Can you use MS Office?

A random blogger, in trying to help bolster the confidence of some people, wrote up an article talking about skills that were translatable to Real Life job skills. Most of the article was really quite good, so I am no trying to tear it down. But one of the items in the list was along the lines of, “Can use MS Office. Because come on, you live on the computer and probably type really fast.”

I commented (as gently as I could because I didn’t want to tear the person down, and a lot of the ideas were genuinely good) that if the person claimed to be good at Office and was applying for a job where I worked, they might very well get turned over to me for verification of their skills. And if you’ve read my rants before, you know I DON’T think that just because you can make a WYSIWYG interface look okay in print that you really know Word. Unfortunately, “Skilled at MS Office” would pretty much get this list of questions. They wouldn’t have to say “yes” to everything to get my confidence, but they’d have to say yes on at least half of each of the big three applications for me to give ’em a pass.


  1. Do you understand document structure and the advantages of formatting in styles?
  2. Can you edit styles to create style-driven pagination?
  3. Can you create custom styles?
  4. Can you use the outline feature?
  5. Can you create and format a table?
  6. Can you make use of tables in formatting?
  7. Do you know when to use tables or styles in formatting?
  8. Can you insert an image and then format it so that it will be anchored to a specific paragraph?
  9. Can you use the Table of Contents object?
  10. Do you know how to format a document using sections so that you can have different headers and footers within a single document?
  11. Do you know how to use footnotes and endnotes?
  12. Can you manage sources and use them for citations, footnotes, endnotes and bibliographies?
  13. Can you use the indexing features to index a document?
  14. Can you use a table of authorities?
  15. Do you understand standard pagination and how to use it?
  16. Can you use SmartArt effectively?
  17. Do you understand when and where WordArt is professional?
  18. Do you understand the limitations of the image editing features of MS Office and when to use or not use them?
  19. Can you use Quick Parts?
  20. Can you insert a Drop Cap effectively?
  21. Can you format pull quotes?
  22. Can you create a text box effectively so that the text of the document flows around it attractively?
  23. Can you insert shapes and format drawing objects?
  24. Do you understand Themes?
  25. Can you create your own themes?
  26. Can you create custom color layouts?
  27. Can you insert a chart in Word without using cut-n-paste from Excel?
  28. Do you know how to use comments effectively?
  29. Do you know how to use the Track Changes feature?
  30. Do you know Mail Merge?
  31. Can you manage Mail Merge sources to filter by specific criteria? (Needed this one today, as a matter of fact, to help improve a user’s workflow).
  32. Can you use mail merge to create envelopes and labels?
  33. Can you use mail merge to send email?
  34. Can you use Find and Replace?
  35. Do you know how to use find and replace to edit formatting?


  1. Can you use basic functions to add, subtract, multiply, divide, take averages, find the minimum and the maximum value in a range of cells?
  2. Can you use conditional formatting?
  3. Do you know how to filter a range?
  4. Do you know the difference between a list and a table?
  5. Can you use structured referencing in a table?
  6. Can you make a basic chart?
  7. Do you know how to insert a trend line?
  8. Can you format a single chart element (Data point, data series, or even title?)
  9. Can you create a PivotTable?
  10. Can you use Sparklines?
  11. Do you know what a named range is, and can you use it in a formula?
  12. Can you use nested functions?
  13. Do you know how to trace errors?
  14. Can you use a Watch Window?
  15. Can you rename worksheets?
  16. Can you import data from other sources into a workbook?
  17. Can you create 3-D formulas in a single workbook?
  18. Can you use 3-D formulas from external data sources?
  19. Can you use text to columns?
  20. Can you calculate time duration in minutes and hours using Excel formulas?
  21. Can you use text functions to analyze data?
  22. Can you set a cell so you can only put certain data in it?
  23. Can you do a what if analysis?
  24. Can you use the PMT function?
  25. Can you use Outlines?
  26. Can you use Subtotals?
  27. Can you use SUMIF and SUMIFS?
  28. Do you know what a syntax prompt is and do you find it useful?
  29. Can you protect specific cells in a worksheet while leaving other cells available to edit?
  30. Do you know how to share and merge workbooks?
  31. Can you create a macro?
  32. How’s your VB script? (FWIW, I can change happy to glad in the arguments. I’m not really a programmer)
  33. Can you create custom views?
  34. Can you use a formula in Conditional Formatting?
  35. Do you know how to handle page breaks to create well-formatted, printable worksheets?


  1. Do you know how to use the standard layouts on slides?
  2. Can you format a presentation using Master Slides?
  3. Do you know how to use Themes?
  4. Do you know how to change the order in which images are layered?
  5. Can you group a set of images?
  6. Can you use SmartArt?
  7. Do you know how to add headers and footers to slides?
  8. Do you know how to use Themes?
  9. Do you know how to edit Themes and color schemes?
  10. Do you know how to create transitions on slides? Do you know WHEN you should or should not do so?
  11. Do you know how to add sound to a presentation?
  12. Do you know how to create an auto-advance for slides?
  13. Do you know how to add animations to a slide?
  14. Can you create custom animation paths?
  15. Can you reorder animations?
  16. Can you use the Presenter View?
  17. Can you add notes to a presentation for the presenter view’s use?
  18. Can you add narration and timing to slides?
  19. Can you use the Notes Master to create printable notes for a presentation?
  20. Can you create a photo album slide show?
  21. Can you use the alignment guides for image and text layout?
  22. Can you create a PowerPoint Presentation from a Word outline?
  23. Do you know when and where you should NOT use animation?
  24. Do you know the difference between designing a presentation for a speaker and designing it for online purposes?
  25. Can you create custom action buttons for an interactive, online presentation?

4 Replies to “Can you use MS Office?”

  1. I think this is a your-workplace thing, primarily. 90% of jobs I’ve applied for have used a phrase such as “proficiency in using MS Office”, and what they really mean is “Can you produce a professional-looking letter, report or notice in under half an hour?”. The ones which have required more depth of skill have almost always specified that – such as a person spec which said “ability to use styles to apply consistent formatting to a composite document consisting of sections authored by multiple colleagues”.

    I do think that most of these organisations would benefit from demanding a higher standard of Office proficiency from their employees; I especially think it when I’m filling out another damn .docx form that does not use any actual form elements, or that has form elements but hasn’t got as far as enabling them. But in my experience, most of them would accept basic skills as sufficient to fulfill a generic “proficiency with MS Office” requirement.

  2. If asked, I would have said that I am good on Excel, ok on Word, and so-so on PowerPoint.
    Having read your list, it seems I am lousy on Excel, ok on Word, and excellent on PowerPoint.

    That feels odd, lol.
    But I would not claim to know MS Office on my resume, either way.
    I know I can do what *I* need to do, I am quite sure my skills are not at a professional level,lol.

  3. After re-jigging my partner’s (professionally created) resume that used tabs instead of tables… muttergrumble. I am reasonably proficient at Word, good at swearing at Excel and crap at PowerPoint. Before today, I had no idea what a Sparkline was. I have embraced them. They are awesome (one slide instead of five on my damn PowerPoint for the win!).

  4. I can answer about 50% of those questions with a “yes”. And I’m confident that I could teach myself how to do the other 50% with a few sample files to examine. 🙂

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