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Math Skills vs Critical Thinking Skills

 math skills vs critical thinking skillsI am wondering if others are experiencing problems with potential candidates having poor algebra skills?  In hiring for our accounting and underwriting skills it seems that people have a problem solving for x or any other other variables.

Is this a fault of the school systems?  Is it a fault of everything being automated?  Or is it the hiring process (which means it is me. :) )?

Just wondering if people are having similar problems out there?


Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Not sure you are looking at the correct candidate pool. The most successful Accounting and Finance professionals excel at critical thinking.

If I can expand your example - In business, no one tells you to solve for x. You just need to constantly look at things and understand when x is not present and then figure out where it is. x is always getting lost.

I can always teach someone the proper journal entries. But if my bank rec shows that I am off by $1,327.52, that's where critical thinking is necessary.

Simple interview question -
Ask a candidate what to do if after the month ends, you find that you are out of balance by $13.72? If the candidate answers - "make an adjusting entry to write it off, as it is not worth the time for such a low amount." Say thank you and end the interview. This response is not uncommon. As people do believe in the threshold concept.

The answer you want is for them to say, "you dig in and find the difference, not because it is a lot of money, but because it may be a symptom of a bigger problem."

Hire the second person.

Note - I did not blame you, but...

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

I just went to the movies. I bought a soda for $4.25 (absurd amount, but I digress). I gave the girl $5.00. She rings it into the cash register and is about to give me 75 cents back.

I give her a quarter and ask for $1.00. She's lost.

Math skill issue? Critical thinking issue? Our school system(s)?

Yes to all three.

If a candidate can answer questions this simple, I agree with Regis, time to find another. Also its time we teach critical thinking and not how to pass the exam....

BTW, the problem above is more the norm than the exception, at least around where I live; and that's really sad... especially given my outrageous school taxes...

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

Try asking them what their highest grade in Algebra was in high school. And then ask them what their grade was in Calculus I in college. If I remember right there is still a Calculus or higher math course in freshman year. Calculus is all about critical thinking, application of theory to determine the number of triangles under the curve. Algebra covers the mechanics of finding X. If they hem and haw instead of saying A or B or something numeric, chances are they don't know the level of math you need them to know. Advanced analyticals will have a fast answer.

If critical thinking is more important than the actual Algebra, try thinking of a complex problem that you have solved in the past, ask them to tell you how they would go about gathering the information or how they would research the problem. Even better, ask them how they know when something seems to need more scrutiny, let them make up the situation. That will tell you a lot. Solving logistics problems isn't always an analytical skill.

Good question. Teaching someone to think critically is hard to do and the propensity for them to want to wait for instruction in the case they are not critical thinkers usually outweighs their ability to ever feel comfortable digging in on their own to nail down a lingering question.

Critical thinking is not determined by age or experience, its about personality. You either have it or you don't. I managed a group of clerically minded people once and one was a brilliant problem solver and the others preferred to receive instruction for every next step.

You only need one or two questions to pin them down. Best of luck.

Topic Expert
Patrick Dunne
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Milk Source
(Chief Financial Officer, Milk Source) |

I would attack your interview process and focus in on math skills. What was their overall and Math score on the ACT/SAT? Time to focus your interviewing questions to maximize results and reduce wasted effort on your part.

Topic Expert
Joseph Ori
Title: CEO
Company: Paramount Capital Corporation
(CEO, Paramount Capital Corporation) |

I'm an Adjunct Professor at a national college in CA and agree that many undergrad and even grad school students cannot due basic math. They cannot solve this problem: 215=x/5% + 15%

Brian Kennedy
Title: President
(President, |

The under 25 crowd has full blown ADD. I have heard from many and know others that have difficulty reading. It just wears them out. But how can one adjust to reading chapters when their half their lives in spent sending and reading text gibberish. It is a real issue.

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

Brian - I agree there is a problem with the younger generation and math skills. But, the math being discussed on here is not being taught as much now in college for business students. Calculus and algebra is not being taught to students beyond the semi-advanced basics unless the student is a math major, or needs it for some other major. I am 29, graduated in 2005. My college math requirements were 6 hours. I have Advanced Problem and Reasoning 1 and 2. I also had Business Math as part of my core business curriculum. As for math, I did not need anything else. The curriculum structure is an issue.

The real issue is not text messaging gibberish. The real issue is that math is not being taught or required as it should be among our country's universities. Please do not take offense, but to say that text messaging is the blame, is a little asinine.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

I don't know that the type of math being discussed here has any relevance for success as an Accounting/Finance professional. Either you are modeling in Excel, or you are reading agreements, or deciding how to account for something correctly but I just cannot recall having to use algebra in quite a long time (which is a shame).

What I do fear, is that with so much reliance on Excel, my mental math skills are greatly weakened and I find myself reaching or a calculator when my CFO gets close to the right answer right in his noggin...

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

Accountants read legal documents, turn the terms into math, which they model in excel. So yes this question is relevant to testing accountants.


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