Inductive Reasoning (Definition and How To Use It)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 18 December 2022

Published 26 May 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Inductive reasoning is a required skill for many jobs involving logical thinking. Employers may test your inductive reasoning skills to make sure you are suitable for the role being offered. Understanding how to apply inductive reasoning skills can help you perform better on these tests and in these roles. In this article, we explain what inductive reasoning is, how it differs from other decision-making techniques and how to use it to further your career.

What is inductive reasoning?

Inductive reasoning is a method of thinking logically to draw reasonable conclusions. This soft skill helps people think critically and problem-solve, so it's a great asset to businesses. People using inductive reasoning consider past data and existing knowledge to reach the most reliable conclusions. For example, if you review a city's average summer temperatures for the past 15 years, you may notice temperatures have consistently increased. Using inductive reasoning, you could assume the temperature rate will continue rising consistently and estimate the average summer temperature five years from now.

Read more: What Is Cognitive Ability and Why Is It important?

Types of inductive reasoning

Understanding the three different types of inductive reasoning will help you choose the best one for your purposes.

Inductive generalisation

This simple kind of inductive reasoning starts with a situation. Decision-makers assess evidence from similar situations before coming to a conclusion. For example, the company has exceeded its revenue goal this quarter. It also exceeded its revenue goal in the same quarter in each of the last five years. One year from now, it will probably exceed its revenue goal.

Statistical induction

This inductive reasoning type predicts the probability that something will happen, using statistics. For example, 85% of checkout assistants increased their scanning rates last month. Steve is a checkout assistant. There is an 85% chance Steve increased his scanning rate last month.

Induction by confirmation

This type of inductive reasoning starts with a hypothesis. Decision-makers note observations they must confirm before reaching a conclusion. Police officers often use this type of reasoning when evaluating crimes. For example, the police officer thinks Sally robbed the service station. She seems to have motive, opportunity and means. This evidence supports the hypothesis that Sally may have robbed the service station.

Inductive reasoning and other types of reasoning

Inductive reasoning is one of three types of reasoning. To fully understand inductive reasoning, you should also know how it differs from other reasoning methods. Employers typically look for candidates who can use all three methods. This well-rounded approach helps potential employees reach the most reliable conclusions.

Inductive reasoning vs. deductive reasoning

Inductive reasoning uses proven observations and experiences to draw conclusions. Deductive reasoning relies on theories and beliefs to draw conclusions. People usually rely on inductive reasoning when making predictions and deductive reasoning when determining facts.

Compare the three-step processes for inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning:

Inductive reasoning process:

  1. Observation

  2. Theory

  3. Induction

Example of inductive reasoning in action:

  1. Matthew sneezes when he is around cats.

  2. Cat hair is an allergen.

  3. Matthew is allergic to cats.

Deductive reasoning process:

  1. Idea

  2. Observation

  3. Deduction

Example of deductive reasoning in action:

  1. An album must sell 70,000 copies to go platinum.

  2. Brad Williams' album has sold 80,000 copies.

  3. Brad Williams has a platinum album.

Inductive reasoning vs. abductive reasoning

Inductive reasoning and abductive reasoning are more similar, but abductive reasoning allows for more guesswork. People using abductive reasoning analyse whatever data they have and draw conclusions from it. This technique is useful when there is not enough information available for inductive reasoning. Emergency department doctors often use abductive reasoning when diagnosing patients. They must diagnose and treat conditions based on the symptoms they see, rather than a patient's entire medical history.

Abductive reasoning process

  1. Observation

  2. Best guessed conclusion

Example of abductive reasoning in action

  1. There is a half-eaten sandwich on the countertop. My flatmate was running late for work today.

  2. My flatmate made a sandwich but needed to leave for work before they could finish eating it.

The benefits of inductive reasoning

The benefits of inductive reasoning include:

  • Helping you work with a range of probabilities to form likely conclusions: Through inductive reasoning you can narrow down assumptions so your conclusions are logical and well-informed.

  • Helping you see multiple potential solutions to a single issue: This skill is very important for several workplace tasks, such as developing new products or marketing campaigns, where several approaches may work effectively.

  • Encouraging new research: Exploring solutions through inductive reasoning often fuels exploration, which can make you more innovative.

  • Helping you judge new theories: You can apply the research presented during inductive reasoning to future scenarios.

The limits of inductive reasoning

Inductive reasoning also has limitations, such as:

  • Its conclusions are based on limited knowledge: While inductive reasoning uses more complete knowledge than abductive reasoning, its knowledge base has limits which impact the conclusions you can draw. For example, if you see 100 cats run away from dogs, you may conclude all cats will run away from dogs. However, there are many more cats in the world, and some may not behave this way.

  • Data may lead you to an incorrect conclusion: A conclusion that is probable based on evidence is not always true.

  • Future evidence may contradict past research: Situations change, and past data doesn't always accurately predict the future. However past research is all inductive reasoning considers.

All reasoning methods have limitations, but you can overcome them by using a variety of different methods together.

Applying inductive reasoning in the workplace

Inductive reasoning is well-known for helping people in specific roles, such as doctors and lawyers, make decisions every day. However, this decision-making principle also has several other applications, like the following:

  • Recruiting: A recruitment firm notices companies hire candidates with business and communication degrees fastest. Inductive reasoning suggests these candidates are the most attractive to companies. They develop a new recruitment campaign actively targeting new graduates with these degrees.

  • Marketing: A marketing specialist notices sales increase by 30% on average when they include customer testimonials in company newsletters. Inductive reasoning suggests people trust customer testimonials and find them influential when purchasing. They include testimonials with every newsletter and post them regularly on social media to increase sales and trust in the brand.

  • Improving business practices: A store manager reviews all customer feedback forms. Inductive reasoning suggests that the opinions expressed may hold true for other customers. They use this feedback to promote the store's strengths and improve.

Whenever you need to develop strategies or innovate, inductive reasoning can help you make the best judgements.

Showcasing inductive reasoning skills during your job search

As people apply inductive reasoning skills in a variety of careers, highlighting these soft skills can help you show your value and separate you from other candidates.

Inductive reasoning skills on your job applications

Mention your inductive reasoning skills when applying for positions calling for these specific skills, logic skills or problem-solving abilities. Your cover letter is the ideal place for this, as you can share a specific example of how you used inductive reasoning. You may also incorporate the phrase 'inductive reasoning' into your resume. For example, when listing responsibilities for a past job, you could state: 'Applied inductive reasoning to develop a marketing campaign targeting our biggest spenders.'

Read more: How to Write a Cover Letter

Inductive reasoning skills in interviews

Employers often ask candidates about their decision-making processes during interviews. These questions provide the perfect opportunity to discuss inductive reasoning. Using the term helps employers know you understand recognised decision-making techniques. Citing examples when you used inductive reasoning tells them you know how and when to apply this technique. Try to present examples with positive outcomes so employers know how you've used this technique to benefit your companies.

The STAR method is an excellent way to clearly explain your use of inductive reasoning. Start by describing the situation, your specific task, the action you took and the final result.

Inductive reasoning skills in aptitude tests

Employers seeking candidates with logic and problem-solving skills often set inductive reasoning aptitude tests as part of their recruitment processes. An inductive reasoning test includes general questions that test your application of inductive reasoning principles. Common questions ask people to determine the next item in a sequence or the most logical conclusion after reading a written scenario.

These tests ask you to work with new information to form conclusions, so there's no need to memorise facts to prepare for them. However, taking practice tests online before your exam can help you feel more comfortable with the type of questions you'll see. They can also help you hone your inductive reasoning skills so you perform at your best.

Read more: What is Aptitude?

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