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Excel Guru's Top Interview Questions To Ask [What I Look For]

By Chris Newman •  Updated: 05/10/22 •  8 min read
Interview questions for Excel jobs

Why Excel Competency Is Important

It’s truly amazing how much of the business world relies on Microsoft Excel. What is equally amazing (or scary) is that many folks who interact with this spreadsheet software on a daily basis have a very poor understanding of how the software works and all its capabilities.

Not mastering or working towards mastering software that is a key component to many analytical jobs in the business world can lead to many issues including

  • Slow deliverable turnaround time
  • Errors in the analysis
  • Inefficient processes
  • Inability to rebuild/modify files as the business changes
Job interview

On the flip side, if you are able to find a candidate who has intermediate to advanced Excel knowledge, your team/company can benefit immensely because they will:

  • Always be looking for a better way to accomplish tasks
  • Be able to quickly tweak existing solutions to answer new questions
  • Save time with automated workflows
  • Teach and improve their colleague’s Excel skills

The last bullet point is especially important because it means a candidate could have a compounding impact on your organization if they are able to level up their peer’s abilities in Excel.

In this article, we will explore how to evaluate prospective candidates in two categories:

Let’s dive in! Please leave your thoughts in the comments section at the very bottom of this page. I’m sure there are tons of great suggestions on this topic that I do not cover.


Candidates waiting for an interview

Determining An Advanced Excel User

Interview Questions

[Q] What is the most complicated solution/analysis you’ve ever created with Excel? Which Excel features did you have to rely on to build your file?

What you are looking for in a response:

  • This is a great opening question because it will typically give you an idea of how complex of a workload the interviewee had in prior roles
  • Can the candidate clearly and cohesively explain their work? Stumbling through an explanation of “their own work” might indicate they had a lot of help or used someone else’s solution to get most of the spreadsheet built. The Candidate should be confident in their response and be able to answer follow-up questions quite easily.

[Q] What types of Excel features do you utilize on a regular basis? Can you briefly describe how you’ve used these features in spreadsheets?

What you are looking for in a response:

  • Intermediate Response - Pivot Tables, Vlookup/Xlookup, Conditional Formatting, Data Validation
  • Advanced Response - Array Formulas, Tables, Custom Number formats, VBA macros, Power Query, Power Pivot, Power BI
  • Don’t just fall for buzzwords that the candidate can repeat. Make sure they have actually applied these features in practice. Just knowing something exists is very different than being able to implement it.

[Q] Can you describe a time when you inherited someone else’s complex spreadsheet? How did go about understanding it? What improvements did you make to it?

What you are looking for in a response:

  • Was the candidate ever asked to take over complicated work?
  • Understand how they work through understanding complex data
  • Understand what sort of improvements the candidate might be able to provide to your team

[Q] What is your process for checking errors in your work? What sorts of errors do you typically look out for?

What you are looking for in a response:

  • Does the candidate utilize Excel formulas to automate checking for errors
  • Hopefully, the candidate is looking for these types of errors
    • Spelling
    • Totals footing
    • Formulas with plugs in them

[Q] Can you provide an example of how/when you have applied your Excel skills to address a significant business issue? What was the outcome and what did you learn from that experience?

What you are looking for in a response:

  • Understand how the candidate thinks through business problems and attempts to solve them
  • Does the candidate develop solutions that can help other areas of the business? For example, if they built a project management tracker, that skill could be repurposed to build a budget tracker.

[Q] If you don’t know how to do something in Excel, what are your next steps?

What you are looking for in a response:

  • Typically, the candidate will say they will ask a colleague for help. Counter this by stating no one in the office knows how to do it. If this is their only solution, this is a major red flag!
  • You want to understand how the candidate can teach themselves. Look for avenues such as Googling for articles, reading Microsoft documentation, asking questions on an online forum, or searching YouTube for a video tutorial.

[Q] How do you incorporate color into your spreadsheets?

What you are looking for in a response:

  • Do they use colors to categorize their spreadsheets? Do they insert color legends into their spreadsheets? This is usually an excellent indicator of someone who is thoughtful about their work and can easily transition spreadsheets to others
  • Do they utilize company brand colors? This usually is a good indicator that they are concerned with the presentation of their data. If your position includes presentation-building, this is likely a good sign!

College Graduates

Questions for College Graduates

The questions you ask for an entry-level position are going to be from an entirely different perspective. Your candidates will likely have little to no Excel experience (maybe a class or summer internship) and they will yet to have developed their skillset.

What you will need to glean from your questioning is:

  1. What is their current skill level?
  2. Will they explore and teach themselves Excel features? (aka self-motivation)

Interview Questions

[Q] Can you give me some examples of work you’ve done in Excel and what types of features/formulas you had to rely on?

What you are looking for in a response:

  • The answer to this question should give you an understanding of what sort of foundation the candidate has to work with
  • Make sure they are providing specific examples of how they used features. DON’T let them get away with just listing off buzzwords like Pivot Tables, Vlookup formulas, etc… Make sure they can fashionably prove they know something about those features.
  • If the candidate doesn’t have experience with Excel, see if there is another software they have used in its place. In this case, you will evaluate how well they learned to use the software in question, hoping they can repeat their success story with Excel once working for you.

[Q] What was the last thing you taught yourself (in your personal time, school, or for work)? How did you learn it?

What you are looking for in a response:

  • Is this person curious or do they enjoy learning?
  • How practical was their process for learning the new skill? Can it translate to the role you are trying to fill?

[Q] What is the most data-intensive thing you have done?

What you are looking for in a response:

  • How comfortable is this person with data?
  • What is their definition of “data-intensive”?
  • Is their example from work/school or was it based on something they did in their spare time? If your candidate is doing data-intensive actions in their free time this is a good indicator that they have a passion for this type of work.

[Q] What is the most creative thing you have done?

What you are looking for in a response:

  • What is their definition of creative? Does it align with yours?
  • Creativity can open a lot of doors within Excel. Creative thinkers are going to push themselves to learn more and more about what Excel can do. I’ve seen this time and time again in the business world.

[Q] If you don’t know how to use something, what are your next steps?

What you are looking for in a response:

  • Typically, the candidate will say they will ask a peer/manager/professor for help. Counter this by stating no one is available who knows how to do it. If this is their only solution, this is a major red flag!
  • You want to understand how the candidate can teach themselves. Look for avenues such as Googling for articles, reading Microsoft documentation, asking questions on an online forum, or searching YouTube for a video tutorial.

I Hope This Helped!

Hopefully, I was able to explain how you can use targeted questions to gauge the skill level or potential of the candidate you are interviewing. If you have any questions or suggestions on how to improve this article, please let me know in the comments section below.

Keep Learning

Chris Newman

Chris Newman

Chris is a finance professional and Excel MVP recognized by Microsoft since 2016. With his expertise, he founded TheSpreadsheetGuru blog to help fellow Excel users, where he shares his vast creative solutions & expertise. In addition, he has developed over 7 widely-used Excel Add-ins that have been embraced by individuals and companies worldwide.