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Chapter 11


Applying Analytical Thinking Skills in an Online
Career Development Course
by Cynthia L. Miller

Analytical thinking skills are critical in the career development process because they help indi-
viduals collect, articulate, visualize, and analyze information in developing and implementing an
effective career plan (Gibson, 2014). Even with career development training, there will be many
times where individuals will be put on the spot to think analytically and the right or wrong deci-
sion could make a difference in the career direction they choose to pursue or career advancement
they achieve in the future. For example, if an individual needs to make a decision about post-
secondary education or training, then they need to be able to think analytically about all of their
options, especially if there are money, time and location factors that need to be considered. As a
career development/counseling educator, you want these individuals to make the most well-in-
formed and correct career decisions. Therefore, this article will explain how to incorporate some
analytical thinking skills to enhance learner engagement and success in meeting the overall goal
of an online career development course.

Analytical Thinking vs. Critical Thinking

Most people assume that analytical thinking and critical thinking are one in the same. In fact,
this is not true. When individuals think critically about career options, they make the decision
whether or not a particular career(s) is right or wrong for them based on the results of a set of
career assessments and exploration of various career information, in most cases. They then make
conclusions regarding their perception of the information. Moreover, they combine their new
information with their current knowledge of the world in order to make the most accurate career
decision they can make. They also look into other pieces of information that could be relevant.
Then as a critical thinker, they take all of these facts and use them to form an opinion or belief.
As for analytical thinking, individuals would use it to break down a series of complex bits of
information. They think step-by-step to develop an overall conclusion or solution. They look at
particular information through different points of view with the objective to create a cause and
effect. To illustrate, they might try to determine why a career development action plan is neces-
sary, and then come up with a methodical answer.

In addition, with analytical thinking, they use facts to support their conclusion and train of
thought, whereas critical thinking is more of an assumption-based style of thinking. Analytical
skills lead individuals to have a more focus and efficient approach to solution finding where criti-

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cal thinking skills can go around in circles infinitely. When individuals have a complex career
decision or solution to find, they need to use their analytical skills.

Applying Analytical Thinking Skills

So, how are analytical thinking skills applied in an online career development course? First, this
is done by introducing the overall goal of the career development course, which is creating and
implementing a comprehensive career action plan. Then the first analytical thinking skill, the
thought experiment, is implemented. This allows the learner to examine a situation or argu-
ment from a philosophical or practical viewpoint (Gibson, 2014). For example, in this course,
learners look at the big picture of a comprehensive career action plan and ask what purpose it
serves and how it benefits them by examining various career theories on the purpose and effec-
tiveness of such a plan. A blog in the online course is produced for students to share their various
perspectives, as well as to comment on other course members viewpoints.
Second, learners analyze the components of a comprehensive career action plan by breaking it
into steps using the next analytical tool known as a Career Narrative. Christensen and Johnston
(2003) suggest that developing career narratives can significantly help individuals to know what
to emphasize in their career planning. Further, Christensen and Johnson (2003) explain that when
individuals construct their career story, it enables them to discover connections and meaning in
their careers that they might not have otherwise. This is also where learners will use their ques-
tioning and researching techniques. The first part of the career narrative is developing a personal
profile that includes taking career assessments on interests, skills, personality characteristics, and
values. Then the learners are asked to synthesize their career assessment results and provide a
summary of those results, as well as clarify and ask for feedback from the instructor and other
learners in the course about their strengths and areas for development. This is done through the
online Discussion tool.

Learners understanding and awareness are also enhanced in the second part of the Career Narra-
tive by utilizing the third analytical thinking skill, which is the ability to collect the right career
information sources. If they gather they right information, they have a better chance in choosing
the right career(s) they are interested in pursuing now or in the future. Therefore, here are some
useful tips for learners on how to collect the right information:
Determine exactly what you want to know;
Collaborate on a list of possible sources of information;
Determine which are the best sources of information; and
Determine the method of collecting and managing the information.

For example, this part of the Career Narrative will force them to analyze labor market trends,
educational options, work environments, salaries, etc. related to the career(s) they are interested
in pursuing in the future. Learners in this course utilize an online digital tool, known as a Live-
Binder (, to collect and manage what they have chosen as the best career
information sources. The link to this LiveBinder is provided in the online course for all course
members to utilize, add more sources they find later in the course, and save on their computer for
future use.

When it comes to analytical thinking, it also starts with attention to detail and observation.

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This is the fourth analytical thinking skill learners use by conducting informational interviews
with a professional in a career that the learner is interested in investigating and gaining further
information. This skill gives learners the ability to hear and see hidden details and connections
when they analyze aspects of a career. Learners are provided access to various resources in the
course they can use to learn and conduct their career informational interview.

They are also required to either video this interview or provide a transcript of the interview to be
uploaded for the instructors evaluation and feedback, which is provided through a rubric to the
learners. Based on all of the information discovered about their career and clarification with the
career professional, learners compose a personal career narrative statement, similar to a personal
vision statement, to help them discover connections and meaning in the career they want to
pursue in the future. This document is uploaded in a wiki for all course members to see and make

Next, learners will set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound)
short- and long-term career goals related to their personal career narrative statement in their
career action plan. Using these career goals as guides, learners will identify the skills and com-
petencies they need to develop and begin mapping out the experiential learning (internships,
apprenticeships, on-the-job) and leadership activities or trainings they will engage in to develop
those particular skills or competencies. They will also determine the resources (money, time,
support relationships, etc.) that will be needed for success.

Lastly, learners will use strategic thinking, another analytical thinking skill, by developing the
action steps needed to implement these activities in the career action plan. Strategic thinking is
the ability to know what you want to achieve and how to achieve it, which is the main purpose
of a comprehensive career action plan (Ebersole, 2016). After learners have practiced what they
have learned and had the opportunity to build their competence, then they will evaluate the skills
they have acquired and the ways in which those skills will enhance their future job performance
and can be used to help them grow in the future.

Finally, learners will make a presentation using various presentation tools (e.g. PowerPoint,
Slideshare, Prezi, etc.), through an online virtual conference system (e.g. Skype, Adobe Collabo-
rate, etc.), showcasing their particular career action plan and explaining the importance of every
aspect they have included in this plan, as well as how they plan to review it regularly in setting
new goals and revising or adjusting action steps and timelines as necessary.

Christensen, T. K. and Johnston, J. A. (2003). Incorporating the narrative in career planning.
Journal of Career Development 29 (3), 149-160.

Ebersole, J. G. (2016). Strategic thinking: eleven critical skills needed. Retrieved online from

Gibson, N. (2014). Analytical thinker tips: five tips to think analytically. Retrieved online from

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About the Author

Cynthia (Cindy) L. Miller, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Career

and Technical Education at Eastern New Mexico University,
Portales, New Mexico. At Texas Tech University she earned the
BS in 1987, the MS in Secondary Business Education in 1991, and
the PhD in Family and Consumer Sciences Education in 2015.
She is a certified Global Career Development Instructor and has
developed and taught online Career Development courses to
graduate counseling students, graduate Career and Technical
Education students, and academic advisors.

Contact her as follows:

Cynthia L. Miller
College of Education
Eastern New Mexico University
1500 S. Avenue K Station 11
Portales, NM 88130 USA

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