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Testing Candidates' Excel capabilities

  • 1.  Testing Candidates' Excel capabilities

    Posted 12-10-2019 09:02 AM
    We are interviewing candidates for two open positions and wanted to include a data set exercise to test the candidate's proficiency on manipulating data and understanding Excel. Have others had success with outside vendors that provide on-line Excel proficiency tests for this purpose? If so can you please share those vendor names. Thank you! 

    Kate Lynch
    Director of Advancement Services
    Concord Academy

  • 2.  RE: Testing Candidates' Excel capabilities

    Posted 12-10-2019 09:30 AM
    I advise clients not to use online proficiency tests at all. Here's what has worked well:

    1. In the interview, ask the candidate to go to the white board and show you how they would lay out the columns for a sheet that captures peoples' names and addresses, and explain why they are setting it up that way. This will surface whether they understand the core idea of putting one piece of data in one field. (You can skip this if you're dealing with candidates who are clearly more advanced)
    2. Ask candidates if they know how to use functions in Excel (can skip)
    3. Ask specifically if they know how to use Countif, Sumif, and VLookup. If they say yes, ask them to tell you exactly what those functions do
    4. Ask if they know what a Pivot Table is, and how to use it. Ask them to describe a time that they used one, and why it was useful
    5. Ask if they have ever recorded a macro and/or witten a VBA script
    I've found that these questions are pretty good markers for levels of proficiency in Excel. Most importantly, after the interview, if you like the candidate, present them with an in-context assignment. Look at the last month or so of Excel jobs you've assigned and find one or two that could be a good test. Strip out identifiable data or anonymize it, and then have the candidates show you the work.

    This process has very quickly identified who has Excel skills, but it also identified who kind of "gets" Excel, and who doesn't. Ideally, pull in an Excel/data expert at your org for this part of the interview.

    Thank you,
    Isaac Shalev
    CRM Expert
    Sage70, Inc.
    (917) 859-0151

    Schedule a 30-minute consultation now:

  • 3.  RE: Testing Candidates' Excel capabilities

    Posted 12-10-2019 10:17 AM
    I agree with Isaac that online assessments are hit or miss. I like to ask a candidate what their top one or top three Excel functions are and then draw more information out of them as to how they use them, why they find them helpful, etc. It helps me sniff out who knows what they're talking about and who doesn't.


    Josh Greenbaum
    Executive Director, Advancement Information Svcs
    Emory University

  • 4.  RE: Testing Candidates' Excel capabilities

    Posted 12-10-2019 10:27 AM
    I don't particularly like having candidates take any tests.  We can talk off-line regarding my misgivings there.  Instead, I ask them to provide me with examples of spreadsheets they have constructed for their current employer - the more complicated, the better.  I ask them to send those to me in advance of the interview and then devote a portion of the interview time asking them questions regarding the construction of the spreadsheet, their thought process in its creation, and how it applies to their work environment.

    Asking detailed questions about prior work products tells me a great deal about the candidate.  I can not only assess their proficiency but also evaluate their communication style and ability to convey complication data and analytics to end-users.


    John H. Taylor
    John H. Taylor Consulting, LLC
    2604 Sevier St.
    Durham, NC   27705
    919.816.5903 (cell/text)

    Serving the Advancement Community Since 1987

  • 5.  RE: Testing Candidates' Excel capabilities

    Posted 12-11-2019 05:25 PM

    I'm definitely not a fan of testing a candidate as part of the interview process, and have pushed back when possible. Providing samples of work, however, demonstrates a lot more.


    And talking about the functions does help provide more about what they actually do and don't know.


    While I was interviewing for my current position, I was asked about expertise in MS Office. I spoke about excel (my favorite program) and mentioned my favorite function. The Annual Giving manager and I bonded immediately through our shared love of 'concatenate.'  J   Data heads? Oh, yes.








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  • 6.  RE: Testing Candidates' Excel capabilities

    Posted 12-12-2019 11:13 AM
    I'm never a fan of these tests.  However, it's worth mentioning that you need to have an Excel expert available to understand what the results are.  Most employers only use a handful of functions, so having a proficiency in it may not even be necessary.  Having some basic knowledge and being able to pick up new functionality is more important to me.

    Dariel Dixon
    Business Analyst
    REX Healthcare Foundation

  • 7.  RE: Testing Candidates' Excel capabilities

    Posted 12-12-2019 12:16 PM

    I'm not sure why no one seems to be a fan of these tests. I've found that many people will say they have skills and many can even describe fake projects they've done with their skills (or maybe they describe projects others have done, I don't know). But if you give them a quick test with just a few rows of fake data that requires only basic skills like sorting and an easy formula or two, it is so much easier to weed out the pretenders, and you won't weed out those who at least have those basic skills and (hopefully) the ability to learn more advanced skills. But I always make up my own tests rather than using something online.


    Tracey Roybal

    Records Automation Associate


    400 S. Monroe  |  Stillwater, OK 74074

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  • 8.  RE: Testing Candidates' Excel capabilities

    Posted 12-12-2019 01:38 PM
    I'm not sure if you learn a lot from these tests.  They will either be to basic to pull any knowledge out of, or they just serve to create more anxiety.  Anyone can say what they've done, but if they explain the concept and name the formulas they used, an excel expert can figure it out pretty quickly where their proficiency is.

    Dariel Dixon
    Business Analyst
    REX Healthcare Foundation

  • 9.  RE: Testing Candidates' Excel capabilities

    Posted 12-13-2019 12:14 PM
    Thanks for all the valuable feedback!  I suggested that we do some kind of testing since my office also has had candidates claiming to have experience but couldn't do anything basic in Excel after hired. 

    We've decided to create an Excel testing environment with fake data and several scenarios these positions may face in their roles. Again, uncharted territory here but now we have something that can used moving forward and given through HR. Thanks again!