employee is tethered to her phone, my former boss keeps trying to manage me, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My employee is tethered to her phone

I work for a large organization, but our immediate area has 70 people, and I have two direct reports in a department of five. I have worked in this role and at this organization for nine years, and one of my staff members, Robin, has been here approximately 20. She’s also around 15 years older than me. Robin is a good employee (say, 6.5 or 7/10 on a performance scale) and has made some strides professionally in the past few years. She seems more enthusiastic and flexible to changing needs and expectations in our area. She also seems happier, generally speaking.

My major issue is that Robin is tethered to her cell phone. I’ve noticed her on it in small meetings with our supervisor and in larger staff or unit meetings. Meetings are not my favorite place to be either, but I find it extremely rude and distracting when she does this. Having her do this in a very small meeting I was leading while she was right beside me was the last straw. I know her mother is not in great health and she’s dealing with some things personally, so I’m reluctant to speak with her about this. I don’t have an issue with someone checking the time or weather on their phone during a meeting, or even excusing themselves if it’s an urgent call or text, but it’s coming across poorly. She has even talked about going into withdrawals without her phone. Thoughts?

Say something! You can address it while still being sensitive to the situation with her mother. Say something like this: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been using your phone a lot in meetings recently, both in small meetings with me and Bob and in larger ones, and it’s coming across as if you’re not focused on the discussions we’re there to have. I know you’re having a tough time with your mom’s health and other things in your personal life right now, and I don’t mind if you need to excuse yourself from a meeting if you get an urgent call or text, but aside from a quick check when you need to, I’d like you to stay off your phone while meeting with others. Can you do that?”

2. My former boss is still trying to manage me

I am a manager at an organization; I’ve been there almost 10 years. Back when I was at an assistant level, I reported to Fergus for about a year and a half. We we had an okay working relationship back then, but he had weird ways of asserting his authority (i.e., whenever he approved a day off, he’d also include a list of all the things I’d be missing while I was out — things that my teammates could cover, so it seemed he was trying to make me feel bad.) I was promoted to another department five years ago, and while we still worked near each other, we haven’t been working closely.

He recently changed jobs and now is in my department. He chose to make the switch, but he is no longer a manager. His job is different from mine, but he seems to think he is managing my work again. He’s making recommendations on projects I manage without being asked. Recently he offered to help with something our CEO asked me to work on. The way he asked was, “Have you done this yet? (It’s been a few days.)”

While the help is appreciated, the way he offered was by pointing out that it had been a few days since she made the request. The day after she made the request, there was a death in my family and I’ve been out of the office. I saw his note as I’m looking through my emails to prep to go back to work. How do I tell him I’m happy to work together on this project, but the CEO will come to me if she has a problem with my timeline, and it’s not his job to subtly point out my shortcomings?

If he asks you “have you done this yet?” about something that he doesn’t have standing to manage at all, respond with, “Why do you ask?” You can say this perfectly pleasantly and in a tone of genuine curiosity, but train him to see that you’re not going to respond to his requests the way you would a manager’s.

If he makes unsolicited recommendations for how you approach a project, say, “Thanks, I’ll think about it.”

If he offers help that you don’t want, say, “Thanks, I’ll let you know if that looks like it would be useful” or “Oh, I’ve got this, but thanks.” If you’d actually appreciate his help, accept it in a way that makes it clear you’re choosing to accept it — like, “Sure. I’m fine on X and Y, but I’d be happy to have you help with Z. Thanks for offering it.”

And if he makes subtle remarks about your timeline seeming insufficient to him, either ignore it (because his opinion doesn’t matter) or dryly say, “Jane’s in the loop on the timeline” or “I’ve got it covered, thanks.”

If you do this stuff, it’s likely that he’ll get the hint and you won’t have to have a big You Are Not My Manager conversation with him. But if you do this for a few weeks and he’s not backing off, you may need to do that. In that case, you could say something like, “Hey, I’m glad to be working with you again. I’ve noticed you’ve been critiquing my work and checking in on my progress. I’m happy to have any suggestions you feel are worthwhile, but ultimately I’m leading this area and don’t want either of us to inadvertently go back to the dynamic we had when I was reporting to you.”

3. Job candidates who claim to know Word and Excel but clearly don’t

I am trying to hire for an administrative role. I’ve explicitly named some skills in the posting that applicants must have – namely, significant experience with Excel and Word. Of course, everyone and their mother adds that to their skill set on their resumes, simply because they’ve heard of the program. We test our candidates for their experience in both because it really is an important part of the role and we don’t have the time or resources to teach people to the level of skills we need them to have. The fact that we test our candidates for these skills is also listed in the job posting.

And yet, most of the candidates who include this on their resume very clearly do not have the skills they claim to possess. For example, one applicant stated both in her letter and in the objective and skills sections of her resume that she had advanced experience with Excel and Word. Despite her resume, which was created in Word, having significant errors, different font formatting within the same sentence, one leftover word on the second page, and a whole line of blank spaces to “center” the text with her name and contact info.

Obviously, this applicant will not fill the role we need. I sense that it is not appropriate for me to politely let applicants know that we can clearly tell they don’t have the skills listed on their resume and they should remove them. But I feel bad for them because they think they are selling themselves, probably hopeful they can learn the programs when needed, and obviously don’t understand the complexity of the programs and that you can’t really fake it with them.

What do I do? Do I have to ignore it and be vague with an “others were more qualified” line? Applicants hate that (understandably)! I want to help them recognize why they are not being considered but I understand it would be hard, if not impossible, to convey a “you lied to us about your skills – fix them or stop lying” message when we aren’t even considering them for the position. At least with someone who overstated their skills and interviewed, we can show the test results when we tell them why they aren’t being further considered. Those people can take that home and learn, if they care enough.

I can understand feeling invested in helping people see how their job search strategies are harming their chances (I, uh, started a whole blog when I was feeling that way), but ultimately this just isn’t your problem to solve. If these were candidates who you’d interviewed, it would be easier to say, “We’re looking for a candidate with stronger Word and Excel skills.” But it’s tough to say that when you’ve just looked at their resume (even if the resume makes it obvious). I mean, yes, in theory you could say, “Your resume doesn’t reflect the level of Word skills that we’re seeking for this position” — but that’s inviting a dialogue that I don’t think you want to have. You’re going to get people who want to know what you mean, or who disagree, and it just doesn’t make sense to get into a back and forth about this.

It also sounds like you’re looking at this as candidates lying, when it’s not necessarily that at all. Lots of people are terrible at self-assessing, and lots of people have no sense of what they don’t know.

Really, this isn’t that different from any other skill where you can tell from a resume that the person isn’t as a strong as you need. I mean, if you need someone with strong communication skills, you’re going to get tons of resumes from people with clearly terrible communication skills claiming that they’re awesome at it — but it doesn’t make sense to explain that to all of them. I’d just go with your basic rejection and not worry about trying to explain the reasons.

4. How to respond to a strongly positive review

I have maybe an odd question for you: how to respond to very positive feedback/praise in an annual review setting? My annual review is coming up next week (first time I’ve had a formal review like this, actually) and my manager has strongly implied I’ll get top marks across the board despite comments that they’ve “raised the bar” for everyone this year. I completely recognize this is a good problem to have, but I know I’ll feel awkward and not know how to respond.

I know I have a strong case of the “imposter syndrome,” and it doesn’t help that this year I’ve been thrown into leading a project that I feel completely unqualified for, working with multiple top experts when I have little experience in this particular area. (For what it’s worth, I’m female and fairly young for this field, although this is not my first job out of college by any means).

To be clear, I know I’m doing fairly well, and I appreciate the positive feedback from my boss … but I never know how to respond when given positive feedback. Honestly, I’d rather have constructive feedback/suggestions on how to do better (because surely there are some tips I could use) than constant praise. Again, I know this is a good problem to have, but I’d appreciate any tips you have on responding.

“This is really great to hear — thank you.”

You can also ask, “Is there anything you’d like me to work on doing differently?”

If you think it would be helpful to talk about the areas where you felt unqualified for the work you were doing and you have a decent rapport with your boss, you could say, “To be honest, I felt a little shaky about the work I did with X and Y. Are there things you think I could have done differently there?”

5. Why would the title for an open position keep changing?

My husband went through a phone interview and then was called back for a one-on-one interview with a panel of people. The company flew him up, paid for everything, etc. In the process of waiting to hear back, we noticed they changed the name of the position, and days later, he was rejected. This took a month. Currently, the position he interviewed with shows “inactive” and not “filled.” But interestingly enough, a new position with the same description, requirements, etc., has been posted, yet again with a new title? Why?

It’s hard to say for sure from the outside, but most likely they felt the original title wasn’t capturing what they need from the role closely enough, or wasn’t attracting the right candidates.

{ 473 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, it’s so normal to say something… especially because it sounds like this is bothering you in a way that makes the annoyance bottle up. I had a coworker who did this and it drove literally all of us crazy (he didn’t have an ill mother, however—he was just addicted to texting). Although he did not make significant improvements, it helped that several coworkers gently asked him to stop texting, and then that request was reinforced by his manager. We finally got to a place where someone could give him a look, and he’d try to pay attention for a few minutes.

    1. Snark*

      And just to amplify this: it’s an addictive, compulsive behavior for some people. There’s an actual little serotonin hit when you get a text or a notification, and for some people, it starts to resemble the neurological responses of addiction. It absolutely will get worse, left unchecked, and it’s very definitely not a generational thing. My wager is that if Robin weren’t having mom issues, she’d still be using it inappropriately in meetings.

      I’d personally take a (wait for it, big surprise coming!) little firmer stand than Alison here. She leaves the door open for “unless it’s just a quick check” and my observation is that people wired up this way can’t really rein it in. A former coworker was given the same talk Alison suggests and it lasted maybe a week. It just turns into quick checks, every 60 seconds or so, which get longer with time, and then you’re back where you started. Locking it in a desk drawer until the withdrawal receded and then putting it on Do Not Disturb during all meetings and leaving it in her purse helped my coworker.

      The other thing is…this happens at their desk too. OP may want to keep an eye on productivity and responsiveness.

      1. Antilles*

        I don’t think the desk is necessarily as big of an issue, honestly. I mean, there are definitely roles that require you to Be On for eight straight hours…but in most desk roles you can easily sneak in a couple minutes to check your phone while Excel is loading or you’re waiting on someone to respond to an email/call or a meeting starts in five minutes so there’s not enough time to really get started on anything or thousands of other little scenarios where spending a couple minutes on your phone every now and then has zero real impact.
        It really comes down to productivity. If she can stay productive and effective while sneaking time on the phone, then it’s not something to worry about. If she’s not staying productive, then *that’s* the issue – no matter if it’s a phone, posting on the internet, talking football with a colleague, or just staring blankly at the wall.

        1. Katniss*

          Agreed. My team at work operates under the understanding that a few minutes’ mental break every couple of hours helps us stay productive and reduces stress, and this includes my manager. Sometimes that time is spent checking the internet, sometimes it’s spend responding to texts or otherwise checking a phone. Honestly I wouldn’t work somewhere so strict that cell phones weren’t allowed to be out during the workday at all.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah. It’s fine to ask her not to bring her phone to meetings at all, but since her mother is having a health crisis, the OP may not want to start there. She can always use the original language and then move to something stronger if the original language doesn’t solve the problem. It’s not like she only gets one chance to address it — and in general I’d err on the side of treating people like adults/maximizing people’s freedom until they show that won’t work with them. (I realize some might argue she’s already shown that, but I still think you might as well try to solve the problem with something that doesn’t curtail her access to her phone altogether, while there’s stuff going on in her personal life.)

          1. Snark*

            This is where putting it in DND mode comes in – you can set your phone to cut all notifications and calls except for a whitelist of contacts it’ll allow right through. And if someone calls or texts twice within (I think) five minutes, it will let it through.

            It didn’t seem to me that the mom not being in great health really was at a crisis, anything could happen at any time sort of level of urgency, but obviously I have no idea if that’s true or not.

            1. JessaB*

              Exactly. I’d expect the phone to be on Do Not Disturb except for the couple of numbers of people keeping an eye on mom. You can say “Look when I’m at work I need the information to come from only spouse, doctor x, or sister, because I need to keep my phone 95% off and I can whitelist them.” Or she can have special ringtones for those people who are likely calling about mom. Also it’s hard when you have someone very ill, it’s possible that the family and friends are using her to support themselves emotionally and emailing, calling, texting TOO much and need to be told she can’t be that support at work except on break or lunch.

              But with current standards even on non-smartphones, you can easily set special notifications, block all but some contacts, set times the phone pushes everything to voicemail. Those tools need to be insisted on. Not “don’t use the phone right now,” but “whilst your mom is ill, these standards during work, and when your mom is better (if this is possible,) we need to go back to “no phones at meetings.” Don’t say the better part if mom is going to die, and give the employee time to grieve if she does before you say “okay back to no phones in meetings.”

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Can’t you also exempt certain numbers? I vaguely remember doing this when my mom was in the hospital (the hospital line and her doctor’s line were on my “greenlight” list and rang even if I was on DND mode).

      2. Purplesaurus*

        I agree. I think it would be reasonable to ask that the phone be put away in a bag or pocket during meetings.

      3. OP#1*

        I totally agree. I don’t think the phone even needs to travel to our weekly staff-meetings. I am the assistant director of our department and don’t bring mine. (These are fairly short weekly meetings discussing project statuses, etc.)

        1. Foreign Octopus*

          This might be a good place to start then.

          It is perfectly reasonable to expect people to pay attention in meetings, particularly if they’re short meetings like you say. There might be an argument made for access to phones in longer meetings but I’m the type of person who hates it when anyone gets their phone out when I’m trying to speak, but that’s just me.

          You could try something like – “From now on [name], I’d like you to attend staff meetings without your phone. Since they’re short meetings, and we have a lot to cover, it’s important to have your full attention and, right now, I don’t feel like we’re getting that. Is this something you can do?”

        2. kittymommy*

          How short is short? I’ve been in meetings for 10 minutes that were consideted short and some fur an hour that were considered short. An hour away from your phone when a family member us ill can be a significant amount.
          Also, I remember when my family were dying (different times) there waa some comfort in having my phone near me. It let me feel like I had some control over a situation that was uncontrollable

          1. OP#1*

            Our staff meeting is anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. I’m beginning to think this is more an issue with her mental “need” to be tethered than actually needing to be accessible in case of emergency.

          2. Friday*

            “It let me feel like I had some control over a situation that was uncontrollable.”

            This x 1,000. When my dad was fighting and losing to cancer, being connected with my phone was a true lifesaver. My boss would never have made me be without my phone during that time because she’s been there and she understood. I did keep my productivity pretty high and was respectful with my phone use though. Please, OP, approach the productivity and manners side of this instead of trying to separate her from her phone altogether even for “short” meetings.

    2. Say what, now?*

      If it is bottled up, I’d make sure to remind myself that I didn’t say everything I was thinking out loud so it’s not a great idea to just spin that valve open. What I mean by that is that this may have been getting on your nerves for a while but she doesn’t know that it has and you have make sure that it’s tonally appropriate for a first time conversation not full of exasperation.

    3. OP#1*

      I will say something the next time I notice it. I shouldn’t have to wait too long. I’ve heard that it’s best to have a conversation in a timely manner so I feel like now that it’s been close to 5 days since it last happened it would be better to address it immediately after it happens. My instinct is to say something WHEN I notice her doing it, but I know it would not be fair to put her on the spot in front of others, even if we have a fairly casual rapport.

      1. Mike C.*

        Wait, it’s been five days since she last looked at her phone in a meeting? Am I understanding you correctly?

        1. Broadcastlady*

          If it has been five days since she did this it doesn’t seem to be as chronic a problem as the letter described.

          1. OP#1*

            Sorry – I meant it’s been 5 days since the staff meeting. Though I guess if I’m counting time right, staff meeting was Thurs. afternoon and its now Mon. morning, so more like 3.5 days.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        For next time, I think “a timely manner” can mean right or even very soon after the meeting. To me, it’s the next chance you get to have a one-on-one with the person, it doesn’t have to mean “instantly following the problem behavior”.

        1. JessaB*

          I would wait til after the meeting and til everyone left so I could talk privately to the OP, if it was just phone behaviour and not coupled with ill mother I might address it in the moment IF it had been talked about before. “Sam, please turn the phone off,” is okay if you’ve had half a dozen conversations about this before, but not if it’s the first time either.

      3. Artemesia*

        You don’t have to wait, you are her manager. And she is not a dog, you don’t have to hit her on the nose with the newspaper right after she poops on the floor for her to understand the message. If it is a pattern you might discuss it before the next meeting and if it is happening as she is working i.e. a lot of time on the phone, you can do it then as well.

        1. OP#1*

          Well, I’d like to bring it up at a time that makes sense. I do think that bringing it up BEFORE the next meeting makes more sense than waiting until she does it again. However, to your point that she’s not a dog, from what I’ve read and heard and discussed in trainings, these types of discussions should not take a staff member by surprise.

          I have not had an issue with her getting work done in a timely manner, ever, and our work spaces are laid out in such a way that knowing if this is something that is happening outside of meetings is difficult.

          1. fposte*

            “Should not take a staff member by surprise” is for “Your work all this year has been substandard.” You don’t have to prepare somebody for “Please change this thing in future.”

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes! It’s perfectly fine to ask her to stop by your office now so you can address this today. Or do it at your next regular one-on-one if you have them and one’s happening this week.

          2. Me Myself and I*

            People shouldn’t be taken by surprise by these things in a performance evaluation, or when you decide to implement a PIP. But this is just a conversation and it really doesn’t require a prelude.

    4. Brandy*

      I put my phone to sleep at my desk and it lights up if I get a call or text, so it catches my eye and ill look at the phone then. If its sick mom issues or other personal issues, she shouldn’t be tethered, but just have it nearby in case she did get an important call or text. Plus I am one of a few that doesn’t carry a phone to meetings. Im not there for my phone so I don’t carry it. Maybe make meetings phone free.

    5. Artemesia*

      I just don’t understand the reluctance of the OP1 to stop this behavior in a subordinate. This is something to flat out forbid in meetings; it is insufferable when a boss does it, but there isn’t much you can do about that; it is entirely inappropriate for a subordinate to be phone surfing while in a meeting at work. The phone should be left in the desk or purse; if there is a genuine need to be available because of family emergencies, the phone should still be in the pocket or purse and the notification chime be left on. But I’d also explore with the employee if there is a current need for immediate contact; might checking messages after meetings not suffice? And the phone should not be out during the workday either except briefly when there is a family situation. What else is this manager reluctant to manage? Someone who is constantly playing with his or her phone is not working.

      1. Broadcastlady*

        That would technically depend on the business. I’m tethered to my cell phones, even during meetings with my boss, but it is a requirement of my job and my bosses expect me to be tethered.

        1. OP#1*

          It is definitely not a requirement for her job or my job for that matter. There are some people in the org that need to be available, more or less, at all times, but that is not us.

          1. Broadcastlady*

            I agree. That is why I responded to the specific comment that said, “Someone who is constantly playing with his or her phone is not working,” instead of responding specifically to the OP.

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              Yeah, but being tethered to your phone for business needs is still not the same as “playing on your phone”. And usually one’s colleagues know exactly how much the tethering is business-related, often because they’re also on a phone-leash.

    6. Been there*

      I have a coworker like this, except with email and IM. She used to be another manager on my team before we split. I honestly don’t know why our director allowed it, but she did. Drove me up the wall to sit in a meeting with her, she was one of those who would be emailing/IM’ing during the meeting and then wouldn’t know what was going on and everyone had to stop and repeat for them or she’d make comments that weren’t related to the discussion.

      Funny thing though… when IM’d her while she was in a meeting for a work emergency that I needed her to do something. I got a very curt response that she was in a meeting. Hmm… seems that she’s selective in her meeting correspondence :)

      1. OP#1*

        Thank you for pointing out that if it’s bothering me, it may be bothering others as well. This person can be a little intimidating and have a rather lacksadasical/cynical attitude about the organization, as in, “who cares if I’m doing XYZ as long as I’m getting my work done.” In the past when I’ve had to talk to her about issues, she can get very curt, which I suppose explains my reluctance this time around.

        1. Been there*

          Sounds like the phone may be a symptom to a bigger problem. I have an employee who is a great worker, but she sucks at work related stuff that isn’t her core, if that makes sense. She views meetings and projects as interruptions and nuisances and her attitude shows it.

          It’s been the source for many an unpleasant discussion. I value the work she does and how she does it, but her attitude sucks and can affect the team so I address it when I need to.

          1. OP#1*

            Yep. And even though her attitude has improved significantly, and she’s eager to learn new things, there are still sometimes matters related to attitude, of which maybe the phone thing is just a symptom. At least that is what I’m starting to see now.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, I would be so tempted to let it slip that there’d been a death in the family just to make him as uncomfortable as he’s making you (but of course don’t do that, because it’s not a decent human thing to do, and also because I somehow doubt he’ll get why it’s inconsiderate to harangue you about projects that are none of his business). But it’s much more effective, and probably healthier, to use Alison’s scripts.

    It also might help to let go of the things you think he’s “subtly” pointing out as your shortcomings. From what you’ve written, it doesn’t sound like you’re coming up short—it sounds like you’re a human who manages your own work based on your needs and the needs of the people you report to.

    But even if Fergus is negging you, you get to independently evaluate whether you think of your work processes as shortcomings. I’d encourage you to ignore the subtle digs and pretend he’s a strange robot who hasn’t mastered human interactions. (If he starts making digs in front of other people, then of course check him, but otherwise I think it will help to evict him from your brainspace.)

    1. Anony nonny no*

      I hope this isn’t derailing, but I wanted to say how wonderful it is that you (Princess Consuela) always manage to be so fast at responding, and with such interesting and insightful comments: thank you so much. How do you do it?

      1. bluemercury*

        This is an interesting comment, because I feel it’s also possible for frequent readers to think that PCBH dominates the conversation by commenting so quickly and with her own take on nearly every multi-letter post. Not in a mean way, but almost as a question like a letter-writer would pose: “Dear Allison, there’s an insightful but talkative person at my office who is the first to chime in on a lot of topics, and the conversation is significantly impacted by her input on a daily basis. Is there anything to be done about the fact that other participants in the conversation may be drowned out a bit by her enthusiastic participation?”

        (I’m honestly not trying to be negative here, just posing an alternative perspective. I hold no ill-will toward any regular commenters, PCBH included, but have wondered a lot about this pattern ever since I started reading the site regularly.)

        1. Mephyle*

          I don’t see it as having the same dynamic, because a commenter online doesn’t monopolize a conversation by being quick to respond. Even if there were a participant who is almost always the first to post comments, that doesn’t mean they monopolize the discussion or drown out other voices the way a real-life person may do if they are always the first to chime in in a live conversation in person. At most they might set a tone for the discussion, but any later commenter can change it readily with their input.

          1. bluemercury*

            That does make sense. At 2:40 PM EST on Monday, however, this post is comprised of 35.8% (138/385) comments threaded under PCBH’s top-level posts–indicating that the direction of more than a third of the conversation is flowing from those first comments.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’ll step in if I feel like someone needs to manage their comments differently (and have in fact sometimes asked people to rein in the number of comments they’re making on any given post) but in general I’d rather be as hands-off about it as I can without allowing serious problems to occur. People use comment sections differently, and that’s okay with me.

          I’m going to ask that we move on from this since this isn’t really the place for it, although it’s certainly something we can take up in general (not specific to any one commenter) on the open thread if people want to talk more about it.

          1. Mutt*

            PCBH, I always find your comments to be insightful and well laid-out. IMO, you add value to this online commenting space, so please do not let the opinions of a few people stop you from adding your thoughts in the future!!

    2. Nea*

      The thing that gets me about Letter #2 is that this coworker has always been… unusual… about how they handle time off by reacting to every routine request to take a day off by apparently saying “Okay, but you realize you’ll miss the daily standup meeting, a handful of phone calls, and the cupcakes for Wakeen’s birthday.”

      OP2, my best advice is to follow Alison’s script because it’s so much better and more professional than anything that would have come out of my mouth when I realized that I was getting subtle pressure to never take time off ever for any reason. Which this is, no mistake! You took time off and now former manager is again making you fend off implications that you can’t handle the workload.

      1. JessaB*

        add in subtle accusations that you’re making oh so much extra work for the people that have to OMG do your job so you can take a holiday. Geez, that’s the point. When you’re out they cover for you and when they’re out you cover for them. Unless of course boss’s routine makes them hesitate to the point of NOT taking off, which is probably boss’s point.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, ask me about the admin who types her documents in an application that literally has not existed for over 25 years (and, like a typewriter, does not let you edit without deleting everything and starting over), prints it all out in hard-copy, and then scans it into a .pdf using the copier. And then sends it to us, where we end up having to use OCR to render it searchable.

    She’s convinced her skills are “advanced.” As Alison noted, people are truly terrible at self-assessment, or at even understanding the definition of “beginner” v. “advanced,” especially on common computer applications.

    1. M-C*

      Consider also the recent studies that show conclusively that the less people know about something, the more they’re convinced that they’re experts at it. Normal people know there’s stuff they don’t know, experts have serious doubts about the possibility of knowing everything, but total incompetents are entirely self-confident. Which is sad, since interviewers usually expect a convincing display of an unnatural level of confidence, but that’s their problem..

        1. Jesca*

          Yep. That is what it is. I’m always nice and just say “well, they just don’t know what they don’t know.” But what I really mean every single time is, “they lack total self awareness”.

        2. Serin*

          This is what I came up to say!

          In my old job, our bookkeeper used to call me to her office once a month to remind her how to print a selection in Excel. So naturally when I was interviewing for the job I have now, I claimed that I was fully competent in Excel.

          Then I found myself on a team with the kind of people who go, “Why are you showing and hiding all those columns manually? Why don’t you just create a macro?”

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Yeah, those skills always have the problem that there isn’t really a consistent baseline for what “advanced” means across different offices/contexts. I think I can safely call myself “intermediate”, but even that’s probably stretching it in an area where people really seriously use Excel. I can do basic stuff really efficiently, am not an expert at formulas and macros but am good at looking them up and integrating them quickly, and can kind of do pivot tables on a good day. I’m also getting better at making graphs/charts but am still in that place of “wait, what button did I push and why is my data a single giant bar??”.

            1. Serin*

              I learned that saying “I can’t do pivot tables yet” actually gives people a better idea of my competency than saying “Intermediate.”

              And hiring managers don’t always know how to talk intelligently about Excel, either — sometimes they say they want advanced knowledge when all they want is someone who can calculate a percentage or center the title at the top of the sheet.

              1. OP#3*

                That would be great to hear! Giving an example of something you know of, but don’t know how to do is a perfect way to show the hiring manager, or anyone, your skill level in any program. “I have seen macros but have not created one successfully myself.” That will tell me so much more than an entire paragraph in a cover letter about how “advanced” they are because they’ve used it for a year. People also drive cars for decades and don’t know what a turn signal is…

                1. Arjay*

                  To that point, it would probably be helpful for you to clearly define the specific skills you need in the job postings. Instead of saying intermediate or advanced, specify mail merges, style formatting, v lookups, pivot tables, or whatever else you’re looking for.

                2. Just Jess*

                  “I have seen macros but have not created one successfully myself.”

                  Funny, that’s exactly what I was thinking about for my own skills when I started reading this thread on how to define Excel skills. I’ve been (briefly) guilty of asking candidates and incumbents to define their Excel skills on a 1-5 Likert scale with no context as to what a “3” represents. I quickly learned that wasn’t effective.

                  This also creates an opening for being wooed by someone who truly is a “level 5 in Excel” when the job only needs someone who can create filters for sorting.

              2. Mints*

                Oh, this is a good note. “I’m still improving my VBA” is easier to say for me with slight imposter syndrome, than “I’m fairly advanced”

            2. Arielle*

              Heh, “can kind of do pivot tables on a good day” is a pretty accurate description of my Excel skills. On the other hand, I work on a team with a couple of people who are amazing with Excel but think my pretty basic SQL queries are like magic, so I guess it takes all kinds!

            3. KTZee*

              I’m intermediate-to-proficient in macros (and would consider myself advanced-to-expert in Excel generally) and this still happens to me on the regular. The chart/graph feature in Excel is pretty clunky, and they don’t seem to be very invested in improving it.

          2. aebhel*

            Yep. I’m pretty minimally-competent at Excel; I know enough of the basics that I can figure out how to do anything I need to do, but what I need to do isn’t that advanced, since using Excel is pretty incidental to most of what I do.

            Given that I’m in an office with people who still use typewriters regularly, though, I come across as a tech wizard.

          3. Pretty Sure I Know Excel*

            Why do “they” want you to use macros when you instead could use Custom Views? :-)

      1. Antilles*

        The most dangerous thing in the world is a tiny bit of knowledge.
        People with absolutely zero knowledge in a given topic usually realize they’re totally out of their league; people with lots of knowledge usually realize just how much there is that they don’t know.
        It’s the people with just a scrap of knowledge who are the real worry – you know enough to cause real issues but don’t know enough to recognize the gaps in your understanding.

      2. Kitten*

        This drives me mad!

        I consider myself intermediate at Word and Excel because I can do most things, but there are some things I cannot do (and I still have to Google and talk to myself for complex automation).

        I have yet to sit in an office (other than accounts, perhaps) where I am not the most advanced Excel user in the room. Any yet a good 60% of the people around me have ‘Expert Excel User’ on their CV.

        I daren’t put down that I’m an expert – I don’t feel that it’s true. But I wish there was some way of expressing ‘I am probably the most competent Excel user you will meet this week unless you work with accountants or people who write VBA in their spare time to solve Sodoku puzzles’.

        1. KarenT*

          Word is one thing, but there’s just so much you can do in Excel. I’d assess my skills as intermediate, though I think some I work with would say advanced. I say Excel is a rabbit hole because I am still uncovering things it can do. Once you learn a new thing, like vlookups or pivot tables, it just opens a door to a hundred more things you can learn.

        2. Anonymousaurus Rex*

          Yeah this is classic Dunning Kruger effect. The more you know about Excel–the more you realize you might not be an “expert”. I’m in your boat–I’m an intermediate user and can figure out more advanced tasks with my friend, Mr. Google. However, the people I work with are often amazed by pivot tables. I taught a colleague last week that you can double click to copy-fill a column and she thought I was a wizard. I’d be seriously annoyed if someone with the “average” excel skills at my office claimed to be an advanced user. Excel is amazing because there are so many functions! You might be a pretty advanced user and never have a need for a Vlookup so never learn that function exists.

        3. Specialk9*

          “I daren’t put down that I’m an expert”

          Dude*, get over it, just put down that you’re an expert. Seriously, don’t impose your imposter syndrome on hiring managers, they just want to know if you excel at Excel.

          *non gendered dude

      3. Misc*

        Haha oh man, that’s painfully close to a work problem I’m having, where the guy who does not know what he is doing is very sure he is the expert and has convinced our manager that they only need to talk to him, not me.

        While I would never say I knew everything because variables and so on, but have had to solve most of our major issues in that area over the last six months while Idiot Confidence keeps acting like they are the only one capable of handling it. And my manager just told me I didn’t need to worry about X because Idiot Confidence will handle it.

        1. FormerEmployee*

          Think calm thoughts and wait for things to hit the fan once manager discovers that the guy doesn’t know how to handle X and more than he knows how to fix an internal combustion engine.

          1. Specialk9*

            Or alternatively, learn that your method of non-self-promotion doesn’t work and his does. So how can you change your method to establish your expertise?

            Perhaps volunteer to do a lunch and learn tutorial on the topic. Write an article on your LinkedIn page. Find a modest sounding way to toot your horn.

    2. gladfe*

      Yeah, I used to work with someone who did almost all of her work in Word or Excel, so I’m sure she’d say she was proficient at them. But inserting extra spaces manually was her only method of centering text in Word, and she didn’t know how to sum a column in Excel. For her job, that was just fine, but she might’ve looked like she was deliberately exaggerating her skills if she ever applied for a different job.

      1. Someone else*

        Yeah. SO many people only know maybe 10% of what can be done in either Word or Excel, and because they only ever do those 10% of things, they think that’s all that can be done, and thus think they know how to do all the things. They’re (mostly) not lying or even consciously exaggerating. They’re just wrong.

        1. Blank*

          Yes – and then you have people making jokes about how Word won’t let you do basic things like flow images in text or make a numbered list that’ll format nicely. Word isn’t that terrible, people just don’t know how to use it.

        2. Not a Real Giraffe*

          Yes, I find it’s usually a case of “they don’t know what they don’t know.” My former colleague did all the formatting and editing of our department’s external-facing documents. In helping her train her replacement, I found out she had no idea what a page break was. For years, she had just been hitting “enter” until the content reached a new page, and any time she adjusted formatting at the beginning of the document, she’d have to go through each page to adjust the spacing. She just had no idea that the page break function existed!

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*


            [That’s me banging my forehead against the keyboard!]

            THIS is why I get so frustrated with people who don’t know how to properly format a Word document. It takes SO MUCH LONGER to do it the wrong way than it does to do it the right way! Especially with documents that are updated frequently, or will be updated by other people! Even with the learning curve, it usually isn’t that much longer the first time, if at all, and obviously it’s faster as you repeatedly use “advanced” features.

            1. Another person*

              Guys, my grandfather used to (and honestly probably still does) make tables for tracking accounts (he was treasurer of one of his clubs for a while) in Word using the | and — keys on the keyboard. We tried to show him Excel or how to create tables in Word, but he decided his method was fine and didn’t need to learn another program. He probably would not claim competency at any of these programs, at least.

            2. SarahTheEntwife*

              But if you don’t know what those advanced features are, often they aren’t immediately obvious from the menu options and otherwise there’s no particular reason you’d know to go looking for them. This is why I like taking actual classes in Office programs — they get me all those useful shortcuts that I hadn’t even known to ask about. :-)

              1. Agatha_31*

                But this is about people claiming they’re “advanced” in the program. IMO if you’re claiming “advanced” in Word, you damn well better at *least* be able to to explain to me what the various items on the default ribbon tabs are for. I mean I can’t use macros but I can at least tell you what a macro is and what sort of things it can do for you. Hell, I’d even let the person I was asking google if they were unsure on a couple functions – because even if they don’t know, that demonstrates they at least have the skills to widen their knowledge as they go. To borrow someone else’s example of driving, saying you’re advanced when you don’t even know how to use the functions of the Home tab is like saying “yeah, I know how to drive, in fact I’d say I’ve got the skill of an Indy 500 driver. Just watch me turn the car on! … oh you want me to make it take you places? Ummmm….”

              2. Arjay*

                Yes, and there are times when it’s faster in the moment to do it “manually” than to take the time to ask Dr. Google and mess around with learning the advanced way. I understand it’s not efficient to spend 30 minutes every time you do it manually instead of spending an hour learning how to do it in 5 minutes instead, but that hour to learn can be very elusive.

        3. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

          The reason I label myself as a solid intermediate/borderline advanced Word or Excel user is that I’m pretty sure I have a solid idea of what both programs can do (though I still learn new things all the time!).

          I don’t know how to do most of it off the top of my head (which is why I HATE those dumb tests – ProveIt – I’m looking at you), but a 30 seconds google search is usually enough to point me in the right direction.

          1. Teapot Librarian*

            Yes. The question mark is your friend. (Also, it is really sad how excited I was to learn how to use a non-breaking space. And the keyboard shortcut to add a comment.)

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              I kinda hate the no-longer-new ribbon in M$ products, but I customize the heck out of the quick-access toolbar and love that I can do that. (You can also remove entire tabs, and remove things from the tabs.) It’s especially good for working on a laptop where that ribbon takes up SO much real estate.

      2. Gen*

        To me the problem with Word & Excel is that they’re taught in school (or used to be in the 90s) so people think that if they got an A on that course then worked with the programme every day for a decade that made them highly proficient, when really the course was very basic and they never used any but the most simple functions. I used to think I was proficient with Excel until my accountant spouse showed me all the fancy things it could do that none of the courses I took even hinted at because they weren’t necessary for day-to-day admin use. It’s like being able to drive- ‘skilled driver’ means something different if the job is pizza delivery versus formula one racing.

        1. copy run start*

          Hmm, good point. I took my Word and Excel courses in the early 00s, but most of the Excel I was taught was just about making fancy tables easier than you could Word. I’ve never used Excel as anything more than a table/chart maker or to do basic calculations. Even some of things my coworkers do in my non-financial job with Excel baffle me, honestly. I do consider myself fairly advanced in Word, but it was emphasized more in that course, and I later had a Word-heavy job.

          I think another wrinkle is how much the programs have changed over time. You can still do all the same old things, but between the Ribbon, and all the changes to the Ribbon that have happened, and all the new cloud/sharing integrations… it’s a totally different beast to use functionally. And short of buying the program and spending hours with it or paying for an expensive training course, there’s no way to get up to speed.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I recently updated Word. The ruler has gone away, and that was how I knew how to set tabs.

              1. Falling Diphthong*


                I had found the tab menu under format, and experimented enough to determine it was not intuitive to me how to set a right tab with it.

              2. Specialk9*

                Yeah, every time they release a new Word version there is a universal howl of anguish from existing users. It’s like they are trying to hide features on purpose. Like 2010 hiding section breaks but putting page breaks in 2 places. Why, MS, why?

          2. Infinity Anon*

            Part of the problem is that people mean different things when they say a candidate must be “proficient in Word and Excel”. Some mean that basic skills are required while others want some advanced knowledge. It depends mostly on the person writing the job requirements. There isn’t really a standard definition.

        2. Samata*

          This is where my mind went, too. I used to think I was proficient; definitely not expert level but knew enough to be confident.

          Until I had to actually analyze the data in a spreadsheet, not just input it. I’ll never forget the first time I had to do a pivot table…I was like “I…I…I…know nothing of this program’s capabilities!”….and for YEARS I thought I did.

        3. Elizabeth H.*

          Really? I was never, ever, ever taught Word or Excel in school. I graduated high school in 2005. I taught myself all of it in the workplace.

          1. aebhel*

            Yeah, I graduated in 2003 and everything I know about Office programs I taught myself in the workplace.

            I actually suspect it’s worse for kids now, since Office is no longer standard on Microsoft computers.

            1. LA*

              As far as I can tell, it’s definitely worse for kids now. They know how to do so many things with computers/tablets/phones, but basic Word/Excel functionality is beyond them. Not because they can’t figure it out, but because they either lack access or haven’t yet had to figure out how to use them to do anything more complicated than blocks of text.

              1. JessaB*

                Yes and these programmes are expensive for the home user if they have no other reason to use them but to learn for a job.

                I’m an old fogey I learnt on Word Perfect for DOS. I still use WP for my home stuff but by gods I can make anything I can do in WP in Word. I may not be efficient, it may take me 20 minutes longer than the average person to do something complicated, but I can do it and if I don’t know how, I know very well from inside Word how to find out quickly and once I learn it I remember it.

                But unless you take a course or you’ve had training in another job it’s hard to learn things without owning the programme. I got lucky way back in the early days Mr B’s company had personal site licences they were legally allowed to give their employees for home use of the Word Suite because of stuff they had to do at home occasionally, so I was able to get into it and tinker around long enough to FIND all the help screens and the how to do this tricks. Also ancient Word had a WP help mode that would show me things.

                But nowadays I think Word suite is like a subscription thing where you don’t even get to buy the programme (unless that’s changed.)

                Also back in the day I went to Uni, academia used Macs. So unless you took a basic PC course you had no access to them so you never got to learn Word or Excel or even WP and Quattro

                1. FormerEmployee*

                  I loved WP. Despite the fact that I haven’t worked with it in years, I remember it fondly. On the other hand, I was so happy to switch from Lotus to Excel. I always felt like an incompetent using Lotus. I just never “got” it. With Excel, I was able to start creating spreadsheets from the beginning.

                  All of this happened many years ago where I used to work. We actually had to have supplemental training in Word because no one could format a letter based on what we were taught in the Basic Word class. It turned out that type of formatting was deemed to be Intermediate Word!

      3. Purplesaurus*

        I’m flabbergasted by the idea that centering text might be considered an advanced skill for some people.

      4. Cimaria*

        Here’s what I find ridiculous about *testing* people in Word with testing *software*—as opposed to giving someone a real-world task in Word:

        First, the test software generally diallows keyboard shortcuts—which is ridiculous. Anyone who uses the program regularly would *smartly* have efficient shortcut they use, and if you use those daily, you have no reason to know or remember the old, inefficient ways.

        Second, in a real-world scenario, when one doesn’t know what Word function to use, it takes literally 3-4 seconds to get that info in a quick Google search. Again, the testing software doesn’t allow this—even though an extra 4 seconds has no impact at all on proficiency with the program, AND letting the person look up the info via Google would tell you other useful info: the person is resourceful and knows how to quickly source info on their own.

        Third, the Word testing software tests for EVERY SKILL in MSWord, rather than the specific functions used in a given work environment. Functions that, if they became needed down the line in a job, the employee could pick up by skimming a website or watching a couple of YouTube how-tos on their lunch break.

        If you want to see if a candidate can format a business letter, proofread an e-newsletter, copyedit an ad page, have them do THAT (one of those things) on a real-world type sample, not take a test that is 90% irrelevant and quick/easy to Google any other time.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yes, this. Holy crap, anyone who thinks these exams are a good idea needs to find another line of work.

        2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

          Some of those tests have cheats up on YouTube – someone will record themself going through the test questions in the exact way the software wants you to.

          I never cheated in school and consider myself a pretty moral/ethical personal. However… Those tests are so dumb, that I had no guilt watching those videos, noting how to do the questions in their specific way and acing then acing those stupid, stupid tests.

        3. Dan*

          I’m actually ok with the software testing for everything under the sun… at least it’s objective. But I’m not ok with 1) and 2). The keyboard shortcut for “print” is “Ctrl-P”. It’s been that way for 20 years.

          I’ll note that I use Word a few times a year and Excel pretty much daily… but I use the same 5 things over and over again. Those tests actually showed me what I don’t know, which was kind of eye opening.

          1. Cimaria*

            Hmm… you saying that you only ever use “the same 5 functions” proves the point I hoped I’d made above. You state that they “showed you what you don’t know”, that may be fine if you are taking a test for yourself, out of curiosity. But these tests are routinely used as the basis for hiring or not hiring people. I’d rather have my employee be good at what we actually need, be a great troubleshooter, quick learner, etc.

            The tests look at things that otherwise highly-competent, highly proficient and skilled people are unlikely to know because much of it is thing they don’t know or use in any normal space. It judges test-takers on irrelevant things, so that super smart, resourceful, and highly skilled people in the exact are of skill you need to hire can and do often do very poorly on those tests, because they don’t prioritize the very things you need. Meanwhile, someone not smart, not resourceful, not highly skilled can ace the text by memorizing hundreds of completely irrelevant tasks you will never ever need them to know or use (and again, if you did suddenly need them, a sharp employee could learn that info in 5 seconds just by knowing how to Google search. In my opinion, that is not the smartest way to hire (a lesson I learned, hence no longer give software-based tests.)

        4. OP#3*

          Our Word “test” does consist of using the program with a scenario we have created. It’s more about writing, editing, formatting, page breaks, creating a TOC, etc. It’s something we created, as is a corresponding excel chart that they are supposed to paste in a few different ways. That is also a test in following directions.

          **Also, you would be surprised at the number of people who don’t understand something and don’t even consider Googling it.

          1. Cimaria*

            If you’re designing your own test geared to your own needs, that sounds ideal. As for people not Googling what they don’t know, that is surely valuable information to have about an applicant, eh :)

        5. JAM*

          One Office test I took not only removed the keyboard shortcuts, it also removed the text under every icon and disabled it on hover too. It was insane and awful. I got a 65% and they told me I was one of their top scoring individuals. At that point in my life I knew how to do macros and SQL but I lost points by clicking on the insert tab instead of page layout tab when trying to put in a page break, even though it’s on both tabs!

          1. Cimaria*

            Exactly!. That type of test makes people like you actually have to dumb-down in order to pass it. How wasteful is that? You don’t know those basic, dumbed-down things because you actually are experienced and good at using Word!

        6. JessaB*

          Not to mention that computers are only yes/no counting machines even though they’re fancy. If I’m not paying attention on an American test and type colour instead of color, I’m automatically wrong and possibly get a zero for that segment of the text. If they want two space or one space formatting and do not tell you which, you get it wrong because you have to enter the EXACT keystrokes the computer is programmed to consider correct. They really cannot judge how good/fast/efficient someone is, just how exactly they match the expected results and that doesn’t actually test much in the long run.

    3. Princess Cimorene*


      So… nobody is going to request she learn to be more efficient? I can’t imagine this is efficient or a good use of time???

      1. Nea*

        People can be weirdly resistant. I have twice crossed career paths with someone who is proficient in one word processing program. So he takes everything ever sent to him and transfers it to that program, works on it, and then saves back into whatever format the document was originally. It’s clumsy, time consuming, and introduces errors it he’s been doing it for over a decade. A decade in which he could have at least learned the basics of Word, in my opinion, but chose not to.

        1. Artemesia*

          I once consulted with an office that moved from terminals to PCs and the old time users refused to learn the new system and talked the IT guy into programming their PCs to emulate the old terminal formats.

        2. aebhel*

          I just got back from maternity leave. I’m a librarian at a small enough library that I do my own materials processing, and while I was out, I had a clerk cover that aspect of my job. She refused to learn to use the labeling software, despite the fact that the templates were already saved and literally all she had to do was input the data. Instead, she used a typewriter to type up the labels.

      2. Snark*

        We had someone like this at the job I worked in college, until they got a new department curator who refused to cater to him and cover for him. People get weirdly resistant, and I think people who manage them are so oddly conflict-avoidant that they’re not willing to say, “No. I need you to use Word, and export the document to PDF so it’s searchable, and I need you to start doing that today.”

        1. Artemesia*

          This. People who are ‘conflict avoidant’ do not belong in management. You can be gentle, you can be tactful, but ultimately you have to take responsibility for people doing what needs done.

          1. Snark*

            And doing what needs done in a reasonably efficient manner that doesn’t impose undue burden on everybody else who needs to work around your bizarro 1995 workflow.

    4. Emma*

      Oh yes, all of this. These applicants aren’t lying, they’ve just wound up in one of three situations:
      1. They’ve been using Word for years. That’s significant experience!
      2. They don’t know what they’re doing with Office software, but their managers also don’t know what they’re doing, so the applicants have never had any useful feedback about their skills and have been allowed to believe that they’re doing a great a job at this aspect of their work.
      3. They don’t know what they’re doing with Office software, and their managers have recognised the mistakes but either a) don’t really understand how those mistakes impact other people’s workflows or b) do not want to die on the hill of page breaks, so they’ve chosen not to provide useful feedback and you wind up back at point 2.

      People can be super resistant to change around this too, as already mentioned – I spent three years trying to teach someone how to format documents properly. We were both (separately) submitting multiple complex reports on a weekly basis, with chapters, sources, tables of figures etc. He still would rather spend half an hour going through and using backspace to pull all his chapter headings back up to the top of the page after he’s added a new sentence on page 3 than use a page break. He knows that it’s less efficient, and that it creates more work for him, but because it’s “just” computer skills and not something substantively relevant to his work, he can’t be bothered to put the time into learning. I’m very understanding of this when someone is doing hobby, personal or volunteering stuff, but it sure does bug me at work.

      Tbh I think you really just have to include either a test or an interview question to properly ascertain applicants’ skills on this stuff. I recently interviewed for an admin job where one question was along the lines of “We have lots of spreadsheets containing customer information, and you’ll need to use those spreadsheets to find subsets of those customers based on, for example, which products they use. Can you give us an example of a time when you’ve searched for information in this way, and explain how you did it?”. I didn’t get the job, but I did get feedback that after I left the room, one interviewer threw her hands in the air in celebration because I was the first person all day who’d said they’d use a filter.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        In support of #2, I think most of us who are actually proficient with these programs recognize that many supervisors and managers are wowed by ONE fairly simple trick that we know, like auto column width or formatting a column of numbers in Excel, or applying styles in Word.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I mentioned pivot tables in my interview with my now boss and she acted like I said I cured cancer.

          1. Serin*

            An interviewer once asked me how my Excel skills were, and I said, “I can do pretty much anything up to pivot tables, but pivot tabels and above are beyond me,” and she said, “You know pivot tables exist. Your skills will be good enough here.”

            1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

              Yes! I hate putting a “label” on my excel skills (begginer, advanced, etc.) – so if asked I usually say something along the lines of “I can do pivot tables and Vlookups. I can also write basic macros and continuing to develop those skills.”. That seems to be a pretty good indicator of skill level.

              1. JB*

                When I write requirements for jobs, most of the time, I list specific tasks in the applications that I expect or want the applicant to know how to do. I might list 10 things and then ask that they tell me how many of the 10 they can do. It keeps me out of the “level” trap.

                Also, I’m not nice when it comes to forcing people to catch up on skill level. It’s fine that you never had to use Styles before, but you need to use them now. I’m going to give you a period of time to learn and then you will use them. I will certainly help and encourage, but you don’t get to be a productivity drag just because you want to.

                1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

                  Creating a specific list is such a good idea! I find that pivot tables/vlookups/macros seem to be a decent indicator of beginner-intermediate vs intermediate to advanced, but a list is way better!

            2. BlueWolf*

              Yeah, I’ll admit I’m not an Excel wizard. I have heard of pivot tables, but still don’t really know what they are or how to use them. I have never needed to use them yet, but I figure I can just Google it if necessary.

        2. Marillenbaum*

          For me, it was email–I used Boomerang for Gmail, brought it up in a staff meeting, and my boss was pretty sure I was a wizard.

        3. Genny*

          I was working with a group of people who thought I had DOD-level PowerPoint skills because I knew how to group content. The hilarious part about that is we were consulting for the military, so we were surrounded by people who actually had advanced PPT skills.

      2. Snark*

        100% of this. “Proficient at Word” is, at this point, totally meaningless and nobody should put that on their resumes. Everybody’s been using Word in whatever idiosyncratic way they learned to use it – in my generation’s case, self-taught – and with whatever weird habits and blind spots they have, for 15 years or more now. We’re all proficient at it, and almost nobody’s proficient at it, and if you need someone to be actuallly proficient at a certain set of tasks, you need to screen them using specific, experiential questions.

        And managers need to start treating ridiculous BS like “using backspace to pull up all his chapter headings because he’s too lazy to use a page break” as a performance issue.

      3. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

        Instead of using page breaks, you can also just format the Heading 1 style to have a page break before (under Paragraph, Line & Page Breaks tab, check the box for Page break before), so whenever you apply that style it automatically adds in a page break. Ta da! Heading 1 always on the top of a page.

          1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

            I only learned it recently (although I’ve been using styles themselves for ages) and realized how helpful it would be!

      4. Astor*

        And there are somehow always new things to learn too! Which I’m mentioning mostly as support that the best way to do this is to describe in your job ad (or attachment) what kind of skills you’re specifically looking for, and then test those applicants that you (plan to) interview.

        Emma, in case you personally want a more efficient trick: I recently started editing my styles so that the chapter heading style will automatically be on the next page. And have been importing these styles into other documents as appropriate.

        Edit styles to include page breaks (for Word 2003 but easily extrapolated to newer programs)

        Import styles from other documents (for Word 2013; I’m not sure if older programs are similar)

      5. Specialk9*

        I didn’t know about filters! So that’s what the little funnel is for. I use Excel, and Google whenever I think “you know there should be a way to do this automatically” because there almost always is in excel (not necessarily true in word), but my data crunching needs are pretty basic.

        I am creating a list of things to google tutorials/practice from this thread: excel filter, excel pivot table (maybe I’ve done before?), excel/word mail merge (been meaning to do this), excel macros. No idea what VBAs are.

    5. FTW*

      I’ve gotten a few great interview questions that I thought were great ways of drawing out knowledge of MS Office programs. They were typically along the lines of “what annoys you most about PowerPoint?”, “which feature do you feel is a big time saver in Excel?”, or “which feature do you wish was available in Word?”

      It allows you to get a feel for how people have used the programs in the past without listing off capabilities line by line, or asking weirdly detailed questions about part projects.

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        Those ARE great questions! That seems like such a good idea for an approach, and you would be able to tell who is not only familiar enough with the program/is able to do basic tasks, but who approaches it in a thoughtful way and actually understands what they’re doing and why.

      2. OP#3*

        I agree, these are great! I will add something like these specifically to my interview questions for the 2 I have schedule tomorrow!

        I recently began asking for an example of a challenge the interviewee had to overcome in each program and that’s helped weed out the true beginners.

    6. BlueWolf*

      I once had a coworker who, when given an Excel table to fill in, printed it out and handwrote the information in the cells. It was just a basic table to organize some data, literally all she had to do was type the information into the cells. Granted, the job did not specifically state that Excel was a required skill (there wasn’t really any formal job description anyways), but still. I don’t claim to be an Excel expert by any means (I would say beginner-intermediate), but she was completely clueless about it. It was even more surprising since she was in her late 20s, but I guess she hadn’t had many office jobs before, so I guess she never had the opportunity to learn Excel.

    7. JulieBulie*

      I gotta know! What is this 25-years-extinct application she’s using? I thought I knew ’em all (even AtariWriter), but I don’t remember one that wouldn’t let me edit. That’s some hardcore sucky software.

      (Or maybe she just doesn’t KNOW how to edit??)

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Woo! AtariWriter! We had an Atari 800XL back in the day. I chose to use an electric typewriter to do homework assignments rather than use AW + our dot matrix printer because the typewriter was faster. (IIRC, the printer we had didn’t support italics or bold, much less any other font than whatever the baseline was. Yeah.)

        I’ve heard of pivot tables, but haven’t ever needed them. I don’t use the macros for the most part but I can use the advanced stats formulas, so for me my Excel skills are really task dependent. And I admit to resorting to manual options in Word over the autoformatting because I hate autoformatting with a passion. Not basics like centering, but the TOC settings drive me nuts.

      2. JulieBulie*

        I’m thinking it might have been pfs:Write. I only ever used pfs:Professional, but I’ve heard that Write was hard to edit in.

    8. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms*

      I am a receptionist, and just died a little bit inside. Partly from cringe, and part from sympathetic exhaustion. So much extra work for no reason!

    9. Agatha_31*

      I know I’ve discussed our assistants here before. I would call myself intermediate. I can handle formatting, know a few fun tricks like content controls, quick parts, know how to and have changed the Normal template to best suit my needs, theoretically I know how to use mail merge but haven’t in years and currently *can’t* because in the past my workplace has hired assistants who wrote “advanced knowledge of Microsoft Office” and “advanced computer skills” on their resumes and yet couldn’t do the simplest of tasks, such as restart the computer, perform any formatting whatsoever (e.g. using indents, inserting tables, even, such as the OP’s example, being able to eyeball a document and know that there were multiple fonts and font sizes being used in business correspondence and legal documents), one woman even accidentally hit the zoom slider in Word, setting the view to 20%, and panicked because “the computer did something and I don’t know what!”

      The annoying thing about all that was that these assistants were *supposed* to have been hired to help out with the overflow of my work, but I not only had to train them on the legal side of things, I had to train them on basic Word functions as well. The TRULY annoying thing is that they seemed incapable of learning. The work they were doing was simple, repetitive, and was the easiest stuff to do – I kept on all the work that required more than just filling in the blanks. I would explain something to them, they’d say “yes, I get this!” and the next day I’d have to explain it to them again. So I printed out an example and had them make handwritten notes to reinforce their memories. “Yes, I get this!” Next day, same deal. I finally sat down and made up step by step instructions for the documents they were working on, including screenshots of exactly what they were looking at.

      …and they STILL called me into their office complaining that “this isn’t working!” And every single question they had, whether it required getting up or not, they called me to their office because “well I didn’t think you could answer this at your desk!”

      I’m glad to know that OP is really, truly screening for this, because I complained multiple times to the people responsible for hiring that these women were NOT at the skill level they claimed and they still never were fired. And I wasn’t their supervisor, I was just a co-worker, so there was nothing I could do about it directly. I ended up with a ton of stress and resentment out of that period of time.

        1. Agatha_31*

          Hah! Yes, keyboard shortcuts are amaaazing and that one is one of my favorites. I’m also a huge fan of show/hide formatting marks. It’s been super helpful in figuring out *why* Word did a specific thing. It’s actually a particularly helpful feature for helping out co-workers who are less familiar with Word than me, because if they call me over for a problem sometimes it’s difficult to see what that problem is until I reveal formatting marks and go “a-hah! You did *x* here and so Word decided you wanted *y*. If you do *a* instead, Word will understand that you actually want *a* and leave you alone.”

        2. PersephoneUnderground*

          Oooh, ooh! Except that Ctrl+z doesn’t work when you only changed the view, it doesn’t count that as having changed anything! Important to be aware of that quirk.

    10. JessaB*

      Someone needs to deal with that. There’s zero reason the admin should be permitted to continue doing that unless the legacy application is SO mission critical that the back end hassle is worth it, in which case they seriously need to upgrade the legacy app already.

  4. Mike C.*

    When I see people (and myself) reach for phones during a meeting, it’s almost always because they don’t actually need to be there. There are going to be differences between small meetings and large meetings of course, but this has been my fav experience. So once you’ve told your employee to stop it, please consider these other issues.

    Make sure meetings are actually useful, that the people you require to be there actually need to be there (rather than “just in case”, you can always call someone in later), that they aren’t too long and a meeting is actually the most effective way to get information across. Strict agendas, ways to ensure that off topic issues are killed off and so on are very, very important.

    All too often I see managers with 80-200% of their time booked for meetings, meetings that always happen and are always an hour long based on tradition rather than need, meetings to plan for meetings and videos from the CEO himself telling everyone to cut down on meetings. Yes, the last one actually happened and yes, he specifically called out “meetings to plan for meetings”.

    1. TL -*

      I know plenty of people who don’t pay attention in meetings, miss important things, and just assume someone else will fill them in.

      It’s good to evaluate if someone needs to be at meetings, of course, but “I don’t need to be here” and “I don’t want to pay attention” are not synonymous.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      This is the main reason I love my smartwatch. I always keep my phone on vibrate anyway, and when I feel my watch vibrate, I can check it to see what the notification is for, or who is calling. Much like the OP’s report, this was very handy when my dad was sick, and I did have to excuse myself ONCE from a client meeting for a call from his doctors, but other than that, it looks like I’m just checking the time…which I suppose could be slightly rude, but I think not quite as bad as checking your phone.

      1. Red Reader*

        It’s also a lot easier to check a watch subtly, I think. When you’re checking your phone, it’s pretty obvious that’s what you’re doing.

          1. Specialk9*

            Lol. Sometimes I imagine how awesome life will be when we all have retina implants and can goof off in meetings… But then people will just tune in to the subtle betraying signals of that and get annoyed.

      2. Diana*

        Same. I have a Ringly that is part steps tracker, part notifications (from texts, calls, apps etc) and I can keep my phone in my purse all of the time. It’s made a world of difference.

        1. Specialk9*

          Whoa. Ringly is *gorgeous*! You’d never know it was a step tracker/phone alert device! I like the bracelets especially. I have a Misfit Ray, which in my config is a sleek golden tube on a white strap, that can be worn swimming as a lap counter. But Ringly is another level entirely!

    3. copy run start*

      My company is trying to crack down on meetings because being a manager effectively means you’ll be in meetings 90% of the time, and yes, cell phone use has been prohibited because people weren’t paying attention! Yet no one ever sends an agenda so you can decide if you need to be there, no one actually bothers to use the “Required” vs. “Optional” part of the Outlook invite effectively, and no one actually checks for conflicts with key decision makers, so things are constantly rescheduled or canceled. It’s so frustrating.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        Ooh, that’s frustrating. I’m in a practicum this semester for grad school where we’re doing a consulting project for an external client, and we are required to send out agendas at least 24 hours in advance to all participants. It’s really given me an appreciation for why these things need to exist–well-written agendas, efficient note-taking, thorough minutes. Honestly, putting in the time before the meeting happens means everyone gets more out of it, and maybe doesn’t dread them quite as much.

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        I stopped attending meetings without agendas and my life improved. Surprisingly, telling people who invite me to agendaless meetings that I don’t attend meetings without agendas has resulted in no push back at all.
        I highly recommend it as a policy.

        1. Arielle*

          I had a manager at my last job who saw what my calendar looked like for the week and told me that going forward, she was requiring me to decline all meetings without an agenda, and if anyone gave me pushback to send them to her. She was a great manager.

      3. Mike C.*

        HOLY SH!T ALL OF THIS!!!

        If the meeting is actually important and I need to be an active participant, you’ll get 110% of my attention every time. If you can’t respect my time, then I’m playing games in the back of the room until you need me (to leave the room because the meeting is over and you lied to me about needing to be there in the first place).

      4. pumpkin spice.*

        the nature of my job is to be in meetings a good portion of the time, and the ones that are scheduled for project-level reasons are standardized, streamlined, useful, and quick. always the same agenda, templates for note-taking, same list of required attendees where the POC varies from project to project but you always have the same roles on each call (for example, you always have a developer, a project manager, a marketer, an analyst, etc.). these are a dream. we get stuff done!

        it’s all the other meetings that kill us. some other dept will schedule a mandatory meeting and all we get is a subject line – we get into it and realize 75% of us don’t need to be there. or someone is just listening to themselves talk and they could’ve sent out a 4 line email instead. those are the meetings where i start reaching for my phone, because work is still happening and i’m too busy to sit in a meeting that doesn’t apply to me without at least multitasking. i’m not scrolling through facebook but i’m cleaning up notes on a previous meeting or writing up a proposal draft or trying to answer urgent emails from vendors or clients, or jotting down things i need to remember to do when they release me from the unimportant meeting. it’s tough to be in a position where your workload is too heavy to be away from your desk for an hour, but that’s just the way it is.

    4. Purplesaurus*

      This was honestly my first thought as well. I think this circumstance is different since the employee herself mentioned phone withdraw, but OP should consider whether the larger unit meetings in particular, with potentially lots of irrelevant discussion (to your employee), might be contributing to this.

      1. OP#1*

        I think they absolutely are, but they are mandatory. And even if they are not mandatory, they are de facto. There is a mentality top-down that non-attendance reflects badly on managers. With some leadership changes, I think they are trying to minimize this now.

    5. CoffeeLover*

      I have to agree with you. I mean, it’s possible the employee is on her phone when it’s something she really needs to hear or have input on, but I’ve often seen this happen when the person didn’t need to be there. I’ve never resorted to this myself…. but I do sometimes zone out for long stretches of time (unintentionally, I might add) and no one has every noticed. “Do you have anything to add, CoffeeLover?” “No, nothing from me >.>.” How many hours have we all wasted in meetings we didn’t need to attend, I wonder.

    6. OP#1*

      Oh, I agree. Though I do think that, as a professional, one should be able to pay attention during a meeting and not be playing on his or her phone. (And I am guilty of discreetly looking at or even playing on my phone on occasion in the past during long meetings that do not pertain to me or my department.) I agree that too many unnecessary meetings are a problem (and as a manager, I can attest to that), but this person attends one brief staff meeting per week, and larger meetings maybe once/quarter.

      1. Mike C.*

        Oh, then that’s not a large meeting load at all. I had a few weeks where I was booked 25%-30% and I really started to crack down.

      2. Robin Sparkles*

        Wow 1 meeting a week? Yikes – I thought my workload was light this week because I only have 1 meeting a day.

    7. Can't Sit Still*

      If they haven’t reached the “planning meeting to plan for the planning meeting to plan for the meeting” stage yet, there’s still hope!

  5. Nobody Here By That Name*

    OP #3: I would say that another problem is that one person/company’s advanced is another person’s basic. For example, in my department what we thought of as basic to intermediate Excel skills turned out to be so advanced that candidates were literally crying when they took the test we gave them. (We since made adjustments to our testing.)

    But I work in a dept that does mostly Excel analytics and modeling. In other departments in the same company being able to format an Excel spreadsheet, with or without any formulas in it, would be considered “advanced.”

    What may help is to specify in the job listing what type of skills you’re looking for. “Significant experience” could mean anything. “Skills needed but not limited to the following: Word, such as how to format a document, add company watermark, mail merge; Excel, vlookups, index/match, create and format graphs” gives a much clearer idea of what you need. It’d also tell me as a candidate if you’re speaking to me on my level or not.

    1. Decimus*

      I must agree here. It also gives the candidates some idea of what they might need to learn. If I never needed to use mail merge in a prior job (because I never did addressing, just writing) now I’d know I would be expected and could watch some youtube videos on how to do it or something.

      1. Bryce*

        Yeah. I pick things up quickly (within reason, I’m not claiming to grasp a job Pretender-style overnight) if I have a chance to, and a lot of those skills are simply knowing the program can do that and where the menu is.

      2. Decimus*

        I asked below a comment about how to define “basic” or “intermediate” skills and immediately disagreement arose. Definitely better to define your terms!

    2. Elizabeth West*

      This would be really helpful to someone like me–I can use Excel, but of course the math stuff escapes me. People misunderstand this all the time and think either I can’t use the program at all, or that I just don’t like it. If there were a few examples of the kind of thing someone’s looking for, I could self-select out of jobs that require more advanced skills vs. skipping over them because they say “need Excel” but may actually be something I can do.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Pivot tables!

      But no, I agree with the broader point—it’s clearer to spell out what specific skills you need than to use terms that can be vague (“advanced” / “intermediate”) or that could mean different things to different people (or in different fields).

        1. KarenT*

          Works in reverse, too. I know how to use pivot tables but my boss is next level (like legit, pivot table guru) and I’m in awe.

          1. Julianne*

            Whereas the fact that I can create a spreadsheet with multiple sheets, name them, and enter the correct data on each sheet, makes me the reigning Queen of Excel on my team.

      1. Jesca*

        This is exactly what I run into all the time. I am pretty advanced in *some* aspects of excel. I can nest an IF and run pivots all day long (basically, I understand logical functions). What I cannot do is code (never learned and haven’t gotten around to it yet). So every damn interview I go into, I have to explain this and I usually have to explain this to people who have no idea how to use excel themselves. So, I always find myself trying to figure out what exactly they are looking for in regards to their needs.

        Another point as well, is that I sure as hell do not memorize everything with excel and word. They change their damn menus all the time anyway. I would ask candidates if they understand what both programs can do and how they would figure something out if a problem arose. I google all day LOL.

        1. hypernatural*

          I know exactly what you mean. I can nest functions for days and feel very comfortable in VBA. But you want me to make a chart? I could figure it out, but I never do that. I spend all day turning numbers into other numbers and never making it graphical or look pretty. I find this hard to explain to people.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            I too struggle a little bit with formatting charts/graphs and pivot charts because I have the least experience with it – I’ve only done one big project where I needed to turn data into graphs so far. But like you guys, I am sure I could figure it out very quickly if other projects came up. It’s true that you need a certain baseline of experience/reflexive acuity/body of knowledge with the program in order to build on, but I think what’s more important (and what allows someone to develop that experience in the first place) is having the spirit of “I am self-motivated to figure out how to do something new on my own, in order to use it to achieve my objective.” Being able to figure things out, and knowing how to figure out or where to start looking, is the underlying skill.

    4. JamieS*

      Fully agree. Job listings need to be as specific as possible instead of using very subjective terms. After all what exactly is “significant experience”? I know the answer probably seems obvious to OP and whoever wrote the job description but there’s zero doubt in my mind that as someone who literally grew up using Microsoft Office my idea of “significant experience” is vastly different from lets say a 55 year old former homemaker re-entering the workforce after spending the last 30 years baking pies.

      1. Morag*

        Agreed, but again, it depends and is job-specific. If the 55-year old has been running a small business selling her pies, she’s likely to have a a fairly advanced set of Excel/other Office skills that you may or may not know anything about. Speaking as one who fell for the “literally grew up using Microsoft Office my whole life” line when hiring an admin position years ago and later realized to my dismay that the person had perhaps done some junior high school papers in Word but was totally overwhelmed once hired and presented with the need to do simple mail merges and format long documents with different section headers and footers, what I would consider intermediate skills. On the other hand, I recently came back to the corporate world after working as a self-employed cleaner with my own small business for many years, and was able to pick up forgotten skills in a few weeks – Google is a wonderful thing for the self-motivated.

        1. Myrin*

          I hope it’s alright to ask this and doesn’t take us too far off topic (in which case, please ignore/delete!) but I’d really like to know what a “mail merge” is? I keep seeing it used here and I can kinda guess what it means but it’s one of the rare occasions where the fact that I’m not a native English speaker is stopping me – I’ve googled it before and I just can’t grasp what anything about it means for some reason (also, I can’t for the life of me find my native language’s expression for it, I assume that would make it much easier for me to understand).

          1. Lars the Real Girl*

            It’s basically a Word (and some other software) tool to automatically create address labels/envelopes/forms etc for physical mailing.

            So for example, you could take a list of customers, use a mail merge, and print out 1,000 individually addressed forms.

            1. Myrin*

              Aha, that is much more straightforward than what I thought! I don’t know what sites Google had led me to before where I just didn’t get that at all (or maybe I just had a weird case of brain fog). Thanks for explaining!

              1. JessaB*

                And it’s very powerful, you can have as many fields as you want in your document and as long as your list has all those fields you can make a whole lot of fairly custom documents out of it. Down to the difference between Dear Mrs. Smith and Dear Ms. Smith and Dear Doctor Smith, as long as your listing had the preferred honourific on it. Even can do some maths if set up right “we see you last donated 3 years ago,” if you’re merging from an Excel sheet that has that calculation in it.

              2. Specialk9*

                I’m being told that I can use Mail Merge to take Excel questionnaires and have the answers auto-plopped into the correct spots of my Word plan template. I haven’t spent time with online tutorials on how to do this yet, but I’m really hoping it’s possible.

          2. lulu*

            Google “mail merge in Word” or “mail merge in excel”. It’s not a native speaker thing, it’s a software thing, and native speakers that have never used this function would have no idea what that means.

          3. Julia*

            Myrin, as a fellow German, I learned to create Serienbriefe in high school, so maybe that’s what you know? Serial letters and mail merge sound like different things, so it’s not intuitive that they’re the same.

            1. Myrin*

              Aha, now that’s an expression I know! (Although I totally don’t know how to do it/never had to do it before since I don’t work in an office and we didn’t have any IT stuff in school; I’ll definitely look this up now.) Dankeschön! :D

          4. Falling Diphthong*

            This thread is the first time I had realized it could be a Word thing, rather than an email thing. Just not something I ever need to do with Word.

            1. JessaB*

              Yeh it’s a word processing thing, I can do it in Word Perfect, I can do it in Word, I was able to do it on a Wang Word Processor in the boonie days. But then I used it for way more than “insert addresses here,” on letters/envelopes.

          5. paul*

            It’s a clunky wreck of a feature that should be more intuitive than it is.

            I can use it but I *really* don’t like it.

            1. Elizabeth H.*

              I have immense self-confidence at being able to figure out pretty much anything with Excel or Word but mail merges are my Achilles heel. My most dreaded task ever. I can virtually never make them work right, I try a million times, read the Office instructions, and then getting them to print on labels is its own thing. I don’t find it especially intuitive either but I’m sure someone who is great at them would disagree.

            2. PersephoneUnderground*

              Funny- it’s absolutely my favorite feature. Addressing wedding invitations? Done! Need to make a million different identical forms (like invoices) but with different info filled in for each field for each recipient (like invoice amounts, names, etc.), and automatically send as a PDF email attachment to 200 people? Done! It has a few annoying limitations but is generally insanely useful if you deal with long lists of information in Excel a lot.

        2. JamieS*

          A woman selling pies for 30 years isn’t a former homemaker but I see your point. Although IMO anyone who actually says “literally grew up using such and such software” in an interview can’t be trusted with that software. I only said it here to draw a parallel between me (someone with some experience) and someone with basically no experience. I’d never say it in an interview though. Strikes me as disingenuous.

        3. Antilles*

          Mail merge is actually a *perfect* example of what Nobody Here means with the “advanced versus basics”.
          I grew up in the early 90’s right when computers were taking over the world, have used exclusively Microsoft Word for 25 years, and have trained family members and co-workers at tricks in using Word. If you asked, I would definitely describe myself as fully competent in Word.
          And yet if OP asked me to show off a mail merge, I couldn’t because it’s something that has literally never once been remotely useful in my life. Not once. I’m sure I learned it at one point, but it disappeared into the depths of my brain like high school calculus or the date the Magna Carta was signed.

          1. JessaB*

            but I bet with five minutes of either Word help search, or google-fu you could jog your memory. That’s what I consider expert use, being able to figure out quickly the things you do NOT know and then doing them, even if you take longer the first couple of times than the average user who does it daily.

    5. Ramona Flowers*

      Yes! I think the biggest favour you could do them is to list specific skills in the job posting.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Also, try to let go of the idea that they’re lying. They just don’t know what they don’t know.

        1. Lars the Real Girl*

          This. The “lying” line struck me as so… taking it personally? Their resumes aren’t incorrect AT you, they’re just not good at self assessing. There are so many answers before getting to malice.

        2. Big10Professor*

          Excel has add-ons that don’t even install until you specifically ask them to! How could anyone know what they were missing?

        3. Myrin*

          I mean, they could be lying. It’s much much more likely that they aren’t, of course, and (like you say) just don’t know what they don’t know but I’m sure there are candidates applying to OP’s ad who deliberately overstate their proficiency (naïvely believing it will never come out or something?). It’s just OP’s perceived certainty about it/refering to seemingly all candidates that way that is misplaced.

    6. Troutwaxer*

      I see people doing two different things w/Excel:

      1.) Working with numbers, generally in complex ways.

      2.) Using it like a database. Please stop using Excel like a database. It makes baby Jesus cry. Obviously this is not totally on topic, but its one of my major per peeves.

      1. Gingerblue*

        Watch me make juvenile manifestations of the divine distraught by creating knitting charts with it.

        1. hermit crab*

          – Creating stratigraphic columns and fencepost diagrams
          – Blocking out conceptual designs for user interfaces
          – Planning a kitchen renovation (that one wasn’t me, but a coworker — and it looked AWESOME)

      2. Cedrus Libani*

        I’m with you on using Excel as a database. I was SO cranky when the maximum row count in Excel was increased from ~65K lines to something too large to serve as a deterrent. That’s not a bug, it’s a feature!

        On multiple occasions, I’ve been consulted because “Excel keeps crashing” (because you’re trying to open a multi-GB file with it, making baby Jesus weep), and have been able to step in before anything bad happens. But now, if you’ve got a recent version of Office, it’s open season. I’ve already had someone get very excited, because half of their tumor samples showed a giant duplication in chromosome 10…but they’d scrambled the data in Excel, so they were actually looking at the X chromosome (the “duplication” was female XX genotype vs male XY).

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          On the other hand, I couldn’t do my job nearly as efficiently if Excel were still limited to ~65k lines. I regularly export large csv files from our database, but I have to do annoying manipulation with lookup tables that are exported from a different database that I don’t have access rights to, and then toss in some pivot tables to summarize the data for reporting. Sure, in an ideal world all our systems would talk to each other properly (or I’d at least have admin rights to export data from one database and create the lookup table in a different one so I could have everything nicely organized in a single SQL statement), but that’s not the world I live and work in.

        2. Oryx*

          Yeah, I’m with Guacamole Bob on this one. I frequently have to export huge 65k+ files from our work database because Excel lets me sort and filter the data in a way our database doesn’t.

      3. Nea*

        It wasn’t just the baby Jesus crying when one of my jobs had me putting nothing but text into Excel because “Word tables are too hard to use. You can’t sort.”

        1. DCR*

          Isn’t that true? I just excel as a database effectively, because I need somewhere to track notes and status on 20-50 projects and need to be able to sort and filter. I didn’t think you could do that in word. Am I wrong?

          1. Hellanon*

            It’s true. Word tables are for manipulating the information inside them, they’re for formatting it on the page so it prints reliably. Desktop publishing, remember that concept?

          2. Specialk9*

            Depends on what you’re sorting. There are definitely times I jump a table between Word and Excel because one does X better, or less glitchily.

        2. paul*

          9/10 times if it’s not being printed I’ll take Excel even for text only organization, over Word. I really hate the current Word with a passion. I wasn’t exactly fond of our last version either but eyuuuch.

        3. Elizabeth H.*

          I see nothing wrong with putting text into Excel? I like the visual organization of the spreadsheet format much better than Word tables and the formatting is much quicker, sorting is more flexible, and most importantly you can manipulate text SO much more effectively. I use excel for text manipulation/re-coding/etc. more often than for anything else.

      4. Oryx*

        Ohhhhh boy. Excel as a database.

        No joke, when I got my first professional librarian gig at the prison, the entire library catalog was in a single Excel spreadsheet. A very disorganized Excel spreadsheet at that. That was the entire database of the library’s offerings and it hadn’t been updated in about a year. So that was fun.

          1. Eponymous Clent*

            Databases have internal structure that helps them handle large amounts of data efficiently and safely. A quick google turns up some of them:
            * They don’t need to load data into RAM. So large datasets don’t slow you down like in Excel.
            * They are designed for safe sharing. Multiple people can work on them at the same time.
            * They are designed to let you connect tables (in the excel sense, spreadsheets) in intelligent ways
            * They have better error handling and data integrity checking. They can also be configured for regular backup.

            1. Specialk9*

              I just today learned that Excel can be made for sharing. There’s a button under the review tab, and then in outlook you flag it as “review” instead of the default “follow-up”. I… Really hope it works! :D

          2. Chinook*

            Because it is too easy to scramble the data and impossible to tell when the scramble was done and how large the error was. There is no way to secure the data if you want multiple to enter it.

            I like using Excel to create the I igual database but once the format is decided on, I would give it to a software programmer with instructions to “make me something that does this” and the resulting program can suck the data from Excel and be much more secure.

            *sigh* I loved working with our programmers like that. They created some great database programs for us before I left.

      5. DaisyGrrl*

        For reasons known only to themselves, at my work you have to jump through ridiculous hoops to get access to Access. Our IT people will make you describe what it is you need to do that can’t be done with Excel. Apparently, have a database is not an acceptable answer.

      6. paul*

        My employer won’t pay for a real database, either training in it or software licenses :( SO I’m stuck using Excel like a database sometimes.

        1. KTZee*

          Based on what I’ve been reading lately, baby Jesus probably thinks you should use INDEX and MATCH instead. But I’m still using VLOOKUP because I learned it first and am resistant to change like all good software users.

      7. hypernatural*

        I have used Excel as a database when I wasn’t given access to a real database. Management says “we need to track this stuff”, IT says “we’re not giving you a server or permission to install any new software. Make do with Excel”. It made me cry too, but I did what I had to. I imagine many people who use it as a database are in this boat.

      8. JAM*

        I wish my employers would let me use Access or any kind of database. I’m stuck with Excel because of them and I’ve slowly been losing all of my database skills and I’m dying a slow death in general using a 5-figure row count Excel sheet.

    7. Gingerblue*

      This was my thought, too. I have no idea what “strong” skills in either of those programs would look like, though I use both regularly.

    8. Lars the Real Girl*

      Completely agreed. I spend about 80% of my working day in Excel, and I would say I’m proficient at it. Pivot tables? In my sleep. Index/match, no problem. But ask me to make a graph or do an analytical regression and I’ll be googling for hours.

      I once had a coworker come to me and say:
      “so I hear you’re really good at Excel”
      “no, like, REALLY good”
      “um…I’m not sure? What do you need?”

      Turns how he needed help un-filtering a list. Like, clicking the clear filter button. So, in his eyes, I’m REALLY good at Excel. (He also asked me on 3 separate following occasions to “show him that Excel magic again”.)

      It’s SO dependent on the work that needs to be done.

      1. TL -*

        My old manager, who was a really fantastic manager, used to send me Excel sheets to filter and sort :)
        I showed him once but it didn’t stick and as it was about 5 minutes once a month, I really didn’t mind.

      2. Snark*

        The issue with Excel is that most peoople, even most truly proficient people, maybe use 5% of its capability, tied directly to what you need it to do. It’s got depths on top of depths, and I honestly am not sure there’s anybody with a full and clear idea of what it can do, even the devs.

        1. Myrin*

          That’s the reason I find it so frighteningly intimidating. I’ve never needed to use it in all my life and thus know basically nothing about it (other than some things I sometimes read about here on AAM, but even then I only know theoretically that they’re possible). We had a mandatory IT-centric course early-on in university and one or two lessons were about Excel and I just could. not. wrap my head around any of what the guy was talking about. I felt like I was back in math class again, my brain couldn’t handle it. :(

        2. Mike C.*

          At the same time, much of those capabilities are there because so many Excel users are afraid to use actual databases or similar tools. It’s really easy to shoot past what Excel can handle.

          1. Jesca*

            This is true. I am stuck right now having to use a spread sheet like a database for one report I run. Basically the two programs involved do not have all of the data available in their reports, so we have to track it all by hand (no access). I am very clear haha that each year we need to make a new one. It is already glitching and I have no patience for it!

            And it all could just be avoided if people developing software just understood analytics and process flows.

          2. Elizabeth H.*

            Fwiw, if Excel has these capabilities and I don’t have large enough data sets to go past its capabilities, I don’t see anything wrong with continuing to use it for my relatively small scale database creation, statistical analysis, stuff like that. I know the program pretty well and I do know to seek out other programs for specific needs (which have come up in the course of my work never, but I know what it is and isn’t good for).

            I agree that Excel is far from an ideal database, but my organization already uses PeopleSoft as its actual database. The way my organization uses it isn’t flexible in the same way for what I need, so I import the tables I’m working with into Excel. Bc we already have PeopleSoft I don’t really want to put time and energy into re-creating a complex database in a different program if that makes sense, although I’ve thought about it.

          3. Snark*

            Yes, absolutely this. I’ve often thought there really needs to be a “Word Pro” and “Excel Pro” for all the tricksy stuff and the standard versions need to be really stripped down to core, typical functionality.

      3. Susan K*

        That happens to me all the time. Someone will have an “Excel problem” and someone else will mention, “Susan K is good at Excel. You should ask her.” So the person will come to me and ask for help with Excel, and I’ll say, “Sure!” but inwardly gulp and hope it’s something I know how to do off the top of my head. And it almost always ends up being something very basic, like, “Can you make this data into a pie chart?” or “Can you make this list go in alphabetical order?” but they are very impressed that I know how to do it.

      4. FiveWheels*

        Argh, this maddens me. I once told a colleague that I know how to do things in Office by Googling. She didn’t believe me.

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          Yup. My mad tech skills are because I either keep clicking things until I find something that does what I want, or I google it.

    9. Em Too*

      Yes, or at least describe the need. I can build you a multidimensional sales forecasting model in Excel/vba, no problem. But if you need your existing sales data summarised and presented, I’ll won’t be applying.

    10. Emma*

      Goodness yes, I wish more organisations would do this! I guess it’s complicated by the fact that hiring managers are just as vulnerable to not knowing what they don’t know as anyone else.

    11. Mockingjay*

      Same for Word. At Current Job and Toxic ExJob, people are astounded by how fast and consistently I can format a document. They know nothing about Word’s style codes, which have been around for 10 years. These people are technical writers. One guy is so anti-Word that he will do short reports in Adobe Framemaker.

    12. Not Today Satan*

      I totally agree. I often see “advanced Excel” skills required in non-tech/data job ads and I know (with very few exceptions) they can’t possibly actually mean advanced Excel is required. But then I see “intermediate” or “advanced” Excel skills required for a data job and I’m not sure if I qualify–I’m “advanced” for what I need to do at my current job, but I also have a fairly narrow set of responsibilities. And when I google “proficiency levels” for various programs I get all sorts of responses.

    13. Alton*

      I agree that specificity is really helpful. I know that when I was job hunting, I seldom knew exactly what employers meant when they referred to general proficiency in Word and Excel.

    14. Mike C.*

      On the other side of the coin, anytime anyone has ever wanted me to perform “advanced” Excel techniques, I could always teach myself whatever it was in a few minutes with the help files or a YouTube video.

      1. Purplesaurus*

        Truth. I wish there were an acceptable resume short-hand for “effectively supplement any lack of knowledge with X by a Google/Youtube search.”

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          Same. I usually try to capture that in cover letter or in an interview by explaining that I consider one of my most valuable professional qualities to be my motivation and confidence in seeking out and teaching myself new techniques when I find they would be useful for a work project, and giving specific example(s).

        2. Mike C.*

          Is there a professional way to say, “I’m chronically lazy but enjoy a consistent paycheck so I’m going to have all these processes automated in a few weeks”?

    15. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I’m good with Excel. I think I’m great with Excel for what I’m going to be asked to do. However, I’m also nowhere near what *should* be considered advanced. Within the last week, I answered the question by stating that I was great at writing formulas that generally came up while doing (job title) but that if they were looking for someone to go into visual basic and write code to make excel do what you wanted it to do, that I was not the right person for that. There was a couple of seconds of silence and then the admission that they didn’t even know that was possible. Generally, I’ve found that since I can do (simple) pivot tables and write vlookup and if formulas that most people think I’m a wizard.

    16. voluptuousfire*

      I looked for jobs for ages and only once did I see something like this. I wanted to write the company and thank them for actually explaining what they were looking for with MS Office proficiency.

  6. Liz*

    #3 I agree that people just don’t know that they don’t know basic skills like word or excel. I work in a library and people ask for help with basic word formatting and basic web navigation and then ask us if they should put excellent or very good in response to a job application question about their computer skills. They just don’t know that they are not good at these skills.

    1. OOF*

      I agree. When I was a new college grad, I had written papers in Word and made, like, two spreadsheets. So I listed Office as a skill and thank god my first office job didn’t do a skills test. But, I’m a super fast learner and did actually learn what I needed on the job. Which may be possible for some other candidates as well, though it’s always hard to know which ones those might be.

    2. dragonzflame*

      Oh, man. When I worked in a library, the number of times I’d come across someone who didn’t know how to print a document, or save it as a pdf. And these were people my age, born in the 80s-90s.

      1. Oryx*

        That has less to do with age and more to do with access (or, well, lack of access) to computers. The digital divide and all of that.

    3. Ismis*

      On the other side of that, I had to do some tests when applying to a temp agency… and I failed! I was using CTRL-P instead of File – Print, and the test software failed me for it. Luckily, I was allowed sit it again and got a few jobs out of the agency, but after that experience, I would have considered myself to have amazing skills :)

      1. JulieBulie*

        In 1989, as a recent college graduate, I tested at a temp agency for proficiency in Word. It was basically a typing test where I had to italicize or bold or underline various words.

        Then, as now, I would usually type the whole sentence and then go back and do the formatting. But the software insisted that if I didn’t bold/italicize/underline as I was typing, then I didn’t know what I was doing… so they placed me as a telemarketer, where I lasted a whole two days.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          That is insane, and sounds like it dates back to “Wordstar” days, when you DID have to put in the formatting marks as you typed. Because you had to bloody hand-code in the formatting! (Although you COULD still go back and add in the formatting after the fact, even then.)

          No, I take it back. This sounds like it dates back to bloody *typewriter* days.

          And I remember temp agency typing tests where if you corrected a word before you hit the space bar, it didn’t count as an error, it just affected your calculated typing speed. Which kind of meant that you had to be looking at the screen rather than the original you were typing from. So much duh.

  7. Decimus*

    #3 – Related to this is that I think it’s hard to figure out how the terms are being defined. As an example, I can use Word for pretty much everything I’ve ever needed to do work-wise, such as changing margins, fonts, adding footnotes or endnotes or headers, et cetera. On the other hand, I can’t figure out the existing styles or mail merge features (although I could probably learn if it was necessary). Are my skills basic? Intermediate? I have no idea.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I think I’d say basic rather than intermediate if you haven’t figured out styles.

      One trick that’s worth learning is building a table of contents and updating it (you can totally get Word to do that for you).

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        When I had just graduated from university and was looking for a job, I did a part time IT course which was specifically aimed at jobseekers and went through Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint and how to make a basic website. I remember the Word section covered spacing, formatting and mail merges, and I thought it was enough to get an adminstrative job.

        It would seem applicants in this case are not aware what precisely will be required. I once had an interview where PowerPoint would be required for the position, and I had done very little using PowerPoint. However the job description had only referred to PowerPoint, and it was only during the interview that it transpired the position required somebody to make frequent slide presentation.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Honestly, I consider Styles a basic skill, because they should be used in just about any document. With Styles, you can not only make your chapter/subheadings uniform, but you can update them ALL just by updating the style!

      If an existing style doesn’t fit your needs, you can overwrite it (just for that document)! Just adjust the font/spacing/alignment however you need, then leave the cursor in that text, and right-click the style tile that you want to use. One of the options will be “Update [style name] to match selection”. It’s very easy!

    3. Fabulous*

      I consider myself pretty advanced in Word: I can do margins, spacing, fonts, columns, footnotes, borders and page colors, pictures, text boxes, insert functions, tables, add comments, create labels, as well as customization of everything listed. I have also been building graphics in Word lately too. You seriously can do just about anything in this program!

      HOWEVER, I only just learned about the Table of Contents in the last year, but it seems cool and very useful – I can definitely see how it’d word hand-in-hand with Styles. I’ve also never used a mail merge (well, maybe once?) and no job I’ve ever had required its use.

      TL;DR… Mail Merge and Style functions definitely don’t define someone’s knowledge level of Word.

      1. Huddled over tea*

        It’s definitely interesting how subjective this can be, because I would probably consider all those things you listed as Basic, with creating labels as Intermediate!

        1. Fabulous*

          Tbh a lot of those things ARE basic, but there are tons of people (my manager at work included) who don’t know how to do them. Therefore, what seems basic to me and other super-users are in all actuality intermediate/advanced.

          1. Specialk9*

            I clarify my Microsoft suite capabilities as user vs developer: advanced Word user, intermediate Excel user, but I can’t code at all. So I am usually seen as a Word formatting wizard, and can do lotsa cool stuff in Excel (and google how to do new stuff). I could teach a community level Microsoft course, but would be a student taking notes in an advanced technical class on how to use Microsoft.

    4. Joshua*

      I think if you have enough knowledge in Word (or another Microsoft program) to know that a function exists, that it may be useful in some situations and how to learn how to do it on your own (10-15 minute google search counts), then I think you can comfortably say you’re at least an intermediate level user. You can very quickly become the office expert in your program if you have the ability to transform a ‘How do I…’ question into a ‘this is how…’ answer using the internet.

    5. Solidus Pilcrow*

      As a professional Word Wrangler ™, I say that styles are the top thing to learn Word (and this also applies to pretty much any word processing/desktop publishing program and HTML/CSS). Applying styles to your text lets you do amazing things:
      * Generate a TOC
      * Generate other lists based on the style
      * Use the navigation pane to jump to different sections (based on heading styles)
      * Get consistent formatting
      * Change formatting across an entire doc without formatting each line (including cleaning up formatting from a messy source)
      * Find and replace by style (you can also find and replace by highlight) – Add Wildcards to find and replace and you can do magic!
      * Key macros to styles

      And to the original letter, I agree with all the other commenters here that proficiency is context based. I’m very skilled in many aspects of Word, but I don’t do things like footnotes and citations in my line of work. So while I’m a formatting wiz, you don’t want me adding footnotes to your thesis.

      1. Specialk9*

        If you can do styles, you can figure out footnotes fast. The hardest thing with footnotes is getting the right source formatting (APA vs MLA, etc) and that’s about content and not Word.

  8. Edith*

    #5: The library I work at recently changed the title of an open position. Why? The A and B librarian left, so that’s the post they advertised. Then the Y and Z librarian expressed an interest in taking over A. So she became the A and Z librarian and the opening was changed to B and Y.

    It could also be that they never settled on an official title. For a long time my business cards, email sig, office nameplate, and the business’s website all listed different titles for me because after the higher ups created the position they never got around to naming it.

    1. Kathleen Adams*

      My organization did pretty much exactly what OP #5 is describing, I think: We posted a job but didn’t have much success getting qualified applicants (because the job title was, frankly, ridiculous), so they reworked the job description and especially the title and posted it again.

      It happens.

      1. BetsyTacy*

        Yep. A local nonprofit posted a job as ‘CFO’ and was shocked when they got people who felt the $30k-ish salary was too low.

        They then posted for an ‘Accounting Supervisor’ and finally ended up hiring someone with the title of something like, ‘Bookkeeping Director’ or ‘Senior Bookkeeper”.

        At the same time, my org has a title which is more akin to ‘Assistant Program Director’ which is just ‘Program Associate’. We end up posting the job as Program Associate (Assistant Program Director) because otherwise we just don’t get the right level of applicant.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          I can’t remember what the original job title here was, but the problem was that it was just…stupid. It wasn’t that it was inflated, necessarily or that it indicated an overblown degree of authority. It just didn’t use any of the right words to appeal to the applicants that we wanted for that particular job…or to even communicate what we needed applicants to be able to do. Let’s say that the actual job was generating and overseeing web and social media content. It would be like taking a job usually referred to as “online content manager” or something basic like that and calling it instead “new media adviser.”

          1. Artemesia*

            I had to hire for years for a position that was named appropriate but where the job description for political reasons internally could not say what we really wanted. We managed to bury what we wanted in the long descriptions of back ground we were looking for but among a lot of things we were not looking for. It drove us nuts because 80% of the applicants, some of whom were very experienced and with great credentials for the general type of position, lacked the critical things we really wanted. I had incredulous candidates who couldn’t believe they didn’t get a phone screen and I could see why. We also paid far too little for what we wanted but did manage to hire a dozen or so during the time I was doing it.

      2. Annie*

        I had an issue recently where I matched the job ad very well. But when I had the phone interview and I highlighted my skills that were listed in the ad, the hiring manager said, “oh – another department handles those things.” After a few weeks, I received a rejection (but for a different job title with a different job description – they changed everything. It was weird. It’s almost as though the wrong job ad was put out???

  9. Detached Elemental*

    #3 – This may be cynical but I’m wondering if people think they can learn on the job, or Google whatever they need to do.

      1. AB*

        For some it is. People don’t all have the same capacity to learn new things. I think it’s pretty deceptive to say you’re advanced in something if you know you’re not. I’ve gone into lots of interviews saying that I have limited experience using a particular tool/software but give examples of other similar things which I learnt quickly on the job.

        It’s really frustrating that when people lie about their skills/experience. I’ve hired people with less experience to learn on the job, but sometimes you really need someone who can start get stuck in from day 1.

        My favouite is people who say they’re good at communicating then have long rambling CVs listing every minor task they did at every irrelevant job. Minor typing/spelling errors I can overlook. The inability to summarise information consicely into the key points I cannot overlook.

        1. Specialk9*

          As others have said, most/nearly all of the time it’s not lying, it’s that there is simply no objective definition of intermediate, advanced. In one office a skill is basic and in another you’re a wizard. Same skill, totally different characterizations.

          So the lesson for you to learn is that the onus is on you as the hiring manager to give candidates better criteria. You need specificity in your listings, eg “advanced Excel skills (pivot tables, mail merge, macros, VBA, sort, graphs, conditional formatting)” or whatever.

    1. Lehigh*

      Well…often, they can. I’m pretty sure my job listing said “proficient” in Word, Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint, etc. Fortunately I was familiar with the role. I know really very little about the advanced functions of any of these, and hadn’t used Powerpoint in about a decade, but I have never been not-up-to-the-task in the job. I google a lot. And, perhaps more importantly, “proficient” was just a buzz word. “Competent” would have been fine.

    2. Laura*

      You’d have to know what to google for…

      I’m not proficient in any area of software, but I’m good at retracing my processes and following instructions… I once got rid of the show desktop icon by accident (on a personal PC thank goodness) and was able to rectify that by a combination of going backward (as in “ok what exactly did I do” and consulting google search. That was panicky enough on my own time- in a work situation, there’s no way I’d think that calmly through it.

      Time wise I have over 10 years exposure to the Office software suite. But I would still need help with anything Access-y, would need to be walked through a Mail-merge in Word, and would probably need to document step by step instruction for Excel. And goodness knows what else.

      Winging it is not advisable.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I google how to do things in excel and word all the time; I honestly think the ability to do that is a pretty useful skill on its own.

      1. FiveWheels*

        Honestly I think the main difference between basic and intermediate users is that intermediate users can Google.

      2. JulieBulie*

        It is a very useful skill, and I never appreciated how useful it was until I met people who couldn’t seem to do it. They knew how to use Google, but did not have enough Word/Excel-related vocabulary to even know which search terms to use.

    4. CoffeeLover*

      I think a lot of it is learnable if you have the right mindset and a certain level of understanding of the program. Not everyone has that. I think the fundamental understanding of the program is the most important part. You need to know what you can and can’t do, and how to google something. It’s one thing for me, someone with good excel skills (ie array formulas, pivot tables, understands what a macro is and can use it), to learn how to use VBA on the job. It’s another thing for someone who can barely format a table. I do think people can stretch themselves a little in this regard when it comes to applications, but know your limitations.

      In the past, when I’ve applied to jobs and been asked about experience in something I don’t have but am confident I can learn… I give a bit of a half-truth. I certainly don’t claim I’m proficient in that area. I do say something along the lines of “I’m familiar with it, but it’s not something I’ve used extensively in the past. I believe I would be able to pick it up quickly though given how I picked up X skill at Y job.”

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        > I’m familiar with it, but it’s not something I’ve used extensively in the past.


        I have been known to say “I used that program in a previous version at least five years ago.” Often that is true, but also I know from experience that I can learn most software as needed, especially if I can tell what the software is supposed to do just from the name. (Obvs, I can’t do things with software that I just can’t do: I took AutoCAD classes back in the DOS era but that did not turn me into a mechanical engineer; and knowing Word would do me little good if I had crappy writing skills.)

        But, again, I think we’re looking at Dunning-Krueger in action here. It’s hard to know what you don’t know. I agree with whoever said that naming the actual skills needed in Word or Excel is way more useful than just saying “proficient” or “expert”. I mean, I can do a LOT in Excel and have taught classes, but pivot tables just defeated me because I don’t have a good understanding of the kind of analysis they’re good for. So I’d call myself proficient, sure, up until the minute that you list pivot tables specifically in the skills needed.

    5. aebhel*

      This is how I’ve learned to do literally everything I know how to do in Excel. I graduated with a liberal arts degree in 2008; I’d never used it in school, and my first internship assumed that anybody my age knew how to use it. I was able to figure out everything I needed pretty quickly, though; it’s generally a pretty intuitive program, at least for the basic stuff.

    6. OP#3*

      That very well may be true. But if that’s the case, why are they applying for jobs that say we will test them on their skills?

      Honestly, I think the bigger problem is candidates who mass apply. They hit the easy apply buttons for any and all jobs that have a title similar to what they are looking for and they don’t even bother to read the descriptions in the first place. Which is obviously not who we want on our team anyway, but it’s frustrating to get more of those than people who actually read the description.

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        I think you should focus less on the skills section and more in the “used Excel to achieve x” section on resumes.

      2. Clippy v. Links*

        Maybe in the ad you could state the specific tasks they need to be able to do, like “Must be able to use Styles, Mail Merge, and tables.” They might not be lying as much as just not realizing what they don’t know. For example, I would consider myself an advanced beginner in Excel. I have a friend who has used it for 10 years or more, and I assumed from talking to her that she knew it very, very well–she certainly thinks she does. Then I worked with her on a volunteer project and discovered that she knows the basics, but doesn’t have even the slightest bit of curiosity about using it more effectively, and as a result, is really not that great with it. I’ve known many people through the years who are the same way about Word–they don’t know how much they don’t know. :-) At the very least, specifying exactly which functions you need them to know will weed out honest people who aren’t the experts they thought they were.

  10. OOF*

    OP 1, please do speak up directly. Your employee’s behavior is no doubt annoying her colleagues, disrespectful to those leading the meetings and also reflects poorly on her. Not being very clear (which can be done while also being kind) is a disservice to you, her, and your colleagues.

    1. rubyrose*

      In addition – if this person somehow gets promoted, eventually to a supervisory/management position, and they have not been instructed in proper behavior, they will then model this to their staff, who then will be writing in to AAM on how to deal with their manager who is being rude in meetings.

      I worked with a guy once who never.never.never put a subject line in his emails. He had a masters, managed others. I, as someone at his level in a different department, did comment on this once to him, but the behavior did not change. It grated on me the entire time I was there.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Did that guy actually get timely responses? (And was this before the era when you could read the message without opening it?)

  11. Ramona Flowers*

    #1 I’d ask her why she’s actually on it, which I don’t think anyone has suggested yet. You might think that doesn’t change the advice – she needs to be on it less, end of story, right? – but I think you’ll have better luck if she feels she’s been heard.

    Because what’s not clear is whether she’s messaging with/about her mother, or just refreshing her work inbox or something.

    Personally, I never leave a room without my phone because the one time I did, I missed a call that someone close to me was in a coma.

    1. Lars the Real Girl*

      Ehh….I don’t think the “why” is important, or necessary for the manager to know. I think a straightforward, in the moment, “if that’s urgent, could you please take it outside, otherwise I really need you focused on the teapots” is sufficient. It gives a clear opening that she can step outside to take a call/text, but that her constant checking is not appropriate.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        It’s not necessary to know the why in order to tell someone to do things differently, no. But it does help with getting people to listen, so there’s that.

        1. TL -*

          But it could also make the employee feel like the amount of time they’re on the phone is an open conversation and negotiable, rather than being clear that the behavior is unacceptable.

          I personally wouldn’t open the conversation with that question because I wouldn’t want to give the impression that there’s a reason it could be okay to spend meetings on your phone. And I do think that starting with the question implies they’re looking for a way to work around the need to be on the phone 24/7, rather than what the OP actually wants to say, which is get off your phone and take important conversations outside.

          1. Artemesia*

            This. Even if her mother is seriously ill and she has to be instantly reachable, she should not be doing that phone business in a meeting. The phone notifies, she sees the topic, she leaves to handle it. This is not a person to give an inch on phone use in meetings.

        2. Lars the Real Girl*

          I think it could also make it super awkward for the employee to answer if she is….checking for texts from the new guy she started talking to on tinder, waiting on a message from a new job offer, playing Candy Crush, etc.

          The boss is assuming this is all mom-related but it could just be a distracted tendency, and, regardless, the behavior needs to change.

        3. AB*

          I’m also against asking them specifically why they’re on the phone. Just remind them that if something important is going on then of course they can check their phone periodically/have it off silent, and they can duck on the meeting if they need to respond to something. But outside of that they should be focussing on what’s happening in the meeting.

          I had a boss like this, she was strict about phone usage (Has to be on silent and out of sight all day). If you needed to keep your phone close by for some reason as people often do then you had to explain to her exactly why. You’d have to send her an email in the morning like “My phone will be on my desk today as my daughter is unwell at home and I need to be available in case the babysitter calls.” It wasn’t even company policy, every other department had phones visible and people texting/using them at their desk. She was just a huge control freak. She was the same with being off sick. You couldn’t call in and say “I’m not feeling well.” She wanted to know why, what was wrong, what symptoms do you have, what medication have you taken for it, have you been to see a doctor.

          It made everyone feel like she didn’t trust us to know what was important and she was checking up on us to make sure that we had a valid reason. That was indeed the reason, as she expected me to do the same with my direct reports. She didn’t like me to give people permission to use their phone unless I know why to check they had a good enough reason.

          1. OP#1*

            Honestly, I think that’s too far. It’s very intrusive and demoralizing to be so strict about things adults shouldn’t have an issue with. In my opinion, the sick leave and phone usage go hand and hand. There if you need them, it’s a problem when you start to abuse either of them. It’s not fair to penalize others because one team member may be abusing the phone or sick leave. I use the phone throughout the day (mostly during lunch, but here and there other times) to text with family and friends. It is almost perceived as odd if people take the 15 minute breaks in the AM and PM they are entitled to, so I don’t have an issue with people spending a total of 5-10 minutes throughout the day using the phone for peresonal use.

      2. OP#1*

        @Lars the Real Girl – I really like that too. I think the, “If that’s urgent, can you take it outside,” would get the point across well. It would have the bonus that it would be *while* it is happening. I could not think of an effective way to call out that behavior as it was happening without singling Robin out or appearing to reprimand her in front of her peers.

    2. MicroManagered*

      I could see it being useful to ask why… it doesn’t make putting the phone away an optional thing, but if she has a somewhat-understandable reason for doing it, knowing that reason would give OP1 some opportunity to address the proper way to handle an urgent message in a meeting.

      If she’s just texting her new boyfriend or something frivolous, the question would possibly spark that thought process and get her to understand why what she’s doing isn’t acceptable.

      And, possibly, save a little face by giving her a chance to say “gosh I didn’t realize I was doing it that much” or something.

    3. I'm A Little TeaPot*

      I’d like to push back on the notion that you have to be available all the time. Before cell phones, there were plenty of situations where you’d find something out a few hours or days later. We clearly survived it. There is also plenty of evidence that always being connected is detrimental to human beings – our mental health, development, etc.

      I’m sorry that a loved one was in a coma. But presumably, when you learned of it did not affect the outcome, but it does affect how long you are in distress due to that knowledge. There are so many situations where we are spectators, carried along with the events, and many times it is better for us to avoid that as long as possible.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. Having raised children in the era before cell phones, I know that few people have to be available every moment. Doctors had pagers in those days. Everyone else coped. If the person has to be able to act quickly i.e. is on call in some way then the phone may be at hand, but even the school can call the office and the receptionist fetch the person. Certainly the cell phone can be nearby without being played with because the school or hospital might call. Death and comas rarely require immediate action.

        1. JessaB*

          Yep and the first thing you did in a new job was find out how someone got hold of you in emergencies and let them know that and made it incredibly clear that if it was not an emergency there was going to be hell to pay.

          Same thing you do today if the person works in a call centre. There’s always a manager’s number or a quality department or HR that you can call and say “Sue’s kid just got hit by a car, I need her to call me back asap at number.”

          I have never been at a job nor known a friend or relative at a job in over 50 years both pre and post mobile phones that there was not a way to get to them in an emergency that was acceptable to the bosses. Even if I was the first person to ask how it’s done, they always came up with something.

          If you’re not allowed your phone at your desk and you don’t have a dedicated line there is someone who does.

          1. nonegiven*

            >“Sue’s kid just got hit by a car, I need her to call me back asap at number.”

            Then the person who took the message decides to wait hours before telling you like the guy with the cop wife who was injured, or the person with the suffering horse.

    4. Susanne*

      Those of us who grew up in the 70’s know that our fathers were at work and our mothers were out shopping or running other errands, and so if we got sick at school, it simply waited until such time as our mothers got home and answered the phone.

      I’m sorry about your loved one being in a coma, so please don’t take this the wrong way — what difference would it have made to the situation if you had found out 15 minutes later than when you did?

    5. OP#1*

      That’s a good thought…

      I do know she sometimes refreshes her work email on her phone, but there is truly nothing we do that is so urgent that an hourly employee needs to be “on” at all times to respond.

      I have speculations about what she’s actually doing but it’s not fair to make that assumption. I plan to ask her if she truly needs to have her phone at meetings and follow-up for a reason if she says she does. If she says she just likes to have it with her, I’ll tell her that the constant checking of it is distracting and ask that she put it on silent or airplane or simply leave at her desk if there is no pressing urgent family matter.

      1. JessaB*

        Honestly, even if her mother is literally in the process of dying, there is only so fast she can get to the hospital anyway, and if the meeting is less than an hour, I can’t see where having to wait is going to be an issue. It’s different if you’re in meetings all day and there’s no receptionist or admin (either yours or someone else’s) outside the meeting that can come get you, but seriously, there are ways to deal with this that are completely less disruptive and if she wasn’t generally disruptive there wouldn’t be an issue now. I say this as someone whose mother was actively dying in the days of landlines only as communication (and only people who made fortunes had car phones or beepers because they were extremely expensive back then,) and also had to travel from a job in Manhattan to Queens where we lived when she did die.

        If it’s necessary in the “mom is on the way out she’ll want to talk to you if she starts getting weak,” kind of way, then someone else can hold the phone and if x people are on it, hand it to her. It’s not ideal, it’s kinda infantalising but geez she’s not acting responsibly here which is to whitelist ONLY the people that are important to this one particular issue and leave the phone alone unless the specially selected ringtone/text alert comes in.

        Heck all the people I want to talk to have their own ringtones and this includes Mr B’s bosses in case of emergency.

        I admit to being over 50 and because Mr B used to work for a particular phone company that had a policy of making their employees use every new tech thing that came down the line we had the first non commercial personal beepers, we had the first home use designed printer/fax combo machine, the first caller ID, the first call forwarding service, the first brick mobile phones, all the way to when he retired from the company having the first Star Trek communicator style flip phones. All at company cost/discount to use.

        We still actually have mobile phone service from the same company after all these years because as a retiree from them we still get a massive service discount.

        So I know all the tricks for making sure you ONLY get the calls/txts you want because I’ve been doing that since it was practically hidden features down 6 click the buttons menus and texting was using the keypad to pick out letters IE hitting 2 three times to get to the C.

        tl;DR smartphones are so easy nowadays to only talk to who you want to when you want to that this employee should be able to leave her phone sitting on the table during a meeting and only see it blink/vibrate if it’s definitely a person she needs to talk to now.

  12. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 On the one hand, yes, this is a nice problem to have. Except imposter syndrome is not a nice problem to have, actually.

    Why not try asking if there are any areas you should focus on growing or improving in the immediate future, what goals they’d like to set, where they’d like you to focus your energies – try to make this about looking forward. It’s also okay to say you feel really pleased!

    And then take any written feedback – or if it was verbal write it down – and read it more than once. Read it as if it was about someone else. Read it while telling that critical inner voice to go do one. Read it while telling yourself you can trust the feedback and the fact you feel like an imposter doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

    1. Meirai*

      Seconded in all aspects, particularly about trusting the positive feedback you get.

      I’d also like to emphasize the particularly open approach that Alison recommended, if you think it’ll work with your boss. It’s okay to say that you appreciate the positive feedback but that you think you could have done X, Y or Z better. Hell, it’s okay to add that you’re not sure how important those concerns are and ask for advice regarding how to determine that, if you’re willing to go that far.

      Also don’t short your prep time for the review. However you decide to respond, thinking through what you’re likely to hear and practicing responses beforehand, even if just in my head, always helped me a lot in avoiding awkward pauses or an inability to respond. (The one time I wasn’t able to properly prepare, it didn’t really end well, so I may be overestimating the importance of that point.)

    2. Blue*

      Agreeing with all of this, as well! OP, we are in very similar circumstances, and I know it can be hard to take compliments on your work at face value. Literally last week my supervisor said, “I don’t think I’ve said it enough, but you’re doing really great work on this,” and I wanted to respond with all the reasons it didn’t feel that way to me.

      I don’t know about you, OP, but my instinct to say “thanks, but…” is partly a result of me wanting to prove that I’m not complacent and I recognize things can be improved. I’ve been working with my current supervisor long enough that I know he already knows that I’m assessing and analyzing and strategizing; vocalizing my internal criticisms is not necessary. It still takes a conscious effort to leave it at, “Thank you, that’s nice to hear,” but it helps remind me that just because there’s room for improvement, it doesn’t mean the original effort wasn’t already high quality. It’s great that your supervisor acknowledges your work; I hope reading/hearing that appreciation repeatedly helps you start to believe it!

      1. OP 4*

        OP #4 here … thanks for the support and suggestions! I don’t have a very close relationship with my boss (he’s not super involved in most of my work) but will try the approach of asking for suggestions on areas where I can improve and grow. And yes, I’m working on trying to ‘ trust the praise’ and believe it!

        1. Quinalla*

          I would definitely ask for what things you should be working on to improve in your current role or so that you can advance in the company. Or if there is something you are planning to work on, bring it up and see what your boss thinks about it.

        2. Jennifer Thneed*

          OP4: please don’t verbally turn down positive feedback. You don’t say you’re doing it, but just in case: don’t do it. Why? Because it gives the impression that you disagree with the person, which means that you think they have poor judgement.

          (It’s like the social situation where someone turns down a compliment. If I like your shirt and you are embarrassed and denigrate it, well, you’ve just told me that I have bad taste, and that’s kind of an insult.)

          1. Specialk9*

            Yeah, it undermines your work reputation, and is inappropriately asking others to carry water for you in terms of emotional labor. (Lots of people have poor self esteem, but that’s for a paid therapist, partner, or religious figure to help one work through.) At work, being visibly insecure means you will get passed over for someone who appears confident.

  13. KatyDid*

    OP#5, when my partner was looking for work we often noticed the job title change after he interviewed. We surmised the company decided the position could be filled at less cost with a “lower” title, i.e. skill set than they originally thought they needed.

    Troutwaxer…..I’ve had clients do DRAWINGS in Excel and submit them for me to quote. I could never wrap my brain around that one.

  14. Rookie Manager*

    OP #3 could you do a word and excel timed test for those that come for first round interviews? Actually see what their skills are? Has anyone else tried this?

    1. Sparkly Librarian*

      OP #3 has. They’re looking for a way to turn down applicants who don’t make it far enough to be tested, when it’s apparent from their application materials that they aren’t proficient.

      We test our candidates for their experience in both because it really is an important part of the role and we don’t have the time or resources to teach people to the level of skills we need them to have. The fact that we test our candidates for these skills is also listed in the job posting.

      At least with someone who overstated their skills and interviewed, we can show the test results when we tell them why they aren’t being further considered.

      1. oranges & lemons*

        Yeah, I think both the OP and the job candidates will be less frustrated if the job postings are clearer about which specific skills the job requires, before making people come in to take tests.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        When I temped I was driven absolutely round the bend by tests that expected me to mouse through menus and marked me incorrect for using keyboard shortcuts. It was exasperating.

        1. Morag*

          Yes. My only consolation once I got over the unfairness of it all was to realize you had to be REALLY good to dumb down advanced skills enough to figure out how to do it the “easy” way.

        2. Here we go again*

          Ditto. I didn’t think that test was a good assessment of anything… I don’t know if they have changed the test since I took it, close to a decade ago, but they used to only want you to use their method of doing something (even if there were 5 ways to accomplish the same thing)… There was also no access to the “help” feature! I think seeing how long it takes for someone to figure something out they don’t know in Excel is equally as valuable….

          1. Fabulous*

            I took these tests maybe 2 years ago? I think it recognizes about 2 ways to do some things, but it still doesn’t recognize shortcuts.

        3. JulieBulie*

          I also got dinged for not italicizing/bolding while typing. (That was in 1989, so hopefully it’s better now.) I usually type the sentence and then go back and apply character formatting. The testing software marked me as a total ignoramus for that.

        4. Mephyle*

          Tests that ask you about the names of functions instead of asking you to demonstrate that you know where to find them and how to use them.

      2. AnonAndOn*

        I agree with people that these tests are a pain in the behind. I hate doing them. I agree that more real-life examples of using Word and Excel should be given in tests.

    2. Rookie Manager*

      I think what I was thinking about this morning was ‘what real world test can I give applicants for the office admin post I am about to recruit for’. Clearly this isn’t what I said!

      I really don’t care how someone uses word/excel as long as they can do what is required in a timely manner. What I’m fed up with for my current admin is consistent errors (‘were’ instead of ‘where’ everytime!) and weird formatting that means if I edit a document she created I almost need to format fron scratch or send it back for her to fix. I want my new person to not do that (‘that’ =annoy me)!

  15. Ruth (UK)*

    3. I recently interviewed (and got the job!) for a role that said excel skills were very important, and tested it with a 30min timed test before the interview.

    I know some people who have interviewed at the same place (they do the excel test for most their admin positions it seems) and a lot of people have expressed how (unexpectedly) difficult it was. It included knowing some formatting stuff, functions for adding up, doing percentages, and changing the format of cells (numbers, dates, etc) and few other functions. I think the people who found it too hard had thought they would be fine with the test before they took it (application mentions it).

    I know that doesn’t really help with how to screen those people out before hand, but I was just giving some examples from people I’ve spoken to that backs up what Alison says about people probably being honest in their applications – ie. They really think they have good excel skills when they don’t. It’s not that they’re intentionally lying a lot of the time.

    Incidentally, in my cover letter, I did actually talk about what I have used excel for specifically (as the job spec highlighted how important it was). Maybe look for people who don’t just say they’re familiar with it etc, but explain in what way they have actually used it. That might not be helpful advice, or might seem too obvious for me to even say (maybe people are already doing that?). Or maybe no one does that and you can’t just interview no one…

    1. Ruth (UK)*

      Ps. As for turning people down, I reckon you’re fine to just give the standard line and not give feedback to people who were not interviewed. Tbh it’s not your problem (especially as you probs get so many applications. I know when my office advertises hiring, they get hundreds). If they want feedback on their applications there is probably a friend or someone they know they can approach to look at it for them.

  16. The Other Katie*

    OP#3, that’s really aggravating, but it might be helpful to remember that Word and Excel are easy to use, but hard to master. Most people can produce basic stuff using templates and never go any further, and assume they know it and therefore it can go on their resume. I wish Word and Excel would vanish from the general skills portion of the resume, tbh. It’s as relevant as knowing how to use email.

  17. Drama Llama*

    LW3: I once advertised for a job that specified strong attention to detail and communication skills. Almost everyone who applied verbally stated they had those skills, but their resume was covered with typos and grammar errors from head to toe. I was sorely tempted to write back with some helpful hints, but didn’t due to the reasons Alison mentioned.

    What I did do was write a more detailed group rejection email with general feedback. Something like:

    “Due to the high volume of applications we’re unable to provide individual feedback. However, here are some of the things we were looking for:
    -attention to detail (minimal typos, errors in resume/cover letter)
    -[other short bullet points here]”

    I figured it was potentially useful for someone who might take the time to read the points and consider it next time they applied for a job. Someone did this when I was job searching as a graduate and I found it helpful to get specific feedback from an employer.

    1. Fabulous*

      This is really great feedback beyond the typical rejection. It would be great if this type of communication was widely used!

  18. Kali*

    I feel the excel/word thing is a bit of a Dunning-Kruger problem. I use both programs all the time, and can do some fancy things that most people I know can’t do…but I have no idea if that makes me knowledgeable in terms of what’s being looked for, because I have no idea how much there is to know about the programs. I wonder if some examples might help?

  19. Employment Lawyer*

    The word “skills” is not quantified. My ads are very explicit and quantified. They say things like “if you don’t already use tabbed browsing, right clicks, and keyboard shortcuts to browse the web; if you don’t routinely work with tables and word styles and context menus to work in Word; and if you don’t already format cells and write formulas in Excel, this job is not for you. “.

  20. Here we go again*

    #3 – The problem with Excel (and Word a little bit too) is that you don’t know what you don’t know. A lot of people think they are a 7 or 8 until they realize how much they can do with this. I would say 3 years ago, I would’ve rated myself a 7/10 when I really would’ve been more like a 5. It wasn’t because I was trying to be dishonest, I really didn’t know everything that you can do. I feel like I have a greater grasp on those things now. I now think I am legitimately in the 7-8 category, but who knows! The other problem is that some people exclusively work off of templates and worksheets that others created. They are using the software for 5-20 years and going through the motions, but really do not know how to venture outside of that and create something new. I would try to focus on what people have created and not the amount of time they have spent working within the system.

    1. azvlr*

      I review lots of documents written by others for work. I often joke that they should make people earn features in Word the way you earn privileges in some games. That way, people won’t use a different font style and color for every. single. new. line. The space bar is not a formatting tool. Sigh.

  21. Usually just a reader*

    OP 1 – Could it be that the employee is taking work notes in her phone? I will pull out my phone if I didn’t bring a pen and pad to a meeting and record info I don’t want to forget.

    1. OP#1*

      I am 99.99% sure that’s not what is happening. And most of the time she has a notepad/pen with her.

  22. cornflower blue*

    #1, just make sure you don’t take it too far. I had a manager outlaw phones and web use from meetings, and I was scolded for using my laptop to take minutes. He actually closed the lid over my fingers. Now everyone has to come in with a notepad and take handwritten notes, like it’s 1998 or something. And we work in TECH.

  23. Akcipitrokulo*

    Thing is – if you say advanced or expert word/excel skills, you may get people who do have reasonable skills who won’t apply! That was me a few years back – could do complex formulae on excel, record and edit macros, and still didn’t see myself as more than reasonably competent with a couple of hacks I’d worked out…

    Which is just a long way of saying you probably can’t win on this one :)

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Heh, per my comment below (we posted at the same time), that is exactly me. People think I’m a genius because I teach them how to use the F4 shortcut (Windows only). I probably would have turned the other way at “advanced Excel skills”, but I’m actually pretty good at it in the context of my work.

      1. Lars the Real Girl*

        Actually works on Macs too! (You have to fn+F4) The day I discovered that was a magical day.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Whoa, really? I spent almost two years frustrated because I couldn’t figure it out, and NO ONE in my office knew what I was talking about. I guess I’m not as resourceful as I thought. :)

        1. Lars the Real Girl*

          Ah – no – I meant F4 as cycling through fixed reference structure. (Changes A1 to $A1 to A$1 to $A$1). Super useful when you’re writing longer formulas.

          But Command-Y is now my new Excel trick of the day!!

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            I didn’t know that one – I edited them manually! Woo Hoo! New trick!

            (I wish alt-enter had been taught to the guy who passed me his test scripts in which he’d just added many, many spaces each time he wanted it to look as if there were a new line…..)

    2. Brett*

      Yes, I think of advanced as “I know how to open the VBA interface and make some changes to fit my workflow” and expert as “I open the VBA editor before I open the office program, because I only use custom interfaces.”

  24. AvonLady Barksdale*

    #3: I consider my MS Office skills to be pretty good but not advanced, but one of the reasons I think I’m “proficient” is because I’m familiar enough with these programs to figure out what I need to know. As in, I always assume there is a way to do what I need to do, and if I’m not sure how to do it, I know which resources I can turn to to help me. In saying that, it might be more helpful to specify or give examples of what you need employees to know when you’re writing the job description. Does it matter if they can do mail merges in Word? Pivot tables in Excel? Proofreading? Conditional formatting? That might help people self-select out and give everyone a clearer idea of what “advanced skills” means.

  25. Fuzzy pickles*

    #3 I agree with the other commentators that you’ll have a chance at a better pool if you point out the exact kind of actions you’ll need completed in excel in the job posting.

    And if anyone is interested, here’s a short article about the distribution of computer skills among adults. As a caveat, I have only had time to review the conclusion, not the actual raw study data or parameters, so, grain of salt and all that jazz.


  26. Fake old Converse shoes*

    OP3, I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who do this were given bad job search advice or are just trying to get their foot on the door.

    OP5, If the change was between yhe application and the interview I would address the change. Some time ago a job ad I applied to chaged after I was invited to an interview and I said something like “I noticed the desired seniority changed since I applied, does this affect my application?”

  27. (Different) Rebecca*

    To be fair, I think my copy of MS word is possessed. To be even more fair, you learn to work around that sort of thing, or you don’t call yourself proficient.

      1. (Different) Rebecca*

        My dissertation keeps reformatting the last thirty pages worth of page numbers. It’s quite alarming to see it go from 173, 174, to 0, 1, 2… And as far as I can tell (reveal codes, clear formatting, me purposely reformatting the pages properly, etc.) there’s no page breaks or section breaks or specific reason it should be doing that. It’s like it just got tired of counting and decided to start again.

        1. cornflower blue*

          My thesis was doing this when I would use the ruler on the top of that page. The only way I could get it to clear was to dump the page numbers, save the file without them, close everything, and recreate the page numbers after all my formatting changes were finished. Word hates when you customize things.

          1. (Different) Rebecca*

            I can’t because they’re built into the customized template my university is having us use. And god forbid you change the template, because *sounds of an explosion*

    1. Fabulous*

      For a while my Word would give me bad grammar advice. As in, I write “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and it comes back at me with “You is a Good Man…”

      1. JeanB in NC*

        Oh geez, I don’t know who programmed that but it’s so bad. I don’t even bother to check the suggestion most of the time – I have much more faith in my own judgment.

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        I always turn off “check grammar”, period. And I always turn off “check spelling while working” because I find it extremely annoying. I check my spelling when I want. The F7 key is my very good friend.

  28. Alton*

    #3: One thing to keep in mind is that some people are just…careless or lack attention to detail. Some of these errors you’re seeing may have less to do with the person’s knowledge of Word than their attention to detail, which is still a problem but in a different way.

    I don’t think you have to know a whole lot about Word to notice if the font changes mid-paragraph or if there’s a stray word on a second page. These sound like proofreading errors. Either the candidate didn’t notice them, didn’t realize they were a problem, or noticed them, didn’t know how to fix them, and decided to submit their resume as-is anyway. None of these options say much for their attention to detail.

  29. Myrin*

    OP #2, it sounds to me like your former manager is a wee bit… power-trippy, maybe? Not in the strictest sense of the word but as in someone who enjoys having authority and behaving accordingly. It fits that now that he isn’t an actual manager anymore he – maybe subconsciously – falls back into (very) old habits/patterns because you’re still an underling to him. Pure speculation, of course, but no matter the reason, Alisons’ scripts are gold as usual. (And apart from that, unlike some commenters above I don’t actually see anything wrong with mentioning the death in your family with regards to this one instance, should you feel comfortable to do so – but then again, I seem to be much more callous than others so who even knows.)

  30. Katie the Fed*

    I can’t have my cell phone with me at work, and it’s just not a big deal. Anyone can reach me by phone or email (which I check pretty much hourly). What Robin has is a bad habit, and she needs to stop. You should absolutely say something to her – she might not even realize how much she does it. I find it really really annoying, but at the same time I have to consciously remind myself to not play on my phone when I’m spending time with my husband, etc. It’s a habit like anything else that we have to be conscious of.

    1. OP#1*

      Good point. It’s not off-limits top give our work #s out to people who would need to contact us, so in the case of her mother needing assistance, that is always an option in a true emergency.

  31. Just rediscovering how much I love this website*

    #2. Is there a chance this person is just genuinely trying to help and isn’t trying to actually “manage” you? Obviously you know the dynamics better than we do but I know when I’ve been out of the office for something unexpected (like a death in the family) people truly just wanted to help me. Maybe he knew you were out and also knew you had a project due to the CEO (which in my mind means high profile), and he was asking if it was done yet because of the days you were out? Again, you know better how your relationship with this person really is but if I was coming back from being out and had a high profile project due and someone (a peer) asked if it was done yet I would assume it was only because they wanted to help me. Maybe I’ve worked in offices with different dynamics. Also, is there a chance he might be trying to help you out of a sense of being a mentor to you since he formally managed you? All of these thoughts occurred to me while reading your letter. But of course if he seems to be overstepping then I would go with Alison’s advice.

    1. Elizabeth H.*

      I feel like the comment “(It’s been several days)” belies purely altruistic motivations. If you were trying to help you wouldn’t need to justify it in that way, just offer help in a straightforward way, it is a little backhanded. I also don’t know if it is appropriate for the coworker to consider himself in a “mentor” role because it sounds like their positions are different and OP#2 has independent authority over his area, while coworker doesn’t. I got more of a condescending vibe from the description of coworker’s interactions with OP#2.

      1. Tuna*

        He seemed condescending and critical to me too. I would be wary of letting someone like this “help” on a project that is not his responsibility. Down the road, you may find him saying something like “LW was clearly in over her head, so I had to step in.”

  32. AndersonDarling*

    We had a compulsive meeting phone user and we all tolerated it and just thought of her as rude. Then there was a staff meeting led 100% by the CEO and she was Not Amused at the employee texting through the whole meeting. The employee was reprimanded, I don’t know if it went as far as a PIP but it was serious. And then the entire workforce had to have training on “Meeting Etiquette.”
    So it may be best to say something to the employee now. Someone further up the ladder may not tolerate the behavior as well as the departmental colleagues.

  33. Rebelina11*

    OP #3: time out for a sec – some job posting engines completely mess up candidates’ resumes when they’re uploaded, in particular when they’re uploaded as a Word document as opposed to a pdf. Could this be happening to your candidates? I know for a fact that both CareerBuilder and Indeed mess up the resumes they send, so I don’t put too much weight on presentation of the resume, as long as everything else looks good (spelling, grammar, no “objectives” listed, and no use of the word “utilize” which drives me bonkers). Anyway, I just wanted to throw that out there just in case it’s not the candidate but the jobs site. If there’s someone that otherwise looks good except for some resume hiccups, maybe it would be better to ask for a clean copy of their resume emailed directly to you???

    1. Anon for This*

      I wondered about that as well. I know that there have been times when a cover letter that is correctly formatted in word on my end comes out looking very messed up on an employers end. It’s one of the reasons why I send my resume as a PDF, to avoid that sort of thing.

    2. Fabulous*

      Formatting can get messed up, but not in the manner they’re talking about: spaces used instead of aligning center, different fonts, etc. As long as the person uses regular margins and fonts, uses proper alignment (not spaces), and doesn’t use funky fonts throughout, it shouldn’t be horrible upon opening on a different computer.

  34. paul*

    With excel it might be hepful to be more specific about what you mean by “knowledge” of Excel. Do you want someone that can write macros off the top of their head, or just someone that knows how to use basic functions in Excel? I’d be accurate to say I’m competent with general excel features (countifs, sums, pivots, etc) but inaccurate to say I know how to use macros–and tbh, vlookup I always have to review what I’m doing, I can’t just do it on on the fly.

    1. J*

      Yes, this exactly.

      Last year, I had an interview with someone who asked how I was with Excel. I said that I was handy with it, and that I often helped other co-workers with their tasks, but that I wouldn’t say that I was a power-user.

      He then asked me if I knew what a pivot table was. I said that I did. He asked me to explain what it was for. I could tell he was feeling around for my degree of comfort with the program, so I finally just blurted, “Do YOU know what a pivot table is for? Because I can answer this better if I know what level of detail you need.” (I did get the job. He apparently was delighted by my outburst.)

      If you tell me what you’re going to need me to do in Excel, I can better evaluate how well my skills match your needs. If the most complex thing you need is someone who can sort and sum easily, I’ve got it. If you need someone who uses add-ins? I’m going to need some time to get up to speed.

  35. Namast'ay in Bed*

    I’m not sure if this has been mentioned yet for #3, but if your job application program requires (or allows) a .doc upload for resumes (as opposed to a .pdf), there’s a chance that the formatting could be getting mangled through that process. What looks beautiful in Word on your computer may end up looking like garbage on someone else’s, whether it’s due to personal settings, what version of the program you’re using, or just a random submission process goblin.

    That’s why I always use a .pdf if it’s possible, but some annoying applications insist you upload a .doc, which always makes me worried since I’m nervous it’ll look weird on their computer and they’ll think I’m just a moron who submitted a poorly formatted resume.

    1. LK03*

      Reveal Codes was my favorite feature ever! I still miss that.

      I was actually still using WP until 2007 when I really, really needed Unicode support and it wasn’t happening. Now it’s LibreOffice all the way. (I do use Word for shared documents when I have to, but only when there’s no other choice…)

      1. Teapot Librarian*

        You can show formatting symbols in Word; it’s not quite as amazing as reveal codes, but still helpful. It’s the paragraph button on the home tab. (Sorry if you knew this already.)

        1. The Other Dawn*

          I never knew about showing the formatting symbols in Word until I Googled how to remove and extra page. For the life of me I just couldn’t find whatever it was that was causing an extra blank page. So I Googled it. That’s when I discovered formatting marks. I did what the article said and it turned out there was one extra little space at the bottom of the page that I just couldn’t find. It was like the planets aligned and all was right with the world!

      2. J*

        +1 Every time Word gets updated and I have to figure out why my formatting when to the dogs when I made some simple change (it’s *always* columns that go amiss), I desperately miss Reveal Codes.

    2. Elizabeth H.*

      My dad really loved WordPerfect and used it for everything so I did too all up through high school when his computer was our family computer and I would write papers on it. I think he liked the reveal formatting codes feature the best and I did too. Like LK03, I miss that in Word – I don’t feel at all like the paragraph symbol in word does that nearly as well.

      1. JulieBulie*

        Seeing the paragraph, tab, space, etc. characters is handy, but it’s nothing like seeing the codes.

    3. JulieBulie*

      I loved it, because the very first word processor I ever used had something like WP’s codes. (And I use Arbortext now, so obviously I still like codes.)

    4. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      I still use it when taking notes in meetings, because the outline function is just so much more intuitive than in Word! Also when I need to subdivide a page. And yes, Reveal Codes is the best thing ever.

    5. Statler von Waldorf*

      Oh yes, I remember WordPerfect. The one I’m curious about is if anyone other than me remembers using Lotus 1-2-3?

  36. LQ*

    #3 in addition to everything everyone else has said make sure you aren’t testing with one of those programs that only lets you click on each thing to do it like a damn monster. Not allowing keyboard shortcuts in your tests is filtering out your good candidates. (I once had a test and when I asked when it was over why they didn’t allow shortcuts they were amazed that I could have memorized them and said they didn’t think anyone would be able to do that………………..)

    #1 This may be me. My coworker called me out on it once in a meeting and I was actually looking something up for the meeting (which it often is), so I shared with the group. They were very happy to have the information because it saved a bunch of back and forth. Now I just say what I’m doing and share the information with the group, this often means they can continue with something else while I figure out the answer to the question and we can address it then and there, and no one has complained since. (And if they did they have to tell me. Please, PLEASE be direct.)

  37. Liz2*

    OP #3 as a very long term exec admin who has has a few job searches I LOATHE those online MS office assessments. They don’t let you use shortcuts, are in no way reflections of real life tasks and they all have youtube videos to study and ace the assessment beforehand. And they can’t let you save your score to show to others so you may have to do one for each job you seriously consider. I’d recommend a real life basic scenario of setting someone up to compose a letter and basic mail merge from a basic spreadsheet they also created.

    1. Fabulous*

      I’ve printed my scores before on these assessments… can’t remember how, but either printscreened the results page or just printed the webpage showing my score when I was done. Helped that it was an at-home test rather than onsite, though.

      1. Bad Candidate*

        It depends on the test and the settings of the company, I think. I’ve printed scores for ProveIt tests in the past but the most recent ones it didn’t even show me the results.

    2. Bad Candidate*

      I agree, I hate that you can’t use shortcuts. And in some cases, there are multiple ways of doing things and if you don’t do it the way the test thinks you should, it marks you down. Also, I don’t have everything memorized. Sometimes I have to click on a ribbon or two to find where MS decided to put something in this version, and often times those clicks are counted against you.

  38. Teapot Librarian*

    #3 — my Hoarder Employee. Didn’t know that you could enter a paragraph’s worth of text in a single cell so wrote
    descriptions of items
    in our collection
    like this with each
    of these rows of text
    being a new cell.
    I reformatted our hundreds-of-items-long spreadsheet (using Excel as a database, sorry people who realize this is a less than ideal use of Excel) so that each item was only one row of the spreadsheet. He then didn’t know how to change the row height so that he could see all of the text, and he told me that it was unusable and went back to the old spreadsheet. I made him re-enter all his changes into the correctly formatted spreadsheet and somehow it ended up with merged cells, like he figured out how many rows of text there were and merged just those cells, with the rest of the data in one of the rows. If this sounds completely unintelligible, just know that it looks unintelligible even with the spreadsheet open in front of me.

    Another employee accidentally clicked on “split” in Excel and called IT for help. I happened by his desk, he told me Excel was broken (not his words), I saw what had happened, unclicked “split” and was viewed as a magician.

    And while we’re talking about Office products, why can’t Microsoft program into Powerpoint a prohibition on certain color combos. There is no rational reason why anyone should ever use a green slide with yellow text.

  39. LAA*

    To OP #4 – Another idea. “Thank you. I’m glad things are going well in my current role. When you see me in (the next role you’d like to have – more senior, different scope whatever) what skills do you think I need to build to get me there?”

    If you are a strong performer and your current role is on lock, now is a great time to ask your boss about whatever the next step is (and in time maybe to start experimenting with skill building in that area). Also a good way to avoid being pigeonholed as a reliable performer who never advances because you’re “too good.”

    1. OP 4*

      Great suggestion, thanks! I’m fairly new in this role so will probably focus on this role rather than asking about moving up right away, but I’m taking notes to save for the future!

  40. MLHD*

    OP #1, I’m not sure how the culture is at your org, or where this person came from previously, but I’ll say that as a younger professional many companies have a culture that pressures people to constantly multi-task, especially since employers know you have your devices on you at all times. Is it possible you have that environment there, or that she is used to such an environment and carried those habits with her to this position?

    1. MLHD*

      For some reason I misread the note that she had been there for 20 years as 2 years, so I guess the young professional thing doesn’t apply. But it’s still possible that she is using her phone for work purposes and is overdoing it.

      1. Snark*

        No. It’s pretty clear from stuff OP mentioned in the original letter and in this thread that her use of the phone is for personal texts.

  41. drpuma*

    OP #3, as other folks have suggested I encourage you to break down specific tasks (vlookup, pivot tables, macros, etc) and include those in the job description.

    I would also recommend you specify whether you need candidates who have experience *creating* new templates, docs, etc from whole cloth, or whether it’s enough that candidates have experience working with these features.

  42. C.*

    #3 – I would strongly suggest listing out which functions of Word and Excel you need your candidate to possess. In general, I think most people know how to put together a basic spreadsheet in Excel; but if you’re looking specifically for someone who can put together pivot tables in no time flat, then I think you need to say that in your listing. When people see “Word” or “Excel,” they don’t always realize the myriad of functions (both simple and complex) those systems have.

  43. Dan*


    OP Writes “Despite her resume, which was created in Word, having significant errors, different font formatting within the same sentence, one leftover word on the second page, and a whole line of blank spaces to “center” the text with her name and contact info.”

    OP, I want to point out that the first half of your statements aren’t indications that the submitter doesn’t know Word, it’s that they aren’t paying attention to detail. These are two different things. I would think that anybody who can type in Word and save the document can also select the font type and size. As others have pointed out, if you’re collecting materials through an ATS, the formatters can screw things up.

    … and as others have said, words like “basic”, “intermediate”, and “advanced” are meaningless. I’m actually on board with testing, just not through those stupid programs that disable keyboard shortcuts. I use Office products for my work, but really only at an entry level. I write a lot of Java code, and when someone says “I need an intermediate level java programmer” my first question is, “What skills are you looking for? If you want someone who does sockets and multi threaded apps, forget it.”

  44. RadManCF*

    #3 My experience with Word is that there are many features that I wouldn’t have thought to look for unless I had been told about them. I haven’t used Excel as much, but to the extent I have, I notice the same issue. Because of all these capabilities these programs have that I don’t even know about, I have no idea how to assess my own skills. A bit about my background, I studied physics and business in college (didn’t use excel in physics, we had several more specialized programs at our disposal, didn’t learn much about excel as a business student either). I spent the next four years working in industrial construction as a millwright, so not much computing there (except for a stint where I also worked as a metrologist, but the bulk of that work was done with specialized software). Now I’m a law student, and I regularly find myself completely and utterly confused by the higher functions of word. Never had to use them writing lab formals…
    As to what you describe, OP3, it’s possible what you’re describing is the result of pure incompetence, but I’ve done similar things before, out of frustration, as Word sometimes does things I find inexplicable. I definitely agree that Word and Excel are not programs that one can easily learn on the fly, at least beyond the very basics.

  45. Product person*

    #3: Do yourself a favor and get more specific in your job description about the kinds of Word and Excel skills you expect, in addition to saying there will be a test.

    For example, “candidate must know how do do mail marge and Word and create pivot tables in Excel”. “Significant experience” can be very ambiguous, as someone may have been using Word for 10 years and using the space bar when they should be using tab for this whole period and assume they have the “significant experience” you’re asking for.

    1. Kat Em*

      Yes, this!
      I’ve worked at places where needing people with Word skills mean ability to open up a template, write in it, save as, and attach it to an email. (You’d be surprised at how many people could NOT do this.) At other places, you needed to be the one making the templates in order to qualify as having Word skills.

      Same with Excel. Do you need to be able to open something up and fill it out and save? Use SUM? Pivot tables? Even knowing what Excel is puts you on the advanced end of things at some workplaces. “I made an attendance sheet for my class” might not seem advanced to you, but it is to a lot of people. The more specific you can be about the skills you’re looking for, the better off you (and your candidates) will be.

      1. Tegularius*

        Agreed, listing the precise skills required is far more useful than asking applicants to guess whether they have the necessary knowledge.

        I’ve been making bacon sandwiches for 30 years, but that doesn’t make me an ‘advanced’ cook ;-)

    2. Susie Cruisie*

      Yes absolutely! I’m very confident with my Word skills, so I illustrate the “more challenging” things I do with it (templates, mail merges, TOC and references, etc.). I think I am pretty skilled with Excel, so I again talk about some of the more advanced tasks I have used, but I am also careful to state that I can’t really rate myself on that arbitrary 1-5 scale because excel is so powerful, I don’t know what it is capable of that I just don’t know about. Don’t let people rate themselves: someone who can type a document (and center accurately using the space method) may think this is expert level use. You need to list which features are used and ask them to tell you about a time when they’ve used those features.

  46. Pretty Sure I Know Excel*

    #3: Some folks just struggle with software. I teach Excel courses in college. I just spent 3 weeks teaching, reviewing & coaching on topics such as the Table tools, the conditional functions, (SUMIF, COUNTIF, etc.), VLOOKUP, Subtotals, and more. I am now grading an assignment where a student:
    1) Manually typed over 100 cells of data rather than use VLOOKUP.
    2) In response to a task asking that a subset of data be extracted, sorted on one of the two criterion, copied the resulting dataset, pasted, and deleted the remaining records that did not apply. (This instead of using an Advanced filter)
    3) Manually inserted additional rows within a dataset and used the SUM function rather than using the Subtotal tool.

    Even when students successfully and correctly complete homework using new skills, there are always a few who seem to completely forget what they’ve just studied and practiced and fall back on guesswork and old habits when asked to apply their learning. If I say “use VLOOKUP to solve X problem,” they can usually muddle through. If I present a (more workforce-typical task) of “assign an account rep to each customer using the data in this range”, they can’t figure out how to apply what they’ve learned. This despite the fact we have discussions in class about application and use, and the homework describes scenarios where each function or tool might be best suited as a solution. OR….they Google and come up with a completely ridiculous solution that doesn’t fit the task because they don’t really know what they are doing.

    1. Elizabeth H.*

      Question: After becoming completely facile with INDEX MATCH, I now have a hard time understanding why someone would ever choose to use VLOOKUP. The only benefit I can see, is that it doesn’t involve a nesting function, and the function itself is shorter (but barely). I would really love any insight as to why you teach it, except possibly as a building block?

      1. Pretty Sure I Know Excel*

        “…as a building block” is exactly correct. It’s an early function (in the class), there’s no nesting, and the idea of letting Excel look things up instead of the student doing it manually is introduced. We are just now jumping into Index/Match, PivotTables, and more fun stuff.

        Here’s my favorite Index/Match YT video: https://youtu.be/j5NMg9ONd84

      2. Pretty Sure I Know Excel*

        “…as a building block” is exactly the reason. As you’ve said, there is no nesting, and VLOOKUP introduces the idea of the lookup functions. We’re moving on to Index/Match (and PivotTables – yay!) in the current unit.

  47. Kendra*

    OP #1, if she is checking so often because she’s anxious about missing important texts, maybe she could get a smartwatch that sends her texts and phone calls to the watch. That way she could be able to put her phone away in a pocket or bag or something and not worry about missing important news about her mother.

    1. OP#1*

      True. But I don’t see that as a solution since it’d just be her spending hundreds of dollars to stay connected, rather than me simply addressing the issue effectively.

      (PS: I have a friend who is tethered to her phone and the watch just made it worse!!!!)

  48. Jaybeetee*

    Back in my temping days, several agencies I signed on with assessed my proficiency with Word and Excel. That said, these tests were *basic* – I’ve never in my life used Styles or Mail Merge, and I know even less about Excel. But I usually scored over 90% on those tests, with maybe one or two questions wrong. So on my resume, I was stating just that – “95% proficiency with Excel at last proficiency test.”

    Listing what you will specifically need in those programs will probably serve you better.

    That said, in this day and age it really does start to matter less and less. When I run into an Office issue (Word, Excel, Outlook, etc) I can’t figure out, I just Google it, and it’s easy to find out how to do something. It’s not like the bad old days when you were stuck with user manuals, tech support, or taking courses. So if you have an otherwise strong candidate who is weak with Excel, they still might be able to get the hang of what you need after some research.

  49. Queen of the File*

    Re. #4, I love the advice but admit I’ve run into trouble with the last bit it in the past. I admitted I felt a bit shaky somewhere to my manager and it triggered *even more praise*, like my confidence is the problem (which… maybe). I tread carefully with how I word those kinds of requests for feedback now to avoid accidentally sounding like I’m fishing for reassurance.

  50. Purple Jello*

    Reading so many MS Office tips – we should have a “Favorite Word tip” and “Favorite Excel Tip”, etc. on Friday’s open thread

  51. TootsNYC*

    You can also ask, “Is there anything you’d like me to work on doing differently?”

    If you think it would be helpful to talk about the areas where you felt unqualified for the work you were doing and you have a decent rapport with your boss, you could say, “To be honest, I felt a little shaky about the work I did with X and Y. Are there things you think I could have done differently there?”

    Or, maybe more powerfully, ask:

    What do you think was a strength for me, and why do you identify it as such (what good outcomes did it have that I perhaps didn’t see, or what about my actions were particularly effective?)

    What project pleased you the most?

    What worries did you have before I started this project, and how well did I handle the things that worried you?

    You can learn a LOT from your own successes!

  52. Mimmy*

    #3 – Agreed with everyone else. Just listing knowledge of particular software programs as a job requirement isn’t enough. I used to know several Microsoft Office programs but because it’s been so long since I had to use them, I am very rusty (Word is about the only one I’m still comfortable with). I’d love to pick it up again, but not knowing what is required in the types of jobs I’d consider, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Excel in particular seems like a whole other language!

  53. Manager Mary*

    Sorry if this is a repeat suggestion as I did not read all 465 previous comments before posting, but LW3, you may find it helpful to list the specific skills you want candidates to have in Excel and Word. In college I thought I was pretty hot stuff in MS Office because I could do stuff like make columns in Word! and sort data in Excel! I didn’t know what I didn’t know until I had various jobs where I learned things like advanced statistical functions and mail merge and all that fun stuff.

    There is a lot of variation between fields and companies and jobs as to what skills one will use and learn in MS Office products. Of course it won’t idiot-proof your application system, but if the job description says “advanced MS Word and Excel skills, including knowledge of X functions, Y procedures, etc. etc.” it may chase off a few hopefuls who think they can Google their way through it.

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