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Jobs + Skills11.6.14

The One in-Demand Skill Your Staff Needs That We Don’t Learn in College

Critical thinking made top employers’ wish list of traits for new hires, but colleges aren’t preparing graduates for using it on the job.

Wanted: Quick study who is self directed and a team player.  Sound like every job description you’ve ever read? Then you might be missing one of the most prevalent skills employers require today.

Since 2009, mentions of critical thinking have doubled in job postings, especially in health care and management, according to a recent report by job search site Indeed. The problem, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal, is that employers say they are looking for critical thinking skills but have a hard time defining it.

Or, in attempting to do so, make it an ambiguous goal. For example, Linda Elder, an educational psychologist and president of the Foundation for Critical Thinking explains it is: “Thinking about your thinking, while you’re thinking, in order to improve your thinking.”

Steve Siebold, who has studied and taught psychological performance training for over 30 years to Fortune 500 sales teams, tells MidMarketPulse that critical thinkers share the following traits:


  • Use logic instead of emotion - Siebold believes that critical thinkers have the ability to observe the facts on any issue objectively and not let their feelings get in the way of making a decision. “It’s easier to act your way into good thinking than it is to think your way into good action,” Siebold says. “Most people are waiting for their emotions to motivate them to action, and as a result, become slaves to their feelings,” he explains, “Critical thinkers are masters of their emotions, and they know that waiting to feel like taking action is a losing proposition.”
  • Decisive - Siebold says that even under pressure, critical thinkers are able to make decisions. Unlike average performers who are timid, Siebold says, “The difference is courage and confidence.”
  • Open Minded - While most people are convinced they have figured out how the world works, says Siebold, critical thinkers are not so sure and are open to new ways of looking at old problems. “It is one of the reasons for their tremendous success,” he observes.

Unfortunately, while college was traditionally a place to learn such a skill, Siebold believes that the current system is inefficient. “College teaches students to memorize information, and the best students have the best recall,” he contends. “Critical thinking is the ability to make decisions based on greater criteria, devoid of emotion,” Siebold notes, “Today’s students are not being properly prepared for the level of critical thinking they must have in today’s permanent whitewater business climate.”

Once out in the work world, is there any hope of developing critical thinking? Siebold says yes. “The first step is learning how to separate your emotions during decision-making,” he advises. “The second step is to base your decisions on greater criteria. The third step is to make a lot of decisions to build your skill,” he explains.

He encourages young adults to practice separating emotion from decision making in every situation possible by embracing what psychologists call metacognition. Instead of allowing external forces to influence thoughts, feelings, and attitudes, Siebold points out, “Critical thinkers have adopted the habit of thinking about…what they think about.”

In deciding everything from attending a party instead of studying for an exam, to choosing whom to date, to selecting a career track based on personal interests and passion for a subject (instead of a parent’s ideal career path), “critical thinking tells you to be your own person,” says Siebold.

It also requires a person to manufacture their own self image which can be a foundation of success, says Siebold. “Believing in yourself above all else is required to becoming a critical thinker.” That means not falling prey to craving the approval of others Siebold cautions. “Most people are so worried about what other people think of them, that they miss major opportunities,” he says. “Critical thinkers know this is conformity at all costs,” Siebold adds, “They prefer to be liked by others, but if not, they know it’s not their problem.”

Finally, Siebold, author of 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of The World Class, says it’s important to remember: “Critical thinking skills are like muscles that are developed through repetition and practice, which includes coping with the consequences of being wrong in your decision-making.”

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