Research and critical thinking

Research and critical thinking skills combine the abilities to identify credible data sources, gather and evaluate information, often following a clear methodology and based upon agreed objectives, analysing results and presenting an argument and insights based on this analysis.

Activities where you could develop research and critical thinking skills

A defining part of any degree at the University of Manchester is that it develops your research and critical thinking skills but you can’t assume that employers will take that for granted. You need to be able to articulate how you applied these skills.

Most academic programmes will involve a formal research project or dissertation but the way you approach this is at least as important as the subject content, to a non-academic employer. They are probably more interested in you explaining how you determined which sources were credible, why you chose one methodology over another, what setbacks you had to overcome, rather than a detailed description of the content of your final report. Reflecting on your experience will help you make the most of your research.

In addition, the following activities, which may be undertaken as part of or alongside your studies, can be good ways to develop your research skills:

  • My Learning Essentials workshops and resources
  • Manchester Leadership Programme This academic module is open to most undergraduate students at Manchester.
  • Volunteering There may be opportunities to complete research projects for voluntary organisations.
  • Some academic programmes include an opportunity to complete a team project for an organisation or individual.
  • Researching employers and jobs Research is important beyond your academic subject - find out how to research and critically evaluate employers and jobs. This will help you present your "argument" for why you want the job.

How is Research and Critical Thinking assessed in recruitment?

Application form and interview questions

Some examples of application form and interview questions which are designed to test research skills:

  • Give me an example of when you have had to research a new topic. How did you approach this, and what obstacles did you need to overcome?
  • How have research methods changed in the light of technical innovations?
  • Tell me what you know about our organisation and our key competitors?
  • What is the key to effective research?
  • How would you research the potential to develop new customers for our products?

Note: For those whose practical research activities have been affected by the pandemic, you could alternatively use examples where you have completed a literature review (eg comparing and evaluating research methods for a particular topic) or analysed data sets which have been generated by other researchers.

If you are unsure how to structure an answer for either application or interview questions, visit the application and interviews section of our website and find out about the CAR (context, action, result) and STAR (situation, task, action, result) models. Our recommendations are based on feedback from employers.

Assessment Centres

  • You may be asked to prepare a presentation on a recent research project for a research role. It is important to clarify if this will be presented to a subject expert or needs to be intelligible to a non-specialist.
  • For some fast-paced marketing or sales roles, employers may ask you to carry out research during the assessment day eg on competitors or customers, and present your results with recommendations.