Use these sample critical-thinking interview questions to discover how candidates evaluate complex situations and if they can reach logical decisions.
Why test candidates’ critical-thinking skills
Critical-thinking skills allow people to evaluate situations through reasoning to reach logical decisions. Companies benefit from employees who think critically (as opposed to mechanically performing tasks) because these individuals use an independent mindset to seek ways to improve processes.
Critical thinkers are great assets in all teams and roles. They are:
- Responsible. You can count on them to make tough decisions.
- Consistent. They’re top performers who check their facts before acting.
- Unbiased. They keep their emotions in check to reach sound decisions.
- Creative. They suggest out-of-the-box solutions.
Challenge candidates with complex critical thinking questions to reveal their skills. But, present them with realistic problems related to the job. Brainteasers (e.g. some Google-type questions) are off-putting for candidates who already feel the pressure of the interview process. Questions like “How many haircuts happen in America every year?” are very popular online, but may not reveal much about their skills. Asking something like “How would you explain cloud computing to a 6-year-old?” will more accurately show you a candidate’s way of thinking.
Keep your challenging interview questions as job-related as possible. Sometimes it’s not important to assess whether the answer is right or wrong. Puzzling questions are your opportunity to evaluate how candidates react outside their comfort zone.
These critical-thinking interview question examples will help you identify candidates with high potential for future leadership positions. Combine them with various behavioral interview question types (like problem-solving and competency-based questions) to create complete candidate profiles and make better hiring decisions.
Examples of critical-thinking interview questions
- Tell me about a time you had to make a decision with incomplete information. What did you do?
- During a live presentation to key stakeholders, you spot a mistake in your manager’s report, but your manager isn’t at the presentation. How do you handle this?
- Describe a time when you had to convince your manager to try a different approach to solve a problem.
- You’re working on a project and you struggle coming to an agreement with your team about your next step. What would you do to make sure you choose the right direction and get your co-workers onboard?
- What’s the best sales approach: increase prices to achieve higher revenues or decrease prices to improve customer satisfaction?
How to assess critical-thinking skills in interviews
- Use hypothetical scenarios and examples from candidates’ past experiences to understand their mindsets. An analytical way of thinking (comparing alternatives and weighing pros and cons) indicates people who make logical judgments.
- When problems arise, employees don’t always have ample time to design a detailed action plan. Opt for candidates who strike a balance between good and fast decision-making.
- Critical thinking requires questioning facts and the status quo. Look for candidates who have implemented new procedures or applied changes to processes in their past positions. These are signs of professionals who actively seek ways to improve how things get done, as opposed to taking the “this is how we always do it” approach.
- Candidates who are intrigued by solving problems are more likely to effectively manage challenges and stressful situations on the job. During your interview process, keep an eye out for candidates who show enthusiasm and don’t easily quit when faced with problems, even if they can’t immediately find solutions.
- They don’t fact-check. If you present candidates with a hypothetical problem and they don’t ask for clarifications, it’s a sign they take information for granted. A critical thinker should always research data for accuracy before relying on it.
- They make assumptions. Beyond taking things for granted, employees who make assumptions tend to jump to rushed and often biased conclusions. Look for candidates who use logical arguments to justify their decisions.
- They don’t answer. If they don’t at least try to solve the problem, they’ll probably keep procrastinating when something goes wrong or push their work onto to someone else. Asking for help when you face a challenge is more than acceptable, but avoiding problems reveals irresponsible employee behavior.
- They give you the obvious answer. Tricky questions are tricky for a reason. Candidates who go with the first answer that comes in mind are more likely to approach challenges superficially and avoid using critical-thinking skills to come up with the best solution.
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ING has been delivering educational presentations about Muslims and their faith for over two decades. The following are answers to some of the most common questions that ING and its affiliates across the country have encountered in that time. While many of the answers address issues like the creed that are well established because of a clear citation in the Qur’an or hadith (prophetic sayings)—such as the six major beliefs or the five pillars—others focus on areas that are more open to interpretation. These answers reflect the fact that Islamic teachings are the product of a dynamic conversation among Muslim scholars and between the scholars and the laity who apply their best understanding of the primary sources of Islam rather than a fixed set of laws and regulations.
This points to the fact that Islam, like all religions, does not live or speak apart from the people who practice it. There is therefore no monolithic Islam, since, like any other religion, Islam exists only as it is understood and practiced by its adherents.
As in other faith traditions, Muslim scholars have developed varied positions and responses to the numerous questions and issues that have been raised and discussed over the past 1400 years in the various lands where Islam is practiced. These perspectives and resulting practices differ partly because of the diversity within the Muslim community in geography, ethnicity, culture, and age. There are about 50 countries in the world today with a majority Muslim population, each having its own distinct history and culture (or multiplicity of cultures). And there are sizeable Muslim minorities in many other countries, including the United States and virtually all the countries of Europe, that are living Islam in their own unique situations. These Muslim communities likewise have a variety of cultures and histories and live in varied social, cultural, and political circumstances, all producing significant variety in the way that they understand and live out Islam. In addition, there are various sects among Muslims, most notably Sunni and Shi’a, as well as various groups within each major sect. These differences in varieties of Islamic understanding and practice also reflect Muslim scholars’ long tradition of recognizing the diversity of peoples and circumstances and the opinions that should reflect that reality of diversity as well as of our shared humanity.
Therefore, it is important to be clear that the answers to the following questions reflect the views of the American Muslim scholars that ING has worked with. In other words, we do not speak for or on behalf of all Muslims. In most cases, however, the views of these scholars probably reflect the views of the majority of Sunni Muslims in the U.S. and worldwide.
There are new realities and issues that are specific to the time and place experienced by American Muslims today, who are the main focus of ING’s work. These issues cannot always be addressed by the laws of past eras or different cultures in Asia or Africa. Here, we attempt to address these questions in a way that is traditional, yet compatible with the realities of the American experience in the 21st century. In these matters, we strive to be descriptive, respecting the diversity of Islam as lived religion, but our reference point is the Islam we believe in and practice as American Muslims; in most cases, but not necessarily all, this is in accord with Islam as believed in, practiced, and lived by the majority of Muslims worldwide.
We start from five basic principles that ING subscribes to as basic to our vision of Islam in America. These are fundamental values shared by most of the world’s major religious traditions today:
- We affirm and uphold the sanctity of all human life, the taking of which is among the gravest of all sins.
- We affirm the right to freedom of thought, religion, conscience, and expression.
- We affirm the right to security in one’s livelihood, profession, and residence.
- We believe that God created us with all the diversity of race, religion, language, and belief to get to know one another, respect one another, and uphold our collective human dignity.
- We believe that Islam is above all a religion of peace and mercy and that as Muslims we are obligated to model those traits in our lives and characters and to work for the good of our homeland and society, wherever that might be.
Wherever possible, we indicate which of these principles the basis for our responses to these questions is.
Finally, it is important to note that most of the following questions are actual questions that were asked of our speakers, including some of the most repeatedly asked questions in an educational setting where we supplement curriculum relating to Islam and Muslims in the context of world history, social studies, or cultural diversity programming.
GENERAL QUESTIONS ABOUT ISLAM
1. What is the difference between the words “Islam,” “Islamic,” “Muslim,” and “Arab”?
Islamic is an adjective that modifies a non-human noun, as for example, “Islamic art,” “Islamic architecture,” “Islamic beliefs,” etc. This term should not be used to refer to a person.
A follower of Islam is called a Muslim, or “one who is in a state of peace by following God’s guidance.”
While the term Arab has been used in the past to refer to members of a Semitic ethnic group from the Arabian Peninsula, today the word “Arab” refers to people from Arabic-speaking countries, most of which are in the Middle East and North Africa. The term Arabian was historically used to describe an inhabitant of the Arabian Peninsula. Today “Arabian” is used as an adjective to describe a non-human noun (e.g., Arabian coffee); it should not be used to refer to people. The following questions about basic Muslim beliefs (2 through 12) are answered in accord with the scholars mentioned above, reflecting majority Sunni views.
2. What does Islam teach?
The last dimension of Islam focuses on the cultivation of excellent moral character to better oneself and the world around oneself. It teaches a set of values that promote life, liberty, equality and justice. Some of these values include:
- Respect for the earth and all creatures
- Care and compassion for those less fortunate
- The importance of seeking knowledge
- Honesty and truthfulness in word and deed
- Striving continuously to improve oneself and the world
3. What are the major beliefs of Muslims?
- belief in God;
- belief in angels;
- belief in God’s prophets/messengers;
- belief in God’s revelations in the form of holy scriptures sent to the messengers;
- belief in an afterlife that follows the Day of Judgment on which people will be held accountable for their actions and compensated accordingly in the afterlife; and
- belief in God’s divine will and His knowledge of what happens in the world.
4. How do Muslims practice their faith?
- the profession of faith, namely that there is only one God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God;
- the five daily prayers;
- required annual donation to charity in the amount of 2.5% of one’s excess wealth;
- fasting during daylight hours in the month of Ramadan; and
- making a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime, if one is mentally, physically, and financially able to do so.
5. What are the foundational sources of Islamic beliefs and practices?
For Shi’as, in addition to the aforementioned, the rulings of the twelve Imams are considered a primary source. Other sources may exist for different Muslim sects.
In addition to these primary sources, Muslims have also traditionally relied on the following: scholarly consensus, that is, the agreement of knowledgeable scholars upon a particular issue; and analogical reasoning, which means applying principles or laws derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah to similar situations not explicitly addressed by them. The lived experience of Islam, which naturally varies widely not only in different cultures but also with different individuals, also impacts and determines a Muslim’s understanding and practice of Islam.
6. Why do some people suffer so much in this life, especially the innocent, such as children?
This is a challenging issue for all religions that proclaim a belief in a God who is at once omnipotent and beneficent. We believe that God tries people in different ways, through both hardship and ease. While the cause of suffering is not always evident, the way that people respond to difficulty is a test of their moral fiber. Responding to hardship with patience and fortitude is a virtue for which we believe a great reward is promised in this life and the afterlife. Additionally, there may be a silver lining behind every difficulty. For instance, major disasters often bring out the best in people, inspiring them to perform remarkable acts as they respond to their own or another’s hardship with compassion and courage and come to the aid of those in need. Muslims also take comfort in their belief that life doesn’t end after death.
7. God’s love for humanity is a central theme in many religions. Are there similar teachings in Islam?
We believe that God’s love for humanity is indeed central to our faith. The Qur’an mentions God’s compassion and mercy 192 times, as opposed to God’s wrath, which is mentioned only 17 times. Two of God’s main attributes are the “Compassionate” and the “Merciful.” Both of these names denote God’s love and care for all creation. These are the two most often mentioned names of God, since all but one of the 114 chapters in the Qur’an begin with “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” The Qur’an cites 99 different names or attributes of God, many of which also emphasize these characteristics, including “the Loving,” “the Giving,” “the Forgiving,” and “the Kind.”
8. What do Muslims believe about angels?
Angels are mentioned many times in the Qur’an and hadith (prophetic sayings). Unlike humans, angels are described as not possessing free will but as being by nature assigned to specific duties. Two of the most prominent angels mentioned by name in the Qur’an are Gabriel (Jibril) and Michael (Mikhail). Gabriel is the angel of revelation and Michael is the angel of compassion.
9. What does Islam say about Satan?
Satan (Shaytan in Arabic) is believed to be a third type of creation, in addition to humans and angels, known as a “jinn.” Humans are said to have been made from clay, angels from light, and jinn from fire. While the Qur’an teaches that some jinn are good and submit to God, it states that others, such as Iblis or Shaytan (Satan), try to tempt people to do evil, as in the belief about Satan in traditional Christian theology.
10. How do the stories of the prophets in Islam compare with those in Christianity and Judaism?
- the story of Noah and his ark;
- the story of Abraham and Sarah and the birth of their son Isaac, who is also considered a prophet;
- the story of Jacob and his twelve sons, including Joseph, who is also considered a prophet; and
- the most oft-mentioned prophet in the Qur’an, Moses, and the story of his mission in Egypt to rescue his people.
Some of the major differences between the biblical account of some of these prophets and the Qur’an stem from the fact that the Qur’an holds that all prophets were immune from major sins. The stories of Prophet Jesus are close to the Bible in their descriptions of his virginal birth and miracles but differ sharply in their account of the divinity of Jesus and crucifixion; the Qur’an states that Jesus was only a man, not divine, and that before the crucifixion Jesus was taken into heaven and replaced by a person who looked like him.
11. Were there female prophets?
Some Muslim scholars hold the view that there were female prophets. Three of the women regarded by these scholars as prophets are Eve, the wife of Adam, Asiyah, the wife of Pharaoh (who in the Quran is the one who adopts Moses as her son, as opposed to the daughter who does so in the Bible), and Mary the mother of Jesus, because they all received revelation from God. Whether one takes the position that they were prophets who brought a specific message to their people or not, Muslims revere them as three among the many righteous and saintly women mentioned in the Qur’an.
12. Why do Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet?
The majority of Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet on the grounds that the Qur’an and hadith state so.
13. Why can’t you display images of the Prophet Muhammad?
There is no specific teaching in traditional Islamic sources forbidding images of the Prophet Muhammad, and in fact one can find representations of Muhammad and other prophets in different periods of Islamic history. What scholars warn against is the worship of such images, which in more recent times has led some groups to promote the idea that it is forbidden to represent the Prophet Muhammad.
14. Why did some Muslims respond with protest and violence against portrayals of Muhammad in cartoons and film?
The great majority of American Muslims and many Muslims elsewhere affirm freedom of expression even for material that is offensive. Muslim leaders and organizations worldwide, even in countries that restrict the publication of such offensive material, vigorously condemned the instances of violence.
Violent reaction to these images was almost certainly fueled by political issues rather than purely by anger at the offensive images. Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf insisted that the Benghazi attack, claimed to be a spontaneous response to caricatures of Muhammad published in Denmark, was in fact long planned by militants, while the Paris atrocities were the work of militants who may well have been striving to recruit French Muslims to al-Qaeda by creating an incident that would isolate them from other French people. In either case, the images served only as a pretext.
15. Jesus was a non-violent reformer while Muhammad fought in wars. Why is there a difference between Jesus and Muhammad in terms of their approach?
In his book Jesus through the Centuries, church historian Jaroslav Pelikan depicts and analyzes the varied views of Jesus at different times and in different cultures. He devotes a whole chapter to Jesus as both “Prince of Peace” and instigator of divine warfare—sometimes at one and the same time.
The representations of Muhammad are likewise multiple. In her book The Lives of Muhammad, Kecia Ali writes “Far from being uniform or non-changing, both non-Muslim and Muslim views of Muhammad have been diverse, multifaceted, and subject to dramatic changes over the centuries.”
Even when one considers Jesus and Muhammad as historical figures, it is important to keep in mind a significant difference between their positions. Jesus founded a community of believers that was politically powerless and had to function in the shadow of the overwhelming power of the Roman Empire. Muhammad, on the other hand, eventually found himself at the head of a new political community in Medina and was therefore called upon to function as a political and even military leader. Whatever differences one may find between Muhammad and Jesus should not obscure the fact that, in our vision of Islam, both Christianity and Islam uphold the principle of respect for life.
16. Why did the Prophet Muhammad marry so many women?
Polygamy was common in 7th-century Arabia, as it has been in many other cultures, especially for a political leader; for instance, the patriarchs in the Hebrew Bible are shown as having multiple wives, and the kings of Israel are described as having harems numbering in some cases into the hundreds. According to Muslim historians, the Prophet Muhammad’s marriages were contracted to assist needy widows and divorcees and to solidify the community of Muslims by forging alliances among the tribes in and around Medina. In light of the time and place, there was nothing unique or unusual about Muhammad marrying several women.
17. Why did the Prophet Muhammad marry a nine-year old? If she was not nine, how old was she?
The actual age of Aisha at the time of her marriage to Muhammad is disputed, but, the marriage could not have been consummated until she reached puberty. In many cultures, women are or were married years before a marriage is consummated. The custom of early betrothal and marriage continued until the late 19th and early 20th century in much of the world, including Europe and North America, where there are still many states that allow for underage marriage.
JESUS AND MARY
18. What do Muslims believe about Jesus?
Muslims overwhelmingly revere Jesus and believe that he was born to the Virgin Mary through an act of God, just as Adam is believed to have been created by God without a father or mother. The Qur’an describes his conception and birth, as well as his many miracles such as healings of the sick. The Qur’an also emphasizes that Jesus was a great prophet of God, as well as a messenger who received revelation from God, but that he was, like all other prophets, only a human being.
19. Why does the Qur’an talk about Jesus more often than Muhammad?
Most of the Qur’an depicts itself as a text addressed to Muhammad; it therefore talks less about Muhammad than it does to Muhammad about other subjects, including previous prophets such as Jesus.
20. What do Muslims believe about Mary?
Muslims generally believe that she is the Virgin Mother of the Prophet Jesus. An entire chapter in the Qur’an is named after her. The chapter called Mary (Maryam in Arabic) and other verses in the Qur’an emphasize her piety, righteousness, and status as an exemplar for all people, male and female. The Qur’an describes her as the greatest of all women: “God chose and preferred her above all the women of the worlds.” (Qur’an, 3: 42)
21. Why is it that Muslims do not celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas?
While Muslims greatly revere Jesus, Christmas is generally considered a Christian holiday and not a part of Muslim cultures except where there are Christian minorities. There is even debate among Muslims over the celebration of Muhammad’s birthday. However, some Muslims celebrate Christmas as part of an American cultural observance like Thanksgiving or Independence Day.
22. Is the Qur’an read only in Arabic?
Since only 20% of all Muslims are Arabs, the Qur’an has been translated into and is read in many other languages, with multiple English translations. However, because Muslims consider the original Arabic text to be the literal word of God, during ritual prayers, the Qur’an is recited in its original Arabic language (just as some Catholic churches still perform mass in Latin or synagogues perform part of their prayer in Hebrew). In order to fully comprehend the Qur’an for instruction and spiritual enrichment, non-Arab Muslims also read the translation in their native language.
23. What are the different kinds of prayer that Muslims practice?
Prayer among Muslims can take many forms. Three very common forms are Salat (ritual prayer), Dhikr (remembrance of God, which usually involves the repetition of God’s names), and Du’a (supplication, or asking God for a need or desire or for forgiveness).
24. How long does each prayer (Salat) take?
Each prayer (Salat) lasts 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the prescribed length of the prayer and the number and length of Qur’anic verses recited. Other factors may also influence the length of time a Muslim prays, including the number of additional (non-obligatory) prayers one chooses to perform, and the pace at which one recites the Qur’an.
25. In large groups women pray behind men. Why is that?
The reason usually adduced for this practice involves notions of modesty. The Muslim ritual prayer is very physical in nature, involving standing, bowing, and prostrating oneself. While in congregational prayers, Muslims are supposed to stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder with those next to them. Many Muslim cultures have considered it distracting or immodest to have men and women praying side by side or to have women prostrate themselves in front of men.
26. How do very busy students or professionals (e.g., firefighters) find the time to pray five times a day?
Throughout most of the year, the prayer time for the noon prayer does not end while students are at school, so they can perform it when they return home. During the time of year when the prayer time ends while students are still in school, they can take a few minutes during recess or lunch to pray. Students can ask their teachers if they can pray in the classroom or library.
In the case of Muslim firefighters, if they are in the midst of fighting a fire and are unable to take a break to pray, they will perform the missed prayer as soon as they are able to, along with the next prayer.
27. What is the Ka’bah?
The Ka’bah is the cube-shaped building covered with a black cloth in Mecca that is believed by Muslims to have been the first house of worship to God. Muslims throughout the world face towards the Ka’bah when they perform each of their daily prayers.
28. Who built the Ka’bah?
Muslims believe that Adam built the original Ka’bah and that Prophets Abraham and his son Ishmael rebuilt and consecrated it as the first house of worship to God.
DAY OF JUDGMENT
29. How will God determine who goes to heaven and hell?
We believe that only God knows where a person will end up in the afterlife, since only God knows a person’s intentions, deeds, circumstances, and limitations. We also believe that God will judge human beings according to His complete justice on the Day of Judgment based on both their beliefs and actions, taking into account the opportunities and abilities that He gave them. In the Qur’an, God’s ninety-nine names include “the Judge” and “the Just.”
30. If a person is a good person throughout his or her life, but does not believe in God, will he/she go to hell?
We believe that God rewards whoever behaves righteously in this life and that God knows the innermost secrets of human hearts and will judge everyone with absolute justice.
31. What good is “free will” if everything is predestined? If God already knows if we are going to heaven or hell, why doesn’t He just put us there?
We believe that, unlike angels or animals, humans have the free will to choose to do good or evil in this life and that even though God knows people’s ultimate destination, they themselves do not have that knowledge. Therefore, whatever actions people commit are based on their free will, for which they are held accountable.
32. How does Islam view other religions?
We believe that respect for freedom of religion and conscience is a basic Islamic principle, and we believe that diversity, including religious diversity, is part of God’s divine plan. Moreover, we believe that the salvation of all people, Muslims included, lies with God alone.