How to Make Hiring Critical Thinkers Easier

Critical-thinking microcredentials can help businesses find the right job candidates and keep valued employees around longer.

An office worker sits at his desk in front of his computer and appears to be thinking.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A bad hire can be a costly mistake. I’ve seen it time and again in my 30 years as a founder and CEO of tech companies. Even the most highly qualified, technically skilled, reliable workers can fall short as employees. You’ve probably experienced it, too: the good-on-paper candidate who can’t translate their knowledge into sound decisions. The co-worker who shows up to meetings unprepared, waiting for their teammates to present solutions. The recent grad who’s overwhelmed by the day-to-day realities of a workplace.

What’s missing? Often, it’s those vital “durable skills” — like critical thinking, creativity, collaboration — that make all the difference. Some may consider these to be personality traits. But one thing you discover when you run an edtech company is that it’s possible to teach people these kinds of really complex concepts. And, maybe even more important, it’s possible to quantify and measure how well they’ve mastered them. This is great news for hiring managers and HR teams — and for employees who want to expand their career opportunities.

The lightning-fast acceleration of mainstream AI adoption has really helped me to clarify why these durable skills — and critical thinking in particular — are more important than ever. For the record, I’m a big fan of AI. The AI-based coaching built into the SkillBuild by Muzzy Lane microcredentialing platform is one of the things that make it a powerful teaching tool. (I am the founder and CEO of Muzzy Lane.) For repetitive or data-driven tasks, AI is definitely useful, but the unique power of the human brain to think critically — to dissect and filter information, weigh sources and draw conclusions — still outsmarts any AI.

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Testing users’ knowledge through role-playing

So how can people learn (and showcase) the uniquely human reasoning skills that employers value and that workers can immediately put into practice on the job? Most online or game-based learning platforms simply test a user’s basic knowledge, say, in a multiple-choice quiz. Simulations go a step further and put learners into real-world situations that require them to apply key lessons. One example that many of our critical thinking badge-earners consistently highlight is an assessment simulation that asks them to role-play how they would make recommendations to their boss about running a particular in-store promotion.

When the parameters shift halfway through, users are forced to prioritize their information-gathering and analysis tasks in real time so they can meet the new deadline. It’s tense and it’s frustrating — just like a stressful workday can be — but learners say that practicing these skills in a safe sandbox significantly boosts their decision-making confidence.

To validate these skills, the tech industry has long embraced microcredentials — Microsoft, IBM and Google all offer solid pathways for upskilling — because they’re a great way for us to assess how committed job candidates are to keeping their technical skills current in a sector that’s built on fast-paced change. But the kind of highly transferable workplace durable skills that are in universal high demand are often the hardest to measure.

According to the Global Talent Trends report by LinkedIn, more than 90% of employers say that durable skills are just as important as hard skills, but 89% say that it's hard to find candidates who have them, and 57% say it’s almost impossible to accurately evaluate them, even in an extended interview process. A microcredential makes it easier for hiring managers to differentiate a purely proficient worker from one who truly has a three-dimensional skill base. Employers can trust that a candidate who has earned a vetted critical-thinking microcredential hasn’t been exposed to theory — they’ve mastered complex reasoning and decision-making.

Consider implementing your own upskilling program

If your hiring process doesn’t automatically identify microcredential holders (résumé-scanning bots still can’t really recognize digital badges, unfortunately), then implementing your own upskilling program can help you build a great team — and keep them. A microcredential platform that offers measurable, actionable training can fill the durable skills gap for your new hires and also give existing employees the opportunity to level up. Almost two-thirds of workers consider employer-sponsored upskilling a sought-after employee benefit, according to the American Upskilling Study by Gallup. And a Deloitte survey found that 29% of younger workers consider learning and development opportunities to be one of the top reasons they chose to work for their current organizations.

When you're evaluating upskilling microcredentialing options, I would rank mastery at the top — are your employees simply learning about the skill, or are they actually practicing it? Here are a few additional criteria to include in your rubric:

  • Scalability: Can we start small and then expand? Can we easily roll this out company-wide?
  • Customization: Can I build my own badges?
  • Timing: Can we break the courses into even smaller, bite-sized chunks?
  • Accessibility: Can everyone use the platform without any additional modifications?

This is where you’ll need to call on your own critical-thinking skills. And if you find you need to sharpen your information-gathering and analysis, there’s a microcredential for that.

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

David McCool
President and CEO, Muzzy Lane

David McCool is President and CEO of Muzzy Lane, which recently introduced SkillBuild and was awarded 1EdTech™'s Gold Learning Impact Award. Since founding the company, Dave’s goal has been to build technology that empowers authors to create compelling online experiences and helps students practice skills with guidance and feedback.