Excel for Interviews – How well do you need to know Excel for an office cubicle job?

For most entry level jobs, such as business analyst, financial analyst, accounting, data entry, etc, your required knowledge of Excel is not very high. (And no, I don’t mean management consulting or investment banking here.) They expect you to know the basics, like formatting, formulas, charts, etc., but nothing beyond that.

However, as a lot of candidates do not go beyond using autosum and bolding the total, knowing a bit more goes a long way in interviews. Typical functions that impress hiring managers are:

  • VLookup and HLookup – a quick way to lookup a table of data by searching with a key. Pronounced as “V Look Up”. Yes, simple as that.
  • Pivot Tables – compiles a data table and allows selection of various columns to be filtered, sorted, and values to be summed based on the criteria – very flexible and useful tool
  • Conditional formatting – Format cells based on various conditions
  • Line and bar charts – Most people know how to make basic charts, but few know how to make them pretty!

The list can go on and on, but mentioning these points will set you apart from most other candidates. Chances are the manager might not even know how pivot tables work. However, before name dropping these Excel functions, it is strongly recommended to play around with it in Excel and know how it works. It’s a deal breaker and embarrassing if you get stumped on a follow up question on an Excel function you mentioned.

Finally, Excel typically isn’t the typically decision making factor in choosing making a final decision on which candidate to hire, but rather as a factor that disqualifies applicants in the process.

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