Despite attempts by heavyweights Google and Apple to gain market share, the Microsoft Office suite endures as the most widely used set of desktop applications across industries.
They are flexible and easy to use, and they have become a mainstay in every office across the nation. It’s no surprise MS Office skills are required for every type of administrative position, from executive assistant at a multinational corporation to receptionist at a property management firm.

Tools of the Trade

Business needs vary, but, in general, the MS Office applications required for most administrative jobs — and why — are:
  • Outlook: Many admin positions involve scheduling appointments, managing calendars, and creating and maintaining contact and mailing lists.
  • Word: For many admins, the most frequent task is composing letters, documents, reports and sales material with this word-processing tool.
  • Excel: This program is routinely used in admin jobs to create and maintain expense reports as well as to generate graphs in Word documents and PowerPoint presentations.
  • PowerPoint: More and more admins are required to use this program to create slideshow presentations for meetings and online marketing content.
The level of knowledge needed for each application depends on the job. An admin who will primarily write letters, answer emails and set up meetings doesn’t need to be an expert in Excel’s Pivot tables. On the other hand, someone who will be entering and manipulating numerical data and generating associated reports and graphs should be talented at Excel.

Finding an MS Whiz

All this means that, when hiring an administrative professional, one of the skills managers must be on the lookout for is MS Office knowledge. But how do you assess a candidate’s grasp of the suite, especially those programs and applications that are most pertinent to the job? The candidate’s resume, assessments tests, and the interview are all essential tools in evaluating a candidate’s proficiency, but pay attention to the following in particular:
1. Experience. A candidate who has already performed very similar tasks in another job likely has the skills you need. Ask not only what office applications the candidate used, but also how they were used. Probe for examples. Another opportunity to verify the applicant’s experience level is during the reference stage. As Panicia Stroski, OfficeTeam Division Director in the San Francisco Bay Area, advises, “When doing reference checks, ask previous managers what applications the candidate used in previous roles and how they would rate their proficiency level.”
2. Courses and certifications. Be on the lookout for solid proof of a candidate’s proficiency. A 101 Excel course at the community college level indicates basic knowledge of the application. A course taught by an e-learning provider that partners directly with Microsoft or one that offers targeted online learning, such as Percipio, has more credibility. The number of course hours is a good indication of the depth of the course, as is the type of content. Passing the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) test is valid proof that the candidate has been trained in the software using scenarios that closely resemble everyday situations. The MOS Championship, for the highest-scoring certified members, is evidence of expert skill level.
3. Testing. In-person computerized assessments validate a candidate’s MS Office capabilities. There are tests for evaluating basic, intermediate and advanced proficiency in Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as assessments that focus on particular features of a program. Several companies provide standard assessments, but make sure you choose a reputable one to ensure scores are meaningful. Tiffany Arcaris, Branch Manager at OfficeTeam in Salt Lake City, and Amy Keitt, Branch Manager at OfficeTeam in Baltimore, say they have been using Proveit! to assess candidates with excellent results.
4. Assembling a team. Recruiters specializing in finding administrative talent have the tools and experience to evaluate a candidate’s MS Office skills because they are familiar with the various training and assessment platforms. “An admin staffing professional is able to interpret test scores and evaluate skill levels easily,” says Tiffany Arcaris. They also know which questions to ask and where to look for red flags, making them ideal for conducting a thorough screening process.
5. Interviewing. Once a shortlist of candidates has been selected, it’s time to conduct interviews in house. Be sure to include on the interview team any supervisors the new employee would report to because they would know firsthand the conditions and requirements of the job, and which specific features of each MS Office program the candidate needs to know to perform their daily tasks. Amy Keitt encourages her clients to hold “working interviews,” giving applicants a project to complete on software they will be expected to use most often. She points out, “Many candidates who may not necessarily articulate themselves as well during a traditional interview do much better when evaluated in action.” Hands-on testing reveals not only the extent of a candidate’s skill level, but also how long it takes to complete a task.
The continued relevance of Microsoft Office programs ensure their high demand in the administrative work world. Assessing a candidate’s skill set is easier than ever with a range of tools at any hiring manager’s disposal. Looking to hire a great admin right away? We can help you find candidates with the MS Office skills you need.