hard skills, namely the three “R’s” – reading, writing, and math. These skills are tangible and can be measured and taught, unlike soft skills that are harder to teach.

Here are some examples of hard skills:

  • Foreign language
  • Typing
  • Analytics
  • Design
  • Technical
  • Marketing

In other words, hard skills are easier to evaluate and track and are typically developed during school and work experiences. Many educators emphasize hard skills and let soft skills and personal traits speak for themselves.

What Type of Skill Is Critical Thinking?

So, is critical thinking a skill that can be learned and taught in educational and professional settings, or is it something that can’t be measured? Considering the soft vs. hard skills debate, it seems like critical thinking itself is more of a soft skill – a personal trait that plays a huge role in how you approach your daily life. Some people are quicker to think critically and apply such thinking to their everyday life, both in and out of work.

However, not everyone agrees that critical thinking is a soft skill. Some place it more in the middle, as critical thinking isn’t necessarily taught the same way as technical training, but it can be enhanced over time through educational experiences and professional development.

I read an article on that listed logical problem-solving and critical thinking as valuable soft skills employers look for and ultimately prefer in job candidates. The author did go on to describe critical thinking as something that can be practiced and developed in school, listing science, art, and debate classes as ways to strengthen critical thinking.

I tend to agree that critical thinking falls into both camps, although it’s more of a soft skill on its own. Nevertheless, many aspects of critical thinking and the skills it supports are more on the side of hard skills. For example, risk assessments, performance monitoring, and decisive communication are all hard skills that go hand in hand with critical thinking.

Given such tangible outcomes of critical thinking, it makes sense to me why most professionals list this ability among other soft skills, as it’s so broad and difficult to pin down. A world-class debater may exhibit excellent critical thinking on the stand, but can that be measured the same as risk-benefit analysis or credibility assessments? I don’t think so, as many employees are unsure how to demonstrate critical thinking on resume when it’s so broad.

Read More: Is Common Sense a Skill in the Workplace? (+How to Cultivate It)

Final Thoughts: Can You Learn Critical Thinking?

At the end of the day, yes, I think critical thinking is a skill that can be learned, at least to some extent. I don’t think it’s the same as learning a foreign language or data management, as the training is much less technical and more abstract. To be good at critical thinking, you must force yourself to examine topics in a new light.

Let’s look at it this way: what is the opposite of critical thinking? That would be emotional thinking, subjective to each individual’s thoughts, emotions, and biasesCritical thinking requires logical analysis, as you need to look at an issue objectively to form an opinion.

For the most part, it takes time and practice to become confident in your critical thinking skills. Sure, there are natural-born debaters who are always up for discussion, but even they need to work at critical thinking to ensure they maintain objectivity and see each issue from both sides. For those who view the world through a more subjective lens, critical thinking can be strengthened with applicable lessons during school and work.

It may actually be better to forgo the soft vs. hard skills discussion altogether when looking at critical thinking. Depending on your viewpoint, critical thinking falls into both skill categories or could stand on its own as neither a hard nor soft skill. Like other hard skills, critical thinking may be taught and measured, but it requires specific details and background depending on the subject matter.

Similar to soft skills, critical thinking is difficult to quantify or demonstrate on a resume, as this trait varies with individual experience and practice. The best thing you can do when trying to advance your career is prioritize critical thinking as a top skill and look for specific examples that demonstrate your logical analysis skills to impress future employers. Remember, they will be looking for a mix of hard and soft skills, and critical thinking is no exception.

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About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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