20 Critical Thinking Questions You Can Ask Job Candidates

Updated 4 June 2023

Critical thinking skills are important for solving problems, innovating and creating long-term strategies to achieve organisational objectives. During the interview, you can ask candidates questions that test their critical thinking abilities to know whether they can solve problems and respond properly in a variety of work-related scenarios. Knowing the different questions you can use to assess candidates' critical thinking skills can help you determine whether they're an ideal fit for the organisation.

In this article, we list 20 critical thinking questions you can ask during an interview to evaluate a candidate's ability to solve problems at work.

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10 critical thinking questions and sample answers

Here are 10 examples of critical thinking questions you can ask candidates and sample responses they may provide:

1. If you're in a situation that requires making a decision with incomplete information, what are you going to do?

You can ask a candidate this question to assess their ability to make decisions with incomplete data. This question can also help you determine if the person has the ability to take responsibility in difficult situations. In their answer, try to understand their decision-making process and identify the steps they're going to take to achieve a favourable outcome.

Example: 'If I'm in a situation that requires a split-second decision without complete information, I'm going to rely on experience to guide my actions. At my former job, I faced a similar situation. A vendor cancelled our contract without warning, placing an important project in jeopardy. W**e quickly contacted a vendor with the next most favourable contract and they were able to supply all the resources required to complete the project on schedule, although this increased the cost by two percent'.

Related: What's the Importance of Critical Thinking in the Workplace?

2. What are you going to do if you discovered that your manager made a mistake?

This question can help you to assess soft skills such as empathy, communication, feedback and collaboration skills. A good answer can outline how the candidate is going to correct the manager tactfully without upsetting their authority or pride.

Example: 'I once had a manager who made a serious mistake in their presentation and didn't discover it until a few minutes before meeting clients. Because I conducted the research used to create the presentation, I was able to find the issue immediately during our planning and politely pointed it out to them. The manager was very pleased with me for identifying the error and thanked me for being observant'.

Related: How to Highlight Conceptual Thinking Skills Professionally

3. Tell me about a time your team didn't agree with you on a decision and share how you resolved the issue.

This question can help you assess the person's conflict resolution and interpersonal skills. A good answer can describe how they're going to persuade teammates to support their decision by showing them the merits of the plan and explaining how it can help the group achieve its aim.

Example: 'On several occasions, I had cause to disagree with my teammates on how to execute a project or complete a task. In every situation, I use consensus or my experience to decide the best course of action as the team leader. If we evaluate the differing opinions based on merit and find out that each is a viable way of achieving our aims, the team relies on consensus to choose the path to take'.

Related: 9 Essential Critical Thinking Skills and How to Develop Them

4. If your manager is having problems solving an issue and you know of a better way, how are you going to convince them to use your method?

This question can help gauge a candidate's critical thinking, communication and persuasion skills. A suitable answer can demonstrate their ability to establish trust, communicate ideas logically and influence team members to improve group effectiveness.

Example: 'My former manager wanted to use a proven but ineffective promotional strategy for a new product. I created a brief slide show highlighting the shortcomings of the manager's plan and compared it with an alternative strategy that relied on social media and influencer marketing. After going through my presentation, the manager agreed that my plan was the more feasible strategy to raise awareness about the new product and get people to test our offer. In the end, the team used my strategy and the product launch was a success'.

5. How do you handle criticism at work?

You can use this question to determine whether a person can accept feedback, even when it's negative. A good answer can explain how they handle criticism at work.

Example: 'Whenever my manager criticises my work or results, I try to take lessons from their feedback. Thinking about the substance of their criticism rather than my feelings about it allows me to assess myself critically, identify weaknesses in my skills and improve my personal relationships with team members'.

Read more: A Complete Guide on How to Handle Criticism at Work

6. Tell me about a time you took initiative at work. Did you achieve the right results?

You can ask this question to learn about a candidate's ability to take risks, assess situations logically and make quality decisions. A good answer can include a situation where they made a difficult decision without their manager's input.

Example: 'I once travelled on a field trip to vet vendors for a project while my manager was at the office. On the trip, I found several alternatives to the vendor we were using. One supplier agreed to supply at a cheaper price if we committed to a five-year contract. After considering the company's long-term plans, I made a commitment to the vendor but told them that my decision was subject to the manager's approval. When I informed my manager of the contract details, they were happy with my decision. The deal ended up saving us millions of dollars'.

Related: 7 Situational Interview Questions for Sales Job Candidates

7. What don't you like about your previous role?

You can ask this question to learn about why a person is interested in their role. A suitable answer can show how the candidate views former colleagues and employers and help you decide whether the person is a right fit for their organisation.

Example: 'I can't really say that I disliked any aspect of my previous role. The only reason I'm looking for a new role is because of my family commitments. My former job didn't provide for remote work, but my partner's health has deteriorated lately and I can't afford a private nurse'.

8. What are you going to do if two of your teammates have a disagreement?

This question can help identify the candidate's conflict resolution and leadership skills. A suitable answer can outline a logical and tactful reconciliation process that strengthens group bonds and prevents future problems with teammates.

Example: 'If two of my teammates have a disagreement, the most effective way to resolve the issue is to listen to both sides and resolve the issues amicably'.

9. Tell me about a time you didn't achieve the right results.

You can use this question to learn about a candidate's ability to self-assess and learn from mistakes. A good answer is going to demonstrate accountability and openness to new ideas.

Example: 'I once set a goal to complete a project with a low budget. When the project was at an advanced stage, I realised we exceeded the budget but I didn't tell the client on time. This led to disagreement, but I've always been upfront with partners ever since'.

10. How are you going to handle sudden changes to a project?

This question can help you evaluate a candidate's problem-solving and decision-making skills. A good answer can demonstrate their ability to respond to sudden changes while considering risk factors.

Example: 'If there's a sudden change, what I'd do is let partners know how the modifications are going to affect the budget, work schedule and delivery date so we can all agree before continuing with work'.

10 additional questions

Here are 10 more questions you can ask candidates:

  1. Tell me about a time you foresaw a problem and created a mitigation plan.

  2. What's your process for solving problems?

  3. What are you doing to do if a job required you to alter your current lifestyle?

  4. When do you think it's not right to please the customer?

  5. What are you going to do if a project deadline is approaching but you can't deliver on schedule?

  6. How are you going to handle a customer who wants you to resolve their issue before that of others, even though their case is new?

  7. Imagine a supplier has a long-term contract with the company. What are you going to recommend if we've now found a cheaper alternative?

  8. If the economy is experiencing a downturn, is it better to remove some features and lower prices or add more value and continue selling at the same or a higher price?

  9. A colleague is talented and hardworking, but has poor communication skills that cause conflict with other teammates. How are you going to handle such a person?

  10. How are you going to manage your relationship with a manager who blames team members when outcomes are below expectations?

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