As a college student or a young professional entering the workforce, you’ll rely on a set of skills you’ve spent years developing to meet your goals and distinguish yourself from your peers. Some of these involve technology, some are subject-specific, and some are interpersonal. All are important, and yet none will serve you better in today’s world than the ability to think critically. But ask yourself, truthfully, how much time have you spent learning critical thinking?
In school, critical thinking can help you prioritize tasks, evaluate sources for your research, and synthesize lessons you’ve learned in different classes. As a young professional, critical thinking is among the most highly sought after skills, as it helps employees work more independently and empowers them to discover novel solutions to problems. From CEOs to faculty members to librarians, critical thinking is universally valued—but there’s a catch. As little as 34% of faculty explicitly teach critical thinking in the classroom, and it’s even more rare to encounter it in your company’s training.
Recognizing that you’ll have to take the initiative to hone high-demand skills gives you a head start in academia and the job market. Previous generations may have been able to trust that high school and postsecondary institutions were outfitting them with everything they needed for their career, but the pace of change in today’s economy has exceeded these institutions’ ability to keep up. Young professionals who step into this gap will soar while their less-ambitious peers struggle to navigate the complexities of the modern labor force.
In a future post we’ll delve deeper into how to cultivate these skills and write a career narrative that will help you succeed in college, career, and beyond—but first, three realities have to be brought to the forefront:
- Critical thinking and other foundational skills like communication and information literacy are essential for academic and career success.
- Foundational skills are under-taught in higher ed and professional development programs.
- Individuals today must hold themselves responsible for acquiring some of these skills if they want to thrive.
In a landscape where most faculty and hiring directors report concerns about individuals’ foundational competencies, possessing strong critical thinking skills is like having a superpower. You’ll find it easier and less anxiety-inducing to start new projects, even in situations that are full of complexity and ambiguity. Not only that, your professors and managers will appreciate not having to explain every step of the process, and will be eager to give you greater responsibilities. Empowering yourself to take control of your education and career takes courage, resolution, and persistence, but the payoff could mean the difference between your dream job and something less fulfilling.
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