Analytical Skills: Definitions and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 11 February 2021 | Published 25 August 2020

Updated 11 February 2021

Published 25 August 2020

Employers often include analytical skills in job postings in nearly every industry. Having these skills helps you investigate complex issues, make decisions and develop solutions. You likely already possess many analytical skills that employers value. In this article, we explore what analytical thinking is, why it is important, what skills are involved in analytical thinking and how to highlight these skills when applying for a job.

What is analytical thinking?

Analytical thinking is when you observe, research and develop critical insights from data or other information. When you use analytical thinking, you gain knowledge, solutions or ideas related to a problem or topic.

There are several steps involved in analytical thinking:

  • Identifying a topic, problem or issue

  • Breaking down the topic, problem or issue into smaller, more manageable segments

  • Gathering relevant information from trustworthy sources

  • Assessing cause and effect relationships

  • Developing solutions or furthering your understanding of the topic

  • Testing solutions or new ideas based on what you've learned

  • Reviewing what solutions worked or assessing your new knowledge

Most analytical thinking requires trial and error. Those with strong analytical thinking skills are often capable of quickly analysing a situation, topic or problem and often work well in a team setting to accomplish goals.

Why are analytical skills important?

There are many reasons to develop, showcase and use your analytical skills in the workplace, including that they:

  • Can be used in a variety of scenarios: Understanding the basics of any problem so that you can come up with viable solutions is a key skill in many jobs, which makes it a transferable skill you can apply in nearly any role. Many industries make use of these skills, including customer service, education and marketing.

  • Are necessary in specific industries: If you are looking for a job that is specific to analytics, such as a lab analyst or data analyst, you have to develop analytical thinking skills specific to your industry. While analytical thinking is a soft skill, analyst jobs will also require you to develop specific hard skills that relate to the position. This also applies to jobs with required technical knowledge, such as nursing, engineering, accounting, scientific research, architecture and computer programming.

  • Promote effective decision-making: Solving problems through analytical thinking allows you to better make decisions in the future. You may be able to apply past analytical thinking to new or similar problems, which may increase your decision-making efficiency.

  • Enable you to develop your career: By improving your analytical skills, you can get better at your job and help organisations achieve their goals. Increasing your effectiveness and gaining more experience through analytical thinking can lead to more leadership opportunities.

Related: How to Find the Best Jobs for You

Examples of analytical skills

There are many types of analytical skills that you can apply in professional settings. Here are examples of the main skills that lead to effective analytical thinking:

  • Critical thinking

  • Research

  • Communication

  • Data analysis

  • Problem-solving

  • Creative thinking

Critical thinking

Critical thinking involves taking the time to fully understand problems, analysing facts, anticipating results or outcomes and making a logical decision based on this information. In the workplace, critical thinking involves asking questions, gathering information from colleagues, evaluating choices based on facts and identifying biases in one's reasoning. Critical thinking enables people to logically analyse problems and come to more objective solutions.

Research

Research skills refer to the ability to search for, organise and extract relevant information about a particular topic and is an early step in finding possible solutions to problems. Research can be as simple as asking a manager or co-worker who may have more knowledge of the problem to more extensive online searches through reliable sources. Part of the research process also involves knowing what information is valuable or necessary for solving the problem.

Communication

Communication skills refer to the ability to convey and receive information in a clear and efficient way. In the workplace, you might communicate with your teammates or managers about problems, or you might present solutions to problems at team meetings. Conveying information clearly and accurately is an important skill in the analytical thinking process because it reduces inefficiencies and ensures everyone understands solutions to problems.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

Data analysis

Data analysis is the ability to evaluate and interpret a large volume of data as well as determine trends and identify relevant patterns. You may be required to organise and visualise the data into an easy-to-understand form for yourself or other key decision-makers who use that information to create solutions or develop strategies.

In the workplace, data analysis typically involves using spreadsheets, charts and other data analysis software. The benefit of data analysis to wider analytic thinking is that data often drives the best analytical insights.

Problem-solving

Problem-solving means finding out the cause of a problem and coming up with appropriate solutions. At work, problem-solving involves identifying problems, brainstorming solutions, reviewing research and data and collaborating with others or choosing the most effective option on your own.

Creative thinking

Creative thinking is the ability to view problems or situations from a different perspective and come up with new ideas or solutions. Creative thinking can stimulate new insights and promote new approaches to analytical thinking. In the workplace, people often think creatively at dedicated brainstorming sessions. Some managers may encourage lateral thinking, which is when people use indirect approaches to problems instead of the traditional step-by-step logical approach.

How to improve your analytical skills

Developing your analytical skills can help you improve your workplace performance, advance in your career and/or get a new job. You can improve your analytical skills by using some of the following tips:

  1. Identify the skills you want to develop: Consider which analytical skills you possess and those where you have room for improvement.

  2. Take professional development courses: Enroll in classes that give you the chance to develop analytical skills, such as a free or paid online course in data analytics or in soft skills like decision-making.

  3. Find opportunities to use analytical skills in your current organisation: Volunteer for projects, such as developing new strategies or solving an organisation-wide problem, that will require the use of critical analytical skills.

  4. Read books that challenge you: Try non-fiction professional development books that provide exercises and prompts that promote analytical thinking.

  5. Reach out to your professional network: Look for advice from professionals in your field, especially those with more experience and knowledge of a specific issue.

  6. Conduct research on best practices for your industry: You can also read industry-specific books, articles, blogs and journals or watch or listen to industry-relevant videos and podcasts to increase your subject-matter knowledge, which is essential to more efficient and effective problem-solving.

How to highlight your analytical skills

You can showcase your analytical skills on your CV, in your cover letter and during interviews to demonstrate that you're a high-quality candidate. Here's how:

On your CV

The three places in your CV where you can include analytical skills are your summary or objective, employment history descriptions and skills section. Where applicable, include example situations where you used analytical skills to provide proof of your abilities.

For the summary section, you could mention that you're a dedicated professional seeking roles in which you can use your strong analytical abilities. For the employment history section, you can talk about how your analytical skills improved a business outcome, such as increasing sales by 5%. In the skills section, you can mention a mix of soft and technical analytical skills.

Example:

  • Proficient in Microsoft Excel

  • Able to query data in SQL

  • Experienced using Matlab to visualise data

  • Research

  • Report writing

Related: 6 Universal Rules for Writing Your CV

In your cover letter

For your cover letter, write about a time when you used analytical skills to improve something or solve a problem, whether it was at work, in a volunteer position or in school. Relate your example to the job you are applying for, and show how these skills make you a strong candidate for the position.

Example: 'I enjoy exploring the relationships in data and extracting insights to solve business problems. In my last role, I analysed customer eCommerce data and used lateral thinking to pitch a cart retention email campaign. When we implemented that strategy, sales improved by 10%. In this role, I can apply the same research and data analysis approach to your company's marketing strategy'.

In the job interview

Interviewers may use behavioural questions to assess your analytical thinking skills. During a job interview, provide detailed responses about how you used your analytical skills in the past and how these skills improved situations or solved problems. You can also use a hypothetical situation to explain how you might use your analytical thinking in this role.

Example: 'As your new business analyst, I am confident that I'll be able to review reports, record production inefficiencies and identify specific areas of the organisation that can be improved. I understand that it's your company's goal to reduce unnecessary office supply spending, and I can compare expense reports to supply request data and determine any excesses that can be eliminated'.

You may also show your analytical skills through the pre-employment tests, which larger companies often use to assess candidates for a role. These tests are more common in technical roles such as data analytics or computer programming.

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