Symon He

Are you applying for a new job that requires knowledge of data and spreadsheets? If so, chances are good that you’ll need to prove your Excel expertise during the job interview.

A wide range of roles — from IT and data analysis to accounting — requires familiarity with Excel. And the job interview is your chance to show what you know.

The entire interview may not focus on Excel, but it’s still a good idea to prepare your answers to some common questions. You never know when you’ll have an interviewer who wants to test your technical skills.

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If the job you’re interviewing for is similar to your current role, think about all of the ways you use Excel today. What are the most common features you use? How does Excel support your tasks and projects?

If you’re applying for a different role, try to anticipate how you would use Excel. Remember most interviewers won’t try to trick you. They simply want to assess whether you can do the job.

Common Excel interview questions — and how to answer them

How can you prepare to show your Excel knowledge and skills? Here are some sample questions to consider:

  1. Name the common data formats that Excel uses. How are they utilized?

The most common data formats you’ll encounter when using Excel are numeric formats meant to store numerical data: integers, fractions, currency, times, dates, and percentages. You can perform calculations and arithmetic on these data values directly in Excel. 

The other most common data format is text format meant to store categorical data. For example, names, addresses, emails, survey responses, long text, IP addresses, to just name a few. Text can store any kind of data so long as you do not intend to perform math on the data.

  1. What are some common Excel formulas?

For formulas, it’s useful to make the distinction between mathematical, logical, text formulas, conditional, and search formulas. 

Mathethical formulas include SUM() to add multiple cells together into a summation, statistical averages such as AVERAGE(), MEAN(), MODE(), MIN() and MAX() to finding the smallest or largest value in a set of numbers. 

Logical formulas include AND() and OR() than can be used to determine when two conditions must be true or when at least one condition is true. These are useful in modeling and often used within other logical formulas such as the popular IF() formula that lets you instruct Excel to perform an action only if a condition is true, and to perform an alternative action if the condition is false. 

Text formulas allow you to easily search and manipulate text data. Popular functions include FIND(), which lets you search for the existence and location of a text within a text data value. Other functions include LEFT(), RIGHT(), and MID() that allow you to easily pull out substrings from a text value starting from the left, right, or in the middle.

  1. What are some common Excel symbols?

There are many symbols you can use with Excel when creating formulas that can help simplify and speed up their usage. For example, every formula should begin with = so Excel knows to treat the contents of that cell as a formula rather than a text value.  Other common symbols used are parentheses () to explicitly define the order of operations, the symbols for math functions such as +, -, /, and * symbols for addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication. Commas are used often within individual formulas to denote between formula arguments. The $ symbol is used to create absolute cell references in formulas. 

  1. List the order of operations that are used for an Excel formula.

This question tests your ability to think mathematically. Don’t overthink the answer. It’s not complicated, but it is important.

You can answer PEMDAS, which means parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.

It’s also important to learn the appropriate keyboard shortcut for each common operation.

  1. Explain the VLOOKUP function in layman’s terms.

This question is used to show that you have more specialized knowledge of Excel. Answering it well shows that you have experience with features you may need to use on the job.

VLOOKUP is a common function that lets users find and aggregate data from other worksheets into a table.

Try to use plain terms in your explanation. Whenever possible, draw on your personal experience. Remember, this question is about your communication skills and your technical knowledge.

  1. How would you define a spreadsheet?

While this seems like a very basic question, it can lead to a line of questioning that is more complex.

Not all jobs that use Excel are technical. Some can be financial or administrative roles.

Explain that Excel is a digital ledger with rows, columns, and cells that store data.

  1. Discuss some of the common functions in Excel.

Depending on your role, you may be using Excel for simple or complex functions. Try to answer this question based on the way you’re likely to use Excel in your role.

Some common functions include:

• SUM and DEGREE

• TRUE and FALSE

• Time and date

• Pivot tables

Remember: Show how you’ll be using Excel in your work whenever possible.

Make sure you know the keyboard shortcut for any function or operation you plan to mention.

  1. Explain what the ribbon in Excel is.

A question like this one is looking to find out if you have practical knowledge of working in Excel. The ribbon is basic knowledge, as is knowing about things like row labels or how to select the cell you need.

The ribbon is the Excel toolbar that shows the user what items are available for use.

You can toggle the ribbon by pressing CTRL + F1.

  1. What is an Excel macro?

Macros are important for people who use Excel in repetitive ways. They help you improve your time management and efficiency.

Tell your interviewer that macros allow Excel users to automate basic repeating tasks or instructions. You can set up macros, save them, and use them when necessary.

  1. What are the charts in Excel for and how can you use them?

Charts are a central part of using Excel. They help explain complex data. They offer insight into various data and relationships that might exist within a subset of data.

Not everyone needs all the detailed information within the worksheet. Using charts to reflect data makes the information easy to understand.

  1. What are two macro languages that can be used in Excel?

Questions around macro languages give you the chance to show you understand more technical aspects of Excel.

Refer to VBA as the most-used macro language in current work and XLM as one that was used in earlier versions of Excel.

  1. Can you explain how to lock an Excel worksheet to make sure others can’t edit it?

Password-protecting a sheet or workbook locks its contents. This prevents intentional or unintentional changes that affect cell reference, dependencies, and tables.

To password-protect a worksheet, go to Review in the menu bar.  Choose Protect Sheet and create a password when you see the prompt.

Final thoughts

If you’re likely to face questions about Excel in your job interviews, it’s a good idea to prepare. Think about the role you’re applying for and the tasks you’ll do. Then consider which questions an interviewer will probably ask to test your knowledge.

Will you be performing basic tasks? Prepare to answer questions about how to make column labels or use a home tab.

Are you pursuing a more data-driven role? In that case, prepare to answer complex questions like how to evaluate formulas in Excel.

It’s also worthwhile to learn keyboard shortcuts for any functions or features you plan to talk about in your interview.

Spend time preparing so you can approach your interview with confidence.

Page Last Updated: September 2020

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