12 Excel Interview Questions for 2023 (Plus Sample Answers)
Updated January 5, 2023
This article has been approved by an Indeed Career Coach
Expertise in the spreadsheet software Excel is expected for a number of roles in the workforce. For this reason, many interviews, across industries and job titles, might include Excel interview questions. Given how Excel is a key business resource, the questions provide you with an opportunity to show technical prowess, mathematical thinking and problem-solving.
In this article, we’ll explain what to expect from Excel interview questions and go through 12 typical Excel questions you may be asked during a job interview, along with sample answers to help you form your own.
What to expect from Excel interview questions
Excel interview questions provide the opportunity to show you're highly knowledgeable about the common spreadsheet software implemented in offices around the world. Because Excel features and benefits are desirable, it's a widely used program. As a result, Excel interview questions could be present in a number of interviews, for positions from information technology (IT) to accounting.
There are many important functions in Excel and you should be prepared to answer technical questions about Excel versus behavioral ones. Excel interview questions are only likely to make up only a small part of a larger interview strategy, so they will likely focus intensely on the most essential features of the software like formulas, functions and data formats.
You should strive to answer as many Excel interview questions as possible by tying in a personal experience. In the following text, we’ll use the STAR method of answering interview questions, where applicable, to demonstrate how this formulaic approach can be beneficial.
The STAR Interview Response Technique asks you to consider the following strategy when answering interview questions:
Situation: Describe a challenging situation that relates to the question.
Task: Explain your role in the solution, demonstrating tasks you deployed to complete it.
Action: What action were you responsible for?
Resolution: How did your solution lead to a satisfactory outcome?
Excel interview questions and answers
Excel interview questions will be technical in nature and offer an opportunity for you to speak about your experience and skill level with the business resource. The following are some typical Excel questions you might receive in an interview:
1. What are common data formats in Excel? How are they used?
This type of basic fundamental question might introduce a line of progressively more complex interview questions about Excel. This question is structured to gather your basic understanding and knowledge of the software.
Other basic Excel questions may include:
What are some popular formulas you’ve used?
What does a specific symbol mean in Excel? (For example, “How is $ used in Excel?”)
“What’s the difference?” questions asking to compare common features
Example: “Here are the common data formats in excel and how they are used. First, there are numbers that can be formatted as decimal points or round values. Then, there are percentages that display a number as a portion of a whole, in which the whole is equal to 100.
There are also a number of ways you can display dates—depending on your region, you can choose the format that makes the most sense. Lastly, strings of text can be a data format as well.”
2. What is the order of operations used in Excel formulas?
This is another question designed to test your foundational knowledge of Excel but it also challenges your mathematical thinking. This can be answered in a straightforward way that correctly expresses the order of operations.
Consider being clear and direct here versus overthinking ways to tie in a personal experience. These types of questions draw out strictly technical knowledge and are designed to ensure you have the essential critical thinking skills needed to get the answer.
Example: “Excel formulas follow PEMDAS. This acronym stands for Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition and Subtraction.”
3. Explain VLOOKUP in common terms
A question that asks you to explain a specific function or formula can assist in a greater understanding of your granular knowledge about important features that are likely to play a role in the position for which you're interviewing.
VLOOKUP is a common function that allows users to look up and aggregate data from other sheets into a column or table. It could be used by any professional who works with a large body of data and needs to be able to format it to show certain relationships and insights.
When you’re asked to explain a mathematical concept in plain terms, you want to make the function simple for someone to understand, even if they have no previous experience with it. This question also offers an opportunity to use personal experience in your explanation to further demonstrate your familiarity with the concept.
Example: “VLOOKUP is a popular function of Excel that allows you to aggregate data across sets and sheets into one place where it can be used to draw specific insights.
The components of a VLOOKUP are ‘lookup_value’ which defines what you're looking up. The ‘table_array’ describes where the data exists, broadly. The column index number (col_index_num) informs the function of specifically where the data is in a table. The range can be true or false to describe whether the information returned should be an exact value.
In my experience as a bookkeeper, I worked within Excel to maintain digital daily ledgers. Every quarter I was tasked with going through all of the general sales data and separating sales by transaction code.
Using a VLOOKUP, I was able to do this successfully and more efficiently. I saved so much time I was able to sort the sales data a number of different ways to go above and beyond the initial request made of me, offering other important insights to management.”
4. What are some limitations of VLOOKUP?
This question allows you to demonstrate critical thinking, a soft skill that’s important in a number of analytical roles.
Offering limitations shows that not only do you have a good understanding of the function, but you also have the reasoning skills to describe its drawbacks. When delivering information like limitations, some business leaders may expect you to approach the conversation with positivity and finesse. This is a good opportunity to show you can speak on technical challenges with diplomacy.
Example: “The major drawback of VLOOKUP is that it’s easily broken. Any shifting of columns to add new data impacts the column index number and causes the formula to need to be manually re-applied.”
5. How do you use a pivot table?
A question that asks how you use something or how you do something is a good opportunity to talk in terms of specific examples. After all, at the core of this question is about you and your familiarity with the subject matter, so it makes sense to apply how you have used it in the past.
A pivot table is an important Excel feature that shows up in frequently-asked questions by all sorts of professionals around the internet. This question allows you to explain your resourcefulness with Excel and confirms your understanding of this popular practice.
Example: “A pivot table is an essential tool to summarize, aggregate, reorganize, sort, group, count, average or compute data stored across a database. I’ve used pivot tables as a database analyst to compare seasonal shopping patterns for my retail clients.
For example, the Belcher Group wanted to know which of its brands did the most sales during the summer. They had a back-to-school campaign that ran July through August, and they asked me to determine which brand performed the best.
I programmed a pivot table where Column A displayed the brands and Row 1 annotated the months July and August. In the body of the table I pulled information from the sales database that computed total sales per brand, per month. Using this information the Belcher Group was able to tell which of its child companies performed the best."
6. What is a spreadsheet?
Here’s a basic question that might segue into a more complex line of Excel questions. Since not all positions that are required to use spreadsheets are technical—some may be financial or administrative, for example—a question like this lets you demonstrate functional technical competence in a short answer.
Example: “A spreadsheet is a digital ledger for storing values. It contains rows and columns that make up cells where information can be held.”
7. What are common functions of Microsoft Excel?
There are a number of ways to use Excel and countless ways it can apply to the role you're interviewing for. An understanding of basic Excel functions provides insight into the ones you're familiar with, which can be an asset for the role.
Example: “Common functions used in Excel are mathematical functions, like SUM and DEGREE, logical functions, like TRUE or FALSE, date and time functions, index match and pivot tables.”
8. What’s the ribbon in Excel?
Answering this question displays a practical knowledge of how to work in Excel and use tools and resources available.
Example: “The ribbon contains the Excel toolbar and shows useable items available in Excel. It can be toggled using CTRL + F1."
9. What’s an Excel Macro?
For people who use Excel in a consistent and repetitive way, the ability to understand and create macros may be essential to the role. To answer this question, demonstrate you understand the purpose of macros.
Example: “Macros allow users to automate simple repeating tasks and instructions. Macros can be written for use or recorded and played when needed.”
10. What are charts in Excel and how are they used?
There are a number of reasons charts can be useful in Excel. For one, they show important information in ways that are easy to understand. They also provide those reading charts with valuable insights about data and the relationships that exist within a subset of data. For this reason, it may be important to demonstrate you understand how charts are used.
Example: “Charts are graphical representations of data in Excel. They show data insights, like relationships and trends, in a way that’s easy to use and understand.”
11. Name the two Macro languages in Excel.
This type of straightforward question requires a straight answer that displays your knowledge of a higher-level technical aspect of Excel: Macro languages.
Example: “VBA is the most commonly used Macro language in Excel today. However, earlier versions of Excel used XLM.”
12. How do you lock a worksheet to prevent people from editing it?
It’s possible to password protect worksheets in Excel. This is useful if you have a table of data that, if changed, would impact other dependencies, and for other reasons like user hierarchy authorizations. To demonstrate understanding, provide a simple explanation of how to lock a worksheet.
Example: “An easy way to do this is using the menu bar. Go to Review, select Protect Sheet and enter a password when prompted.”
Explore more articles
- 16 Jobs for a College Dropout
- How To Request a Recommendation Letter From an Employer
- 11 of the Best First Jobs for 16-Year-Olds (With Salaries)
- 12 Types of Cybersecurity Roles (With Duties and Salaries)
- 16 Highest Paying Sociology Degree Jobs (Plus Duties and Salaries)
- Career Exploration Activities for Students in Grades K-8
- What Are the Different Types of Construction Jobs?
- 27 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a Certificate
- Contingent Worker vs. Contract Employee: What's the Difference?
- Understanding the 10 Career Levels for Software Engineers
- How To Get Into Medical School From High School (With Tips)
- 15 Jobs for People With No Skills