Employers who want to prevent recruiting the wrong candidate often use skill-based assessments like Excel tests to ensure job applicants have the skills needed to do the job. There are free and paid Excel test options. We’ll provide a free sample Excel test, with templated communications to help you confirm a candidate’s Excel expertise.
Indeed, which sponsored this article, provides a free Excel assessment as part of its candidate screening services. They make it easy to verify whether your job applicants have the required Excel skills. Try Indeed’s free Excel assessment and get $50 credit toward sponsoring your first job ad.
Here are the five steps to testing a job candidate’s Excel skills:
Step 1: Choose Your Testing Method
Your screening options range from asking a candidate whether they have Excel skills to requiring them to demonstrate those skills in a test, either one you’ve created or one you’ve purchased. We’ll review each of these options and provide a free Excel test you can download and modify. In addition, Indeed also provides a free Excel test you can use to screen candidates.
Input Screening Questions into Your Job Post
You can usually add screening questions into your job ad on a job posting website. Sites like Indeed have an option to manually input screening questions. However, some job boards only allow you to input questions that have yes/no responses. See the example from Indeed below asking a candidate how many years of Excel experience they have.
Use Indeed’s Free Excel Test
Indeed provides free screening tests for job applicants as part of its job posting service. An Excel test is one of the options they provide. Once a candidate applies for a job, you can choose to send them a short, 10-minute Excel assessment to test their Excel skills. See the assessment options below as provided on Indeed.
Create Your Own Excel Test
You can provide applicants with a link to your Excel test and the test instructions via email or the job posting site. Create your own Excel test or feel free to use or modify our Excel test template, which comes with two files for you to use during the candidate Excel testing process.
Free Downloadable Excel Test
Our free downloadable Excel test is meant to screen for intermediate Excel skills, such as data formatting, sorting and chart making, and should take an experienced candidate about 30 minutes to complete.
However, the data file and test questions can be modified to serve your testing needs. File 1 is the actual test, which includes the data set and instructions for you to send to the candidate. File 2 contains the test results that you would use to compare to the candidate’s responses to confirm they were able to execute the tasks.
File 1: The Excel Test (to send to a candidate) – Download this XLS file with the Excel test questions and activities in Tab 1 for the job applicant to demonstrate in Excel. The data to be used for the test is located in Tabs 2 and 3 of the same Excel test file.
File 2: The Excel Test Results (for your comparison) – Download this XLS file to check the candidate’s results once they have completed the Excel test and performed the requested activities. This file contains seven tabs as shown below. Do not send this document to the candidate—it has the answers in it!
The final portion of the test requires the candidate to provide an output document that will look similar to this image below. Both the candidate’s Excel results and PDF files can be emailed to you when they have completed the test.
Purchase an Excel Test for Applicants to Complete
In addition to creating your own test, there are testing agencies that provide Excel tests you can buy, either as a downloadable testing document (spreadsheet and instructions) or as a website link where the testing is done and scored online.
Many testing vendors provide paid Excel tests with a URL link you can paste directly into your job posting; applicants can use the link to complete the Excel test when they apply to your job online. Pricing starts at $10 to $20 per test based on volume.
Sample Excel testing vendors are shown below.
- Total Testing – Total Testing provides basic, standard, and advanced tests for MS Office products, with 30-35 test questions administered online. Pricing is $20 per test, or you can prepay for testing blocks that lower your costs to $10 per test.
- ProveIt – These tests cost the employer a subscription of $192 a year for up to 5,000 tests. You provide the test taker with a URL and session ID to complete the Excel test you’ve chosen. (Nearly every Excel version and skill level are available, such as MS Office Excel 2016 Basic, Intermediate and Power User.)
- Criteria Corp – Criteria Corp provides 20 online tests for candidates to complete with unlimited testing at a package price. However, you have to talk to a sales representative to obtain pricing based on the exact Excel tests you want to use.
Step 2: Decide When to Request a Candidate Complete an Excel Test
There are several points in the recruiting process shown below when it may make sense to test a candidate’s Excel skills. For example, you could include a series of questions directly in your job posting that applicants must complete in order to submit the application, or wait until you’re further along in the recruitment process.
However, research has shown that many job seekers won’t complete a long application; 50 percent drop out if the application takes more than 10 minutes. So consider waiting until you’re further along in the recruitment process before requesting candidates complete a full-blown Excel test like our downloadable version provided above.
Screen During the Application Process
We recommend using a simple yes/no screening question in the job application itself, such as “Are you proficient with Excel and/or Google Sheets?” If the candidate answers no, there’s no need to move them further along the process. In fact, they’ll often screen themselves out, and not complete or submit the application. That saves you time by not having to review the resume of an unqualified applicant.
Screen After the Selection Process
The next most logical time to request an Excel test is after you’ve selected the best applicants based on their resumes, but before you schedule those candidates for an interview. That allows you to verify that each of your top candidates has the minimum required Excel skills before you take time out of your day to schedule and conduct interviews. This might be the best place to use a 10-minute Excel screening test like the one provided by Indeed.
Screen Before Making a Job Offer
The last logical time to request an Excel test is just before you extend a job offer. Perhaps you’ve narrowed it down to your top two candidates. Consider using a customized or paid Excel test to determine which candidate is the better fit. This pre-offer Excel test may be one you want to conduct at a testing center or onsite at your office as a timed exam. This ensures the candidate is the one completing the test, and that they can do it within a reasonable time frame.
Step 3: Determine What Excel Skills to Test For
The Excel skills you’re looking for in a testing tool depend on the job being applied to. For example, if you’re hiring a receptionist who will input, sort, and summarize data, their Excel skills do not need to be nearly as robust as if you’re hiring a financial analyst for your sales team who will need to create pivot tables, conditional formatting, and presentation-ready data charts.
Here are some of the more common Excel skills to test for:
- Inputting and formatting data
- Using tabs
- Using formulas
- Creating pivot tables
- Filtering and sorting data
- Creating graphs and charts
- Printing documents
- Using VLookup
- Inputting data using Flash Fill
- Creating IF formulas
- Using conditional formatting
You may have additional Excel skills you want your candidate to demonstrate to ensure they’re able to do the job they’re applying for. Sample question formats with examples are shown below to help you create your own test questions.
Types of Excel Test Questions to Ask
The questions below are meant to give you an idea of what to ask as a screening question that you could manually input into a job posting or send to the candidate via email. Each is meant to provide only one correct answer.
Keep in mind that the first two types of questions below will only show that the test taker is aware of the right answer, not that they can apply that skill on the job.
3 Types of Test Questions
|Yes/No Question||Is there a feature in Excel that allows you to format data based on a condition, such as a numeric data value being negative? ||A "yes" answer tells you that the candidate is aware of the feature.||It does not demonstrate that the candidate can use the feature.|
|Multiple Choice||Which feature would you use to add up a column of numbers?||The correct answer "Function>Sum" tells you the candidate can use the feature.||It doesn’t tell you if the candidate is able to use the feature correctly.|
|Practical||Using the data below, create a pie chart titled “Percent of Sales,” and label each slice:|
Walk-Ins - 19
Internet - 37
Referrals - 12
Direct Sales - 30
Other - 2
|Based on the resulting chart, you’ll be able to see if the test taker can demonstrate the skill, and how well.||You need to provide data with the question and request the test taker to provide results as an image or attachment.|
We provide additional questions to ask job candidates in our other Fit Small Business interviewing guides, such as 100 best interview questions, and provide instructions on how to give a structured interview if you want to include Excel questions during the interview itself.
Also check out Indeed’s article on helpful interview questions, as it contains sample interview questions based on job roles and skill sets.
Step 4: Request Candidate Take Excel Test
Once you’ve decided to have the candidate take an Excel test, chosen which test to use, and when to use it, consider sending an email to any applicants you wish to screen. You can often do this directly through a job posting website, like Indeed. For more information, refer to Communicating with a Candidate through Indeed.
Example 1: Request Candidate Take Indeed’s Excel Test
The step-by-step process for screening a job candidate using a free Excel test is shown below as an example. Of course, you have to have an Indeed job posting first.
- Go to your Indeed job posting
- Find the name of a candidate you want to complete the Excel test
- Click on the candidate’s name
- Choose “More Actions”
- Choose “Screen Candidate”
- Click on the Excel assessment (shown below)
- Send it
Example 2: Send Email to Request Candidate to Take Excel Test
Although we’ll provide this example using Indeed, most job boards have similar email or internal communication options. Here are the steps to send a templated email to a candidate on Indeed as an example:
- Go to your Indeed job posting
- Find the name of a candidate you want to complete the Excel test
- Click on Candidate’s Name
- Choose “Send Message”
- Select “Insert Template” and choose the message template you want to use
- Send the message to the candidate
Step 5: Score the Candidate’s Excel Test
If you use an Excel test through a job site like Indeed, you’ll be provided test results right on the job board. If you use your own test or our sample, you’ll need to manually score the test by looking at the answers provided by the applicant and comparing them to the expected results.
Testing agencies that provide you a link, like Total Testing and Criteria Corp, will typically score the test and provide you a report or link to a cloud-based website where you can see the candidate’s Excel test results.
Comparing Candidates Scores Side-by-Side
You may want to compare candidate test results side-by-side. Look here to find free interview evaluation forms for specific job functions like administrative assistant and project manager—jobs that often need to demonstrate technical expertise such as Excel skills. The evaluation forms allow you to input applicant data so that you can compare your top candidates.
Many job boards also provide Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) features that allow you to manage candidates from application through job offer. Indeed is no different, and provides a full article on Managing Candidates. For example, in this screen capture below from Indeed, you can see interviewer notes on various candidates, as well as a link to more details.
Most ATS will have a means by which you can add notes to a candidate profile and compare candidates side-by-side. Otherwise, it’s not uncommon to dump candidate data into an Excel spreadsheet and rank them by evaluation criteria, such as their Excel test scores.
The Problem with Excel Tests
Having a test written as a series of yes/no or multiple-choice questions only works if you’re screening for basic skills. If you want to see how well an applicant can use the tool, you need to administer an Excel test that requires the job candidate to apply those skills to a real problem.
To determine whether they meet the minimum skills required for the job, it’s best to do a practical test, meaning you give the candidate a task, such as adding a column of numbers or creating a pie chart, and see if they can accomplish it to your satisfaction. You will need to provide a data set and have some way to see their results—either on a spreadsheet attached to an email, a PDF, a photo, or a link.
The other problem with either method is that you have no way of knowing who is completing the test. For example, a candidate may ask an Excel-savvy friend to complete the test for them, or they may use Google to search for and/or replicate other people’s test answers.
The Bottom Line
Screening job candidates by using an Excel test can be a good way to verify an applicant’s Excel skills—if you use the right test at the right time. You can create your own Excel test, or use an existing free or paid Excel test to determine whether your candidate is qualified. This process is made easier by job boards, like Indeed, that allow you to attach the test or link to it in a templated email.
We wish to thank Indeed for sponsoring this article. In fact, Indeed provides a free, 10-minute Excel test for you to use in screening your applicants’ job skills. If you use the link below, you’ll also receive a $50 credit toward advertising your free Indeed job postings.