Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking Skills

crit·i·cal think·ing (Oxford Dictionary)


  1. the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.

It requires examination of evidence involved in supporting a particular decision or conclusion. Nearly everyone is promoting critical thinking, but there is growing concern that the term is overused, often misunderstood, and in danger of becoming cliché. So what specifically are critical thinking skills? They are the higher-order attributes used in deciphering information, rather than simply absorbing it: analyzing, synthesizing, interpreting, explaining, evaluating, generalizing, abstracting, illustrating, applying, comparing, and recognizing logical fallacies. (Gabennesch, 2006).

As schools focus more on what students can do as opposed to core knowledge, critical thinking is helping to transform higher education. Faculty often find it difficult to nurture and measure critical thinking skills among their students, and feel increasing pressure to monitor learning outcomes that both companies and graduate schools consider essential. As such, the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) developed VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education), a series of rubric-based assessments designed to gage authentic work produced across diverse learning pathways and institutions. In addition to standards such as writing, and oral communication, the critical thinking rubric better ensures that undergraduates are prepared for life after college. Since 2010, AAC&U asserts the VALUE rubrics have been viewed at more than fifty-six hundred discrete institutions, including schools, higher education associations, and more than thirty-three hundred colleges and universities in the United States and around the world. Companies place high value in these skills for all employees.

Critical thinking skills have been traditionally sought-after professional characteristics for employees with high-level responsibilities and authority, but organizations now look for them in entry-level hires. It is no secret that organizations that attract, keep and develop critical thinking skills among employees are more innovative and enjoy a competitive advantage. In the workplace, critical thinking:

  • encourages paradigm shifts,
  • promotes new ideas,
  • builds cohesiveness among teams,
  • develops solutions that are translatable; and
  • often results in more than one viable solution to a problem.

For human resources professionals, this means that critical thinking skills play an increasingly more important role in organizations from recruitment and hiring to employee relations, policy and procedure, work processes, performance appraisal, and professional development. Does your organization:

  • Include critical thinking questions or tasks in interviewing candidates?
  • Assess critical thinking skills in current employees?
  • Include desired critical thinking skills in performance evaluations?
  • Offer training that fosters development of critical thinking skills?

Learn more about how HR4non-profits can assist.