Computer skills and Data analysis are among the top “hard” skills that employers are looking for in job candidates. Employers want to know that you can use the tools you need to stay organized, to communicate important information and accurately interpret the information you use daily.
Microsoft Excel is the most popular spreadsheet tool in use today, so it is likely that you will answer at least some questions about this important program during interviews. This is true whether you are looking for work as a senior manager or an intern.
What Should You Say About Excel in an Interview?
Start with the job description to anticipate what Excel skills will be evaluated. If the description includes “Finding patterns and trends in analyzed data,” then be prepared to talk about Statistical functions and Trendlines. If the job requires you to “collect and report information,” then plan on speaking about how to set up worksheets and generate reports, charts and graphs.
Even if you do not receive Excel specific questions, share how you use Excel in work-related situations that you are asked about. This lets the interviewer know that you not only have the critical thinking skill to understand problems, but also the computer skills to solve them.
Top Excel Interview Question Categories
Preparing answers in the following areas allows you to handle any question tossed your way. (For the purposes of this article, we assume that you are not applying for a high-end data analyst or accounting position that requires deep and specific Excel expertise.)
You will likely receive general questions that reveal how familiar you are with Excel overall. Answer general questions with enough detail to convey that you not only know the user interface but how it is used.
- Can you describe Microsoft Excel and what it is used for?
- How are cells addressed?
- How many data formats are available in Excel? Name some of them.
- How do you add and delete rows and columns?
- How do you/When would you merge and split cells?
- Which ribbon tab would you find the __________ command on?
- Describe a time when you needed to create an Excel file from scratch.
Example Interview Question: How many data formats are available in Excel?
Potential Response: There are 11 data formats including the number format, the currency format and the date format. For example, you use the date format when you are storing birthdates and want to calculate a person’s age.
Employers want to know that you understand the basics of how data is entered, organized, shared, and maintained. Answer questions with examples of data you have maintained.
- What file formats can Excel save to? List a few and describe when you would use them.
- How do you change the sort order of data on a worksheet?
- What is a data filter used for and how do you apply one?
- What are two methods for finding and removing duplicate values in your data?
- Describe how you would apply a multi-level sort.
- How do you record a simple macro?
Example Interview Question: What file formats can Excel save to?
Potential Response: Excel can save to standard or macro-enabled Excel file formats, to a comma separated or csv file, to pdf format or to a text .txt file, to name the most common. I used csv file formats when I needed to share raw data with other departments that didn’t use Excel.
Calculations and Analysis
Without analysis, Excel data is just a text document consisting of a giant table. Employers want to know that you can apply simple calculations and take advantage of Excel’s many built-in Functions. In addition to reviewing the following questions, be prepared to write a formula to solve a problem set by the interviewer.
- What is the difference between a Formula and a Function?
- Explain when you would use Absolute vs Relative cell references in a formula.
- What is the order of operations Excel uses when calculating formulas?
- When would you/How would you use the _____________ function?
- Familiarize yourself with these popular functions to begin: SUM, SUMIF, COUNT, COUNTIF, AVERAGE, IF, XLOOKUP, TODAY, MIN & MAX, TRIM.
- Research any industry-specific functions likely to be used in the position you are seeking.
- How and when would you use a named range?
- How would you detect and correct errors in your formulas?
Interview Question: What is the difference between a Formula and a Function?
Potential Response: Formulas are equations that combine values and cell references with operators to calculate a result. Functions are prebuilt formulas that can be quickly fed values without the need to write the underlying formula yourself. The SUM function, for example, is a faster way of adding multiple rows of data than writing out A1+A2+A3 and so on.
Even if your new position doesn’t gather data, you are likely to need to report on data gathered and analyzed by others. Employers want to know that you can turn data into clear and persuasive communication.
- Name a kind of Excel chart and when you would use it.
- When would you use Conditional Formatting and what would it show?
- How do you prepare a spreadsheet for printing?
- What is a Pivot Table and when would you use one?
- What kind of data would you include in an Excel dashboard?
Interview Question: Name a kind of Excel chart and when you would use it.
Potential Response: The pie chart is useful for comparing data that adds up to a whole – how many of one product contributed to total sales, for example. It is not good for showing data over time, such as a product’s sales each month.
Employers want to make sure that you can protect their data and know how to keep sensitive information out of competitor’s hands.
- What would you do to protect a workbook that contains sensitive data?
- How do you prevent other people from editing your data?
- How can you ensure that data is entered into your worksheets in the correct format?
Interview Question: What would you do to protect a workbook that contains sensitive data?
Potential Response: I would first password protect the workbook so that only I could open it, and then would store it on a secure drives such as a corporate drive.
While it is very unlikely that you will ever have an interview that asks more than a few of these questions in one sitting, use this guide to prepare yourself for the ones that do come up. Practice answers in each category and you’ll be sure to impress your interviewer with your knowledge and preparation.
Feeling insecure? Take a class!
If even the basic questions described above make you uncomfortable, brush up on your Excel skills by taking a class. Not only will the commands be fresh in your mind when you arrive for your interview, you may also learn some new skills that could help you both win the job and then do it even better once you’re hired.