What Is Analytical Thinking? (A Job Seeker’s Guide)

By Mike Simpson

In the eyes of hiring managers, analytical thinking can be one of the most important things a candidate brings to the table. Whether a role is technical or not, an analytical thinker can be an asset, ensuring they can navigate complex situations and solve problems whenever the need arises.

But what is analytical thinking exactly? Is it simply logic? Or is it something more?

If you are wondering what analytical thinking is and how it can impact your job search, here’s what you need to know.

What Is Analytical Thinking?

So, what is analytical thinking? Well, like many soft skills, the definition can be a little bit hazy. Still, let’s give defining it a go, shall we?

According to Radford University, analytical thinking is the ability “to arrive at a logical conclusion or solution to given problems,” usually by examining “the different parts or details of something to fully understand and explain it.” It also includes looking “at information to discern patterns within it.” Well, that’s a bit messy.

If you check out The Free Dictionary, it defines analytical thinking as “the abstract separation of a whole into its constituent parts in order to study the parts and their relations.” Yikes, that’s not much better.

Still, it gives you some solid ideas. In many ways, analytical thinking is an approach to problem-solving. You explore information and break different points down to learn about the situation, working to find patterns or connections that lead you toward a solution.

It’s about embracing data, logic, and cold, hard facts to drill into something complicated and multifaceted, allowing you to come up with something actionable that propels you toward success or, at least, a reasonable solution.

So, why does analytical thinking matter in a job search? Well, they are important for a few reasons.

First, analytical thinking can make it easier to find the right opportunities during a job search. It helps you break down a job description, compare the requirements to your skillset, and determine if you’re a strong fit.

Second, it allows you to figure out how to position yourself as a better candidate. You can use analytical thinking to determine what’s really important to the hiring manager, ensuring you focus on their needs and preferences when you choose the accomplishments or skills you’ll feature in your resume and during your interview.

But the benefits don’t stop there. Are you trying to plan your career path? Do you want to figure out what new skills will keep you moving forward? Analytical thinking can help.

What about if you want a raise or promotion? Do you believe that analytical thinking can assist you there? Why, of course, it can. By using analytical thinking, you can figure out if the timing is right to request a pay bump or pursue a promotional opportunity.

It may even help you figure out how to approach asking for the raise or promotion, ensuring you adjust how you present the idea to your hiring manager based on their mood, personality, and more. Neat, right?

Finally, analytical thinking is important on the job. The fact that you’re good at it can help you stand out from other applicants. Analytical thinkers may be particularly adept at helping their employers solve problems and reach goals. In the eyes of a hiring manager, that’s always a plus.

Ultimately, analytical thinking is crucial for nearly every professional. Whether you’re trying to find a new position or want to shine in your current job, it can make a massive difference, boosting your chances of success.

So, when it comes time to apply, make sure you feature your analytical thinking skills. How do you do that? By showing, not telling.

Showcase an accomplishment on your resume where you had to use analytical thinking to solve a complex problem. When you’re answering interview questions, spotlight your analytical thinking by talking about an obstacle you faced while working on a project, as well as how you gathered information, reviewed the data, and used your capabilities to achieve the final, positive outcome.

Either of those approaches can be a great way to show off your analytical mindset, ensuring the hiring manager knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’ve got a knack for that kind of thinking.

MIKE'S TIP: At times, you can demonstrate your analytical thinking abilities to the hiring manager without actually naming the skill. Instead, you imply that it’s there based on the story you tell to highlight it. So, while you can certainly list “analytical thinking” in the skills section of your resume or describe how it’s a strength, don’t feel like those are your only options.

Analytical Skills

So, are analytical skills and analytical thinking the same? Well, sort of yes and sort of no. While analytical skills can certainly support analytical thinking, that doesn’t mean the two terms are created equal.

In general, analytical skills is a group of capabilities that help people solve complex problems. It can include anything from individual abilities that assist with gathering the right information to reviewing the data you have to find solutions. It’s a fact-based way of handling issues.

Analytical thinking, on the other hand, is how you approach and process the information mentally. It’s the way you work through the data, including your ability to spot patterns, recognize trends, and identify solutions, allowing you to pick out something actionable.

When it comes to in-demand analytical skills for 2022, many hiring managers are focused on ones that allow employees to be successful when working from home. For example, problem-solving and research skills can support greater independence, allowing professionals to be increasingly self-reliant when not in an office.

However, for certain roles, other analytical skills will be must-haves. This is especially true in the finance and accounting industries, as well as many data-oriented roles.

If you are wondering which analytical skills need to be on your resume, here’s a quick list that you can use as a starting point:

    • Attention-to-detail
    • Budgeting
    • Conflict resolution
    • Diagnostics
    • Decision-making
    • Evaluation
    • Financial management
    • Investigation
    • Planning
    • Problem-solving
    • Strategizing
    • Research
    • Prioritization
    • Troubleshooting

Ready for a deeper dive? Then you’re in luck. We’ve covered top analytical skills for job seekers before. If you want to find out about additional capabilities that may boost your resume, make sure to check it out.

How to Improve Your Analytical Thinking

So, you know that analytical thinking is important, both for your job search and your career as a whole. But how do you actually improve your analytical thinking capabilities? Is it possible to improve this soft skill?

Luckily, it is possible to hone your analytical thinking. If you want to make sure yours is in tip-top shape, here are some steps you can take to enhance your abilities.

Practice Observing

One of the simplest things you can do to improve your analytical thinking capabilities is to practice observing what’s happening around you. Take notice of everything occurring in your space, using every sense to assess your surroundings.

Then, take those pieces of information to start drawing conclusions. For example, if you’re sitting in a restaurant, try to gauge the mood of those around you.

This exercise isn’t about being right or wrong. Instead, it’s about practicing how you approach finding answers to questions using the information that’s available.

Gather Knowledge, Then Question It

Knowledge gathering is always a wise move. After all, the more you know, the more likely you’ll already have the answer to a question.

But if you really want to develop your analytical thinking muscles, don’t stop at information gathering. Instead, practice questioning what you learn. Inject a healthy dose of skepticism, using other pieces of knowledge you’ve gathered to support or counter what you’re learning.

Additionally, make predictions about what you’ll find out as you dig deeper into a topic. Even an incorrect guess is valuable, as mistakes will help you hone your capabilities.

Dig into the “Hows” and “Whys”

Knowing that a solution works is good, but knowing how or why it works is better. Really dissect the ins and outs of processes, systems, and anything else you interact with. That way, you’ll get a deeper understand of processes and operations, something that can boost your analytical thinking abilities.

Embrace Curiosity

Curiosity is powerful. It encourages you to keep looking into an idea or topic and keeps you engaged along the way. So, if your curious about something, let that feeling suck you in. Identify questions that you want answers to and pursue them. As you do, you’re giving your cognitive functions a workout, and that can make you a better analytical thinker.

Try Puzzles and Problem-Solving Games

Puzzles and other problem-solving games can be a fun way to give your analytical thinking skills a boost. Whether you’re sitting in front of a jigsaw puzzle, setting in for some crosswords, and try your hand at Sudoku, you have to find answers based on pieces of information.

If you want to use puzzles to give your analytical skills a boost while on the go, even downloading some kind of “brain game” app can work. There are a ton of options available, and many of them are completely free.

Ultimately, working toward a solution exercises your analytical skills. Plus, with this approach, learning and improving really is enjoyable.

Reflect on Your Decisions

Sometimes, hindsight is a great teacher. If you want to give your analytical thinking skills a workout, spend a little time reflecting on your decisions. Figure out how the choices impacted the present, exploring the pros and cons of the outcome. Consider if it was actually the best decision in the end or if something else might have been a better way to go.

The point isn’t to get down on yourself. Instead, it’s to really look at your thought process that led up to the decision and whether what you thought would happen ended up being true. It can help you spot flaws in your reasoning or points you accidentally overlooked.

With that, it teaches you how to do it better next time. Your analytical thinking skills will ultimately get stronger, all because you took a moment to look back instead of just plowing forward.

Putting It All Together

So, now you know what analytical thinking is, how you can showcase it during a job search, and even how you can grow your capabilities. Use all of that information to your advantage. That way, when it comes time to do anything from solving a problem on the job to furthering your career, you’ll be ready.

Good luck!

About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.