How to spot a job applicant with critical thinking skills

We've all known or worked with people who are unable or unwilling to solve problems on their own. They're the ones who seek support for the smallest issue. Employees like that may be fine for non-challenging tasks. But in a CPA firm, you need a workforce that can analyze the options, exercise good judgment, and make decisions. In other words, you need employees who can think critically. Unfortunately, this is not a skill that can be taught. So... unless you want to end up with a staff of individuals who will knock on your door every time a decision is needed, it's a good idea to learn how to spot a critical thinker while you're still in the hiring process.

While there's no real profile of a critical thinker, these people may share some common traits, such as good organizational skills, high personal standards, the ability to communicate clearly, a passion for learning and a questioning nature.

On the other hand, people who tend not to think critically often share certain attitudes. If possible, try to spend some time during interviews in casual conversation that may reveal how applicants view the world. Here are some clues that the individual you're interviewing may not be a person who engages in critical thinking.

He or she:

  • Doesn't like to analyze mistakes in order to learn from them.
  • Has an unusually hard time taking even mild criticism.
  • Makes decisions based more on feelings and instincts than careful consideration.
  • Prefers to be told what to do and how to do it rather than seeking answers.

Then of course, there are the interview questions. If you think back to when you were interviewing for jobs, there were probably a few questions that you dreaded and you wondered why employers bothered to ask them. Now that you're on the hiring side, you may have a better understanding of the reasons behind those pesky questions. That is, the answers may reveal something about the applicant's thinking process.

Here are some examples:

  • Tell me about a time when you met with a complex problem and how you came up with a successful solution.
  • When you have a choice of different solutions, what factors do you consider when choosing the best option?
  • Describe a time when you saw a problem developing and acted to defuse it.

Once again, there is no real profile of a person who can think critically, and a bad case of interview-jitters would probably make anyone's knees knock, even Einstein. But viewing an applicant through this framework may at least make it easier to separate the problem solvers from the problems.

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