Last week, The Wall Street Journal published a concerning article on the topic of critical thinking. The author states that even though managers are demanding critical thinking skills in potential employees, few can actually define the term. Common definitions of critical thinking really boil down to complementary or more narrow skills like problem solving, decision making, or creativity. However, the concept is much more complex than those over-simplified terms.
Today on Indeed.com, there are 61,328 job postings that mention critical thinking. While it is encouraging that mentions of critical thinking in job postings have doubled since 2009, I fear that we are on the verge of devaluing the term. Without a clear understanding of the skill and taking steps to select employees with critical thinking skills, we will just create more meaningless resume buzzwords like “detail-oriented” and “results driven.”
As one commenter stated, “Employers who want to hire critical thinkers, but who can’t define critical thinking, are expressing a “wish” rather than a goal or an objective.”
And yet, we know that hiring critical thinkers pays dividends. Research shows that critical thinkers show less bias in their thinking, have greater creativity, have fewer negative life events, experience higher job satisfaction, and achieve higher educational and job attainment.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the Wall Street Journal article is the following:
“Critical thinking may be similar to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous threshold for obscenity: You know it when you see it, says Jerry Houser, associate dean and director of career services at Willamette University in Salem, Ore.”
Given that 1) most managers use an unstructured interview format, 2) unstructured interviews have little validity, and 3) managers are over-confident in their ability to identify talent through unstructured interviews, this is a recipe for disaster.
So, if we don’t know what we’re looking for, and are notoriously over-confident in our ability to spot it, what does this mean for the future of critical thinking in the workplace?
Josh Bersin wrote a great blog post on the use of pre-hire assessments. He said:
When I talk with peers and leaders in HR around the world, I find that most companies feel lucky if 75% of their candidates work out and 10% become high performers. It’s extremely hard to find a “great candidate” and it’s not just because there are a shortage of top people, it’s often because we often don’t truly know what we’re looking for.
Pre-hire assessments provide meaningful data points to help evaluate a candidate. If you can’t define critical thinking, then you’ll need to rely on someone else to assess and/or train it. Thankfully, we continue to see a strong trend toward using assessments that are valid and reliable for measuring complex skills like critical thinking. According to Josh Bersin, “We are in an era of “new science of HR.” Prehire assessments are among the easiest way to apply this science to your organization.”
How do you define critical thinking?
How do you measure it?
Download this eBook to learn which jobs really require critical thinking skills.
Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens. She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training. She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.