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A Guide to Evaluating Excel Proficiency for Non-Excel Experts

October 26, 20234 min read

A Guide to Evaluating Excel Proficiency for Non-Excel Experts

As an HR professional or third-party recruiter, one of the most daunting challenges can be sourcing candidates for analyst or operations positions that demand advanced Excel skills. This part of the process is about finding candidates, but also about finding the right ones with the necessary Excel proficiency. But what if you lack that expertise yourself? We’ve addressed this challenge before and can guide you through the process.

Understanding the Terrain: Online Assessments & Questions List

Imagine that you’re handed a pile of resumes, each claiming varying levels of Excel proficiency. How do you discern the truth? Here’s where online assessments are useful. These tests offer an objective evaluation, leveling the playing field for all candidates. 

Now, let’s explore the heart of the matter. You’re searching for an individual who possesses a deep understanding of Excel and can utilize its features with the precision and expertise expected in professional settings. So, where do you start? Collaboration is key. Sit down with the hiring manager and dissect the role’s Excel requirements. With this knowledge, curate a list of custom questions that cover a spectrum of Excel functions and techniques.

For example, can the candidate differentiate between basic functions like SUM and AVERAGE? Do they understand the power of functions like VLOOKUP and CONCATENATE? How skilled are they at data manipulation techniques such as pivot tables and conditional formatting? These questions are your compass, guiding you towards the right candidate.

Next Steps: Screen Share Demo

Now, let’s fast forward to the interview stage. You’ve shortlisted a few promising candidates. However, discerning exceptional candidates from the rest presents a unique challenge. This is where the screen share demo comes into play. Provide the candidate with a dataset and ask them to perform standard tasks like pivot tables and VLOOKUPs. But it doesn’t stop there. Test their problem-solving skills. How do they handle N/As in their output? This interactive session gives you a glimpse into their Excel prowess, even if you’re not an Excel expert yourself.

Approach to Assessing Excel Proficiency in Candidates

When evaluating candidates for roles requiring Excel proficiency, it’s essential to focus on the clarity and coherence of their responses rather than the correctness of their answers. Here’s a structured approach to guide your assessment:


  1. VLOOKUP Proficiency

Ask candidates to explain how and why they’ve utilized VLOOKUP in previous roles. Pay attention to their explanation of practical applications and the benefits of using VLOOKUP in data analysis tasks. Smoothness in their response and the ability to provide concrete examples demonstrate their familiarity with this function’s power and versatility.

  1. Pivot Table Expertise

Similarly, inquire about candidates’ experiences with Pivot Tables and why they find them powerful. Look for explanations of how Pivot Tables have been instrumental in analyzing data effectively and generating actionable insights. Candidates should articulate a clear understanding of Pivot Table functionalities and their significance in summarizing large datasets.

  1. Handling Complex Scenarios

Present candidates with a long-form scenario involving Pivot Tables, such as analyzing sales trends while incorporating returns data. Assess their problem-solving approach by observing how they structure their response and navigate through the steps to achieve the desired outcome. Look for candidates who demonstrate a logical and systematic approach to data manipulation within Pivot Tables.

  1. Addressing Data Anomalies

Probe candidates on their strategies for handling N/A values encountered in Pivot Table results. Evaluate their proposed solutions for displaying empty cells instead of N/A values, focusing on their understanding of Pivot Table settings and customization options. Candidates should showcase proficiency in managing data anomalies to ensure accurate and clear data representation.

  1. Dealing with VLOOKUP Errors

Lastly, inquire about candidates’ methods for managing N/A outputs in VLOOKUP functions. Assess their knowledge of error handling techniques, such as using the IFERROR function to display empty cells when a lookup value is not found. Look for candidates who demonstrate proficiency in troubleshooting and optimizing Excel functions to enhance data accuracy.


By combining online assessments, customized question lists, and interactive screen share demos, HR professionals and recruiters can proficiently evaluate candidates’ Excel skills for analytical and operational roles. Collaboration with hiring managers ensures alignment with specific job requirements, while practical assessments offer insights into candidates’ ability to apply Excel knowledge effectively. Remember, the goal is not to be an Excel expert yourself but to facilitate the identification of top Excel talent for your organization’s success.

Mike Cioffi

Mike Cioffi

CEO & Founder | Tire Business Author

Being apart of the Tire industry since the start of his career, Mike Cioffi manages a recruitment team in the industry. With years of knowledge from business operations, recruiting, and running a business himself, Mike Cioffi writes in-depth content often seen on Crain Communications publications specific to the needs of the industry.

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