Deductive reasoning versus inductive reasoning

Want to wow an employer? Time to show off your logic skills.

Deductive reasoning versus inductive reasoning

We use logic to make informed choices large and small.

Each day, we experience countless similar moments where we use logic to make informed choices large and small—and the workplace is especially rife with them. Whether you’re managing a team or just starting out in your career, relying on a reasoned, logical approach is one of those soft skills that’s just as important as, say, being certified to type 90 words per minute. Most of these approaches can be broken down into two broad categories: inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning. 

We use logic every day, whether we’re aware of it or not. When you woke up today, did you glance out the window and check the temperature to infer that you should put on a light jacket before heading outside? Or put an extra scoop of coffee in your French press because, in the past, failing to do so has resulted in watery, undrinkable brew?

If so, then congratulations! You have applied logic in your daily decision-making. Let’s quickly cover the key differences between inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning, and how both approaches are crucial to forming strategies at work and beyond.

Inductive reasoning or deductive reasoning?

Let’s start with inductive reasoning. This approach, often thought of as “bottom-up” reasoning, uses a specific pattern or observation to draw a larger conclusion. Let’s say you’ve spent the morning looking at pictures of cacti on the Internet, and noticed that all of them are spiny. From this small, repeated detail, you can then use inductive reasoning to generalize that all cacti are spiny.

Deductive reasoning takes the opposite tack. Here, the approach is “top-down,” meaning you start with a set of generalizations, then use it to arrive at a further conclusion. For example, if all cacti are spiny and a prickly pear is a type of cactus, you can use deductive reasoning to infer that all prickly pears are spiny. In other words, if A = B and B = C, then A = C.

Reasoning in the workplace

There are countless scenarios where having a solid grasp of inductive and deductive reasoning could come in handy on the job. Imagine you’re a marketing director who identifies an unusually large number of customers in Boise, Idaho, and decides to buy ad space on billboards throughout the area. That’s inductive reasoning in a nutshell—identify a pattern, draw a conclusion.

On the other hand, deductive reasoning tends to come into play when you need to characterize the relationship between two or more known quantities. Let’s say you’re the manager of a restaurant, and you’ve noticed that the majority of your customers speak English as a second language. You also know that when servers can communicate with guests in their native tongue, they’re more likely to become repeat customers. Having established this, you decide to hire some bilingual waitstaff.

If you’re in the middle of a job search, showing off your reasoning skills can be a great way to set yourself apart from the competition. No, we don’t mean writing “strong sense of deductive logic” on your resume—like most soft skills, these are better off implied than explicitly stated. Instead, share a story or two that shows your reasoning abilities in action and paints a picture of how you relied on logic skills to lead a team, benefit the business, or nail an important project.

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