Employers Worried About Critical-Thinking Skills

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How does an employer measure critical-thinking skills?

That’s a pressing question, considering that every company on the planet needs employees who can analyze information in a way that’s ultimately good for the bottom line. But how do you tell which employees have the right aptitude?

According to The Wall Street Journal, employers have wildly different methods of evaluating their employees for critical-thinking skills. Goldman Sachs, for example, asks job candidates to “assess company valuations and stock pitches and then to explain how they arrived at their conclusions.” But that’s a numbers-intensive exercise for a numbers-intensive position; other employers seem satisfied with asking candidates how they solved a thorny conundrum in their past, and using the answer to evaluate problem-solving prowess.

The bigger issue, as the Journal points out, is whether schools are teaching students the necessary critical-thinking skills to succeed in the workplace. And a major obstacle to that, of course, is actually defining “critical-thinking skills.” It’s not memorization of information, which many schools place a premium upon; nor is it the ability to follow a preset series of steps in order to arrive at a solution.

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Critical thinking, in its broadest definition, is the ability to analyze and evaluate the “right data” in order to solve a problem. Some aspects can be taught—a good professor can show what’s important to analyze, versus what’s necessary to discard, in any situation—but others, such as effective teamwork or attention to detail, must be learned through experience. Employers are worried that schools aren’t providing the right mix to produce students with the right mental tool sets.

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22 Responses to “Employers Worried About Critical-Thinking Skills”

  1. Fred Bosick

    It’s a little late now, especially when employers favor mass cramming H-1B visaholders over older and experienced employees. Maybe they’re worried about the executive pipeline. Online MBAs and Accenture/Deloitte gigs do not automatically lead to seasoned and thoughtful junior execs, and the senior ranks definitely need help as evidenced by the 2008 crash.

    I got a crazy idea! Instead of firing the IT personnel who trained their H-1B replacement, why not offer them a management track? They were good enough to be employed before and now they’ve trained one or more people.

    Schools aren’t supposed to train for the workplace. They’re supposed to prepare people for whatever situation their degree opens the door to. It may not be in a cubicle being managed by a former fraternity brother college legacy, whose way was smoothed by wealthy parents.

    • Small problem with your plan, there. A lot (most in my experience) of the experienced technical IT personnel do not *want* a management track. They want to stay in a technical track and do technical things.

      • Fred Bosick

        I agree with you, and I want to stay technical too. But so many were laid off from outsourcing and offshoring that it’s guaranteed that a few would make better managers than those who fired them, nevermind the senior executive clowns who drove their companies into the ground, e.g., Fiorina, Whitman, Hurd, Apotheker, Mozilo, Lay(Enron), Ebbers(Worldcom), etc.

  2. in my experience a lot of times C levels have a hard time distinguishing critical thinking from agreeing w/them. it’s easy to get conditioned to keep your mouth shut when no cube dwellers are never rewarded for being right about someone in a corner office being wrong (& that’s the BEST case scenario). you don’t need critical thinking skills to say yes & the most airtight logic backed by the biggest dataset w/a .000000001p won’t protect you from saying no…

    • Monise Seward

      Sid, your first statement pretty much sum-up the working environment in the South. Lol Managers don’t think you should have an opinion, much less express one if you are not a member of management. I don’t think they want critical thinkers either; just people to go along with the status quo.

  3. I don’t know how any of these reports are supposed to be taken seriously. They all ignore the fact that the majority of job seekers lie about their education (like listing a degree they don’t have) so any trends derived from these deceitful job seekers don’t hold much value. I mean, if someone says they graduated from MIT, and they can’t add 2+2, then it’s probably not the school’s fault… it’s just the fact that somebody lied about getting their education from that school.

    I don’t know why employers have gotten so lazy that they skip degree verifications. Most 3rd party recruiters will tell you they don’t do degree checks. And most of them don’t even bother to do reference checks.

    The American economy will continue to suffer as long as lazy recruiters/HR and their companies fail to properly do background checks.

    • Midwest IT Guy

      The issue part of lying on your resume is that it appears to be a worldwide deal. We had a young man from India working with us, who did a fine job. I actually admired him (as opposed to the C-Level folks who actually thought outsourcing could work. Overall it was a mess.) for having the ambition to travel half way across the world in an attempt to better his life.

      The reveling line from this you man from India working for a large outsourcer was, and this is an exact quote: “It is EXPECTED that you lie on your resume in India”. Fascinating.

  4. John Doe unemployed americann citizen

    I find it funny in any case as I recently just totally give up. All recruiters are nothing but total liars and losers and all corporate ones are no better in that they represent companies that allow them to lie because they themselves lie so much. If I’d taken even one chance at getting caught for cheating or telling a lie on an assignment in college I would have been excused. As for cic’s comment about total fabrication of degrees I do concur but this crap seriously is just to much of a joke. I went nearly ten years in college getting ll three of mine and to tall you the truth I would have been better off going to a trade school and getting my cert in washing machine repair or something. I can’t tell you how many lies I hear from companies. Oh we’re looking for this purple squirrel in a box full of chocolate rabbits. Total bull crap. I’m just gonna keep trying to get out of this bull crap field and let the liars in charge send it all don the drain.

  5. Background checks aren’t really the matter cici. It actually is retty funny how you can bring in a foriegn national ‘without’ a background check. See what most don’t know is that other countries don’t do as indepth of a criminal back ground as this country does. I’ve found people working in this country galavanting around who shouldn’t be allowed in the first place. Yes india sensationalizes it’s media to comedic prportions but ask them where there criminal justice files are or how they keep tract of the nearly 1 billion people there much less how do you track the known criminals? In my own research I found people who claim to have gone to schol over there and guess what? the dang school doesn’t even offer the course. I back traced on guy and he supposedly went to a nursing school over in some province over there and low and behold the nursing school didn’t even com close to the computer science degree he claimed to have from it. No It’s not us legitimate comp sci grads here but the whole system itself.

  6. I majored in Math. That was long ago.

    Interesting, working now in Silicone Valley. Ask many accented people this, “Know any calculus”.
    “NO,” would be a common answer. So, how do you get that masters degree from an American school if you never took calculus, physics, advanced algebra, etc.. ?

    But, whose got he job? I can still get jobs. Usually they are quite stupid. But, there is some whip cracker looking for quantity of repetition. Sadly, if the same whip crackers had asked for problems to be solved, there were be much less need for repetition. But, often the whip crackers can’t even formulate problems that need solutions.

    So, what are schools teaching? Has it changed? Do you really want to pay $100.00 per hour for the use of a Java package to someone who can’t reason out the business problem requiring for its use? Does the Java package even need to be used? Is it even a good idea to use Java?

    Companies are paying for the wrote use of software products, but often they would do better financially to pay a person to learn new things and solve the problem at hand.

    Case in point. I just had an interview at a very well known company (not saying which) that had a need to pull files off of tooling machines, perhaps hundreds. As I interviewed, I realized that my hiring manager, a person less than half my age had her heart set on using Hadoop and HBASE to pull the files off. And, she wanted to use CRON. OK. But, why? Her questions were odd. I had to guess that she wanted to use CRON from her question, “so, you take data every five minutes. What do you want to do about it?” Answer, “parse it?, move it? compress it?” Retort, “I was looking for you to say something about CRON.” “OH?”

    I thought I was having trouble with her use of English. After, all natively spoken language is practically unknown in the valley. So, perhaps there was a problem with my English. Or, I failed to be clairvoyant like some Chinese sage. But, getting past that, why Hadoop?

    There are plenty of ways of hooking up computers and moving their files around. You don’t have to install all kinds of Java infrastructure just to do that. And, a fan in with a built in sort, is probably not required for pulling data from machines. More, even if you decide to use some version of NSF, Samba, or the like, you probably don’t need a Java based virtual distributed file system just to locate a collection of machines. But, even if you want a distributed file system, there others that are more efficient, even if Java does not enter into the equation. Ceph would be something to look at, not saying it is the answer; and, there are others as well.

    So, the conversation was somewhat ridiculous. I told my placement company that I thought my potential future manager was cute. That ended that possibility. At any rate there is this one famous company that will eventually notice that there manufacture line runs a little sluggishly. But, that hiring manager might get her career in data science after all. But, she should be careful, she could be stuck in the world of ETL.

    So, there are countless situations where people use the popular products, don’t know what they are doing, and don’t have training in developing theories required to structure solutions to their problems. Managers put a premiums on the efficient use of products, but they end up paying for rapid work the steers them away from their desired solutions to their real business problems. Finally, many managers do not know how to articulate the problems they need to solve. And, so they might as well hire someone who can’t speak their language, nor can understand the priorities of a company process. (That is some clown is not going to save the hind end of some sloppy manager.)

    Well, time to get out of the vacation state. Face the chaos of our great technical trek.

  7. It looks like hypocrisy to me. In order to benefit from person’s critical thinking the company should make that person believe that she will be praised or at least forgiven for not doing what she was told to do and doing things she was not told. I do not see many companies doing that, and if they do not the person is likely to use critical thinking to find out hoe to grad the most cash here and where to go next.

  8. If you can’t define it, how do you expect the schools to teach it? How do you expect to measure it? What are some examples in your business where “critical thinking skills” [not sorcery] would have made a difference?

    — a retired college teacher/administrator

  9. Tilgaztizi

    Unfortunately, the elites that run the US are not interested in people capable of critical thought and that is reflected in the educational system. It is why the US comes in 21st place in the worldwide education index, behind countries like Armenia, Trinidad and Slovenia with most of the others being European countries.
    The goal is the dumbing down of people in order to create obedient servants who ask no questions and who will accept, without question, the answers their leaders give them when they ask legitimate but embarrassing questions about what is being done to their rights and freedoms at home and to other peoples/countries in their name.

  10. Are we talking about the same employers that will not hire critical thinkers? Most employers will only hire you if you’ve done for the last 3 years – EXACTLY what they need to be done in the future. Where is the critical and “outside the box” thinking in that?

  11. James Green

    I read the source material for this article and seems employers want the experience of a 42 year old in the body of a 22 year old. It takes time and experience for that young person to build the type of skills employers are looking for.

  12. Steve Naidamast

    I have seen this concern before regrading corporations looking for prospective employees with critical thinking skills. However, as the popular trends continue that search will get increasingly harder to satisfy.

    Sociologists are finding that in a technology-ridden society such as the United States, critical thinking capabilities are being rapidly eroded by the continuing use of smart-device technologies. A lot of this is the result of many corporations getting on the band-wagon with such technologies and promoting them heavily to the point that the latest iPhone introduction is expected to be the largest in its history.

    That being said, the other side of the coin is the fact that many corporations invest in cultures of lying as a number of posters here have noted. We have the “yes men” (sounds better than “yes-people”) who act in such a fashion to further their own careers while keeping less intelligent supervisors happy. We have corporations increasingly hiring psychopathic personalities which tear the sociological fabric of any company to pieces but upper management types seem to love this type of person. And then we have HR, which is nothing but a buffer between management a personnel. Bring an issue to HR and the first thing they do is find some contorted way to protect the manager in question. Actually resolving an issue is just not in their play-script.

    With all of these features infesting most US corporations it is doubtful that the recruiters in these companies would even know how to evaluate such skills correctly. And seeing all the nonsense of my many years as a software engineer in my own field in regards to recruitment for new positions, I doubt things are going to get better.

  13. I’m at the point where I’m tired of hearing companies complaining about the bed they’ve made. They want skills that they don’t want to pay for, and are shocked when they off-shore jobs to places notoriously good at only following scripts.

    Well congrats companies. We tried to warn you, but you only saw the short-term gains. Now you’re seeing that it actually costs more and you whine that there is a lack of the skills you ACTUALLY need? Sorry, you screwed those people over and most of them have moved on.

  14. Crocodile tears. Wah wah wah.

    Corporations dodge paying as much as possible for public schooling and refuse to invest in current employees. Mandated standardized testing rewards memory and discourages critical thinking.

    This is strip-mining as contrasted to farming.

    When you strip-mine the workforce, you deplete it to zero. When you engage in farming, you invest to get returns and the returns continue.

    But then, who the hell cares as long as a very few investors consolidate more wealth?

  15. Whether your manager values critical thinking skills all depends on how he/she reacts when you tell them they are wrong. On the other hand how you tell them can affect the result too. Tackling them, and hitting them with a hammer to get their attention isn’t a conducive way to make your point. I’ve been in teams where that word “teamwork” means something and others where it means nothing.

    I haven’t the faintest how to teach the skill. All it is, is breaking a problem into pieces and figuring out how to best attack the pieces. And for some reason, that is a rare skill.