The Most Important Critical Thinking Interview Question

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Smiling young man shakes hands at the end of an interview

Your time is too valuable to interview candidates who lack needed skills

Thriving business must build thinking workplaces that keep pace with the needs of innovation and changing customer demands. They do this by hiring employees with strong critical thinking mindset and decision-making skills.

Often, it’s up to the interviewer to elicit and analyze information about the candidate’s critical thinking abilities.  This creates a need to embed some aspect of a critical thinking assessment into the interview process. They have to understand how the candidate approaches engaging important issues and problems with their critical thinking skills.

The one key interview question to elicit candidate’s thinking skills:

“Would you please explain how you use critical thinking in relevant situations?” 

Smart interviewers look for candidates who can answer this question. But the actual interview prompt has several formats. The wording depends on the decision responsibility level of the position.

For positions in senior leadership and c-suite who have ultimate decision responsibility:

“We would like you to talk a bit about your problem-solving style and strategies. Use some examples you can share from your previous positions.”

For positions in mid-level management who have strong decision responsibility:

“Would you share a recent work experience when you made a key decision or resolved an important problem?  Tell us how you reasoned it through.”

For positions in staff or support that require reliable problem identification and adherence to established practices and protocols:

“We’d like you to talk about a recent situation at work when you needed to make a careful decision about what to do next.  What happened as a result?”

Woman in white shirt interviewing a nurse dressed in blue scrubs

How to analyze responses to critical thinking interview questions

Even with a well-designed question, challenges always arise when evaluating responses. The interviewer will need some practice in evaluating the candidate’s response. The key thing is to focus on the reasoning process.

We all know what a stellar performance will sound like, and what a non-thinking response is like. The problem arises when the candidate’s response is underdeveloped or ambiguous.

After you ask the key interview question, the task of the interviewer is to listen for the description of how the candidate uses their critical thinking skills.

These following questions are provided as suggestions for those who want to embed some aspect of a critical thinking assessment into their company interview process.

What did the candidate say?

  • Did the candidate describe how they identify the important issue/problem (why they know it is a problem)? A strong critical thinker wants their listener to understand the problem.
  • Did the candidate talk about what they see as their possible options and how they determined the best option?
  • Did the candidate discuss the need to balance remaining uncertainty with the need to make a timely judgment? Really difficult problems usually involve time considerations.
  • Did the candidate mention key details that supported their judgments so they could be evaluated by others as well-reasoned?
  • Did the candidate describe how the issue will be followed going forward (contingency planning)? Or whether there is an expectation of evaluating the actions taken?

Benefits of prescreening for critical thinking

Interviewing is an extremely complex process. Critical thinking is not the only factor being evaluated.

We strongly recommend obtaining a pre-interview assessment of the candidate’s critical thinking skills. Then use the insights provided by individual assessment profile to guide the candidate interview.

Before you interview, you should prescreen candidates for strength in five key skills:

  • Problem analysis
  • Evaluating alternatives
  • Precise contexts
  • Ambiguous contexts
  • Quantitative contexts

This prescreening data can guide your discussions of their approach to engaging important issues and problems with their critical thinking.


Reliable, objective critical thinking data for hiring decisions

Strong critical thinking skills are the basis of strong and potentially innovative solutions. Employees who can quickly and accurately identify significant problems and make well-reasoned decisions are essential.

INSIGHT offers proven assessment tools that provide validated data to be considered in your hiring decisions.  Strengths and weaknesses of skills and mindset attributes are analyzed and reported.  Objective metrics on 15 core components of strong thinking are included.  We specialize in online thinking skills and mindset assessments calibrated for educational, professional, business, health care, defense and legal uses. Our assessment and training tools are used worldwide.  They can be easily integrated into your prescreening and hiring processes.

Your time is too valuable to waste interviewing candidates who don’t have the skills to expand your business.  Call or contact us today.


To learn more:

The Importance of Critical Thinking Mindset in Interviews
Identify the Job Skills that Predict Success
Take the Guesswork out of Qualifying Job Candidates


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