Critical thinking/problem solving — NACE competency — Jessica’s Career Tip of the Week

Career readiness is such an important concept in the field of career development, and by applying the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 7 core competencies you will grow as a future professional and also increase your career readiness levels while you are a student here at ASU.  The question you should be asking yourself is, “How prepared am I for my future career?”Polytechnic Career Fair

To assist with preparation for your future career, I am going to define, highlight and provide examples of the NACE competency — Critical Thinking/Problem Solving.  According to NACE (2020), Critical Thinking/Problem Solving is the ability to “exercise sound reasoning to analyze issues, making decisions and overcoming problems. The individual is able to obtain, interpret and use knowledge, facts and data in this process, and may demonstrate originality and inventiveness.”  The ability to make decisions and draw conclusions from the information that is presented is what would set apart a good critical thinker.

An example of good critical thinking skills includes compiling data for a research project and making decisions accordingly.  What are the findings from the project and how would one make improvements based on the findings? It could be that the improvements that an individual suggests based on the findings could be inventive and innovative in that field. Another example of critical thinking in a coding context can also be observed when working on programming projects in your classes.  When you first start the project, and before you program, you will need to analyze the problem and ensure that you generate a solution. This is important so that you have a clear direction before you start coding. It also helps to write your solution on paper before proceeding. While programming your solution, you may experience roadblocks.  In order to mitigate this situation, it would be a good idea to work through your program by debugging it and seeing where you find errors.  You can also utilize your resources such as the professor/teaching assistant’s office hours or the Tutoring Center to assist you with further problem solving.

Now that I have highlighted engineering related examples, I am now going to provide a general example of critical thinking/problem solving that you may encounter.  A problem that requires critical thinking is “If you have 9 coins and 1 of them is weighted, and you are given a scale you can use twice, how would you find the weighted coin?” The solution is that you divide the 9 coins into groups of 3. Then you take 2 of the groups and weigh them on the scale. If the scale is equal, your weighted coin is in the group of 3 that you did not weigh. If one side of the scale is heavier, the weighted coin is in that group of 3. You then take the group of 3 that has the weighted coin and split it up by 3 into groups of 1. Then repeat the process. If the two coins you weigh against each other are equal, your weighted coin is the coin you did not weigh. If one coin is heavier than the other, then that coin is the weighted coin.

Finally, in an interview, an employer may ask, “How have you applied critical thinking skills to solve a problem?” You will want to highlight examples from your academic coursework and your previous work experiences to answer this question. The more elaborate examples that you provide of the Critical Thinking/Problem Solving competency, the more well-rounded your answer will be.

Reference Cited: 

National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). (2020). Retrieved from

The examples were provided by Wesley Guerra and Prashant Mokkapati, peer career coaches with the Fulton Schools Career Center.