15 critical thinking interview questions to find the perfect candidate

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15 critical thinking interview questions to find the perfect candidate

critical thinking interview questions

In today’s complex, data-driven world of work, critical thinking skills are more important than ever.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, the demand for critical thinking and analysis is growing at a faster rate than any other skill group.

For this reason, hiring managers now need a robust system for assessing critical thinking skills for most positions they fill. When we talk about critical thinking, we refer to a range of sub-skills including research, analysis, judgment, problem-solving, and self-reflection.

The interview is a great opportunity to evaluate a candidate’s critical thinking skills. It enables hiring managers to probe into their personal thinking process while tailoring the assessment to the situational needs of the role. 

For the best results, interviews should be preceded by a Critical Thinking test, along with other skills and personality tests. Pre-employment testing allows you to get an in-depth understanding of your candidates’ abilities, identify top talent, and screen out unsuitable applicants.

To make the interview worthwhile, hiring managers need to ask the right kind of critical thinking questions to candidates. But these aren’t always immediately obvious! That’s why we’ve put together 15 of the best critical thinking interview questions for you to use in your hiring process.

These include 10 behavioral and 5 situational critical thinking questions, allowing you to create an interview structure befitting your business requirements. Sample answers for each question are also included for your reference.

10 behavioral critical thinking interview questions

Behavioral interview questions usually call on a candidate to discuss their past performance, enabling hiring managers to learn more about their previous experience and its applicability to the role.

When tailored to critical thinking and analysis, behavioral interview questions give you an insight into a candidate’s thinking style as well as specific critical thinking sub-skills, such as: 

  • Decision-making
  • Problem-solving
  • Information processing
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Conflict resolution

critical thinking subskills

The 10 behavioral interview questions below span a range of topics; some may be more relevant than others, depending on the role you are recruiting for.

Here are the 10 behavioral critical thinking questions:

  1. How do you go about completing a task without clear information?
  2. What is the most difficult work-related decision you’ve had to make?
  3. How do you process new ideas and approaches?
  4. How do you respond to opposing viewpoints?
  5. How quickly do you make decisions?
  6. Have you ever anticipated a problem before it arose? How did you deal with it?
  7. What work-related advice would you give to former employers?
  8. How often do you ask co-workers for help?
  9. How should friction between team members be dealt with?
  10. What is the most innovative work-related idea you have come up with? How did it benefit the organization?

Continue reading below to view our sample answers for each question.

1. How do you go about completing a task without clear information?

In time-sensitive work environments, workers often have to make decisions without all the necessary information at hand. Answers to this question should demonstrate how candidates use their resourcefulness to perform effectively under given limitations.

Sample answer:

I prefer to make decisions after taking in all of the facts, but I recognize that the need to act quickly will sometimes take priority. In these situations, I pore over all of the information available and use my intuition to fill in any gaps. This could be by drawing parallels to a similar task from the past or predicting future outcomes to map the best decision in the present.

I experienced this situation in my last job while writing a funding application with a very quick turnaround. The final section to complete before submission was the summary, where it was crucial to really sell our organization’s solution in a compelling and straightforward way. 

My manager was unreachable at the time, so I decided to contact the head office to retrieve the summaries of our previous successful funding applications. Using these examples, I was able to craft a persuasive summary. A few weeks later, we were awarded the funding.

2. What is the most difficult work-related decision you’ve had to make?

This question probes into a candidate’s ability to make decisions under pressure. A good answer will evidence a clear thought process and measured judgment to select an appropriate course of action.

Sample answer:

As a manager, layoffs were among the toughest decisions I had to make in my previous role. In those situations, I had to put personal loyalties aside and make tough choices based on the needs of the business.

This involved a regimented process of ranking staff across several different criteria including merit, skills, and tenure. Ultimately, we favored staff with long-term potential, such as those with in-demand skills and a growth mindset.

The decisions were far from easy, but recognizing that someone had to make the call, I never shied away from them either. I think the best approach for any difficult work decision is to be objective, consult data, and consider the long-term impact.

3. How do you process new ideas and approaches?

Open-mindedness is central to critical thinking. Candidates shouldn’t be fearful of doing away with traditional methodologies if a superior alternative emerges. Equally, they should exercise their judgment to evaluate the reliability and veracity of new information. 

Sample answer:

I always try to be receptive to new ideas, recognizing that these drive innovation in a business. 

If I find that something can be improved, I seek solutions and conduct initial research to ascertain their effectiveness in other business contexts. If I think they have potential, I test them on a small trial basis before deciding whether to implement them on a full scale.

This situation played out in my last role, where I was the leader of a small team. After transitioning to remote work arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic, a team member asked if he could rearrange his hours to accommodate certain family commitments.

The request prompted me to consider the effect of flexible working hours on performance, and I decided to trial a ‘flextime’ system. Within a few weeks, productivity had risen significantly and the team reported greater job satisfaction. Flexible hours quickly became a permanent arrangement.

4. How do you respond to opposing viewpoints?

Critical thinking is contingent on a person’s ability to weigh up both sides of an argument. Even when one course of action is evidently worse than another, candidates should be able to respond to opposing perspectives respectfully and constructively.

Sample answer:

I think it’s great to hear different perspectives in the workplace, provided that they come from a well-meaning place. Listening to opposing viewpoints helps to refine my own opinion and can often bring the team to a middle ground from which more balanced decisions can be made.

A few months ago, a co-worker and I disagreed on how best to deliver a digital marketing campaign for a client. In short, he wanted to run paid search engine advertisements while I preferred to create content for the client’s company website.

After listening to his argument, I presented my case to show that content marketing was likely to yield a higher return on investment by showing case studies from previous clients in a similar field. 

Eventually, we agreed to the content strategy, and allocated only a small slice of the budget to paid ads. Within a few weeks, the client had doubled the traffic on their website and was extremely satisfied with our project delivery.

5. How quickly do you make decisions?

In a fast-paced work environment, employees must act swiftly and decisively. This question asks the candidate to expand on their decision-making process. Strong answers will strike a balance between careful consideration and urgency. 

Sample answer:

While I like to gather as much information as possible before making a decision, I recognize that deadlines will often make this unrealistic. Sometimes, it’s of vital importance to act quickly to stay ahead of a competitor or fast-track a project.

The first step is to assess the immediacy of the deadline; if it’s urgent, I know I have to make a decision ASAP. In this situation, I’ll quickly weigh up the pros and cons of each option and select the course of action that best aligns with the business goals.

While working in customer service, I routinely had to make on-the-spot decisions to select the best solution in different contexts. I always made sure to get a full picture of the customer’s needs, and then chose the most suitable action from the options available. 

Having a strong background understanding of the area and a clear selection process allowed me to make the right call 99% of the time. 

6. Have you ever anticipated a problem before it arose? How did you deal with it?

This question separates the proactive thinkers from the passive ones. Candidates able to answer this question will be demonstrating their ability to plan ahead and anticipate risks—an invaluable skill in any organization.

Sample answer:

Working as a retail store manager at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it immediately became obvious that our store would need to change certain procedures as infections picked up. 

I decided to act quickly, investing in protective equipment for staff, implementing plastic screens at the checkouts, and rearranging the store layout early on in the pandemic to make the site more Covid-friendly for our customers and staff.

Our proactive approach resonated with customers, who appreciated the new measures while other stores in the local area remained slow to adapt. Our trading volume actually rose by around 25% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Staff also reported feeling safer in our monthly surveys.

It’s important to try and pre-empt risks in any business. To do this, I always consider the worst-case scenario that could affect the business and learn from competitors’ failures.

7. What work-related advice would you give to former employers?

This question gauges a candidate’s propensity to voice criticism, and whether they choose to express it in a constructive or negative way. There’s no real right or wrong answer here; candidates simply need to explain their suggestions thoughtfully and thoroughly.

Sample answer:

I’ve always tried to provide feedback to my bosses when it was appropriate to do so. Voicing criticism can be a tricky task, so I make an effort to frame the discussion in a constructive and non-malicious way.

One of my former bosses was particularly strong-willed, which sometimes made it difficult for the team to share new ideas. If we were able to show evidence of the potential of a new idea—using data, for example—he would be less dismissive than if we were to suggest it off the cuff. Over time, the boss grew more receptive to outside ideas rather than immediately shrugging them off.

In another company, some of my co-workers were dissatisfied as they felt undervalued by the boss. Rather than take this up with the boss directly, I raised the issue in the quarterly employee survey, suggesting that the senior leadership give more praise and recognition to high-performing staff in order to improve motivation and employee satisfaction.

8. How often do you ask coworkers for help?

Workers should know when to seek help from others while working on a project. 

A good answer here is all about balance. Candidates shouldn’t burden co-workers with work they could do themselves, nor should they be too stubborn to move things forward with some outside opinion or help.

Sample answer:

When I’ve been given a task to complete independently, I try to avoid asking my co-workers for help as I know everyone is busy with their own work. Sometimes, though, it can be really useful to get a fresh pair of eyes to look over things when I’ve hit a wall in a project. Help is a two-way street, so I always try to make time to assist co-workers when I am asked. 

About a year ago in my sales position, I was tasked with integrating invoices into a spreadsheet containing order history for different clients. Software isn’t my strong point, so I sought help from a member of the development team—someone with whom I had built a good rapport previously.

I knew this was something that would probably only take him 15 minutes, so I didn’t feel like too much of a burden when I asked for help. He duly completed the task, and the project could move forward. I had previously helped him before, and I also offered my support for anything he needed in the future.

9. How should friction between team members be dealt with?

Conflict resolution is a skill that can be hard to come by for hiring managers. In work environments with people of different opinions and values, it’s important to have someone who can defuse conflict situations with a proactive, patient, and impartial approach.

Sample answer:

When managed properly, I think that workplace disagreements can be healthy and help to promote a diversity of opinion. However, when they become personal, they serve no purpose and must be resolved immediately with fairness and good judgment.

In one of my previous roles as a team leader, conflict flared up between two coworkers after disagreeing on how to allocate the quarterly budget. At the first opportunity, I arranged a one-on-one chat with each colleague to understand their reasoning and try to reconcile both positions.

After the situation had been de-escalated, I brought the two together to talk it out in a calm and non-threatening space. With active listening and turn-taking techniques, they were able to settle their differences. I followed up regularly in the weeks after, and we were able to put the conflict behind us.

This question asks candidates to consider a time when they have thought outside the box to deliver a new solution in a previous job. Having proactive problem-solvers in your organization will help it stay ahead of the curve. 

Sample answer:

In one of my previous roles, I was placed in charge of a small workgroup tasked with finding a way to improve productivity and efficiency. Each member of the group seemed to have their own opinion of the best solution, but most entailed large expenses we could not afford.

Since management needed a low investment solution, I proposed adding two additional fifteen-minute breaks to the working day for employees to read a book, catch up on the news, or go for a walk around the block. This was because I knew many employees felt burnt out by the end of the day, and their work suffered as a result.

The team supported the idea, but management was hesitant at first. After presenting my argument, they agreed to trial the breaks for two weeks. By the second week, the results were clear: employees were working more effectively and they were more satisfied at work. Soon after, the new break system was implemented on a scale across the company.

5 situational critical thinking questions

Situational interview questions assess how a candidate would behave under specific circumstances. Unlike behavioral questions, which call on previous experiences, situational questions place interviewees in the new role to see how they would perform.

The beauty of situational questions is that they allow interviewers to replicate role-specific scenarios where candidates will need to exercise critical thinking. If you were hiring a grant reviewer, for example, you could ask candidates how they would choose between two evenly-matched proposals. 

Our five chosen situational interview questions assess a range of different critical thinking scenarios; below, you’ll find our sample answers. If possible, adapt the situations to the specific role that you’re hiring for.

  1. You notice your manager has made a significant mistake in a report. How do you handle the situation?
  2. How would you deal with a situation where a weak link is affecting the quality of performance?
  3. If you are given ten projects but only have time to complete three, how do you decide which three to work on?
  4. You are leading a time-sensitive project where team members are unable to agree on an appropriate strategy. How do you proceed?
  5. You’ve discovered a new approach that could improve performance while saving resources, but it’s unpopular among your coworkers. How do you present your case to your manager?

1. You notice your manager has made a significant mistake in a report. How do you handle the situation?

In virtually all roles, employees will have someone above them in the chain of command. Candidates shouldn’t be afraid to confront authority figures if they notice something’s wrong, but they must go about this in a constructive and professional manner. 

Sample answer:

If I noticed a mistake in my manager’s work, I would wait for an opportunity to speak with them privately to raise the issue. After discussing the mistake, I would offer to help fix it.

I’m sure if I went about this politely, the manager would appreciate my good intentions and the issue could be resolved quickly and cordially. While the situation may be slightly uncomfortable, ensuring the best outcome for the business should always take priority.

I’ve found myself in this position in a previous job while reviewing a document from my manager before it was due to be published. It included a few incorrect statistics and formatting errors which I took the liberty to amend. When I raised this with him in private, he thanked me for my attentiveness and any ill feeling was avoided.

This question assesses the candidate’s ability not only to identify workplace problems, but also their willingness to tackle them proactively. Strong candidates won’t shy away from having uncomfortable conversations, but will also be respectful and keep things confidential.

Sample answer:

If I noticed that a particular team member was disrupting the delivery of a project, I would look to offer solutions rather than point fingers. The first step would be to identify the cause of the team member’s poor performance.

If it was down to a lack of skills, I would suggest to the team leader in private that they receive appropriate training to help get them up to speed on the project. Alternatively, they could be reassigned to another area that they have greater expertise in.

If their performance was due to poor motivation, I would suggest that the employee be given personalized performance goals, assistance, and feedback. Encouragement, rather than criticism, should help the employee feel more motivated.

3. If you are given ten projects but only have time to complete three, how do you decide which three to work on?

Workers will often need to prioritize tasks based on their urgency and importance. In this situation, critical evaluation is necessary to distinguish the important from the less-important tasks using specific measures like time, effort, and value. 

Sample answer:

If I had to manage multiple time-sensitive tasks, I’d first list them all together in a single document and order them based on the urgency of the deadlines. Second, I would flag any tasks which could feasibly be delegated to co-workers for completion.

From the remaining tasks, I would identify those which are both urgent and important. The next step would be to order these based on their value by considering which tasks have the most serious consequences for failing to complete them, and also which tasks have the highest ROI. 

For example, missing a deadline for a brand-new client could be more damaging than missing one for a loyal client of many years, and whose project is less urgent. Using this process, I’d select the three tasks which:

  • Only I can complete
  • Are urgent
  • Bring a lot of value to the business

4. You are leading a time-sensitive project where team members are unable to agree on an appropriate strategy. How do you proceed?

At a certain point in the project planning stage, it’s necessary to make the call to move things forward. Strong candidates will be able to synthesize the key points of the different strategies available to help come to a decision that is supported by the majority. 

Sample answer:

In this situation, I would first remind team members of the urgency of the task at hand and the need to move quickly. Next, I would write up a simple, straightforward list of the pros and cons of each available strategy, drawing attention to any potential risks that may be encountered.

I would then give team members a few minutes to consider each option and voice any additional queries they may have. If a clear consensus still cannot be reached at this point, I would take a vote to decide the strategy to move forward with.

I recognize that it’s not always possible to reach a clear agreement. But by stripping the situation back to the simple facts, at least everyone can make an informed and objective decision in a time-sensitive manner.

5. You discover a new approach that could improve performance while saving resources, but it’s unpopular among your co-workers. How would you present your case to your manager?

Innovative thinkers can be great assets to your organization, but they’re of little value if they fail to defend their ideas when faced with disapproval. While other team members’ views should be respected, the strong candidate will be able to argue their case persuasively.

Sample answer:

Before putting the idea forward to the manager, I would find out more about the reasoning behind the team’s resistance. It could be that they don’t want to go through a new learning curve or are unconvinced by its benefits.

These insights would allow me to tweak my proposal so that it addresses my co-workers’ doubts. At this point, I would present the idea to my manager and explain that I am willing to support the team in adopting the new approach with presentations and training.

The support sessions would aim to overcome the team’s hesitation by showing how the new approach would benefit them in the long run. I’d also encourage anonymous feedback so that the new approach can be improved. Ultimately, I’d try to reach a place of mutual understanding with positive outcomes for everyone involved.

What kind of roles can you use critical thinking interview questions?

Critical thinking is important in any job that involves decision-making. However, there are some fields where a candidate’s critical faculties will take priority. These include:

examples of roles where you can use critical thinking interview questions

  • Law: Lawyers, counsels, and contract managers process complex information to build persuasive arguments 
  • Education: Teachers continually evaluate their students’ progress as well as their own methods to achieve long-term learning goals
  • Management: Managers analyze information, anticipate problems, and make complex business decisions based on unbiased judgments
  • Research: Researchers collect information, process data, study patterns, and make inferences to inform future decisions
  • Human resources: HR professionals make critical, measured judgments when making hires and handling employee conduct
  • Finance: Finance workers analyze data and objectively evaluate the results to create financial action plans 
  • Medical: Doctors and other medical staff examine patients and collect information to diagnose health issues and then offer the best solution

Our set of critical thinking interview questions is well suited to the professions above, but you may also want to assess critical thinking skills when recruiting in other areas. 

Critical thinkers make companies more competitive; actively seeking candidates with strong critical thinking skills for all open positions will give your organization a strong competitive edge.

Finding critical thinkers for your organization can be easier than you think

By making a few tweaks to your recruitment process, you can transform your company into a team of critical thinkers! 

For this, you need to incorporate a Critical Thinking test into the candidate selection process, together with other skills tests to filter out unsuitable applicants and shortlist the best talent.

You can then use some of our interview questions in your own interviews to further assess candidates’ critical thinking skills and make the right hiring decision.

With critical thinking assessments in place at different stages of the process, you’re well on your way to hiring analytical minds that will drive innovation and help you future-proof your company.

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