Your Game Plan for Hiring Critical Thinkers and Problem Solvers

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Does your business need more professionals who can discern a valid argument, question assumptions, think out of the box, or make valid observations from data? SMBs in every sector are seeking sharp, critical thinkers and problem solvers—people who combine their innate talents with enough practice to really make a difference in your organization.

You’re not alone in valuing these aptitudes as employment prerequisites. A new report from Questionmark, Modern Skills for 2022, identifies these skills among its ten most important in the future of work. Critical thinking is a challenging approach to acquiring knowledge; it’s about methodically connecting what you know to what is being learned. Problem solving is about leveraging critical thinking and creativity to find workable solutions. Incidentally, critical thinking and problem solving are core components of logic and general intelligence, and people with high aptitudes in these areas often have solid emotional perceptions and people skills as well.

When the pace of change keeps accelerating, when the working environment feels more disjointed, organizations need people who can make things work. Critical thinkers and problem solvers do just that: working with people around the globe, with difficult vendors and partners at home, stepping in when valuable leaders leave, and even by helping everyone around them get through the challenges of an ordinary day.

So how can you find these essential skills in your hiring process? Here are several ways to screen and filter through candidates:

  1. Use available pre-employment tests: Assessments like the Criteria Cognitive Aptitude Test and the TestGorilla Critical Thinking Test, among others, test critical thinking and problem solving through inductive and deductive reasoning questions. Research the available tests to determine which are designed for positions like yours, keeping in mind roles that you may want your new hire to eventually take on through promotions and succession. You may choose to use an assessment as a pre-interview criterion, to narrow your field, or to determine your final interview candidates.
  2. Build a talent pipeline through business schools: Business schools in your area share your interest in having graduates succeed in roles that match their talents and training. Develop close contacts in the schools near you, talk with them about your company’s present hiring needs, about the importance of critical thinking and problem solving, and learn about how these skills are developed through their programs. Extend your involvement with these programs beyond career and interview days; network with faculty so that they can help spot the right talent for your needs. Through this step, you may also want to develop an internship program that can further help you to find the strongest graduates for your organization.
  3. Extend your talent pipeline through your current employees: Nearly every organization offers referral bonuses to employees, but unless you’re actively promoting your referral program and providing specific guidance about the types of candidates you’re hoping to attract, the program is unlikely to achieve better-than-average results. Promote the program to employees through different channels, from face-to-face meetings to your intranet and email.
  4. Tell employees you’d really like to know about some of the most brilliant people they know, and strongly encourage them to share job descriptions for open positions with people they may know (directly or indirectly) who offer rare critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Drive this point home: the best referrals are often passive candidates – people who are not actively looking for a new position.
  5. Ask scenario-based hypothetical questions during interviews: Your interviewers probably ask contextual questions about how a candidate would handle a particular challenge in the position. Broaden the contexts; provide hypotheticals beyond just the responsibilities of the position. Think about some of the managerial and executive level challenges people in your organization have grappled with, and how some have succeeded through critical thinking.

Use your own experiences to create similar hypothetical scenarios, in which the candidate is a salesperson, an executive, a manager… pitching to a potential client or brainstorming in a meeting. How would they deal with pressure? How would they deal with difficult people or ethical challenges? How would they break through disagreements and stalemates to find workable solutions? Don’t limit your questions to the confines of the role; think expansively!

When you do conduct your interviews, allow 10-15 minutes more for each candidate. Critical thinkers and problem-solvers will need time to process your scenarios, to ask questions, and even to work through problems with their interviewers. They won’t make rash, hasty decisions; they will think out loud. The process of interviewing using hypothetical scenarios will train your interviewers to become more adept at identifying how critical thinkers and problem solvers present these skills. Businesses that routinely source and select the brightest minds develop an organizational capability that builds these qualities up in the workforce over time.

About the Author

ECI Staff Contributors love to share their insights and expertise on a variety of topics including sales, marketing, cloud, ERP, and SMB development as well as on product specific education. With offices throughout the United States, Mexico, England, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand, more than 40 employees contribute to blog on a regular basis.