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Bridging the Digital Gap: The Importance of Excel Assessment Test During Hiring

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A 2017 study conducted by Capital One and Burning Glass Technologies showed that digital skills, among them Excel proficiency, are necessary to 82% of middle-skill positions, such as administrative assistants and cost estimators, project managers, business analysts, and data journalists, and so on

However, a significant number of those entering the workforce today lack the necessary knowledge to appropriately use even the most basic functions of the software. While administering a Microsoft Excel assessment test during the hiring process may seem extreme, it’s still very much necessary for those looking for new – but skilled – talent for their company.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

Digital Natives and  Computer Competency

The rise of mobile apps with increasingly simplified user interfaces, operable with just a touch, has created a totally different definition of the term “basic digital skills”.

The digital environment today, as opposed to several decades ago, has transformed considerably in order to accommodate the lowest common denominator of a user. The average user interface, when it comes to either websites or mobile apps, is designed with the intention of easy access and clear overview. This has enabled millions of people to access the internet and all that it has to offer with ease – but, this simplification of user interaction has also worked to subtly transform the idea of computer literacy.

It has been suggested that this accessibility and pervasiveness of apps in everyday life, has lulled younger digital natives – also known as the App Generation – into a false sense of security when it comes to their computer skills. For example, in a 2014 study conducted by the Austrian Computer Society, 94% of the participants rated themselves as either having “very good”, “good”, or “mediocre” computer skills – but a full 61% actually scored exceedingly poorly in skills tests. A large number of today’s job applicants do not actually possess clear insight into the real extent of their digital literacy skills.

A paper published by the ECDL foundation, The Fallacy of the ‘Digital Native’: Why Young People Need to Develop their Digital Skills, concludes that the reason for this high gap between perception and reality of one’s digital skillset comes from not recognizing the difference between “lifestyle” and “workplace” skills.

This means that, while younger generations can comfortably navigate their laptops, tablets and smartphones for purposes of entertainment and education in everyday, personal settings, more professional and formal expertise, such as operating with the full extent of features Microsoft Word or Excel offer, remains largely un-mastered. This is because these skills still need to be taught in a formal, structured manner.

Educational Gaps and Market Shortage

According to ICAEW’s Spreadsheet Competency Framework, the basic Excel skillset involves data entry only. Any task more advanced than this, such as the use of Excel formulas or custom spreadsheet template design, is considered a category of higher competency – and the question of whether or not any of job candidates have even a simple experience with these aspects of the software remains unknown.

The lack of a universal definition of what constitutes basic digital competence, as well as the lack of widespread knowledge of how important this expertise is, has also contributed to a large drop in attendance of high school IT classes, where critical skills such as basic use of Excel are taught. Extending into higher education, the problem persists., Instead of colleges offering basic digital competency subjects, they often focus on specialized areas such as web design, software development and technical engineering.

In fact, a recent BBC article warns of a forthcoming digital skills shortage in the near future for this very reason, among others. Many young people are leaving higher education without developing a sense of digital literacy, or any skills that could be transferable to the modern job market.

Furthermore, for those who are instead seeking to learn digital skills outside of formal education institutions, there is still the question of the quality of the instruction they are receiving. The growing market of online training courses, while on one hand very helpful to people who want to improve and diversify their resume, brings its own set of potential educational gaps. With the number of unaccredited websites and persons offering starter and advanced Excel courses currently online, it has become very difficult to accurately predict the quality of certifications or credentials obtained.

The same BBC article also cites recent results of a study that claims 70% of people expect employers to invest in teaching them digital skills on the job, but only half of the employers surveyed have the capacity to supply that training.

This is why considering using an Excel assessment test for interview candidates can significantly help to avoid those applicants who have neglected their digital skills.

The Value of Administering Microsoft Excel Tests

Excel testing is not always initially considered, but there are several benefits to conducting Microsoft Excel tests with interview candidates who completing the hiring process.

Considering the over-saturation of the job market at the moment, which the Covid-19 pandemic greatly contributed to, it is safe to assume many of the applicants will, in order to stand out, exaggerate their digital skills on their resume.

Resumes are intended to showcase the candidate in the best light possible, of course – which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check to verify their validity. Considering the above-mentioned, broad understanding of the term “digital competency”, or generous definitions applied to knowledge of Excel, it’s important to assess the specifics of your possible employee’s proficiency. Maybe they do have previous experience with the software, but not to the level of expertise you need for the position in question.

The Microsoft Excel assessment test allows you to see the candidate’s overall skill set, their strengths and weaknesses, and make an informed decision that will benefit you both.

If the applicant does not possess all the Excel skills required, but shows other qualities and useful knowledge during the test, this information allows you to judge whether or not they could still be a good fit for the company in other positions. If you offer digital competency training for new hires, assessing their exact level of Excel proficiency saves both time and effort for your training team.

Finally, the largest benefit of having Excel skills assessment as a standard part of your hiring process is the immense cost savings – discussed in more detail below.

Pitfalls of Avoiding Excel Skills Assessment

Choosing not to test prospective job candidates for Excel proficiency has the risky potential of generating a large number of hiring mistakes for your firm.

No matter how detailed your interview with the candidates may be without a concrete Microsoft Excel test for your final candidates, you won’t have knowledge about their actual digital competency levels, which can range from very impressive, to – nonexistent. Of course, this lack of knowledge could potentially create a number of challenges for your business.

In his research of potential mis-hire costs, Dr. Bradford Smart, founder, and CEO of Topgrading, calculated that they can amount to up to 5 to 27 times their annual salary.

This information does not come as much of a surprise. Keep in mind the amount of resources an average company extends into the hiring process. Organizations usually spend weeks, or months even, researching candidates and setting up and conducting job interviews. Some employers even cover the travel costs for the most promising applicants.

This only highlights the importance of Microsoft Excel skill assessment as an integral part of your recruitment process – one that might determine whether or not the applicant is worth the investment.


Without this step in your hiring process, you are looking at a budget-busting level of unexpected overhead if the candidate’s skill level ultimately proves insufficient.

The overall cost of a mis-hire doesn’t stop at the level of the hiring process, of course. Welcoming a bad hire results in a vast amount of additional lost investment, with costs extending to compensation, severance in the event of dismissal, coworker morale, customer trust, and, importantly – opportunity cost. Opportunity costs include loss of all potential growth and revenue that another, more skilled hire would have brought to the company.

This is precisely why Jeff Bezos is famously quoted in saying: “I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.”

Naturally, there are always ways to handle an apparent hiring mistake. You can always consider devoting time and resources to these new employees. Nurturing skills of new hires by organizing extra training sessions can bring you a future return on the initial investment. Still, of course, this means you’d be looking at even more additional costs.

Excel Assessment Test Doesn’t Have to be an Extensive or Exhaustive Process

Of course, not every single job candidate has to possess a varied and rich set of Excel skills, if that’s not something your company or the position you’re looking to fill requires. Administering Excel tests for employment does not, and should not have to be a rigid procedure – you should always look into different options when it comes to the test’s structure and difficulty level.

If you have hesitations regarding how much of your time and financial resources will be sunk into this additional step of the hiring process, there are a multitude of online resources you can check out. They can help you assess different forms of standardized tests, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and decide on the level of complexity you want your own test to be. Our EmployTest team can help with your Excel test questions too.

There is another hidden advantage to custom designing your own Microsoft Excel test. Adjusting your test requirements based on the position you are currently interviewing candidates for, cuts down on time for result processing and enables you to limit your candidate selection pool significantly.

Some of the more common Excel skills to test for are:

If you narrow down which exact Excel skills you are checking for, the end results will provide you with a small but valuable pool of experienced candidates. After examining and ranking the test results of these applicants, in addition to other criteria of your hiring process, you will soon be able to determine who you can hire immediately with a high level of confidence.

In Conclusion

Even though some may consider a Microsoft Excel assessment test to be a thing of the past, they are more valuable than ever in today’s job market.

Many younger candidates will either be unable to realistically assess their own competency levels, or will be exaggerating resumes to stand out.

There is nothing invasive about asking questions (or testing) for your applicant’s digital literacy, and the outcome of these tests can be used to make sure the job is a fit for both the applicant and employer.

Consider integrating this step into your hiring process, to make sure your applicants can be productive on their first day.