my dog barks on work calls, how far out can I schedule an interview, and more

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

1. My dog barks during work calls

I’ve just started a new job and we’re all working from home. I have a little dog, but when he barks (which isn’t very often) he has such a deep and loud bark and I live in a small flat so even if I shut him out of my office he can still be heard. He doesn’t often bark but when he does, it goes on for a while. He is a rescue who was previously abused so gets very scared when he hears a noise that he doesn’t know. This is something we are working on with him with extensive training, but we haven’t had him very long so it will take a while.

With it being my first few weeks, I am having several one-to-one meetings with other team members for introductions. How do I address it if my dog barks during these meetings? In group meetings I can easily mute myself if he starts, but in the one-to-ones it is very noticeable when I mute myself. I do apologize to the other person, but I also don’t let myself get distracted and am reluctant to interrupt the meeting to calm him down and move him away because these meetings have a short timeframe. Is there any other way that I should be addressing this? I have asked my new colleagues and they say that noises are part and parcel of working from home, but I can’t help but worry that I’m annoying everyone by muting myself when he barks or because other people get distracted.

I prefer to apologize, mute if in a group meeting, and try to calm him as best I can with as little distraction as possible. But the people that I have meetings with then get distracted and ask lots of questions about him, and I don’t want to be known for having a disruptive dog. I don’t know if I’m doing worse by not addressing it as much and almost pretending it isn’t happening when I mute myself because I’m embarrassed at the attention it draws. I’m very new to a professional environment as my previous jobs were retail ones where my dog did not impact the work being done.

It’s totally fine to mute yourself on group meetings when you’re not the one talking — preferable even (unless this person is your boss). It’s not weird to do that, especially if you’re somewhere with background noise.

But you’re right that muting doesn’t work as well in one-on-one meetings, and you’re likely to need to talk more in those too (so you’ll need to be off mute more often). Can you look into noise-canceling headphones with a microphone that will isolate your voice and block out sounds around you (which commenters pointed out is what I should have suggested to this letter-writer)? I’m not sure that they’ll fully block the barking, but they should at least help! If that doesn’t fully solve it, in a worst case scenario you can apologize and ask if the person can hear you clearly enough to continue or if they’d rather reschedule for later. But noise-canceling headphones/microphone might really help.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Can I ask to schedule my interview a week out?

I just had a phone interview with a recruiter today. The recruiter wants to schedule an interview with me and the hiring manager. Is it fair to schedule the interview a week from today so I can prepare for the interview?

A week isn’t unreasonable at all. That said, pay attention to their cues; if they sound like they want to get you in faster, you’d want to get a sense of how wed to that they are. Some interviewers would prefer to meet faster but will be willing to wait if you need them to (this is generally the case for good interviewers/good employers/good jobs, or they’ll explain to you if there’s some extenuating circumstance that means they can’t). But with other interviewers, you risk losing the interview if you’re rigid about it. One way to do it is to say, “Would August 23 work? I can rearrange my schedule to do it earlier if you’re moving quickly, but the week of the 23rd would be easiest on my end.”

Caveat: I’m assuming you’re not taking the whole week to prepare, but rather can’t find a block of time to use for prep until then. If you are taking a whole week to prepare, I’d try to move away from that since it will limit you.

3. Employer instructs candidates not to include college names on their resumes

I’m currently searching for my first full-time job after graduation. I’m applying for a job with one organization and saw something totally bizarre. They want you to remove the name of the college you attended from your resume to avoid unconscious bias.

I’ve never seen this before. On the one hand, it’s admirable that they’re trying to avoid bias in hiring. On the other hand, it makes formatting your resume confusing, especially when referring to significant leadership positions in college (like listing “president of a student organization” on my resume).

It also makes me wonder how much it matters where you went to college. I’ve always been under the impression that outside of attending an Ivy, most employers won’t care about where you attended. Under that assumption, why is this request necessary? Have you ever heard of this being done? And how would you fix a resume to accommodate this request?

Yes, some employers are doing this! Others have a staff member remove potentially biasing info (including names and graduation dates) from applications before passing them along to the screener. It’s called blind hiring, and the idea behind removing college names is that people are often unconsciously biased toward “name brand” schools (not just Ivies), which can have the effect of screening for privilege. It also helps filter out unconscious bias if someone went to, say, an HBCU.

It shouldn’t be that tough to accommodate! You can still list your degree, just not the institution that granted it. You can also still list college leadership positions — but instead of listing, say, “president of Oatmeal University Groats Club” you’d write “president of university Groats Club.”

4. Should I ask older employees if they know basic functions in Word and Excel?

I have a question about the expectations it’s fair to have managing people who aren’t proficient in what I feel have become completely common and essential skills, like using Microsoft Word or Excel.

I handle training and management of new employees for my office. The roles are professional positions requiring graduate degrees, but new hires may range from the newly graduated to someone with 25+ years of experience. It’s frequent that the new folks at the upper end of that scale don’t have the familiarity with technology and computer programs that have become second nature to so many of us – which makes sense, obviously. Some hires started out their careers using dictation machines and having secretaries transcribe their work. Some are just in a bubble of having worked on computers their entire careers, but sticking to the first thing they learned and not having familiarity with more modern programming (save me from WordPerfect, please). It feels condescending to ask someone who has been in the profession for 25 years if they know how to use basic functions of Microsoft Word, or if they can utilize formulas in Excel. It would never even occur to me to ask younger people if they had these skills, so it feels ageist or like I’m the young(er) upstart tech-shaming the industry veteran. But at the same time, it’s not uncommon with many of our hires, and it can wind up causing a lot of time issues for me. Nothing involved in the job is particularly high tech and I don’t consider any of it uncommon to working in our industry – pretty much just SharePoint and TEAMs, Word and Excel, the occasional PowerPoint – but that’s definitely not part of what the training process would normally be.

It feels wrong to ask up-front, but it also creates issues if I don’t and we figure it out the hard way. Is it unreasonable of me to assume people have these common proficiencies, or assume that someone would take it upon themselves to keep up with these times that are a-changin’?

Why not just ask everyone, regardless of age, if they know how to use specific functions in those programs? It’s possible that someone younger might not, and that way you’re not treating people differently based on age. It sounds like you might feel weird about asking young people because you’re figuring that of course they have those skills and so it would be like condescendingly asking, “Have you ever used a computer before?” … but a surprising number of younger people actually don’t know how to do some common functions in Word and Excel when they’re just starting out, and even if they do it won’t be weird to confirm that with them.

5. Did I ruin my interview for a job I really want?

I applied to my dream job that I’ve wanted for a very long time. I made sure when I applied that I had all of the qualifications on the job listing. They contacted me for an interview, and unfortunately I did horribly. My video/internet crashed twice during the interview, I answered at least two questions completely wrong, and the interview that was scheduled for 45 minutes ended up only being 30 minutes. I completely blanked out after the internet crashed and could not stop talking and overcompensated, to the point that I didn’t ask questions at the end. The nerves really kicked in. I did send a thank-you email, but can I really save it with a thank-you email? The only positive the hiring manager said was that my resume was impressive and that was in the beginning of the interview when it had barely started. How badly did I do? Will I hear back? I’ve volunteered with organization so I would hope that counts for something.

It’s impossible for me to say! Sometimes people who think they did horribly in interviews get invited to move forward. Sometimes they even get offered the job! But of course, some interviews that felt like they went badly that did in fact go badly.

Your video going out twice isn’t, on its own, something that would torpedo an interview; that happens and interviewers generally roll with it. It’s possible that the bad answers and over-talking weren’t as bad as you think, but it’s also possible that they added up to Not The Best Interview. You’re right that a thank-you email won’t salvage a bad interview, but it’s also true that if they know you as a volunteer, that could help them view this as nerves and be more willing to give you another shot.

Unfortunately, you just won’t know until you see what happens next on the employer’s side. The best thing you can do is to assume you won’t hear back (not because you suck but because that’s always the best thing to do after any interview, even one that go well), put it out of your mind (easier said than done, I know), and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do move you forward.

{ 666 comments… read them below }

  1. RedinSC*

    Oh, LW 4, you just need to ask everyone. As a hiring manager I’ve had more recent college grads not know how to use the basic Excel Functions than I’ve seen with people who have been in the workforce and getting ready to retire. If this is essential in the job, then ask everyone. It’s not a given that anyone will know Word and Excel.

    1. Aaron*

      I can relate to excel. I went through two bachelor degrees without ever learning how to use it. I only picked it up for a personal project.
      As for Word, plenty of people only use Google Docs. It’s a lot more limited and less flexible, but people who grew up in the cloud era might not even know what they’re missing.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Or the other end of the spectrum and people who are whizzes with LaTeX, but rarely use a work processor. But yeah, it’s entirely possible that a student has done all their schoolwork on Google Docs, and hasn’t needed to use spreadsheets.

        In my STEM field, I find that undergraduates on average have fewer hard computer skills than they would have twenty years ago, in part because they’re using their phones for almost all the things you would have used a computer for back then. Plus less incentive to play around with programming, because there’s so much else to do.

        1. Expiring Cat Memes*

          Yep, you can also get people who would tell you they’re very comfortable in Word or Excel, yet wouldn’t know anything more than rudimentary basics because 100% of what they’ve done has been in pre-existing files or highly specific company templates. People don’t know what they don’t know.

          If it feels too weird asking up front, maybe you could try framing it as all our [x] documents are done using [y function] here, is that what you’re already used to or shall we train you in that process?

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            “People don’t know what they don’t know.”
            As one further example, I’ve had issues with people who say they know how to use Word styles, but they mean they know how to apply formatting to make things look like our defined style.

            1. Alexander Graham Yell*

              I’ve run into similar issues hiring around Excel. What we think of as “basic” at the office is really just basic because we use it every day – it’s not necessarily super advanced, but it’s also more than knowing =SUM. So now I ask all candidates something along the lines of, “For our analysis, if you’re comfortable with pivot tables and vlookups, you’ll have the skills to do what we need. Are those functions you’re comfortable with?” and, if it goes well, I’ll mention that we have a friendly debate amongst the team on Index Match vs. vlookup and see what their thoughts are.

              Not being comfortable with them is something we can teach if it’s the right candidate, but I need to know to plan for that!

              1. Parakeet*

                Yeah something I have learned from reading this blog – as someone with an advanced degree in computer science who now works in social services and rarely used Word or Excel in either context – is that there’s apparently an entire culture of office workers who think certain things about Word and Excel are basic stuff that everyone knows, whereas I don’t have a problem picking them up quickly because I do have a lot of experience learning new tech things quickly, but I have had to google what some of them are when people talk about them here. I have programmed models involving hundreds or thousands of lines of code at work, but I have never used a pivot table in Excel at work.

                1. Fierce Jindo*

                  Same here; I write code in statistical software languages, much of it in the areas of data management and data structure manipulation, and I’ve only ever heard of pivot tables from non-work friends who assume I’m an expert in them.

                2. Sparrow*

                  Yeah, I think it’s important to ask about the specific tasks the position requires. I use Excel all the time, but my job requires, at most, the occasional vlookup, and that’s rare enough that I usually have to google it make sure I’m remembering correctly. I know I would get vlookups and pivot tables down pat quite quickly if I was using them every day, but so far I’ve never had a reason to.

              2. LC*

                I was hardcore team index match until I started using the new(ish) xlookup. I don’t think it’ll necessarily replace index match in all situations, but it sure is handy. Being able to build in the “if” statement that I often use with index match and searching from the bottom up are both suuuuper handy.

                Adding that third option into the debate would be fun. Even if they haven’t encountered xlookup yet and don’t know anything about it, only Excel nerds (like me!) would get all excited at the idea.

                (I still maintain that vlookup doesn’t really have a place anywhere though. Once you learn index match, there isn’t anything that you can do with vlookup that you can’t do with index match.)

                1. LC*

                  Not being comfortable with them is something we can teach if it’s the right candidate, but I need to know to plan for that!

                  100% agreed here though. They don’t have to be an Excel nerd to learn Excel, they just have to be willing to learn, and that’s just something that you’d have to plan for.

                2. SarahKay*

                  And now I’m off to google xlookup because despite using index match and vlookup I hadn’t come across xlookup. *is excited*

              3. Recruited Recruiter*

                I like your method of asking specifics. My opinion of basic Excel function might not equal my interviewee’s opinion.

          2. Mockingjay*

            Yep. At one job, I had a younger colleague who was completely inept in Word. She had worked at her previous company for over a decade and they STILL used Office 2003. Hence, she had never seen or used Word’s Style Codes and couldn’t figure out how I could reformat a 50-page document in only a few minutes.

            It’s not necessarily being unable or unwilling to learn (although that can be the case); it’s what the prior job used or didn’t use. I’m nearing 60 and I’m about to start my team on a new (to them, I’ve used it) configuration management program. They’re ALL younger than me and supposedly tech-savvy (we’re in IT/comms), but were hesitant to learn until I explained the system’s value to them. We’ll see how next month’s training goes.

            1. Hiding From My Boss*

              Boy am I tired of that term “tech-savvy.”

              I’m at least 20 years older then my next youngest team member and if you ask her, she’ll say she knows Excel and uses it every day. She makes lots of multi-column lists with color-filled column headings.. Everything is centered, even when flush left would be easier to read. Sad thing for me is, things I used to do all the time in Excel I never do in my current job, so my skills have eroded. However, hey presto! If I need a quick refresher, the internet is chockful of tutorials. You just have to be willing to learn and accept that you don’t know everything.

              And some of our younger hires who came and went didn’t seem to be much onboard with any computer use that took more than the good old “quick click of a mouse.”

              1. Amethystmoon*

                Yeah, we have an old mainframe system at work that a lot of the younger hires struggle with because it’s like going back to the days of MS DOS. Everything in it uses function keys and you need to type to get anywhere, or at least copy/paste.

          3. Artemesia*

            When it is about skills, you don’t ask you get them to show you. If Excel is important give them an excel task representative of what you need them to do; same with other programs they need to have competence in.

            1. mazarin*

              Yep,thats what we do. We had one bad hire where we assumed of course an IT Tech knew Excel. After that, demonstrating competence in Windows was part of every interview. Not major skills, just being able to use it. And we often did not even use a computer- because part of our job was customer support, we got them to describe what they would do to add two numbers together in Excel. So we got to test how well they described something, and if they told us they had never used Excel we got them to describe something else- and ended the interview.

              1. Clisby*

                Competence in Windows and competence in Excel are different things, though. At least to me, competence in Windows means competence in Windows programming, not just competence in specific applications that run on Windows. Just like competence in Linux implies to me that you know how to program on a Linux platform, not that you understand how to use various applications on Linux.

              2. LC*

                I agree with Clisby that competence in Windows is different than competence in Excel, but one other thing I’d mention, particularly with anything even just a bit more complex that your example of just adding two cells together. Asking someone to describe what they would do doesn’t necessarily tell you what they can do.

                I’d have a hard time describing how to do even some of the simpler (to me) things. My brain works waaaaaay faster than my mouth, some of it is almost muscle memory, some of it is quickly cycling through some options before deciding on the right one, and some of it is just that I’m not great at explaining that sort of thing, particularly if I’m not prepared for it.

                Now, if the position requires that they can walk people through the process, then absolutely, have them do that. But if you just want to know what they can do, having them actually do it will probably give better results.

            2. MassMatt*

              I was going to say this. People’s self-assessment of their program knowledge is often skewed. Some people with intermediate or advanced knowledge will realize how much more there is to know, someone with pretty rudimentary skills might say they’re very proficient because they’ve never had a problem with Word because they’ve only ever had to do basic things. If you can’t administer some kind of skills test, at least be specific about what sorts of things you need them to be able to do with these programs.

              Honestly, if I were in an interview and was asked if I was familiar with Word, I’d say yes. If they followed up asking about making tables, or applying Styles, or the joke about using separate rows?

              “….” (Blank look)… “Thanks for your time, I’ll see myself out”

          4. Lucy P*

            I have a co-worker that seems to hate spreadsheets when they have to make them themselves, but talks lovingly about spreadsheets they used at other jobs because they were made by other people.
            Most people that I’ve interviewed, regardless of age, don’t have the level of skills in Excel or Word are needed. We’ve even hired accountants whose Excel skills are limited to basic math functions.

            1. TardyTardis*

              Ha, I still remember the one that broke out the property tax for all the different sections of a resort, including the capital projects still in construction. The formulas all had to be reset each year to account for plots sold, what section of the golf course was finally in actual use and let’s not say condos sold in one of the main buildings and pretend we did.

        2. Bananagram*

          Right, there’s just so much available! In my academic field (design-adjacent), when we hire student assistants, we’ve learned to ask them *what* they can do. There are so many ways to get to point B now, much more than when I graduated twenty years ago and “do you know CAD/Photoshop” covered the major bases. OP, just describe the programs you use and how heavily and ask the same question to everyone. It’s not discriminatory and you’ll get the info you really need.

        3. De (Germany)*

          I did my undergraduate and graduate work in Bioinformatics and I used LaTeX for my papers, thesis, and presentations (Beamer package) plus R for tables and statistics. That does not translate well into Word/Powerpoint/Excel :)

          I do find people who use these things can figure out things via internet searches quickly, though, and will know what it is they need to search for. You kind of have to do that with LaTeX a lot, too.

          1. Beany*

            Another LaTeX-head here (as are almost all my colleagues).

            I can & do use Office/Google Docs at a basic level, but the Invisible Hand of Uncontrollable Formatting still gets me all the time. Phantom bulleting & indents and line spacing that retain some kind of genetic memory of previous edits make it really difficult to produce a clean and consistent document.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              One technical reason why it disappointed me that WordPerfect lost the word processing market is that it produced cleaner files than MS Word that used less storage. I remember when I was an admin and we switched to MS Word–and suddenly our server ran out of space because we generated 20+ documents a day that were suddenly several times larger than the old ones.

              If I recall correctly, MS Word keeps a running list of all the changes made to the document instead of just editing the document. Even though you can’t (deliberately) undo changes after the document is closed and reopened, it still has all those changes in the actual file.

        4. Blackcat*

          I’m in a STEM field and a millennial.
          I am okay with mid-level office skills, but if you want a document that has internal linking, I’m gonna make it in TeX. And if you want to do fancy things with numbers, I can start and end in excel but the middle steps are all going to happen in Python….

        5. PeanutButter*

          Or in my STEM field, people who use R or Pandas or SQL all day might have no idea how to make a pivot table in Excel or what it does. Or if they’re me they’ll freak TF out if you even think about opening one of their files in Excel because that’s how gene names get turned into dates, ruining what might have been days or weeks of HPC time.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Or if they’re me they’ll freak TF out if you even think about opening one of their files in Excel because that’s how gene names get turned into dates, ruining what might have been days or weeks of HPC time.

            If I had a nickel for every data file a client has ruined by opening it up in Excel with AutoSave enabled, we could probably both retire!

          2. lost academic*

            And if you’re the least bit savvy with Excel opening other text based files you can prevent that from happening and work with it. But again – you have to know enough to know what to do.

            1. PeanutButter*

              Or even that it’s something to be looking at…if I had a nickel for every time someone’s secretary converted SEPT1 to a date because they were looking for their boss’ travel itinerary or something…all it takes is one opening by someone with autosave on. In csv’s especially it’s almost completely invisible.

            2. PeanutButter*

              (I’d actually only have 2 nickels because that was the number of times it took for me to put the resoure-intensive-to-reproduce data backed up in a protected folder)

            3. Donkey Hotey*

              With respect, the definition of “if you’re the least bit savvy” is the root of the entire discussion.
              For you, it’s second nature because it’s likely bit you a couple of times.
              I’ve worked in Excel for decades and while I could make some guesses, I wouldn’t necessarily know which way your group approaches it.

          3. Splendid Colors*

            That’s horrible!

            I’ve had clients try to send me vector graphics files from Adobe Illustrator and somehow Windows or Outlook or SOMETHING converts them to “Microsoft PDF files” that I can’t edit. At least once, I had to redraw the graphics in Illustrator by hand-tracing the non-editable graphic with my Wacom tablet.

            I should probably try to recreate the issue so I can warn people “don’t open your graphic department’s file on your PC if you don’t have Illustrator” or whatever is going wrong. Except I don’t have Outlook and am paranoid about it being a vector for computer viruses.

        6. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Shoot. I use SAS and R and for most things my go-to would just be to run anything you would do in Excel. I can muddle my way through most Excel functions if I have to, but I’d be Googling that shit all the way.

          1. lost academic*

            Neither would be available or allowed at the last 3 places I worked. The entire team and the client needs to be able to review and reproduce what you do as well as the regulators involved.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Neither would be available or allowed at the last 3 places I worked.

              That’s a good point. It wasn’t trivial to get the Gnu Image Manipulation Program (I try to avoid *that* acronym) approved to use. (I know it ~10,000% better than Photoshop, and I barely need either for my role).

      2. AJoftheInternet*

        Something something those of us that are Mac babies and can’t wrap our minds around Microsoft’s way of doing things..

        1. RedinSC*

          Aw, no, I don’t buy that. My first computer (in 1986!) was a mac, and honestly word and excel on a mac are pretty much the same as they are on a PC. So, you either know how to use MS Office products or you don’t. But even if you’re a solo Mac user, you can learn them.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            I had OS 9 at home and Windows NT in the lab, and still managed to do statistical analysis in Excel that my thesis advisor didn’t know you could do in a spreadsheet.

      3. Gen*

        I’m an older millennial but I’ve lost most of the Word skills I learned in high school (on Windows95) because I’m a Mac & Chromebook user now—I don’t want to pay for an extra subscription when GoogleDocs is free and allows easy collaborative work across platforms. I have to use word briefly at the end of projects to meet standards, usually ends in tears

      4. Andy*

        > As for Word, plenty of people only use Google Docs.

        I would expect them to be able to learn fast to use actual Word.

        1. anone*

          Maybe, maybe not.

          I remember the first time that younger Millennials (in their early 20s at the time) explained to me, an older Millennial (mid-30s) that they and their peers (a limited sample but this wasn’t an individual issue) struggled with technology and were overwhelmed by the expectations that “younger” = “inherently tech savvy and quick to learn”. The type of technology people are interacting with now is different and less amenable to experimenting and hacking about with (or less requiring of it to make the damn thing work) because it’s all so easy/”intuitive” to use, so unless someone develops a particular interest in it, they can end up with the tech comfort and flexibility level of a Boomer stereotype. Word and other MS products are designed for people who are willing/interested to poke about a million different buttons and menus and functions to find out all the stuff you can do with it. When I hear younger people defending their love of Google Docs (there was an epic Twitter dust-up about this recently), the thing that gets pointed to a lot is that it is simpler and has *fewer* features to get lost in. Word seems overly complicated, cumbersome, and confusing in comparison for people coming from that perspective. (That being said, the videography skills of Gen Z kids have to be pretty f*cking awesome at this point. Different zeitgeist.)

          (This is not younger Millennial bashing; just pointing out that there’s a stereotype about “young people” in general that really tracks onto a very specific cohort of people who grew up in a specific context.)

          1. Andy*

            > there was an epic Twitter dust-up about this recently

            Would you please link?

            The one thing that seem absurd to me is expectation that a person should buy fairly expensive software while there exist free alternatives for 95% of common uses individuals have.

          2. Richard Hershberger*

            What you are describing is typical of how a technology advances. In its early phase it is clunky and touchy. You need to learn it inside and out simply to make it work and keep it up and running. As it develops this becomes less and less necessary, as the technology grows more reliable and the user interface more intuitive.

            Did I just describe the development of computers from the 1970s to the present? Yes, I did. But I also just described the development of automobiles from the 1920s to the present. Back in the day, people learned automotive technology out of necessity. Cars were fiddly and needed constant attention. Nowadays you open the door without even using a key, push a button, and away you go! Hardly anyone nowadays knows how to change their oil, and why should they? Any number of commercial outfits will change your oil very inexpensively. How many people even know how to check their oil level? I suspect many do not, and this is usually OK. Old cars leaked and burned oil at a prodigious rate and it was important to keep on top of this. Modern cars don’t do this, and this is objectively a Good Thing.

            So getting back to computers, we are past the era when a computer user needed to be a tech geek, or even to know the equivalent of how to check the oil level. This simply is not necessary for the vast majority of users.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              Yep. At one time a chaffeur was also a mechanic.

              And I’m mid-range GenX. I remember having to learn to program computers in school. That’s how we made them work! I’ve noticed that there’s a pretty wide range of skills no matter a person’s age, so your best bet is to ask everyone. And be specific.

              1. Amethystmoon*

                I learned how to do BASIC out of my dad’s old PC Magazines, and a couple of library books. Am I in IT? No. I was never good enough at math to get a 4-year at it, but I do have a 2- year in programming that I received mostly A’s in (and 1 B).

              2. Elizabeth West*

                I agree on being specific. Whatever the OP’s company uses for the job, those are the skills they need to focus on.

                I’m old Gen-X and didn’t learn how to use a computer until Windows 3.1. Thank goodness for the GUI! I’m now pretty advanced in Word and PowerPoint. The only reason I suck at Excel is because of math. I’m not fond of G-Suite precisely because it’s more limited than Microsoft Office. Give me all the bells and whistles, particularly when it comes to formatting large documents or creating forms and templates.

                BUT . . .the most important skill I acquired was how to google. This is how I’m learning graphics and video programs. If I don’t know what to do, I can usually find out, unless it’s very hardware/code-related, which is a bit out of my wheelhouse. Most companies have IT folks to handle that. And, every IT person I know has secretly told me they google stuff all the time anyway!

          3. EmKay*

            Hi. Born at the very tail end of 79, so I am for all intents and purposes a Geriatric Millenial.

            The only reason I know Word as well as I do is because I’ve been an administrative assistant for 15 years. It is N O T user friendly and never has been. It requires patience (stubbornness) and practice.

        2. Observer*

          I would expect them to be able to learn fast to use actual Word.

          It depends on what they need to do.

      5. Myrin*

        Yeah, I’m very comfortable with Word and similar word processors because I needed them a lot during university, I know plenty of Power Point, but I basically don’t know anything about Excel because I’ve never needed it at all and I’m not interested enough in it that I’d just learn on my own.
        (Although I did recently do exactly that, actually. I have a “Beginner’s guide to Microsoft Office” book my mum got ages ago and I’ve been trudging through the Excel chapters to get at least some basic familiarity. Problem is, I still don’t need it at all so I’ve already forgotten most of it again. Thankfully I become good at such things very fast as soon as I use them regularly.)

        1. UKDancer*

          I’m the same. I use Word and PowerPoint a lot for work but don’t use Excel so I don’t know a lot about it beyond the basics. When I started work 15 years ago they put most of us through a basic Excel course but I’ve forgotten most of it and I would imagine Excel has changed since then.

          Unless you’re someone who is deeply interested in IT for its own sake (and I have one colleague who is) people tend to know what they need to know for their work. So I wouldn’t assume anything based on age.

        2. Amethystmoon*

          I temped around for the first decade of my career, so I had to be able to pass the temp agency tests they gave us on various programs. In order to do that, I went to the library and checked out books on learning Excel. To be fair, I did learn Word because I needed it to type up papers in high school and college. PowerPoint was a thing I learned on the job by playing around with it when I was bored. You can actually somewhat doodle in PowerPoint by using the shapes. Nowadays, Toastmasters is what I use it for.

          Excel I’ve gotten to the point where I can do VBA from scratch, but I’m geekier than the average office job person and was strongly interested in programming when younger. Mainly I’ve used Word in my personal life for a. writing Christmas letters, which was the only time I ever need mail merge, b. writing fanfiction and short stories, and c. drafts of Toastmaster speeches. The fancier features really aren’t needed by the vast majority of people.

      6. JohannaCabal*

        This. I think I picked up most of my office software application skills on the job. My university did require what I call “IT 101” but the problem with courses like that is that by the time I entered the workforce a lot of what I learned in the class was out of date.

        Right now I work for a startup that uses Google Drive and Gmail although we are moving to another more secure cloud.

        1. turquoisecow*

          Yeah, when I started my first post-college job I knew absolutely nothing about Excel because I was an English major and didn’t need it before then. My job grew to involve more and more data analysis instead of just data entry, and as that happened I learned more of Excel. By the time the job ended 7 years later I was the person people went to for Excel questions.

          Of course not everyone learns on the job, not every job is able to spend the time teaching its green employees, and if a new job needed an Excel function that old job never required I’d have to learn it. But a lot of computer work is knowing how to find the answer to something rather than just knowing it.

      7. quill*

        Also it’s free. Never underestimate the power of an application or software being free in how likely it is to be taught about, given that it allows the students to all have access to an up to date version.

        Another thing is that even if you’re in the sciences, you only learn excel functions relevant to the analysis that you’re doing. In my experience the way businesses use excel (in place of databases, often,) is very different from students using excel to generate graphs and reports.

    2. Fierce Jindo*

      Yeah, I teach colleges students and I had to abandon an Excel-based assignment because I didn’t have the time (or inclination) to teach them Excel basics—simple things that I at first naively assumed they’d almost all know—along with the actual course material.

      Many of my students have amazingly poor computing skills. They do everything in Google docs and are not great at Word, can’t find things on their computer, forget to save work because they’re used to auto-save, etc.

      Google offered universities free software that we need; we sold out student privacy to get it; and this is the result.

      1. Clisby*

        They also could be familiar with Office 365, which has autosave. That’s what I use (I audit classes at my local college and have access to it that way, so I’ve never bother to install Office on my laptop.) I’m still not used to the auto-save; I keep saving updates, and Office 365 keeps reminding my about autosave..

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        I used to teach college students (chem). The first week was spent getting them used to how the class was structed, but we also took half a discussion period to learn how to Excel enough that they could do their first lab.

        I’d ask them to raise their hands if they felt very comfortable in Excel and then if they considered themselves ‘advanced’. Then we’d do the exercise…which was putting data points into a table, graphing it, and pulling the graph formula. Every single time I’d get maybe 2 students who could do this in 5 minutes, and the rest were a varying mess of “what is Excel again” and “holy crap Excel makes graphs??”.

        We also had a mini lesson on Word and bibliographies/formatting and Please For The Love Save Your Files Frequently.

      3. Beany*

        I have a friend teaching science courses at the intro undergrad level, and she’s encountered this “finding things” problem with her students. They don’t seem to understand how to maintain and use directory structures. We were hypothesizing that this is largely to do with the rise of mobile OSes whose apps all use obscured walled-garden storage, so you never really need to know where on the device any particular file is sitting, as long as the application you were using with it was able to find it.

        1. quill*

          It’s so weird and interesting how many people I just scoff “just use a computer!” at because I hate navigating around the storage of a phone. I had to clean out my phone’s storage the other day and it was a disaster – instead of opening a file folder and clicking and dragging to select everything I wanted gone, I had to open apps and click the x button on individual items!

          1. Kal*

            This is why I specifically had to download a file manager app on my phone just so I could access a regular folder structure again. It took a lot of figuring out to figure out where all the apps dump things, but now I’m at least familiar enough to mostly be able to guess where somethings been put.

        2. Fierce Jindo*

          Yeah, I think this is exactly the right diagnosis.

          It’s a nightmare in my undergrad stats class, where they need to download data and then call it up with a command referencing the file path. Many of them are just totally mystified.

          I think there is a big social class component here: the poorer kids are more likely to do almost everything on phone or tablet rather than a laptop, and have worse skills for navigating directory structure. We provide them a computer lab in class, but students who don’t own their own laptop still tend to struggle.

    3. Language Lover*

      Exactly. A lot of schools use primarily use Google programs and Google docs. I occasionally look over cover letters or grad school essays from people in their 20s and it’s as often shared with me via Google docs as it is with Word.

      Ask everyone. But I’d also ask how familiar they are with the programs they do use. I’d hate to see someone who is very skilled at Google spreadsheets be eliminated because they hadn’t the opportunity to work with Excel. There are differences in the programs but I believe people who master one will be able to get the hang of a similar program in different software.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I agree that the skills would be transferable. I was given a customer’s Google Spreadsheet to QA and I had never used the ap before. It was an overly complex spreadsheet with nested lookups and layers and layers of conditional formatting. I was able to navigate it as quickly as I would an Excel spreadsheet.

      2. PT*

        Office is also quite expensive. I no longer have it on my laptop because I’m not paying for it, when I don’t need it for home use all that much. I have LibreOffice and Google Sheets/Docs, which are both free.

        1. quill*

          Yeah, I don’t have it anymore. It’s far too expensive for personal use now that it’s moved over to a subscription model – previously yes, you’d drop $100 on office, but you had theoretically a decade’s worth of installs, or half a decade if you were putting it on two computers. My copy of word 2013 lasted me until 2021.

            1. Chinook*

              This is awesome as my version is 2013 and I refuse on principle to pay a subscription fee or need to access the internt to do basic documents work. I am more than happy to give them a larger amount of money as a lump fee if I can use it when my internet doesn’t work.

      3. RedinSC*

        Yes, I agree. If you know how to use Google Docs or Google spreadsheet, you’ll be able to learn Excel. It’s only if the job requires immediate knowledge to start up day one. But I’ve pretty much had to set aside time and budget to get my staff (newly college graduated or in the workforce 20 years) up to the level I need them to be.

    4. HappiestHuskyDog*

      Please make a WRITTEN LIST of the specific functions/skills you need them to use in Word and Excel. If you just ask “can you use these programs?” you’re not going to get an accurate idea of proficiency!

      There are SO MANY functions/skills that I’ve used in one job to never use at another (mail merge, pivot tables, making formulas on one page connect to other pages, footnotes, etc).

      What do you actually need them to be able to do? Can you make a first day “review” where they demonstrate all the skills you need so you can identify any gaps to cover with them? Like “Type your name, center it horizontally, change it to size 24 in Century Gothic, add page numbers, etc).

      It might feel super basic to you but you’d be surprised at who might need the refresher!

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yeah, I agree. List the skills that people need to know and make them fill in a short survey.

      2. April*

        When I interviewed for my current job they asked if I was comfortable in Outlook. I said yes because I thought it was just email. Who doesn’t know how to use email?!

        Oops.

        (I learned everything else while on the job–but I had a coworker who had the time/patience to explain things. I’m sure there’s still huge gaps in my knowledge, honestly.)

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            There are calendar and task functions, time tracking ability, ways to organize and classify emails with categories, ability to share different accounts within a group or between people, stationary choices, and that’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s more for people who have administrator functions. There’s also interactivity with other Microsoft products like Skype and Teams.

            1. Allypopx*

              I use Outlook every day and apparently just learned there’s a time tracking ability – so there you go
              !

            2. mcl*

              Oh, gotcha. I guess I use Outlook for email and calendaring only. I know it does more, for example the filtering/categories feature I know exists but have never felt the need to learn, and I use Teams. If someone asked “are you comfortable with Outlook?” I would assume they meant to ask whether I knew how to use email and calendars (yes, and I use it for that every single day), not whether I knew all features of Outlook beyond those (which I would probably have to spend more time learning, as I find Outlook annoyingly un-intuitive).

          2. EmKay*

            Creating and maintaining shared calendars? Creating and maintaining distribution lists? Sharing some of your calendar with your team, but not all of it, because some stuff is personal/private?

            I can do all those things as an administrative assistant :)

            (and more, lol)

          3. April*

            We use the calendar a lot, and maintain calendars for like ten things (but most of them only get used a few times a week). And I have multiple lists of people (that overlap) that get “invited” to events on specific calendars, or emailed about specific things.

            But I don’t know how to do some of the other things people listed! I don’t even know what Teams is, I’d have to look it up.

      3. Harper the Other One*

        Yes, exactly! I’m hesitant to seek myself as being knowledgeable with Excel because I’m self-taught and there is so much I haven’t explored. But the last person I know who “needed some serious Excel help” needed a couple of simple formulas and to make the formatting look slicker, and I could definitely do that!

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          I think answering questions with a fairly accurate description of skills you have – assuming you think you are neither advanced or a real beginner – can make you looks pretty strong: self aware and able to learn.

          So for Excel it could be “I’ve used it a bit for fairly straightforward formulas, managing large lists, formatting and so on. I haven’t used really expert functions but can learn.”

          That seems smart.

          1. hbc*

            I agree. Someone who answers “can you do pivot tables?” with “Yes” is not nearly as appealing as someone who says, “I don’t need them much so I can be a little slow at manipulating the tables to get me the right organization, but I always get to what we need for the data analysis.”

      4. Washi*

        I agree. If it’s a problem with new hires, do a skills test. As long as it’s not one of those computer tests where you can’t use keyboard shortcuts or look anything up! I think watching someone google “how to adjust margins in word” and then do it correctly demonstrates another good skill of being able to figure stuff out yourself even if you are unfamiliar with the program.

      5. learnedthehardway*

        Yes, this!! I was coming here to say exactly the same thing.

        When I’ve interviewed for roles that required good Excel skills, I get the candidate to walk me through how they would create a pivot table / macro.

      6. AnonInCanada*

        I concur with this as well. Most people won’t know/won’t need to know any more than the basic functions of Word and Excel, and I’ll venture no one knows everything Excel can do. Someone created a 3D engine to write Doom-like games in Excel, so yes, Excel can do a lot!

      7. Elizabeth West*

        It should be part of the job post, too, so you’re getting applicants who know what skills they’ll need on the job.

    5. Cease and D6*

      Yes to this. I teach at a university, and my students (who are almost universally young) have widely varying levels of familiarity even with Word. It’s an expensive program with lots of functions that go beyond basic word processing. Many people, especially young broke people, choose to use Google Docs or some other free alternative until a professional context requires something more powerful.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          It’s why I use GIMP, which is free (concepts like layers, etc. are basically the same). There are a ton of freeware versions of expensive software.

          The whole subscription model thing makes me want to tear my hair out.

          1. quill*

            I learned on photoshop and use GIMP: there’s no point in paying for prohibitively expensive (and getting increasingly more expensive) programs if I’m not using them in a professional context.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Exactly. Part of the reason I lack expertise in certain programs is that a company can typically afford a license or subscription, whereas I cannot. I was super lucky to get Office 2013 Pro from Exjob for only $10, and I am hanging onto it as long as possible.

              The fact that someone seeks out and teaches themselves the freeware equivalent of something should be seen as a feature, not a bug.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        It’s worth exploring if the school have an agreement with MS to get Word/Office for free or very cheap. Many many schools do. And if they do, the school should be telling the students to avail themselves of it.

        1. Cease and D6*

          This is a good point, and something many students don’t know about. When I was in university I could even get photoshop for free.

      2. Cat Tree*

        It also depends on high schools, which vary wildly. I actually had a class on Excel and Word as a standard required course and this was circa 2001. But I went to a well-funded public school while plenty of others didn’t have that.

        1. PT*

          Circa 2001! Schools now use cloud software, and that cloud software is whatever the school buys. Some buy Outlook (which means they’d use Office) and some buy Google (which means they’d use Google docs.)

          1. quill*

            Yeah, high schools tend to spend more money keeping up with technology than maintaining or teaching it as well. So maybe you learned to type up a report in Word and adjust the margins, but most schools don’t have dedicated staff to teach computer stuff to either students or teachers, many don’t even have staff to actually maintain the technology that they’ve bought.

    6. Cranky lady*

      Just agreeing with everyone here that you need to ask everyone. As someone over 40, I honestly know more about Teams, Outlook, and Excel than most of our new hires. Most of them have used Google for everything and have never had to do a mail merge, sort a spreadsheet properly, or create a recurring meeting which are all really common office tasks.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Exactly! I’m 60 years old and frequently coach client team members on using Microsoft Office products. It’s not that people are dumb or unwilling to learn, they’ve just not had to use Excel or Word the way many of us did.

        1. Anomalous*

          I’m 58, and I have used Excel since Version 1.0 back in 1986, back when it was a Mac-only program.

          Don’t assume you know anyone’s skill level in a particular area based upon their age.

      2. Observer*

        Most of them have used Google for everything and have never had to do a mail merge, sort a spreadsheet properly, or create a recurring meeting which are all really common office tasks.

        And the problem here is not even Google vs Office, because you can to all of these things with Google (and Libre Office, for that matter.)

        The OP needs to know two things for EVERY HIRE: 1. Do you know what x task IS? Do you know how to do this in ANY software? 2. Do you have the ability to find instructions for how to do a task that you can define?

        Because you can be sure that even someone who knows how to do most things that the OP needs IN OFFICE is probably going to come on one or two things that they don’t know to do in Office. But if they know how to look stuff up, it’s not going to be a problem. On the other hand, someone who know Word “well” but doesn’t understand the difference between footers and footnotes (something I actually ran into!) is going to be a problem. Or someone who doesn’t actually understand how footers work (more likely in a college graduate than not understanding footnotes) etc.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        Not only this, but I’m very tired of people telling me how “lucky” I am that a good chunk of my team is younger and more ‘”tech savvy”. Very, very few of them have the type of tech savviness I need, and many of my GenX team members run circles around them on work-related tasks for at least the first year. My 75-year-old mother has better office productivity computer skills than most of my new hires.

        We now do an orientation boot camp to teach the specific MS Office skills I need them to have. Worst case, it’s a refresher, and we’ve only had one person who simply could not develop the appropriate skills since we implemented (and they were 22 and did a second personalized version of the boot camp just for them with no success).

    7. Double A*

      I work with teenagers in a digital environment, and it’s amazing what they don’t know how to do on a computer. I’ve realized that on balance, Gen Z is very phone/tablet literate, but not necessarily computer literate. This is just reflective of what tools they grow up with– even if the family has a computer, they don’t spend all that much time on it. I’ve taught several teenagers about things like copy and paste, right clicking, and how to use formatting tools in Word. As an older millennial, I came of age on a desktop computer and all that stuff is second nature, but it’s different now! And not every millennial has that experience, though I’d say it’s pretty common.

      1. Rock Prof*

        I’m also an older millennial who grew up with an early adopter and tinkerer dad. I built my first desktop computer, including ordering parts by phone(!), when I went to college. Now, I, like a lot of my students, have just ‘intuitive’ laptops/tablets (I alternate between a MacBook and a Surface), which are very non-tinkerable. Not to mention how common Chromebooks are, and how there’s some software without full functionality on those (I’m looking at you, google earth). Using more tablet-like computers is definitely a different skill than using other types of computers. For me, this means I am constantly pointing at things in a student’s screen and accidentally touching it and selecting things.

        1. April*

          Hah, I was born in 1979, and my dad was an early adopter and tinkerer (we had Commodore/Amiga computers until the early 1990’s)…but I wasn’t allowed to do any of that, unfortunately. My brothers were. Middle brother now makes more than the rest of us put together, doing software development.

          Meanwhile I am now a mac person–I use Windows at work, but my home computer is a 2015 macbook air. (90% of what I use it for is my web browser, discord, and spotify.)

    8. wanda*

      I concur. I’ve worked with a number of college students in research. I need to tell about half of them to put the calculator away when using Excel and use formulas instead.

      1. Kristina*

        +1. I teach high schoolers and they think I am a WIZARD bc I know how to use shortcuts and hot keys. Teaching a 15 or 16 y/o who does not know Alt-tab exists is hilarious. It blows their mind. If you don’t need specialized skills (like mail merge, in which case, YES use a list), you may be able to glean proficiency quickly by asking, “What’s your favorite shortcut?” We do this as a work icebreaker snd sometimes I learn new ones! LW1 should learn her keyboard’s shortcuts for mute and unmute in Zoom/Google Meets. It makes life so much better to not have to search for the icon with your mouse!!

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          I don’t think keyboard short cuts should be used as a proxy for skill level. Really, different people interact with programs in different ways.

          I don’t use a lot of shortcuts in Word but know quite a bit lot in Word (mail merge, references, styles, sections/breaks – no macros or developer stuff though).

          There is, for many tasks, a right and a wrong way to do it (using styles is generally superior to repeatedly applying formatting) but not a right or wrong way to get to a function.

          Also, I’m under the impression that Alt-Tab is a Windows or perhaps operating system shortcut, not an Office or Word shortcut.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            ‘I don’t think keyboard short cuts should be used as a proxy for skill level.’

            I don’t think that’s what Kristina is saying. She’s pointing out that young folks are impressed by her knowledge of the tool and its shortcuts, she’s not conflating them with expertise. Although I’ll argue that knowing there is such a thing as shortcuts is a form of expertise a lot of users don’t have.

            Also: When he was 11, my nephew thought I was a math genius because I could calculate a 20% tip WITHOUT USING A CALCULATOR. Seriously, who doesn’t like to blow young minds once in a while?

            1. Gina D'Ostello*

              She’s recommending asking people about their favourite shortcuts as a way to gather evidence of their proficiency. That seems like she is conflating knowing them with expertise to me! Perhaps you didn’t notice when her comment transitioned from anecdotal reportage into suggested approach?

    9. Kathlynn (Canada)*

      yeah, I’ve just started working at a desk for my job. And I do not know anything beyond simple word tasks. and Excel is a scary monster to me. So I’d completely and happily take any offer of training that isn’t going to cost me hundreds of $$ for either subscribing to Excel or the cost of the course. (I was interesting in taking a free course from the local library but you needed a certain version, which would cost over $300 soo didn’t take it)

      1. Bananagram*

        This has probably already crossed your mind, but just in case: ask the library if they have some kind of license that can be checked out! They very well might; even if not librarians are problem-solving wizards with that kind of stuff. Or your employer could subsidize the added license cost for your laptop if you were learning new skills needed for work, etc.

      2. Here for the Randomness*

        Excel doesn’t change that much version to version particularly for entry level functions, so you should be OK either way. Also, Excel has a pretty reasonable monthly and yearly subscription fee now.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Maybe you can find out if you can use WPS Office (freeware) instead of buying Excel. The down side is that it takes a tiny bit more effort, but you will get the general idea.

        1. lost academic*

          One of the big reasons we use Excel in my industry is that our clients are also going to be using it and they will be exchanging files with complex operations internally and externally. There is too much risk in using free options and those free options don’t necessarily have the same options that Excel does. It’s a business standard tool for a LOT of people and so it matters to know how to use it. If you’re doing really basic stuff that the average person does in Excel, use a free version (I used OpenOffice a lot in college) or now Google Sheets but if that’s all you ever spend time in, you will really not know what you don’t know and you won’t have a good understanding of how your files look and operate in the native Excel environment. Microsoft also has a strong vested interest in your staying with their products and it’s a big reason they make things free and cheap for students and others. Do yourself a favor and make sure you know what you’re doing.

      4. Green great dragon*

        If you’re really not using Excel at all, learning to use any spreadsheet will give you enough familiarity to use Excel for most things and do a more directed help function/google for the rest. I’ve used OpenOffice (free), google sheets (free) and Lotus (I am old) and didn’t find much difference until I got into VBA-level usage.

      5. T*

        I’ve had good experiences with classes off of Udemy. The list price of the classes are over $100 but they’re on sale so often they’re basically $20 all the time.

    10. A.N. O'Nyme*

      When I was in high school (not that long ago – already firmly in the “you really need access to a computer for a lot of things” era) classmates were surprised at how fast I could work in Word. My secret? Keyboard shortcuts for copy cut and paste. That was it.
      So yeah, I definitely would ask everyone about Word and Excel skills, because being young means nothing in relation to how well you know digital tools.

    11. Avi*

      I just hit 40 and never had any duties that involved Excel before my current job finally got around to migrating some forms that had previously been done by hand over to it a few years ago. I went into it completely blind and basically just taught myself all the things I needed to do by looking stuff up online.

      Meanwhile, my newest coworker, a self-proclaimed ‘computer guy’ in his mid-twenties, has absolutely no idea how to use Excel and his problem-solving skills involving it are remarkably absent. He keeps working himself into overcomplicated solutions (going through a convoluted multi-step process to email the form instead of just hitting the email button on the title bar, for example), and we’ve had to show him how to do basic stuff like adding a line over and over again. The coworker who retired the year after we started using Excel picked things up faster than this guy, even if she did complain about it the whole time.

    12. Anthony J Crowley*

      Totally, totally this. I’ve been working nearly 25 years and… the more I learn the more I know how much I don’t know. It’s the Dunning-Kruger effect. If all you’ve ever used Excel for is to make lists you’ll think you’re an expert. If you do complex stuff with it you’ll know how broad it is and that there’s functionality that you’ll never understand because life’s too short to learn it all.

      Ask everyone! Hell, if that’s that important, do what my work does: don’t ask about it, but set them a test in Excel. If you really want to go the whole hog, do the test before the interview and ask them to talk through what they did. I would bloody love that and I hate interviews.

      I’m sure you don’t mean the question to be insulting, OP4, but I’m having a really hard time not reading it that way. Computers existed in the workplace in 1997, I know that for sure. People of my generation have had a long time to learn.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Yep. I bristled too. I’m early Gen X.
        OP, I’m the technical minutia expert for my group despite being the oldest. I’m comfortable with Mac, Windows, and even Linux.
        You say you don’t want to be ageist, so think about what you need, instead of who you assume has or does not have those skills.
        Also remember that the ability to learn something new on the fly in a totally different paradigm is a skill in and of itself.

        1. Julia*

          “who you assume does or does not have those skills.” LW 4 says her experience has been that older people sometimes don’t have these skills. That’s experience, not an assumption. Sometimes there really are differences in the population by age. For example, younger people are less likely to know office norms right off the bat. That’s not saying young people are dumb, just that it’s reasonable to teach them that stuff.

          I agree that you can just ask everyone and get around this issue, though.

          Also LW 4, don’t fall all over yourself saying “this is weird, this is awkward, this is just a formality, I know you know this, I HAVE to ask these questions”. Forget how weird it is in your head and just briefly ask what you need to know. “Just to confirm – are you familiar with X function in Word? OK, how about Y in Excel?” One and done.

          1. Minerva*

            What our biases do is give a pattern to our observations that doesn’t necessarily live out in reality. If Betty has lousy Excel skills, and she’s 55, that fits and existing explanation that older people lack these skills. Whereas if Dave, aged 23, lacks these skills, you have to find another explanation, maybe Dave is just not all there. Nevermind that a job you get 55 year olds and 23 year olds applying for won’t draw a random sample of both age groups. Your posting may not be appealing to more highly tech savvy older applicants, for whatever reason, or you my draw from recent grads of a school that happens to teach the skills you want on the younger side.

          2. lost academic*

            And if you do that with no follow up, you’re very likely to get a confident answer of ‘yes’ even from someone who is thinking “i can figure that out quickly” which may be true, but is going to put you in a rough position because you had a chance to screen for this effectively but didn’t do so. Get the right answers when you need them – at the interview stage.

          3. Observer*

            LW 4 says her experience has been that older people sometimes don’t have these skills. That’s experience, not an assumption

            SOMETIMES is a key word here. Especially since they, by their own admission, have never even looked at the skills their younger employees have. They just ASSUMED that these younger people have them.

            don’t fall all over yourself saying “this is weird, this is awkward, this is just a formality, I know you know this, I HAVE to ask these questions”. Forget how weird it is in your head and just briefly ask what you need to know. “Just to confirm – are you familiar with X function in Word? OK, how about Y in Excel?” One and done.

            This is true. It’s going to be a lot easier to do if you leave the assumptions behind. Because then it’s not a “weird” question that you are asking some people to hide that you REALLY just want to ask “those” people. It becomes a routine question to ascertain the level of skills you need.

      2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        I’m Gen X and I have often been the most Excel-savvy person in my companies. Why? I have spent years in finance-related jobs. The operations people who are twenty years (or more) younger than me? They rarely needed to use the program and don’t have the same skills.

        OP4, you are worried you are ageist if you assume older people lack a skill. It’s equally ageist to assume all young people have that skill. That can not only lead to bad hiring decisions; it means you may be setting up your younger team members to fail.

    13. many bells down*

      I liked WordPerfect :(

      But seriously, I once worked with a group of college students in their 20s who created THE most hideous PowerPoint I’ve ever seen. We’re talking lime green cursive font over a watermarked background image – and they put three PARAGRAPHS on one slide. I’ve saved it for almost a decade because it was so bad. It surprised me, as a 40 year old, because I assumed “kids these days” learned all that stuff in high school. And maybe they do, but this group sure didn’t!

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        I used to love WordPerfect too. My former boss still insisted on using it as recently as 4 years ago, then he wondered why I had trouble editing his work.

      2. KAT*

        I love WordPerfect. I’ve been on a three year campaign to convince my current firm to switch because it integrates with our software so much better than Word, but they view it as the poor man’s Word. So everything takes twice as long to set up and doesn’t work quite as nicely.

        1. AnonInCanada*

          “Poor Man’s Word?” Has your firm actually gone out to price WordPerfect? I just looked–CAD 520 for the pro version, and that’s one licence! (And Google should learn we’re not all American, and licence is spelled this way when it’s used as a noun!) Small wonder why it’s lost favour to Word over the years. Microsoft has the clout and the userbase to price its products to a point where its competition is either inferior yet free Web-based solutions like Sheets and Docs, or expensive yet superior solutions like WordPerfect.

          (Yes, Google, favour is spelled with a “u” in countries other than the USA. And yes, I should learn there’s a setting in Chrome that will check Canadian English spelling. D’oh!)

      3. Govt Gal*

        My dad still uses WordPerfect. Apparently when he started as a lawyer in the 1980s, it was the best program for footnotes, and he just never bothered to update.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          The story I heard is that the father of one of the designers of WP was a lawyer. The designer asked his dad what lawyers would find useful. The result was that WP was for many years the standard in law, past when Word had pretty much conquered the rest of the world. This point has passed. Word is now usual. But depending on what sort of practice your father does, it is entirely likely that there is no good reason for him to switch.

      4. Mockingjay*

        I miss WordPerfect. I remember when our company replaced WP with MS Word back in 1997. The entire document team cried.

        There are still functions MS Word cannot do that WP did back in the day, effortlessly.

        1. Not playing your game anymore*

          This! So much this. I used WP back in ’87 and … well never mind.

          But yes OP the question feels ageist because the way you are thinking about it, it is. We ask candidates what software/aps/etc they are familiar with and hope to hear that they have a level of comfort with something, anything really. Just can’t hire someone who is totally technophobe. Then when it comes time to train them we give them simple projects using “software x” and link them to the help they may or maynot need. We almost always have to teach people how to do mail merges and how to compile digi specs and we are nearly always starting from scratch with the library specific systems so we just never assume anything.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Yeah, it really depends more on what their experience is rather than their generation.

            I can do mail merges but I have no idea what “how to compile digi specs” means. Obviously, I haven’t done whatever that is because my past jobs didn’t require it.

      5. pleaset cheap rolls*

        There are actually multiple issues with PowerPoint/Keynote/Google Slides or whatever it’s called.

        One is using the software properly. For example, understanding master pages in Powerpoint, understanding how to set a color palette etc.

        The other is how to make something usable and attractive for it’s use – as a presentation or as a document to read. The needs of each – amount of text, text size, etc are very different in those two types of uses.

      6. Richard Hershberger*

        I am fascinated by the OP’s dismissal of WordPerfect as some sort of antiquated relic. You can still buy it, in a version that is kept current. Word might have some functions that WordPerfect lacks or does not do as well, but they are off in a corner, not the standard stuff that everyone uses.

        Furthermore, there is strong evidence that WordPerfect is objectively better than Word. I have seen countless times people who used WordPerfect back in the day but switched, and lament this. This could be dismissed as reflexive conservatism, but I see this from people who switched decades back. This isn’t simply that they have not yet figured out Word. I have literally not once seen someone who made this switch and is thrilled about how much better Word is.

        Which gets us to the real weirdness. Why don’t people use WordPerfect? As noted above, it is an entirely plausible modern application. On one level this is a straightforward format wars story: Beta vs. VHS, where which is better is largely beside the point. But we aren’t trying to rent videos from stores with limited inventory. The ubiquity of Word only matters if you trade documents back and forth with outside organizations, and even then only if they have intermediate or higher formatting. There are workarounds that are just fine for files that are just text with rudimentary formatting. But the idea of using anything other than the “industry standard” is simply beyond the ken of most organizations.

        Which leads to the final weirdness. Why are they paying for Word? Outside of specialized circumstances, LibreOffice (the follow-on to Open Office) works just fine and is free. Ordinarily “free” is everyone’s favorite price point, but not here. Very weird.

        1. TiffIf*

          I have literally not once seen someone who made this switch and is thrilled about how much better Word is.

          I was thrilled with how much better Word was over WordPerfect, but that’s because early 90’s me had a Windows 3.1 machine with WordPerfect 3.0 and I had absolutely no clue how to work with a DOS text based word processor. I very much loved finding Word and an easy to understand GUI. Of course I was also 10 and didn’t have the internet or anyone to teach me. Even decades later that initial experience makes me automatically react with “WordPerfect bad!” Even though intellectually I know WordPerfect has a perfectly fine GUI now.

      7. Forrest Rhodes*

        Another WordPerfect fan here. I much preferred WP over Word, but when my clients unversally switched to Word, I kinda had to go along. Glad to know WP is still in use; I’d love to return to it.

    14. Forrest*

      Teams and SharePoint are also super new! They were just being rolled out at our organisation when Covid hit. My organisation leaned heavily into Teams and we’re all very familiar with it now, but I talk to a lot of people outside my organisation and suggest a meeting on Teams, and about 50% of them see it as a weird and scary package because their organisation or department opted for Google and Zoom.

      1. Here for the Randomness*

        Yes, this for Teams! SharePoint has been around for 20 years and Teams 4 years, but proficiency is generally very, very low. Even if you worked in a company that had SharePoint, your proficiency will vary GREATLY by how you used it. I would guess that the majority of people see it as a shared drive with a browser interface, so I would assume that anything beyond that would need training unless told otherwise. My org is just starting to use Teams, and almost everyone is a bit lost.

        1. Andy*

          I dont find SharePoint and Teams to be standard software. While they do exist, they are not standard thing everyone would use.

          And I hope they wont become standard. Teams in particular is still underdeveloped and quite bad for team organization. Management is now forcing us to use it for chats and it is pretty bad for organizing, searching logs etc.

          1. lost academic*

            That is changing very quickly because they are critical parts to how Office 365 is evolving. One of the things I’ve also learned about Teams is there’s a LOT of functionality that your corporate IT department may or may not choose to roll out for you. It’s just not built the same way Lync and Skype were but it is very powerful (and I just learned inherently tied into Sharepoint which I LOVE).

            1. Forrest*

              But some of it’s just — so bad! It INFURIATES me that the forums have most-recent-at-the-bottom, when most-recent-at-the-top has been industry standard across every platform for decades. I was trying to work out for ages why I found it so hard to navigate until I realised that.

              And the file-storage within Teams itself, and the dodgy, featureless versions of files when they open within Teams, rather than just in the desktop app, are very, very bad.

            2. Andy*

              The things I mentioned are specifically things that are impossible to configure, because Microsoft did not implemented them.

              Our IT department is as frustrated and unhappy about us having to use teams as much as the working teams.

          2. Here for the Randomness*

            Teams is becoming standard and will likely generally replace SharePoint, Skype, and Windows File Explorer for many people. Generally, I prefer it to any of those. I think SharePoint is going to move up to a management tool with read only for general users which is really useful for dispersed large organizations.
            The mixing of Teams and SharePoint permissions and data is messy. Seriously, no guest permissions $*&#*&!
            Anything that ends up in swearing for active users is going to be rough for new users if the organization does not set up the right guidelines. Either way, I would assume that any new employee will need training on how to use the program and how your org uses it.

            1. Andy*

              > SharePoint, Skype, and Windows File Explorer

              We used none of these. Some people use file explorer, but the need to explore your own directories in my job is and will be there. Just I dont use Windows File Explorer for it.

              For calling, zoom, google, webex meet are all better then Teams. For chats and team organization, discord, slack and pretty much anything else are better.

              The teams is pretty bad in everything.

      2. No Tribble At All*

        Teams works very well within a group and is so bad at including people who aren’t in that org, so that makes it worse for interviews when you go to do something like screenshare and you can’t because you’re not using that org’s domain and ahhhh

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          Yes, don’t use Teams with people outside your organization/IT system. Zoom is way better for calls/meetings like that.

        2. Andy*

          And when only first 25 people in group see meeting notes and nobody new. Wtf.

          And when you are in two organizations and cant be logged in both at the same time. And cant search for people in both nor easily contact them cross org.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          I have the free version but it’s a bit hard to practice in it since there is nobody in my organization but me, haha.

    15. Harper the Other One*

      Yep, my 12-year-old son has experimented with some coding on his own and made a basic computer game project in Unity, but I recently had to show him how to save a Word document as a different format than .doc because… he’s never had to do that before! Just ask everyone, with specifics re. what you need.

      1. TiffIf*

        My father learned computer programming and changed his career in the late 80’s. In the 90’s he would get upset when me or my siblings would change a setting on the family computer because, though he knew programming languages and the systems he worked on for work, he didn’t know the windows applications as well and didn’t know how to change the settings back to what it was before.

      2. quill*

        My whole family is WILDLY specialized in our computer knowledge.

        I’m the go to for troubleshooting installation shit because I may have decades of experience hacking computer games to work properly. My dad programs in obscure languages so he’s good with some computer architecture but not, say “make the bloatware on the laptop stop killing it’s available memory.”

        My brother is doing very technical datasets and only last year I walked him through what I thought was a standard 50/50 method of discovering the file that caused an application to crash.

    16. Profe*

      As a high school teacher, I’m convinced the average computer proficiency is decreasing every year. The idea of the digital native is a myth

      1. Not So NewReader*

        My theory is that there are too many changes and they happen to fast. People get tired of trying to catch up. Practicality kicks in and they know enough to do their job and use their computer at home.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          My theory is that there are too many changes and they happen to fast. People get tired of trying to catch up. Practicality kicks in and they know enough to do their job and use their computer at home.

          This definitely describes me. I was an Office Pro until ~2003 (or whenever it was when they introduced the ribbon) and once Office 2002 fell out of use and became hard to purchase a legit license of, I may as well have known nothing about the package any longer. Same thing happened with Windows 2000/XP. (It’s not that I don’t know the new things; it’s that the old things I still know how to do have deliberately been changed or hidden).

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Out of curiosity, Donkey Hotey, how do you answer questions about your Office skills?

              I normally respond “Since the redesign, I’ve been able to relearn enough to get by,” but frankly I’m not wholly satisfied with that answer and the reaction I get to it.

              1. Donkey Hotey*

                Well, I’ve never been asked that in an interview. But, off the top of my head, responding to you in the same manner as an interview, I’d say something along the lines of:

                “I’m proficient in the day-to-day uses of both programs. However, let’s acknowledge that Word and Excel ARE very complex enterprise-scale programs and normal for one office is techno-magic for another office. I’m confident in my abilities with these programs and failing that, I am confident in my ability to find the answer, learn and adapt.”

      2. Gray Lady*

        I think it’s more like, digital technology grows increasingly simplified and human-like in its functions, so you don’t need to be “proficient” to do a lot of things. You can spend all day playing on Facebook or Facetiming or whatever the “digital natives” for whom constant use of digital technology for all sorts of things is normal spend their time doing, but not really know anything about how to use a more complicated app or use something like Word or Excel to create some sort of specialized output. Growing up in car culture doesn’t make you a mechanic or even a person who knows a lot about how to buy a car intelligently or even a good driver, growing up with the telephone doesn’t make you understand telecommunications or good at communicating, and being a digital native doesn’t make you comfortable with computer applications.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          This. They way The Kids differ from the older generation is not knowing how electronic devices work under the hood, but in their comfort level with virtual interactions. My kids, aged 11 and 13, adapted just fine to the shutdown. Much of their social life already was via devices.

        2. Forrest*

          If I give my 3yo my phone, she immediately goes to the Games folder or the Media apps, and can navigate her way around iPlayer and the CBeebies apps, find photos and videos of herself, dismiss notifications, turn the sound up or down, and recognise the lockscreen that means she needs my thumbprint. That’s being a digital native! But she also can’t read, so of course she can’t use Word or Excel.

          I think it’s that as tech has taken over so much more of our lives, there are *so many* different skills involved, and tech is integrated into so many different skills. Back in the 90s, “being able to use computers” was a much smaller and more specific skillset, but now it’s a thousand different skills and you have to be way more specific about which ones you need.

          1. allathian*

            Your kid’s awesome!

            A former coworker told me that her daughter’s first word was “iPad” and she was 18 months old when she learned to dismiss notifications. My son’s first word was “poop”…

      3. Drago Cucina*

        Ah, the presumption that because one can use a smart phone they can use basic computer programs. Not the same.

        1. The New Wanderer*

          I’ve had to correct this and similar assumptions a dozen times in the past year. Wackiest assumption was that Gen Z, being “digital natives,” would naturally be more familiar with computer operating systems. Not just software but the underlying architecture. Close second: there is One Common User Interface style globally that all digital natives will be familiar with. (This one gets me, it’s not even true for different pieces of software from the same company!)

          The term “digital natives” was first used in the 1990s, and it wasn’t any more generally applicable then than it is today.

    17. Old-Lady*

      Yes, ask everyone but first decide if it is essential for the job.
      Lot’s of people have only minimal experience with these programs as needed.
      So if prior jobs or schooling didn’t require it, don’t be surprised it they don’t have it regardless of age.
      If you need someone with 10 years experience with X software or program language, how important is it that they be a Excel ninja on the first day?
      There are so many tutorials out there that can help get new hires to the basic level you need them to be if these programs are not an essential skill needed.
      There are also things you can put in the job requirements that can screen out people or even get them to study up before an interview.
      There are employee test that a lot of companies use for screening.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        This. In the legal industry there are competing case management software packages. They mostly do the same thing, but in slightly different ways. And they are large enough that no one uses every function of any of them. Yet read employment ads and they put much emphasis on experience with whichever package that firm uses. These things aren’t rocket science. Give me a couple hours to putter around with the one you use and I will easily pick it up. And someone who has been using it for years may know nothing about the particular corner of it you use daily. Filtering out job candidates based on this is absurd.

    18. NeverComments*

      Agreed. My neighbor who teaches at a University told me that for at least the last few years incoming freshman have no idea how to use word or excel (mostly they have only used sheets) and don’t understand the necessity of having to save a document !! (which I guess makes sense if you have only ever used sheets)

    19. Not So NewReader*

      Agreeing that you need to ask everyone, OP. The person who used to repair my home computer was in his 80s. He probably had forgotten more than I will ever learn in my life time. At one time, I had a boss in her 70s. I showed her a few things on her computer because she was not totally oriented to the computer environment. She’s a brilliant woman, so she leveraged the few things I showed her and went on to teach ME new things.

      OP, it’s not about the knowledge people have. It’s about their willingness to learn new things and their willingness to try on their own. And these two qualities have nothing to do with the age of the person and everything to do with how they approach unfamiliar things. When talking about computers and programs it’s good to realize that this is an area that requires constant growth and constant self-development. If you are going to screen for something, ask them to tell about a time they encountered something in a program and did not know what to do. How did they handle that?

      My former boss jokes, “What would [NSNR] do?” The answer is the same each time: Google. We even went as far as setting time limits on how long we would mess with a technical problem before we would call tech.

      I have had a couple jobs where I stayed over 10 years. My observation in both cases was my job changed so much in that 10 years that it was no longer the same job I hired on for. So even not taking computers into consideration, just speaking in general terms people have to be able to adapt to remain employable.

    20. Queen Esmeralda*

      And #4, don’t rag on Word Perfect. It’s functionality and ease of use is far superior to Word.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Key word: “is.” Not “was.” It is still available, updated to be a modern package.

    21. ecnaseener*

      There’s also the fact that Microsoft Office costs money. So you can’t count on people having grown up with access to it, and as others have pointed out above you can’t count on schools providing it to their students instead of google/iWorks.

    22. Gray Lady*

      I think the advice to ask everyone is the correct advice for a number of reasons, but realistically, Word and Excel have existed in something similar to their present forms since the early 90s. It’s unlikely that there are too many people around of any age whose knowledge of Word and Excel has anything to do with having worked most of their career without ever using it for at least basic functions; it’s much more likely that any person of any age lacks knowledge because they simply haven’t needed to learn to use it for its more complex functions due to the nature of their jobs. So IMO it’s an erroneous assumption that age would play into it in the first place.

      1. Observer*

        but realistically, Word and Excel have existed in something similar to their present forms since the early 90s

        It depends on what you’ve been using it for, and how you’ve been using it.

        Which goes back to the idea that it makes any sense to make assumptions about this.

        1. Gray Lady*

          Right, I’m not saying the assumptions should be better, so much as saying that the baseline assumption that older people are less familiar with these applications is not even a reasonable one based on time frames, let alone what people have actually spent their time doing. Which as you say, is a good reason not to make any age-related assumptions at all — both because there’s so much variability in actual people’s experience, and because a lot of people have a distorted sense of history when it comes to things like this.

    23. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      This is a change that many hiring managers are going to have to get used to, in their assumptions – the smartphone using generations didn’t necessarily ever get a lot of experience working with the basics of personal computing, because they didn’t need to. Some expected skills like typing/basic word processing/document formatting/spreadsheet functionality are not things they were necessarily just exposed to in the course of their lives.

      Yes, I do a lot of work in libraries helping seniors with those skills – but more than a third of my students are late teens to late twenties.

      1. Drago Cucina*

        I have been preaching that to local politicians for almost 20 years. The ability to use a smartphone is the same as being able to use a desk top. Let alone basic business emails.

        I am a boomer and had a library interview about 15 years ago. One of the questions was about my familiarity with the Microsoft Office Suite. I explained I wasn’t very experienced in Access, but I regularly used Publisher. I was confused by the blank looks until they asked if I knew how to use PowerPoint. Uh, yes, and pivot tables in Excel. Could save a Word document in .rtf to help when sending to someone with a different version of Word.

        I never assume. I ask and if needed plan for a demo exercise.

    24. TryingHard*

      Ask everyone! And I mean everyone! We in IT have seen it all in all ages and stages of careers. Your IT people will send you cookies as they tend to be the ones that deal with employees who don’t know how to use the cap or num lock. Or where to save files (I saved it where I always save it). Etc,, etc, etc.

      My favorite was someone who was hired as a data analyst who didn’t know Excel and expected me to help her with the formulas “because my job had Analyst in it too and analysts should stick together”. She didn’t last long. And I’m an all around IT Systems Analyst although I can sling data with the best of them.

      Okay…. I’ll be quiet now. This is a topic is of itself that organizations should pay more attention to. The hours of work lost because they hire someone with great people skills and no tech skills…. You get the point.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        And really there are several kinds of tech skills.

        Not knowing how to do a certain type of formula in Excel – not the biggest deal unless it’s basic to the job.
        Not knowing how to look something up (it’s 2021 – with Google) – that’s pretty weak.

        I’m in software constantly where I don’t know how to do things, but I check the support or Google or YouTube. And I ask what the org policy is on stuff like save locations. This is basic. More basic than actually knowing how to do a mail merge.

    25. Michael Valentine*

      Yes! I’m a technical trainer, and the younger employees aren’t always better at anything tech. In fact, they’re often less comfortable with figuring things out and ask me tons of questions (or actually never ask for help because they’re embarrassed). Computers are now so easy to use that problem solving seems to be less practiced.

    26. lost academic*

      Yup. I assume that most new college grads can’t do what I need them to do in Excel, and I don’t need them to create macros or pivot tables on day 1 but if they’ve never learned how to do lookups and references we’re starting too far back. The reality is that most of the science and engineering students I want to hire are learning Matlab or similar and while I know they CAN figure out how to do what I need in Excel, I can safely assume most of them haven’t done so. Not a dealbreaker but I do need to know when I’m making these decisions.

    27. LCH*

      agree. I’m 41. I’ve had assistants who were maybe 15 years younger than me with very little knowledge of what I would consider basic stuff in Word and Excel. and don’t even google to figure out how to make something happen? I think that a lot of younger workforce are more used to apps maybe. it seems like a narrow band of us were taught Word or Excel in our required college computer class (do they even do that any more?)

      1. TiffIf*

        it seems like a narrow band of us were taught Word or Excel in our required college computer class (do they even do that any more?)

        I had a required word and excel class my freshman year in high school. Basically it was following what was the MS office certification at the time. But it wasn’t something we could all finish in the allotted time (the word/excel part was a unit that lasted a quarter, and then you rotated to another unit) so I never finished the excel stuff and I wish I had! I know excel is a lot more powerful than what I use it for, and I still can’t grasp pivot tables.
        The course I took in high school was revamped like two years later so I don’t even know if the word and excel part was still included l.

      2. quill*

        We definitely did not have a required computer class in ’10 to ’14 at my college. But also apps weren’t the prevailing mode of using computers or phones then – especially if you weren’t toting around an iphone. I went to college with a Windows Vista (YEP that one) and learned a ton about it because I was too broke / cheap to buy something that didn’t BSOD on me once a week and college IT help thought the end all be all of fixing things was the good old factory reset.

    28. GNG*

      Trainer-of-trainers here, with a academic background in skills acquisition. LW1: One of the first steps in training people in any skill is conducing a needs assessment, for everybody that you train. So it’s imperative that you assess everyone’s baseline level at the start. Not only is it problematic to assume from an age standpoint, but it makes absolutely no sense to assume anything form a training standpoint.

      Besides assuming age is a determining factor in Microsoft Office skill level, I think another place where you’re getting into a pickle is: It doesn’t sound like you’re using a systematic way to objectively assess the expertise level of your new hires. If you haven’t done so already, I would suggest giving them a mini-skills test with pre-determined criteria to determine whether they are novice, intermediate, or advanced: If a new hire can do a,b,c but not d,e,f, then they are novice/advanced novices, if they can do a,b,c,d,e,f but not g,h,i, then they are intermediate, and so on. But I wouldn’t suggest making up your own test. Microsoft office skills assessments are available online.

    29. JB*

      Agreed. The younger you go, the more likely that they’ve only ever used Google Docs, and the most basic functions at that. And there are plenty of people in the age ‘sweet spot’ (young, but still old enough to have grown up using actual computers rather than tablets and Chromebooks) who still might not be familiar with the programs, for whatever reason.

    30. Florp*

      This +1000.
      My son is an engineering student and he left high school with no idea how to use Excel, and rudimentary Word and Power Point skills. Our high school is in the top ten for the state, so if they’re not teaching it, no one is. His department at university makes every freshman take a basic Microsoft class, but they are one of the only ones–the kids in English or History or even Business don’t get that class. I have a new hire right now who typed out a list of numbers in Word and then added them on his phone calculator because he had no idea Excel could do that for him. Truth be told, even though I had solid programming and coding skills when I graduated from college in 1991, I had to teach myself Lotus 1-2-3 on the fly for my first job, and then reteach myself when I had to switch to Excel for my next job. Your younger hires might feel more confident about their ability to pick it up, but I bet they don’t know what they don’t know!

    31. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      As an middle-aged person who is constantly having to teach new hires how to do basics like pivot tables, and arrays, and goddamn nesting, even… that letter straight pissed me off. I am really goddamn good at Excel. Back in the day, you had to learn visual basic to even make it useful.

      I’m enraged that hiring mangers are out there deciding I can’t do Excel because I’m to female, or aged, or frumpy, and are instead going to hire someone incompetent, thinking their young age and a single class in uni makes them good at Excel. Like programs are just absorbed through the zeitgeist? Like the ability to write an elegant macro is just a function of how perky your bits are? Hell. With. That.

      I’m honestly really mad about this one.

      1. Donkey Hotey*

        I’m glad I’m not the only one.
        Everyone else on this reply is being so nice and polite. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here thinking, “Son, I’m 50. Try me.”

    32. The Price is Wrong Bob*

      Agree, ask everyone. Often people are not trained beyond the basics or they assume different things are basic — I use excel often but sometimes I google certain tasks or ideas to find out if there is a better formula or tool for what I want to do. But not everyone has the same level of google-fu or familiarity with what could be possible, so if there are specific features that are an advantage to a job role or work field, may as well do a quick refresher and let people ask questions without worrying about experience level. Then you also side step any ageist or classist issues.

    33. manager*

      I’m increasingly seeing new grads who don’t know how to use Excel and Word! I’m guessing college is pointing them toward other technologies that a lot of the workforce isn’t actually using yet?

    34. T J Juckson*

      This Gen Xer has dealt with plenty of younger people who can’t figure out how to print Excel, or properly copy cells. The bad copying job saved my employer several hundred thousands of dollars (it was in a legal agreement, and well, the poor copy job meant we didn’t agree to give some stuff!).

      But then again, I recently did incredibly poorly on one of those Excel skills tests. I’m used to the Mac version plus the inability to use keyboard shortcuts or the like just irritated me. I probably could have put more effort into googling the answers, but at that point, I figured the job was not for me.

      1. LQ*

        Those automated tests are killers of people who actually know the tools. I think that an exercise is good but the tests are horrible, they are not good judges of who knows what tool.

        I think GenX is the most underrated generation for computer related stuff. “kids these days” have GUIs for everything, they have no idea how under-the-covers stuff works unless they really care to dig in. But GenX had to learn some of that stuff because it was laid bare. If they used a computer in their formative years they likely have a better ability to trouble shoot and understand than kids today who used a computer in their formative years. By far.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yep. People navigate through the programs differently.

          I hate those assessments because they’re discriminatory when it comes to people with learning disabilities like dyslexia or dyscalculia, anxiety (they’re often timed), etc.

    35. MH HR Gal*

      Agree completely! When we have positions that really need those functions, we have all candidates participate in some online testing (tapdancelive is the vendor we use) to get a sense of skills.

    36. AnonInCanada*

      Exactly this. Just because you may have just graduated college doesn’t automatically imply you’re competent with Word or Excel. And just because someone’s getting on in years doesn’t mean the only computer programs they ever used are VisiCalc and WordStar (yes, I go back that far.)

      It’s perfectly fine to ask everybody, then your conscience won’t get the better of you!

    37. Nanani*

      This. Do not assume younger = knows computers.

      For an anecdotal example, the high school curriculum where I live assumed a decade or so back that the Kids These Days know how to type so stopped teaching it – then texting happened and it turns out knowing how to use a smarphone keyboard for casual conversations does NOT automatically translate to having the typing skills to produce long essays (or code or lab reports or what have you, later on).

      The only way to know if someone has a skill is to check with that person, not scrutnize the stars for an omen based on the person’s demographics.

    38. Aquawoman*

      I would suggest that LW4 examine themself for ageist assumptions. Assuming that people with 25+ years experience haven’t learned Word because they started out with dictation (dictation!) seems ageist to me. Not wanting to train people on easily learnable systems seems like the wrong priorities for hiring. Thinking old people can’t learn is definitely ageist.

      I also have had young employees who didn’t know how to use an Outlook calendar and didn’t use professional email norms. If that happens and the LW considers it totally fine and understandable, while rolling their eyes at WordPerfect, that’s ageist. (I haven’t used WordPerfect in 15 years and I still think Word stinks).

    39. Student*

      This! Ask them all!

      There are plenty of young people who didn’t learn how to use Excel. Word is a little bit more ubiquitous, but you’ll find young people who’ve never edited a header or footer, never used a template, never converted a .doc to a .pdf, never digitally signed things, etc. Some young people who know the basics are completely helpless at doing anything more sophisticated.

      Ask them SPECIFIC questions about the functions you consider critical to your work. If you ask a person “Are you good with Word and Excel?” they will always say yes, no matter how bad they are, so you need to ask about specific things they’ve done with it, examples of functions they use, etc.

      Ask questions about how they tackle learning new technology, too. Do they work better with classroom training? Learning on the job via work-task exercises? Do they look things up online? Do they talk to co-workers? Ask the boss for help? Many common business tools, including all the ones you mentioned, have great online resources for learning how to do any task – but that doesn’t help if your team mates don’t learn well from online tools.

      In my line of work, it’s not a big problem to learn things like Excel on the job. It is a big problem if you have no concept of what Excel can do, so that you don’t know what work tasks to use it for. It’s also a big problem if an Excel learner needs a fellow human to teach them Excel – we don’t have the people or time to provide decent Excel training one-on-one, and we don’t have enough people to justify bigger, periodic in-house classes. If a person can learn via self-guided online work, a book, an online class, online video tutorials, etc., then we can give them the time to learn.

    40. DidntRealizeIAmSoOld*

      Totally agree. So many younger people exclusively use Google docs and sheets. I work in finance and google sheets is not sufficient for me. As someone with 20 years experience, I would say that my knowledge of Excel is very high and I would be surprised if someone expected that a person in their 40s is too old to know Word and Excel. That is kind of funny to me.

    41. LQ*

      I can’t believe this person didn’t think they needed to ask younger folks. There are plenty of people who don’t know anything about using formulas in excel who are every single age there is!

      I wouldn’t just ask, I’d have a brief exercise, something that’s 15 minutes or less worth of stuff can show you a lot about what skills someone has and doesn’t have.

      Also, sorry but someone who is 50 and working with computers since then had to figure out software before there was google, I don’t know why people think that it’s impossible for someone who is “older” to be as damn badass about computers are a lot of the folks I know who are.

    42. Robin Ellacott*

      Yes… we’ve hired several people 25 and younger who didn’t have what I (at age 45, but far from being a computer whiz) considered basic skills. A few could not type on a keyboard at all.

      I supervise a bunch of counselors and social workers, everything between post retirement and recent Masters students, and there is a HUGE gap in levels of comfort and knowledge about computers. It doesn’t seem to correlate all that much with their ages.

      Simpler and more fair just to ask everyone, and mention the specific skills you care about so you can ask how they have used those.

    43. A Feast of Fools*

      Yes, ask *everyone*.

      I will be turning 55 this year and I am the go-to tech person for my team.

      I’m not that far above entry-level since this is a third career for me but I find that my corporate-ladder peers who are 30+ years younger than I am not only don’t know how to use Teams, Outlook, SharePoint, or any of the Office products but they don’t even know *how to learn on their own* to use them.

      They get all goggle-eyed when I show them something “new” and ask where I learned to do *that* and I’m like, “I clicked every button and drop-down menu so I could see what the software is designed to do. Beyond that, the Help button and Google are your friends.”

    44. Junior Dev*

      “good at excel” is so varied too! I can do basic stuff like pulling down an column with an equation but I know people who do complex statistical analysis and filtering and sorting things into different tabs, etc…I’d rather just write a Python script to do that, but people who’ve had to do those things and had Excel as the main tool available to them have had to learn how.

    45. Berkeleyfarm*

      I work IT support … seconding this notion.

      Better to ask specific questions/”how would you find out more”.

      (FWIW, my own Word/excel skills are pretty basic … I don’t produce docs/sheets for a living and I’m not a trainer.)

    46. Anon because another commenter took my name*

      100% agree. Source: me, the PhD who only learned how to do pivot tables this year.

    47. Sandman*

      Yep. Younger people I’ve run across have only used the Google ecosystem and don’t know how to work with Microsoft products. Ask everyone if you need it.

    48. LR4*

      Hey there – LW4 here.

      See, everybody I know my age had to take classes on Microsoft/Windows/that kind of thing in high school and/or college, and I know that has skewed my expectations. And just being perfectly honest – not speaking in stereotypes – in my time doing this job, and now training others on this job, nobody under 40ish has had a problem. We’re able to just start rolling on Day 1. And none of the stuff we do is particularly unique to the industry – we’re attorneys, and any client in this particular location and this particular industry is going to want the same work product. I asked my mom what her opinion was, and she said if it were her in that situation, she’d either be googling for tutorials or finding some online seminars or something. And I guess that’s just what I’ve kept stuck in my mind – that if it were me, and I purported to have industry experience, I would take the responsibility on myself to play catch-up if I were behind on something at the base of it like this.

    49. So long and thanks for all the fish*

      Yeah, LW4, at my university at least, it seems like they assume college students these days already know Excel, so they don’t teach it. I mentor undergrads in science research, and I had a couple of seniors last year literally not know how to put basic formulas (think a*(x+y)/b) into excel so that they could just click and drag/copy and paste the formula down a list of numbers. They were putting the numbers one at a time into a website. High-achieving senior science majors. I was appalled that the university had let them get that far without knowing such a basic excel function.

  2. I'm just here for the cats*

    #4 for my work the job ad has basic computer skills and Microsoft word, etc skills listed. We also ask in interviews about their skill level. This is for all candidates. I think you are over thinking it. Do ask all candidates it just older people, because you never know. I’m a millennial and I had to take a class to re learn excel stuff. Much of it had changed or I forgot it. I was never thought anything much in high school college. And there’s always something changing. You might get a 20 year old who never heard of pivot.

    1. WS*

      +1, I’m finding that Gen X and older Millennials are basically competent across Microsoft Office products but people older or younger than that group have very different experiences. The OP should definitely ask everyone.

    2. Myrin*

      Yeah, I’m 30 and I’ve been asked about computer and Office skills in every interview I’ve ever been to (where it was relevant, of course, and sometimes in an “I’m assuming you know [Thing]” kind of way where I could then answer in the affirmative or not) and it’s never been weird or awkward.

    3. Rez123*

      I thought I knew the basics of Excel (I’m a millenial) then I looked up a list that gave a guideline on what is considered basics. After that I determined that I really don’t know how to use Excel at all.

      1. Allypopx*

        Big same. I had one interviewer say “I assume you’re fairly proficient in excel because you have your MBA” and I almost chokelaughed. I can google anything though!

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        You know the phrase you can’t compare apples to oranges? Pivot tables are how Excel compares rows to columns.

        1. SpellingBee*

          Oh. My. God. I consider myself an “expert beginner” in Excel, or maybe a low-intermediate user, and pivot tables have always been a mystery to me. This is the best, most succinct explanation of them I’ve ever heard. Now the name makes sense! I’m getting ideas of how I can incorporate them into my toolbox. THANK YOU.

    4. ecnaseener*

      The fact that it’s in the job posting might mean OP’s trainees will be afraid to admit what they don’t know – OP should be careful to make it clear it’s not a test or a gotcha.

    5. Blackcat*

      I am the right age that when I hear “pivot,” I think of Ross moving a couch.

      Never did learn how to do a pivot table in Excel. I can manipulate data well in Python and get you what you want, but I can’t make it happen in Excel.

    6. Luke G*

      That’s super true in Excel- when we get an applicant that says they’re proficient I always follow up to ask them what exactly they mean. Can they do basic math functions? More advanced statistics and graphing? Logic and conditional functions and formatting? Pivot tables? Macros? They may honestly and reasonably consider themselves proficient, but not know the particular things that would help in the position you’re hiring for.

      And incidentally, if you (or your coworkers) are interested, there’s a great free Intro to Excel course on Coursera that is SUPER useful to get everyone up to a certain baseline and addresses some really useful tips and tricks.

    7. Gracely*

      Ask everyone. I can’t tell you how many times my Gen X spouse has been shocked that me or his students don’t know how to do something on a computer that he knows how to do because that’s how you had to learn to use it when he was in school. I’m an old Millennial, so I’ve got a good handle on the various MS Office programs, but while I used to be competent in Excel when I used it on a daily basis for work a decade ago, there have been enough updates and I haven’t used it in years that I’m sure I’d be lucky to manage the basics now (use it or lose it).

      I have to remind my spouse all the time that just because he learned something a certain way doesn’t mean that everyone after him did (and that this goes for more than just computers). It blows his mind when I point out that no, opening up the command terminal is NOT something I ever consider doing. I literally never learned how to use it. At the same time, I’m much better with tablets and phones than he is–he gets frustrated that he can’t manipulate them the same way as a computer. It probably doesn’t help his perspective that he’s in a research field that overlaps significantly with computer science, so the non-students he works with, regardless of age, are computer-capable in the same ways he is.

      So please, please, ask everyone.

  3. FG*

    Knowledge of computers & software isn’t tied to profession or age. You may think someone who is young enough to be a digital native would be all over intermediate – to – advanced MS Office skills, but that’s definitely not the case, esp with the rise of simplified apps like Google Docs. You’ll also be shocked at the number of people who couldn’t tell you the name of the browser they use, how to copy a file, how to back out of a long URL to get to the root site, etc. Ask everyone, or ask no one.

    1. Squidhead*

      Yep! If I had to generalize, I’d say it’s often my younger co-workers (early to mid-20s) who really don’t know how Windows works. Like, they’ll open a file from their email and it will automatically save to the Downloads folder and they have no idea where it went or where to start looking. The workstations are filled with random orphaned files and they think their document is lost. If you don’t know, you don’t know! They are also much more familiar with Google Docs than I am and can probably pilot a space flight from their cell phones!

      We’re RNs, so we’re hired to take care of humans and not computers but anyone who has been in a healthcare facility in the last decade knows that means we spend at least 1/3 of our shift on computers. But using a computer isn’t part of the nursing curriculum, and while the patient-care software is taught on the job, basic computer literacy is not.

      1. Forrest*

        There was a twitter thread the other day about newer software developers struggling with directories and file structures because so much stuff is just all saved at the top level in an auto-generated file and they find it by Search or Recently Used. It’s really noticeable how much our shared drives have collapsed at work over the last 3 years since we moved to Office 365, Teams and SharePoint.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Ever see somebody get a new computer and then go look for recently used folders? It is an education in and of itself.

          1. No Tribble At All*

            My husband saves everything to the desktop, occasionally cleans everything up into folders labeled “desktop August 12” or whatever, and finds everything using the search function. And yet he’s astonished that I can find my files so quickly because I actually ~*organize them*~ using a ~*sensible file structure*~

            1. A Feast of Fools*

              My 9-month old kitten walked across my keyboard when I was up grabbing a refill of tea and now EVERYTHING is stored on the Desktop.

              My Desktop is stored on the Desktop. My shared drives and SharePoint sync drives are stored on the Desktop. One iteration of my Documents folder is stored under Desktop –> Desktop –> Documents –> Documents –> Documents

              I don’t know what was copied into the new file folder structure so I found one version of my Documents folder that had all the subfolders I had created and am just working in it for awhile. Once I’m sure it really has everything I need, I’ll delete everything else.

              I *HATE* having everything under one main folder. ::shudder::

      2. Junior Assistant Peon*

        Computers in the 1990s were much more of a pain in the ass, and constantly needed fiddling and troubleshooting. Kids today grew up with computers that worked right out of the box, and never learned how to look under the hood.

        1. Florp*

          Strongly agree. My kids think I’m some kind of wizard magician because I know basic file/folder structure and, like, how to install a Minecraft mod.

        2. GNG*

          Exactly – GenXer here. I remember a time when we bought new computers, it didn’t come with Windows already installed. If we wanted Windows, we have to install them ourselves with the floppy disks, and pray we won’t get a message for fatal error half way through. And monochrome display was default. If we wanted a fancy VGA display, we had to go buy a VGA card, open the computer housing, and installed it ourselves. New software didn’t come pre-configured. We manually adjusted the properties before the software is usable. We had to fiddle under the hood in order to use a computer.

          Personally, I found it fun to figure these things out. Much more importantly, it gave me an understanding how software works, so “keeping up” doesn’t take that much effort at all.

          Many people in younger generations have only ever seen the highly curated user interface. They would know where to click, but don’t have an understanding of how things are fundamentally structured, so they get lost pretty easily.

        3. quill*

          I’m young enough I barely used a computer in the 90’s but my high school & college (00’s) windows vista plus a dedication to making The Sims 2 work taught me a hell of a lot about what a program’s guts look like.

          I think some of it is experience (nobody’s gonna know coming out of school what businesses use programs for, because that’s overall not what their teachers know or what school is for, and businesses are not at all standardized anyway) and some of it is that you get some people who are curious and driven enough to go through the install files for their favorite game and change the max resolution by hand, and some people who will give up and do something easier.

          Though “using a computer for things that are not just websites” is probably a better indication of having some digital skills than using a phone, tablet, etc.

      3. PT*

        One of the places I worked, instead of stuff saving into downloads, occasionally it would save into a folder randomly named something like RxZyNqr7%nquw%qRlq and it was always a delight trying to find your download that went into THAT folder instead of “Downloads” like a normal download.

    2. FlyingAce*

      Agree. I’m in my late 30s and am fairly proficient in Word and Excel. My boss is in her early 30s, and the other day I had to suggest that she use the sum function in a spreadsheet (she had several rows of 5-6 cells with single-digit numbers, and was adding up each row by hand).

    3. Ilovelanguages*

      I’d absolutely agree. I’m a middle of the road millennial and due to jobs I’ve done I’d now say I’m proficient in MS Office skills etc, but when I first graduated I really wasn’t. You could say I ‘grew up with’ computers etc – we got our first desktop at home when I was about 7 and I started learning at that age (along with my dad). However, my dad quickly gained far greater proficiency because he had the time and the inclination to play around with things. I just learnt how to do what I needed and stopped at that.
      Ask everyone. It’s not an age thing, you’re just checking that everyone is capable of doing the functions of the job they’re hired to do.

      1. Mischief & Mayhem*

        GenX here. I’ve been working in MS Office my entire career, pretty much know the basics. This year, I decided to prove what I know, so I asked my boss if I could obtain my MOS certifications, and using my training funds for that. Once I got rolling on studying for my exams, I kicked myself for not having done this sooner! It’s amazing just how much is in each application, and just how many more shortcuts are built in. I’m at the MOS Associate level now, and am aiming for MOS Expert by 1st quarter of next year. This is definitely something to look for in resumes, as it demonstrates proficiency in MS.

    4. MissDisplaced*

      The thing with Excel is that it’s a HUGE program!
      Your knowledge of Excel may be specific to the type of work you do. For example, I consider myself proficient with Excel, but I mainly use Excel as a database and I can make great looking charts and maps in Excel. But if someone wanted me to do specific accounting functions, forecasts and formulas, I’d be lost.

      If you need people to be proficient with specific formulas or functions ask! Just asking if they know Excel isn’t enough.

    5. Julia*

      Overstatement. Knowledge of computers and software is absolutely tied to age. But every generalization has exceptions (and there’s the Gen Z app phenomenon you mentioned) and so it’s still good to ask everyone.

    6. wkfauna*

      LW1, many people I know who spend their whole days on video calls swear by Krisp. It’s software that filters your microphone input to remove noise.

      1. Reba*

        I was coming to recommend this! It can even mostly block the sound of my dog’s squeaky toy, which is darn impressive.

      2. lw*

        I agree, i use this everyday and swear by it
        have had kids screaming in the background, fire alarms go off, and the person on otherend didnt hear a thing!

  4. AnotherSarah*

    Ooof, LW4….I work with college students, and many of them don’t know basic Word functions. I’ve never had them use Excel but I’d be shocked if they know how. I’ve gotten questions on how to save a document, why the text didn’t autocorrect….I’ve never had these questions come up when I work with older adults. I know the term “digital native” is popular, but I don’t think it’s very accurate.

    1. A.N. O'Nyme*

      I tend to think of “Digital native” as a native speaker of a language – they know how to do the stuff they regularly need to do (and some of the finer points of communication over text), but they usually can’t explain why or how. It’s a bit like how if I were to describe “a green big dragon” most native English speakers would correct me and say it’s “a big green dragon” without being able to explain why “green big dragon” is wrong.
      Most people won’t remember the “why” either even if they look it up in the moment unless it’s something that comes up regularly.
      Similarly, most people don’t need the finer points of Word and Excel (if they even use those at all and not their Google equivalents) so generally they won’t learn what they don’t particularly need. I like the suggestion below of also checking their willingness to learn and look things up themselves (though with LW4 having neither the time nor inclination to teach them, that may not be actionable for them and it would probably be better to screen for applicants who already have the skill, without taking age into consideration).

      1. Rez123*

        I like the language analogy. To me “digital native” is comfortable in the digital environment, not that they know how to use use all the programmes. Similarly with your native language. You are comfortable with speaking the language and it comes naturally, however that does not mean that you know specific medical terminology without studying healthcare.

        1. nona*

          Software design and design of the interface is also often so good that it is intuitive and invisible. But the software is also maybe a lot simpler. So that the user *doesn’t* need to know how it works in order to use it. They pick it up faster and adopt usage faster. If the UI is clunky and bad, people just won’t use it.

          The Digital Natives are getting the end result of the 30 years Gen X and Millennials spent growing up as computer interfaces were evolving.

          Word and Excel have evolved to have depth of feature because its had 20 years to adapt all the things people were doing manually before (intending headings, inserting footnotes, running a calculator tape of columns of numbers).

        2. JB*

          I’ll be honest, I don’t think ‘digital native’ is a useful term, at least not on a professional level.

          There are definitely people who grew up using computers, of the kind that are used in offices, so frequently that they have a certain level of ‘inate proficiency’ – but a lot of that is learned habits. I grew up installing oldschool ROM hacking software on my laptop at home; I’m very good at googling questions and getting a useful answer.

          But I also still type ‘www.google.com’ into the address bar to get there. I can’t use an iPhone because what the phone considers to be intuitive advancements are counterintuitive for me; I’m constantly fighting it. I can use and trouble-shoot an art tablet (the kind you plug into a computer and install drivers for) but I’m frustrated by an iPad within seconds.

          My sister is more adept with modern advancements and can use pretty much any piece of tech you put in her hands. But she can’t google her questions and get sensible answers (because of her dyslexia) – she’s limited to what other people have shown her how to do, or what she can figure out on her own.

          And beyond that, many people under the age of 25 have ‘grown up online’ but have never touched an actual regular computer – either desktop or laptop – until their first office job. At home is all phones and tablets, at school is more tablets and Chromebooks. This is a hugely different experience.

          ‘Digital native’ means nothing when you’re asking someone to use Word or Excel when they’ve only ever used Google docs; or when you’re showing them something new that will take them a lot of time to adapt to, or if they know in theory about googling answers but can’t do it in practice. It’s kind of like calling everyone who grew up reading books a ‘paper native’ and then expecting they will therefor know automatically how to balance a checkbook, because, well, that happens on paper, doesn’t it?

      2. Green great dragon*

        I support your analogy. And judging by responses to my comments, about half the time people are so used to size-before-colour they actually read my name as Great Green Dragon. Native does not mean consciously aware of details.

        1. Recruited Recruiter*

          I honestly read your name as color-before-quality, because color-before-size never crossed my mind as a possibility.

    2. Bananagram*

      Yeah, I teach undergrads too, and I’m infuriated by “digital native” also. Beyond the true basics, what a new graduate needs to know is how to approach an unfamiliar problem, and that skill is just as difficult to master now as it was a few decades ago.

    3. allathian*

      They’re digital natives, in that they know to use the software that they typically need for schoolwork. It’s just that for most people it’s more likely to be Google Docs than MS Word, and even then they’re likely to learn what they need to do their schoolwork, nothing more.

      One university in my area started offering a course in how to format a long Word document with a template, headers and footers, sections, page numbers starting from somewhere other than the first page, footnotes, indices, references, appendices, etc. Things they need for their thesis if not before. This made the national news, because people were so astonished that the students didn’t know these things, and the student board of the university proposed this course, and the university thought it was a good idea.

    4. Panny Fack*

      Digital Native means they grew up in a digital world. That doesn’t equate to knowing software and how to get around an OS, though. It often means the opposite because less understanding was required of this group from the start.

    5. ecnaseener*

      The ‘digital native’ perception is definitely leaving the kids at a disadvantage. OP’s dealing with people out of grad school, so my age (24) or older — people my age were likely taught typing and basic computer skills in elementary school. Kids about 5+ years younger were no longer taught those things because it was assumed they just *knew* (how to use a computer from their experience using an iPad in most cases?)

    6. A Non E. Mouse*

      I’ve gotten questions on how to save a document, why the text didn’t autocorrect….I’ve never had these questions come up when I work with older adults

      This is a feature, not a bug.

      The newer technology – even Microsoft 365 which is cloud-based just like the Google environment most younger folks use and used during their education years – autocorrects, autosaves, and auto-names.

      We are basically asking younger folks for backward compatibility, and ignoring that we aren’t asking those who have been in the workforce longer to learn newer tech.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        Oh snap. There’s a fair amount of truth in that.

        Though I think some of the autosave stuff is not well explained or implemented in software, particularly as it relates to version control, security, access etc.

        1. Florp*

          I do need everyone to know the difference between saving things on our server, which gets a physical tape back up every night and literally saved us from a ransomware attack, and saving things on their hard drive, which does not get backed up. They will sign into their personal Microsoft account during lunch, forget to sign out of it when they go back to work, save work product in their personal cloud, and then panic the next morning when they thought they’d lost all their work, when in fact our client’s confidential info was just sitting in their cloud with their cat pictures. If you have an accounting or legal business, chain of custody of the data is an Issue. They are utterly surprised when you explain that the “app” doesn’t just know automatically to save their work in one place and their personal stuff in another.

          It’s fair to call it backwards compatibility, but it’s usually necessary. And frankly, apps started doing all that stuff automatically to keep us enmeshed in their ecosystem and subscribing to their products. It’s not a convenience, it’s a business model. People should be skilled enough to control their own data.

          1. A Non E. Mouse*

            People should be skilled enough to control their own data.

            Eh, I might explain it to them and even try to engage them as partners in making sure business data is safe, but it’s my role to make the safety of business data easy for them to engage in (meaning: not overly complicated to someone who isn’t tech savvy), and up to ME to make sure I’m backing up business data appropriately – wherever that business data might be.

            It’s a process, and ever evolving, but basically if it can involve human error, it needs a control in place. My goal is usually to make it harder to screw it up than to do it the right way, so that the Easy Button is what I want them to do. Policies that don’t allow removable media, sharing policies that mean they can’t see the documents unless they are fully authenticated (which means they can’t in turn accidentally save it to the wrong place), stuff like that.

            A system I have to keep explaining to the people using it isn’t a good system.

      2. SimplytheBest*

        Eh, I don’t know that all the auto-whatever is a good thing. We have a whole culture of auto-correct fail humor and I see so many email signatures preemptively blaming auto-correct for any typos. I have had to redo an astounding amount of work recently because someone else went into a collaborative spreadsheet in teams, sorted one tab, and because the doc auto-saved completely destroyed all the formulas on the other pages. So while “kids these days” are doing things that use these features, that doesn’t make that better or more progressive technology.

    7. KRM*

      But the Office package costs $$, so lots and lots of people aren’t going to pay for it when they have a perfectly good free alternative! So expecting someone you might consider a “digital native” to know specific programs is pretty foolish. I know how to use Office as it relates to my job, but also my jobs have always PROVIDED the Office license. If I grew up with google docs, I’m not going to know how to use the Office package and what functionality it might provide above google docs. Why spend money on a software package you’re unlikely to use/want the functionality of when you just need a way to type papers for school?

    8. Nanani*

      This is likely because a LOT of schools stopped teaching typing a decade or two ago, then texting happened.
      Young people with smartphones, not computers, never learned to use Word or to touch type or whatever once they stopped actually being taught.
      Turned out it wasn’t magic, it was access to computers. And when that access shifted from “kids are always on the computer” to “kids all have smartphones” the kids needed to be taught computer skills. Whether they -are- varies a lot.

    9. ElleKay*

      Ditto^. I work on work/career preparedness with college students (grad & undergrad) and a LOT of them don’t use Word or Excel.
      (They may think they can b/c they use Google Sheets and Google docs but they aren’t quite the same! And office 365 drives me nuts b/c it doesn’t format consistently between the screen and the print set up if you need to print things)

      Ask everyone and, if it’s really important, give them a task to assess skills

  5. Shawna*

    For the barking dog, have you tried giving him a planned distraction before the meeting? I’ve been successful with puzzle toys, chewies, and licky mats. I do have 3 dogs, so it’s not always foolproof, but it has helped a lot.

    1. ShinyPenny*

      Yes! Or a kong toy stuffed with canned dog food and frozen (for a dog with a high food drive) or not frozen (for a less motivated dog).

      1. OP #1*

        Op for the barking dog here! He’s a rescue that hasn’t been treated like a dog so I’ve finally found an interactive toy he does like and that seems to be working well since I wrote in. Luckily all of my coworkers love him!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I’d put a radio on with soft, calming music. This can blur the sounds that alarm him and he may be less inclined to notice.

          I have taught all my dogs the sentence, “It’s okay.” This is such a useful thing with so many applications. It takes them a while to get it but once they get it, it’s so helpful. “It’s okay” can cover upset due to an unusual sound but it can also cover a health concern. If the dog get and upset stomach, I start in saying, “It’s okay, buddy” and I rub his belly or side to reassure him. I noticed that even though they still heave (sorry, graphic) they are not so panicked about it. Sometimes “it’s okay” can cover silly situations where this is no need for alarm such as getting too wrapped up in a blanket and unable to get out from under it or losing a toy under a piece of furniture.

          Having a safe space in the room is also helpful. For my pups, I used a cardboard box on its side with a towel inside. Just some small space where they can “den” and feel safe.

          Your vet might be able to suggest some calming herbals, too. I feed my current hyper dog turkey at one meal each day. My guy did not exhibit fears but he did bounce off of walls. He damaged his hips and spine with his crazy movements. I had to give him calming stuff or I was not going to stop having vet bills because he hurt himself yet AGAIN by bouncing around too much. (And that worked into a quality of life issue too, big bursts of energy and frequent self-injury do not make a quality life.)

          Oddly leaving a fan on (in a safe spot) might help. People and dogs can get very warm when panicked, circulating air can be soothing. Fans are also a source of white noise to block out upsetting sounds.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            I’m adopting a dog and picking her up later today (yay!!!). I kind of went down a rabbit hole last night on YouTube with dog training videos. Several videos I watched had trainers that had a similar way of reassuring the dog that they are safe from the perceived danger. The common theme of those videos seemed to be: Dogs want to feel safe and they need to know that you’re in control and keeping them safe. I like your language for reassuring them of that. I’m going to keep it in mind!

        2. High Score!*

          Rather than ignoring him on one on one calls, just ask the other person for a two minute break. Give Puppers some love then go back to the call. That would be less distracting than listening to barking thru the whole meeting.

          1. Generic Name*

            Welllll, giving a dog positive attention because it’s barking will reinforce the barking behavior. The dog will learn that barking obnoxiously = get attention and will keep doing it. Since they are working with a professional trainer, I would defer to what the trainer says to do.

          2. pleaset cheap rolls*

            “Rather than ignoring him on one on one calls, just ask the other person for a two minute break”

            No, that’s training the dog to bark.

            If the barking is for some exceptional reason – a bird got into the house and the dog wants to let you know – then OK. But barking for attention? Do not reward.

            1. Anonny*

              Yeah. If it’s a long meeting, I’d suggest asking for a break and going and giving your (not barking) dog some attention along with going to the loo and getting a fresh glass of water. Other people would also appreciate the opportunity to refresh themselves, probably. Zoom tends to make people’s brains melt a bit.

          3. Tabihabibi*

            I like the idea of getting to the root of the issue versus just noise cancelling solutions. Not just better for the coworkers, but also the neighbors and their coworkers, and the dog too.

          4. Web of Pies*

            I get where you or any dog owner is coming from in terms of making sure your pet is OK, but if someone regularly paused my meetings for non-urgent dog comforting I’d feel like it was pretty disrespectful of my time. Dogs bark, it’s their thing, especially small dogs.

            Also 100000% agree with the others that you’re training the dog to bark for affection with this.

        3. a heather*

          If it helps…we got a dog during the pandemic and are still working from home. I had a few meetings at first where the dog was not having it, barking, etc. Now she’s at the point where she knows our routine (I keep her in my “office” during the morning, she gets crated for a couple hours after lunch most days, we play in between and make sure she’s pottied) and she only barks if she hears someone come to the house or a loud car goes by, and it’s short-lived.

          All that to say…it gets better!

        4. hamburke*

          This sounds like an excellent course – would be great to offer as a community ed program too! I had a MSoffice class in college that did a lot of this (although it was pass/fail so pretty much everyone stopped attending when they hit 70% – I got to 80% before it was me, the prof and 2 kids who did not understand basic word processing while I was on the last unit – powerpoint). But so much has changed in-program since the 90s, I could use a refresher! Thankfully, my boss provides training – we have a Fred Pryor membership and can take unlimited classes but to be paid, it needs to be approved. I’ve taken most of the relevant classes and paths plus a handful of tangential courses. I retake classes too and almost always get something new out of them!

        5. Jack Straw*

          OP #1 – As a new-ish dog parent of a rescue dog with similar issues, can you share what you found that works?

          1. OP#1*

            I’m using a snuffle mat! So because he’s a rescue and hasn’t been treated like a dog, he didn’t know how to use a Kong and wouldn’t engage with puzzle toys even when I would be on the floor interacting with them but he loves to bury his treats so I got a snuffle mat. You hide the treats in between boys of felt and he loves it! This calms him and distracts him from ‘strange’ noises like building work in the street and people talking.

        6. Butterfly Counter*

          As someone who works in dog rescue, thanks for adopting!!! And thank you for taking the time to work through the issues with your dog. So many are coming back to the rescues and shelters right now as people go back into work and can’t/won’t deal with things that are coming up.

          I think comments have hit the main points: If the dog is food or reward motivated, work with that (which you already are). Find ways to tire the dog out in positive ways (walks, play) so that they are less reactive and calmer when a stressor occurs. Do what you can to eliminate any stressors. Close and shutter windows that the pupper can see people or dogs they don’t like, put them in a room that is more sound-proofed and away from noise. Reward them being calm and quiet.

          For some dogs, it does take more work and time than others, especially for dogs who have had extra stressful early lives. You may consider further training with a professional. Even if your dog is generally well-behaved, it works to reinforce good behavior and increase bonding between human and dog. Your local rescues will probably have links to good trainers on their websites if you are overwhelmed with options and don’t know where to go.

    2. WellRed*

      I was going to suggest a walk to tire him out but a toy might be more practical during a work day.

      1. Forkeater*

        This is what I do with my clingy puppy. We go on a long walk around 7:30 am and then she naps practically till noon. At lunch we take another long walk and that tides her over till around 3. When I am able I try to plan important calls for nap time! But I have a weekly one on one with my boss, who fortunately is also a dog person, where I’m often sitting on the floor throwing toys for her to chase. He doesn’t seem to mind.

    3. Anonymous Hippo*

      This is what I do. For less critical meetings I”ll just be like, hey my puppy is in a mood you may hear him in the background (I’ve also had this prewarning from others I’ve been on calls with). If it is a critical meeting where I’m doing most of the talking (ie month end results presentation, etc) then I plan ahead by making sure he is fed, watered, pottied and played with before the call, and then I give him a high value long lasting treat. Usually keeps him quiet and happy under my chair for the duration.

    4. Web of Pies*

      Try also not to make a big deal about the barking when it does happen. I have a contact who will basically stop the meeting to explain (at length) why their dog is barking, and it’s pretty annoying. Dogs bark! Cats get up in camera lenses. It happens all the time.

      Personally, as long as I can still hear you over the dog, it’s fine. Be lighthearted and brief about it if you say anything to attendees.

      6++++++- (< This is my cat's two cents about it, good timing cat! Haha)

      1. OP#1*

        Thank you for this! I was mainly worried about how I was coming across because I didn’t want to dwell on it but my coworkers did. Turns out they all have pets and/or children who regularly interrupt meetings for seconds at a time so they are aware it is a thing about working from home.

    5. Qwerty*

      I adopted a rescue right when the pandemic hit. We lived on a busy street with badly dogs in nearly every neighbors house, and our dog would often react to outdoor sounds with her own barking so dealt with this same issue a lot. In addition to other tips people have shared like Kong/beef chew/other long lasting treats, and white noise machine to drown out some of the fainter noises, I also had a little dish of small treats by my desk and would use the command “find it” to draw her away from the noises and quiet her down by sprinkling treats on the floor. Worked in a pinch.
      Side note: this is a great way to use up crumbs in the bottom of popcorn and chip bags – free dog treats!
      We ultimately ended up moving to a new home in a much quieter neighborhood, which has done wonders for her reactivity too, but I recognize that’s a tougher change to make for some people!

  6. Iron Chef Boyardee*

    #4

    “save me from WordPerfect, please”

    What the heck is wrong with WordPerfect? I’ve been using it forever, I love it! The “Reveal Codes” function alone makes it a must-buy in my book.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        I wasn’t aware of the shortcut, but the little “¶” symbol on the ribbon will also reveal codes.

        I do miss WordPerfect, though. And I know some lawyers who are still bitter over being forced to move to Word. :)

      2. Generic Name*

        As someone who’s had to use both Word and Word Perfect for work, reveal codes in WP is far more useful than ALT+F9 in Word. But the problem is if you need to send someone the document version and not a PDF, basically no one can even open a WP file. We’ll, I guess Word opens WP files now, but the formatting is tragically off.

    1. CatsRule*

      Totally agree! Word Perfect is a much more robust, versatile and customizable program than Word could ever hope to be. I used it at a law firm for years and once we switched to Word, legal outlining, with its multiple levels from upper case Romans all the way down to Arabic numbers inside parens was just out the window. So easy in WP, so very difficult in Word. Word wants to think for you, or assumes it knows what you want to do, WP let’s you think for yourself.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Word wants to think for you, or assumes it knows what you want to do, WP let’s you think for yourself.

        That’s pretty much Microsoft across the board; it’s not a Word-specific phenomenon.

        1. Mental Lentil*

          OMG, this. I hate that Microsoft tries to think for me. Switched to Linux years ago and have never looked back.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Switched to Linux years ago and have never looked back.

            I did the same in Autumn of 2008 and feel the same way.

            1. Mental Lentil*

              It is just so much easier to jump on the command line to handles a lot of basic tasks.

              Mice? Pffft! Over-rated! /s

    2. Nanani*

      Awww WordPerfect! Nostalgic.
      You’re either in one of few fields/locales where WP retained dominance, or you’re somehow managing to stave off the waves while everyone around you switches to Word as default. Either way, respect.

    3. Quark Xpress CS3*

      Haha I’m with you, OP!

      WorkPerfect may well be a better program, but it IS niche, so at some point sticking to it is going to cause issues for the people you work with if your coworkers, clients and vendors have all migrated to Word.

    4. Beth*

      Preach it, friend!

      And don’t get me started on how much I hate the post-2008 versions of Word and Excel. Screw you, Microsoft.

    5. Student*

      Putting in a brief plug for LaTeX.

      It takes a while to get used to; it’s more like programming a document than writing a document. Gives you complete control over your document’s formatting. Free! Has lot of community-developed plug-ins that let you do complicated formats with simple commands.

      It’s particularly great for writing mathematical formula, large tables (you can make a big table in Excel and with a little bit of cleverness, output it automatically into your preferred, customized format in LaTeX), auto-generating bibliographies for technical documents, etc. It’s commonly used in academic circles for writing journal articles, thesis, dissertations, books.

      I use it for my resume, for an example of a home use. I can write up my entire work history and all my favorite bullets about job accomplishments, then comment out (a type of document marking to make the info invisible to everyone except me; the writing is still available to me, but it doesn’t get put into the final PDF) bits that don’t apply to the current job posting to trim it down while keeping all the historical information for later.

    6. Esmeralda*

      For me, the problem is that the university doesn;t support it, so if a student turns in work in wordperfect format, I can’t open it.

      I set required formats…I finally told students, if it’s not pdf, rtf, doc, or docx, you didn’t turn it in and you will earn a big fat zero for the assgt (I do let them resubmit with no penalty the first time it happens).

    7. Former Employee*

      Thank you. My company switched from Word Perfect to Word. I never got over it. The features in Word Perfect were just…perfect.

      On the bright side, they also switched from Lotus (ugh) to Excel. I never understood how Lotus worked whereas I intuitively “got” Excel the first day of class.

      Win some, lose some.

      1. Library helper*

        Have any of you who were forced to switch to Word from WordPerfect heard of Legal Office Guru?
        https://legalofficeguru.com/

        Great site for legal document assistance, but also for Word skills even if not in the legal field.

        I learned WP long ago and switched to Word on my own, but I help people who are using WP still, so I do what I can to help them when they find themselves trying to make Word behave the way WP does.

  7. albe*

    LW4, please just ask everyone and if you have a list of key skills when you’re doing training (IDK – sum, average, sort, percentages, different tabs, turn filters on), or can do x,y,z in SharePoint and say that those are the basics required for this training and while you won’t prevent people from joining training with less, they should do the basics course first.

    It’s a huge time saver and manages expectations on both sides of the fence if you do pre-screening first for all attendees.

  8. MissGirl*

    For #3, it isn’t just the ivy league colleges that can cause biases, it’s really any college. In a lot of industries, more candidates are going to be from local schools. Suddenly, an interviewer might unconsciously relate better to a candidate who went to State University like they did. My friend watched this happen on a interview she was sitting in on but had no say over. The more experienced candidate got passed over for the guy they all related to better (it was more than just college but that was one clear example).

    It doesn’t start out as something problematic. “Oh, you went to U so did I. What did you major in? No way, did you have Professor SoAndSo? Wasn’t she the worst?” Then later the interviewer is looking at candidates and remembers the great rapport they had with the one.

    I think you see this more in schools because there will only be a given number of schools that feed into a certain company so it’s easier to spot that commonality.

    1. MassMatt*

      This was the case at a former large employer. The CEO was from a well-known (and well-regarded, to be fair) regional school and gradually the C-suite and then VP’s were all alumni for this school, and they likewise hired a lot of alumni. The problems were exacerbated by the fact that the school was notably not diverse, it was religious and catered mostly to a particular ethnic group. Very sports-oriented as well, so the culture became very jock-oriented.

      So this led to some ridiculous moments, such as the management team announcing their commitment to diversity at a large company meeting, the people onstage all white, at least 80% male. I mean, it was like they though diversity meant maybe hiring a Lutheran.

      It’s very tempting to hire only people like you, even if you are consciously trying not to, and this bunch… wasn’t.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        “I mean, it was like they though diversity meant maybe hiring a Lutheran.”

        Hahahahahaha.

      2. KayDeeAye*

        A few years back (and not very far back, either) I remember watching a video promoting a slate of candidates for local office. The election was in a county whose population included a fair number of one particular Christian denomination – not a majority but a decent plurality. I don’t want to single it out, so let’s call it Unibapthodism. Anyway, one of the main points of the flyer was how “diverse” the group of all-white, all-middle class candidates was, and by “diversity,” they didn’t mean they came from diverse backgrounds and they didn’t mean economically diverse and they for sure didn’t mean racially diverse. They literally meant “Instead of all being Unibapthodists, look, some of us are Baptists and some of us are Catholics! And some of us are Episcopalians! Isn’t it wild how diverse we are?”

        It was hilarious, honestly.

        1. Evan Þ.*

          That is a real point of diversity.

          It’s nowhere close to full diversity, but they are more diverse than another place that’s all Unibapthodists.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      And university can be a proxy for other things as well – race, particularly in an international applicant pool, gender or religion in some cases.

      1. Baker's dozen*

        I’m the UK the university you attend has huge class implications so I’d love to see people hiring without knowing the name of the institution.

        1. UKgreen*

          Or perhaps it’s fairer to say ‘in the UK the university you attend means people make often-outdated assumptions about class which just won’t seem to go away?’

          I went to Oxford, so naturally people assume I’m posh, rich, whatever. In fact the College I attended takes 90% state-school applicants – I attended at state school, lived in a council flat with my mother, who was a mostly unemployed single parent, and was on free school meals. I attended the university I attended because I was clever and worked hard and got good A level grades.

          1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            I believe that’s the very point Baker’s Dozen (and other commentors) are making: the associations we have with a school aren’t necessarily accurate, and they tell us virtually nothing about the individual in front of us.

          2. Forrest*

            I work at a post-1992 university, and whilst the assumptions people are making about you sound incredibly irritating, they aren’t likely to harm your employment prospects the same way that the assumptions people make about our graduates are.

          3. Another British poster*

            Mansfield is very much the exception to the rule, though. And there are state schools and state schools. Someone who went to a decent grammar in a middle class area is far more likely to go to Oxbridge than someone who went to a rough inner city comp.

            1. Another British poster*

              I went to Roehampton for undergrad because I had no family and had to work full time throughout uni. Roehampton was the only university that was commutable distance to London but where rental prices weren’t insane. I loved it but people are very snooty that it’s on my CV, even though I went to an extremely prestigious uni for postgrad.

        2. Daisy*

          The civil service specifically asks you to not name your university in your application (or include any other identifying details). I read a Guardian article the other day about how the civil service needs to get rid of its Oxbridge bias, but the writer didn’t seem to know about the blind application system so the piece felt pretty outdated. I’ve seen online application systems for other places that just don’t give a field for which university you went to.

            1. sunglass*

              Definitely. And way before university. A friend of mine works in admissions at Oxbridge, and they’re doing a lot of work to try and encourage people from a wider range of backgrounds to apply, and a lot of work making sure people from a wider range of backgrounds are then *accepted* (and that they then don’t have a hugely alienating experience when they get there), but by the time people are applying to university there’s already a huge amount of barriers to overcome.

              It’s not impossible, of course! But structural inequalities start so early that they can’t only be fixed with blind CVs or by universities starting to be a bit more open about who attends. Though those things should absolutely happen.

              1. Forrest*

                Knowing what the Civil Service does, what kind of jobs they offer, whether they offer a graduate scheme and how you get on it. I’ve worked in university careers teams for 13 years at post-1992 and widening participation universities, and I’ve never known anyone from the Civil Service Fast Stream actively reach out to us to advertise their graduate schemes, speak to students, or promote their diversity internship schemes. The information is there online if you want to go and look for it, but you have to know to go and look for it to find it, there’s no active engagement. If you’re not at a university where you have peers who know about it and are applying for it, it’s incredibly easy to just be completely unaware it exists.

                1. Daisy*

                  Oh, OK, sure. I wasn’t talking about the Fast Stream (I don’t know anything about it), and the topic is specifically blind applications. I’m not a recent grad and I applied to maybe 20 civil service jobs in my last job hunt (advertised on normal job sites like Indeed), and they were all blind applications. That seemed notable (and I was surprised to read an article on the topic of widening access that didn’t mention it).

                2. Forrest*

                  @Daisy, yeah, I think it’s the senior (and Whitehall-based) roles where the Oxbridge-bias comes through though– I don’t think it’s as much of a problem if you’re looking at jobs in the de-centralised departments outside London. And that’s where the candidates are very likely to either come from the Fast Stream or from outside the Civil Service but with experience in similarly elite industries which also bias towards Oxbridge graduates.

    3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Also reputations! I went to a school that has a (not totally undeserved) ‘hippie’ reputation and I’ve met a few people who assume that I’m a big weed user (which I’m not actually).

      Not to mention all the unis with a “party school” reputation.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yeah, that was my thought too. There’s a university in my state which has some pretty rigorous programs, but is also mostly known for being a party school. I could see their graduates getting side-eye for going to that school even though it’s got things going for it.

        1. banoffee pie*

          I love that the US has ‘party schools’. Are any universities in the UK thought of as party universities? I know some people think certain courses are ‘party courses’ but that’s not quite the same as a whole uni

          1. Forrest*

            Leeds has a *huge* reputation as a party city, to the extent that there was anecdotal evidence of students not applying there because they were put off by the drug culture reputation.

      2. Zips Ahoy*

        Agreed — this reminds me of the letter from last week about the person who went to a (presumably) Liberty University-type school and was worried about the message it might send to prospective employers. This exact policy would have helped that person immensely!

    4. Love WFH*

      It’s definitely not just Ivy League schools that make a difference.

      I once heard someone on the west coast say they preferred to hire MBAs from Brigham Young University, because its program is so good. That’s a religious (Mormon) school, so that’s problematic!

      In tech, people give preference to Stanford, CMU, MIT, Cal Tech, etc. While those are good schools, in America you’re much more likely to get into a school as a “legacy” whose parents went there, and/or your parents had money for exam prep, and the like.

      1. Love WFH*

        And, of course those are VERY expensive schools, so the student’s parent’s income is a big factor in whether they can go there.

        1. DataSci*

          So, yes and no.

          I went to Stanford on financial aid – my parents were both public school teachers in the state with the lowest teacher pay in the country. The schools with the largest endowments tend to have very good need-based financial aid – shortly after I graduated they simplified the formula so they can now just say “If your family income is less than $X you pay nothing. If it is between $X and $Y you pay for room and board, but not tuition”. The actual levels didn’t change much, but it made it clearer to people less familiar with finanical aid that “this is an expensive school” doesn’t necessarily mean “therefore we can’t afford it”. It’s the smaller schools, with high costs and lower endowments, that are REALLY pricey.

          1. JG Obscura*

            True, but there’s still an uphill battle for poorer applicants. They can’t afford to take SAT prep courses, or because they have to work part-time jobs they can’t do extracurriculars or overload their schedule with tough courses that require a lot more homework.

      2. Joe*

        And last week people were saying they wouldn’t interview a person who went to a religious school

        1. Two Dog Night*

          Well, a certain kind of religious school, to be fair. No one was dissing Notre Dame or BYU or Georgetown… just the kind of ultra-fundamentalist school where religion is way more important than academics.

        2. quill*

          People were saying they wouldn’t interview someone if 1) their school was academically shady due to pushing it’s religious ideals ahead of academics, 2) if the religion the school espoused & required its students to be members of was explicitly discriminatory.

      3. L.H. Puttgrass*

        As someone who went to one of those tech schools, I’d quibble with “more likely.” I’m not even sure if legacy admits are a thing at any of them. I can’t think of any of my classmates whose parents went to the school.

        Money is definitely a factor, though—mostly because of the tuition, though, which makes exam prep look like petty cash (unless exam prep is a lot more expensive than I think it is!).

        1. recovering admission counselor*

          Former employee at one of those schools (in undergrad admission no less!). Legacy admits are absolutely a thing at all of them, though CMU does have a relatively low percentage of legacy students than their similar peers. The admissions teams DO try not to have too much bias, but the reality is those students also have a lot of other advantages in the admission process due to things like family income.

          1. Forkeater*

            MIT is actually well known for not doing legacy admits. And as for the cost, usually the more selective the school, the more financial aid they are able to provide. Many of those big name schools will meet the full need of any accepted student. (Source: worked at some on that list as well as many other big name schools.)

            1. L.H. Puttgrass*

              The big-name schools also tend to have big endowments. Stanford’s is about $29 billion, MIT has about $18 billion, CalTech has around $2.8 billion (but with far fewer students) CMU has around $2.6 billion (with more students than MIT). So Stanford, MIT, and CalTech are in pretty good positions to give aid. CMU, not so much.

      4. anonymath*

        I’ll just step in to defend Caltech in that it does blind admissions, doesn’t do legacy admits, and was cheaper than every other school I applied to but the state school when I went there. Of course the situation of one’s parent’s and local schools has a huge influence and the US is deeply unequal on this front.

        1. Brett*

          The optional references can be a huge factor at caltech though, and that’s where legacies can get an edge. There also is a lot of gaming around the supplemental essays, but my direct experiences there are from 30 years ago. (When I did apply 30 years ago, an influential alumna was able to get a few professors and members of the admissions community to review my potential topics and advise me on which they felt was best for me to write about. Since all the supplemental essays are experienced based, similar to behavioral interview questions, this is a major edge as well. Caltech was not the only school where this happened.)

    5. Brett*

      This was definitely a source of bias at my old job. People who went to prominent local catholic school were hired at much higher starting rates than people who went to academic elite schools, even including Ivies. (I would even go so far as to say that people who went to academic elite schools were offered less, on the reasoning that they were less likely to stick around in the first place.) Unsurprisingly, _all_ the hiring managers came from that same prominent local catholic school.
      This was even more significant because old job did not give merit raises. Your starting pay was the sole determinant of your pay for the rest of your career (and 30 year careers were common there).

    6. Jennifer*

      I do get the point that you’re making, and it’s good people are acknowledging their biases and trying to do better, but…couldn’t this happen if the name of the college wasn’t on the application/resume? Applicant researches the hiring manager and sees her college on Linkedin and manages to bring it up during an interview. Or parents call their old university classmate who works at the company and helps get their kid an internship. I just don’t know if it can really be avoided.

      Plus, if companies are trying to make a conscious effort to have more diverse applicant pools, shouldn’t they start recruiting from HBCUs and other schools that typically have students with more diverse backgrounds? I get the motivation. I just don’t know if this is the answer.

  9. Today*

    LW writer #1, I have three noisy, nosy dogs who bark at each other, people walking past, me and the people who I’m talking to! I live and work in a space where shutting the dog away can’t happen. I have a head set with a mic. They are not noise cancelling. When I am using the head set, the other end can’t hear the dogs barking. If they’re being really noisy, I excuse myself and say I’m going to yell at my dogs – and the other end is surprised because they can’t hear. The head sets I’ve got are nothing flash. One’s a Jabra bluetooth, and the other’s a logi that just needs to plug into a usb slot on my computer.

    1. C*

      I was just about to recommend the Jabra bluetooth headphones! I’ve had building works in my house for the last 3 years and have stopped mentioning them as every time I said “apologies for the background noise, I have builders onsite today” I was told that no-one could hear anything!

      Very best of luck with your dog(s) OP & commenter – mine is a rescue with his own “adorable” quirks.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        I agree this happens a lot. Speakers apologize for noise or dogs that the audience can’t hear. A simple mic may be all you need. If you need something more a more expensive mic that isolates your voice and blocks out sounds around you could be the solution.

    2. drinking Mello Yello*

      I work from home, make a lot of calls for work, and using a headset seems to help a lot with filtering out background noises from other people and a cat who occasionally enjoys screaming the song of her people. Mine’s a Plantronics two-ear deal that’s basically on-ear headphones with a mic and can plug in to a headphone jack or a USB port. It was ~$100 USD, but it’s comfortable to wear for long periods of time (I’m on hold A Lot) and has decent sound quality (and I can use it for Virtual Game Night ;P ).

    3. Jack Straw*

      I also have a basic Logitech USB-plugin headset with a boom mic — it works WONDERS with background noise.

    4. formalpenguin*

      Yeah if you haven’t already, I would actually ask if the other people can hear your dog. My apartment complex is doing construction and its incredibly loud in person but no one is able to hear it when I’m in a call. It might be the software (we use webex but I’m sure others have similar noise filtering) but I’m surprised every time.

    5. Kira*

      +100 for the microphone suggestions! I’ve always used a headset with a microphone, and it baffled me when the pandemic hit and my coworkers were having so many audio issues – until I realized they were often depending on their laptop microphones.

      The headset mics change it from a “distracting everyone else” problem to a “I may be distracted but nobody else even knows it” problem. Still not perfect, but since LW #1’s biggest stress seems to be embarrassment and distracting others, I think it’s a great starting point for them!

      I’ve been using a Plantronics headset that connects via USB for years, it’s very reliable.

      1. OP#1*

        Thank you so much for these suggestions! I have asked if my coworkers can hear him even though I have the noise settings on and have ‘noise cancelling’ headphones and they can. We’re putting it down to me living in a small flat where noise carries really easily, which makes my dog bark because he doesn’t understand a lot of the noises.

  10. Teapot painter*

    For #1 don’t worry about pet noises! Especially in this new pandemic wfh life people are just used to it. Quite often the big rule is if a pet or child disturbs an internal call you must either put them on camera or share a picture.

    That said, though, if you’ll be doing external calls with customers it’s a good idea to start working on distractions plus a good mic like mentioned. My dog even after 7 years still occasionally wants to join in on calls so I have her set up in my work space with toys and emergency “shut up please!” treats.

    #4 others have said it already but please please just ask everyone. I spend a lot more time training younger folks on word and excel than anyone older.

    1. Tiger Snake*

      Agreed on #4. I’m now reluctantly middle-aged, but I spend a lot more time messing with Excel’s more advanced functions than anyone has any reasonable excuse for. I find that its the youngest of the staff that are somehow the least capable of creating a vlookup, and that all staff regardless of their age seem to have an equal inability to google excel tricks (I think its because unlike with normal code, excel functions are so dependent on the exact format of your form, so you can’t just copy something without understanding exactly what its doing?).

      1. Fanaana*

        Long-time reader, very infrequent commenter here.

        LW #4. Wow. You need to just ask *all* applicants about skills that are relevant to the job. Case in point, I recently supervised an intern who said he knew Word but turned out not to be aware of basic functions like how to create a table (pro tip: there’s a reason we use separate rows!) … and I work with many people over 40+ / 50+ who are adept and skillful users of multiple software packages and learning new ones. You simply can’t assume skillset based on age. That’s the essence of ageism — and you, my friend, need to check yours.

        1. many bells down*

          Yeah as a middle-of-the-group GenX, I feel like I grew up having to teach myself every piece of software I ever learned. My first computers as a teen were pre-Windows. So now here I am, pushing 50, and in the last year I’ve taught myself to use a bunch of Adobe products I’ve never used before, because my job said “can you do…?” and I said “I’ve never tried it, but give me a couple weeks to learn.”

          1. ecnaseener*

            And then everyone saw how good your generation was at computers and decided it must be innate and they could stop teaching computer skills in schools! :(

  11. Sleeve McQueen*

    LW4 Along with all the other posters saying don’t assume that younger people are proficient in Office, (I would chance my 25 years of experience up against a digital native any day, and I would probably do it faster because I use keyboard shortcuts ) maybe what you actually want is to hire someone who is motivated to learn how to do stuff. I’m self-taught on creating macros and pivot tables and a whole bunch of other tasks and have a file of cheatsheets. It really just takes someone who will go “hmm, there must be an easy way to do X” and then spend 5 minutes on Google finding the answer.
    You could even make it part of the interview process “someone asks you to do X in Word, you’ve never done it before, how would you approach that”

    1. FlyingAce*

      This! I may not know every single function, but I love figuring out ways to make the software do what I want it to do.

    2. Bananagram*

      Agreed. This is a bit of a pet cause of mine, but how much hiring grief would be saved if everyone had to solve an unfamiliar problem when they interviewed?

    3. Bananagram*

      Agreed. This is a bit of a pet cause of mine, but how much hiring grief would be saved if everyone had to solve an unfamiliar problem when they interviewed?

    4. John Smith*

      Well said. I’m self taught in Excel too and designed all of our departments spreadsheets using Visual Basic. Sadly, noone else has my (intermediate) level of knowledge, which means I spend most of my time sorting out the mess other people make of spreadsheets and doing things for them because they cannot be bothered to look things up or learn anything (or even look at the instructions manual).

      My manager has realised this is a problem, but rather than putting people on training courses, I have to deconstruct our workbooks to the bare bones (so that he understands it) which means tasks that used to take minutes to complete now take hours because we have to do Excel’s job for it.

      One spreadsheet is now 8 spreadsheets because he doesn’t understand arrays or functions such as Index and Match.
      Everything is now a confused mess and so much time is spent doing what used to be automated (including, for example, formatting decimal because he doesn’t understand conditional formatting, ffs) that staff are not concentrating on the actual task they’re doing and forgetting to carry out various steps in the work process. Ridiculous doesn’t even begin to describe it and customers are taking their work elsewhere. And he wonders why I don’t seem to be motivated at work…

      1. 'Tis Me*

        Can you lock and hide sheets, to give people an input sheet and an output sheet, and prevent them from manually messing things up? It’s a solution that does rely on somebody eventually taking it over who understands how to rejig the form as needed (or who at least, if given the passwords to unlock them, will be able to work it out, either coming from the perspective of understanding the transformations needed and being able to work out how your form does them, or who by understanding the formulae used can then back-engineer to understand algorithmically what you do… Or having a manual somewhere setting it out algorithmically, then explaining what cells, formulae, macros, etc do which aspects), assuming one day you would like to leave/retire, but allows the computer illiterate to use forms and get out what they need with reduced day-to-day pain… (And to believe they understand Excel coz they can put numbers in and get out nifty formatted results…)

        1. John Smith*

          I’ve offered to do that, but no. My manager has decided he wants to be able to edit things even though he’s admitted he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

          I’m just leaving him to his own devices and soon it’ll be a case of “no idea boss. Give IT a call” for any query.

          1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

            How infuriating!
            I made a spreadsheet once that calculates dates and managed to get even the least technical of my colleagues to use it by coloring the boxes they were allowed to enter data into and calling the whole thing “magic”

        2. quill*

          Oh yesss, lock those sheets. It saves so much more time than telling your peers that if you merge cells in a pivot table ONE MORE TIME you will hunt them down and fill their shoes with uncomfortable pebbles.

      2. J.B.*

        The flip side of this are people who are really good with excel and macros wanting to do everything that way rather than use a more streamlined technology. I have seen this a LOT with reporting, where someone continues to fix excel breakages rather than reporting out of a database that exists.

    5. Washi*

      Agreed, I typed something similar above! The thing is, for the average office job, you don’t need to have taken a class/training to be able to use Excel or Word. I have learned everything I know about pivot tables and macros just through googling various problems and in fact, I think this stuff “sticks” better when you’re learning it and then immediately applying it to your work. So yeah, maybe people aren’t being taught these skills in school, either now or in the past, but I don’t see that as a hindrance necessarily. I’d be quite happy to see someone google instructions on how to do something in a skills test!

    6. TryingHard*

      I work in IT and when confronted with a question in an interview of what do I do when I don’t know something:

      I said “Google is my friend”.

      A week into my job my boss realized that Googling for answers takes skill and I was a master. I became the de facto hunter downer of weird solutions.

      1. JustaTech*

        I became Master of Word wierdness when I figured out why Word was eating some spaces in documents, but only for one other coworker and myself. (Some kind of weird incompatibility between versions because our computers were way out of date, and it ate every 100th space but spell check didn’t recognize it.)

        I’ve been working on my boss for 5 years to try googling before asking me, but he’s still pretty reticent to try. Like, the internet is full of lies, but generally not about how things like Work and Excel and JMP work.

        1. quill*

          Usually because why would you bother to lie about something like that? It’s super specific and advances no ideological agenda.

  12. Jessica Fletcher*

    #4 – Consider also asking everyone what they would do if they didn’t know how to do a particular function or formula. This gives you an idea of how much hands on training they’ll need in case the job requires something they don’t already know. If I don’t know how to do something, I google it and figure it out. My coworker spends 30 min calling the help desk, describing it the wrong way, and asking them to remote in and do it for her.

    1. TimeTravlR*

      My boss thinks I am a whiz at Excel, Word, SharePoint, etc. The truth is … Google is my friend!
      But having said that, I also recognize that the software might have the capability one is looking for.

  13. Dahlia*

    OP1: Don’t underestimate bribery. If you know you have a phone call coming up, try giving him a high-value treat like a Kong filled with peanut butter or something really chewy, whatever he likes. It’s not rewarding the bad behaviour if you do it pre-emptively – it might even help teach him that those noises aren’t so scary.

    1. Clisby*

      Also – I’m not a dog owner, so I don’t have any experience with this, but a number of people I know have posted in our neighborhood FB group that thunder shirts really help their dogs during thunderstorms or fireworks displays. Since OP1 mentions that sudden noises can set off the barking, maybe this is worth a try?

      1. Bucky Barnes*

        I don’t work from home but my dog is scared of thunder and has a Thunder Shirt. It’s like she’s drugged when she has it on. She’s usually very calm and quiet when she has it on. They definitely do work!

        1. F.M.*

          The Thunder Shirt is very YMMV; of the two anxious dogs I’ve had, one of them hated it and would panic if it went on, and the other just didn’t have any real reaction at all beyond what was perhaps mild annoyance at it being on him. I’m sure it does work for some dogs, but it’s far from universal. (Which was particularly frustrating given what my budget was like both times I tried it.)

  14. Qwetry*

    LW1, “and try to calm him as best I can with as little distraction as possible.”

    In many cases you’re going to make a worse impression by focusing on your dog during the meeting, than by having to bark in the background.

      1. Allonge*

        That’s uncalled for. Qwetry is quite right that ‘dog is barking somewhere in the background’ may well be the lesser of distractions than ‘LW1 is, for the fourth time, standing up from the meeting and not paying attention to us to pet dog’.

        Is it a problem in all circumstances? No. Can it look weird? Absolutely.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          I think Qwetry’s comment is the one uncalled for given it seems explicitly counter to how OP describes the situation!

          Also from the letter: “I also don’t let myself get distracted and am reluctant to interrupt the meeting to calm him down and move him away because these meetings have a short timeframe”

          OP is clear that they are working very hard specifically to avoid giving the impression that they are focusing on their dog during the meeting. They also note that it is often the *coworkers* who start trying to focus on and talk about their dog while OP tries to just move on.

          1. Allonge*

            OP also says ‘I prefer to apologize, mute if in a group meeting, and try to calm him as best I can with as little distraction as possible’ so it’s not 100% clear what actually happens, just their preference, at least to me. The dog obviously cannot differentiate between one-on-ones and group meetings, so it’s understandable if this comes up in any setting.

            I don’t think it hurts to say that regularly getting up to calm the dog may have an impact – if that is not happening, LW can ignore the comment.

        2. OP#1*

          So what I meant by distracting him is that I use my hand away from the camera to motion for him to come to me without breaking eye contact with the person I’m meeting with. I never get up during a meeting to calm him because I feel that would be rude! If necessary I do shut my office door although this is another problem we are working on because shut doors cause him a lot of anxiety so we are doing lots of training with him regarding this.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      That’s what I’m thinking too. A series of muffled WOOFs through a closed door should be fine.

      1. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

        I get the distinct vibe that OP has the dog in the room, since they mention not wanting to interrupt the meeting to move him away. OP, if this is the case, you should fix that. If you have the space to put your dog behind a closed door, do so.

        1. OP#1*

          As I mentioned above we have discovered he has anxiety about closed doors and this makes him howl even if there wasn’t originally a problem. We are doing extensive training with him on this and we only discovered it when I went to shut him out of the office! I’ve only been in this job for about a month now and I am fairly liberal about leaving doors open in my home so unfortunately he had never had a closed door and apparently this was used as a punishment by his previous owner after I asked them about the issue. Hopefully the training we are doing with him will help this and I’ll be able to shut him out of the office.

  15. April*

    I’m still not sure where everyone learned to use Excel?

    I graduated high school in 1997. I took a biology class ten years later–and it was assumed we knew how to use it. I didn’t, the lab TA didn’t bother explaining much of anything, the library computer lab person didn’t have time to help me, and I managed to make a few very ugly graphs, one of which I had to print as-is and then cross out the X and Y labels and write on the graph in pen because I’d spent an hour trying to figure it out myself, failing, crying in the library, and giving up.

    My current job uses Excel to just keep reasonably organized lists of things. I do not make the lists. When I screw up the formatting, I have no idea how to fix it. Everyone’s just like “oh you can google it,” but you really can’t when you don’t know what anything is called.

    Did everyone just take a class on it when I wasn’t looking? How does everyone know how to use Excel??? I’m still not 100% sure what Excel even does, other than “math with long lists of numbers,” which isn’t what we use it for at my current job. I can usually mange with Outlook and Word but that’s it!

    1. Peachtree*

      You can definitely take classes! I’m in the UK so this may not be applicable, but my old job sent me on an Excel proficiency one-day course. It was intermediate as I had some knowledge but found it really helpful. If you are genuinely interested in learning more I’d recommend searching online for something like “excel proficiency course + basic/beginner + your area” and see what comes up.

      1. UKDancer*

        Mine did the same when I started out working 15 years ago. It was called something like “Excel for Beginners” and we did similar classes in Word and Powerpoint. Interestingly I don’t think it’s done as much now because there tends to be an assumption that people have over the years acquired IT skills.

    2. münchner kindl*

      Have you looked at your library for a paper-book on “Excel for dummies” or “How to use Excel” or similar?

      A lot of people “know” Excel by knowing one or two things; some had the opportunity for a course (school, employer, summer school), some did google or use inbuilt help F1, some used a book.

      1. April*

        Don’t books require you to have excel at home? I have an older macbook and don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a program.

        1. Andy*

          It is not exactly the same, but you can try LibreOffice – it is free. The way it is used is fairly transferable. If you learn on LibreOffice, then learning Excel once you will have access to it will be much easier then without it.

          The other option is google spreadsheets, but those more limited in functionality. But still free and pretty good.

        2. Colette*

          If you have Excel on your work computer, you may be able to do some training during lunch/breaks.

          1. April*

            Alas, I’m a receptionist at a large retirement community–if I’m not at my desk, a coworker is, because someone is there 24/7.

      2. Gracely*

        Don’t rely on libraries to keep books on how to use computers. 20 years ago, sure, but there’ve been enough changes/updates to all of those programs that it’s not worth maintaining those kinds of books. Most libraries have weeded those from their collections by now.

    3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I learned Excel when I had a temp job and pointed out that a process I’d just been trained on and was doing manually could almost certainly be created as a form in Excel to streamline things and reduce errors, but that I wasn’t familiar enough with Excel to code the form myself without references, and asked if they had a book on it. They had 3 levels of self-paced online Excel courses through the platform they used for professional development, and by the time I was done with the advanced one I knew enough to build the form.

      I was vaguely familiar with it before from college group projects (where someone else in the group would use it to make graphs and things) and seeing my parents use Excel (and before that, Lotus 1-2-3) for various tasks, but that was the first time I really sat down and tried to get it to do something.

      You might see if your job has any similar Excel training available. I use Excel for all kinds of things now that I’m comfortable with it, but it’s a hard program to get started with if you’re mostly familiar with things like word processors and web browsers because it’s structured so differently.

    4. John Smith*

      There’s loads of info on the internet, including dedicated forums where you can ask questions and even post material that other people can look at and assist with. There’s step by step tutorials to creating your own workbooks as well as sample templates you can download and work on. About 99% of my Excel knowledge was gained this way, as it seems is that of our IT staff who admit they mostly Google problems (which makes me wonder why we have an IT dept).

      A problem though I’ve found is that if I’ve not designed a spreadsheet, and there’s no work instruction or datasheet (a list of everything and what does what), then it is a case of diving in and figuring out yourself what’s doing what, and without an understanding of what Excel does, that’s difficult. You won’t see, for example, that a cell has conditional formatting in much the same way you won’t see a fuse in a box in some electric component unless you take it apart or there’s some indication there’s a fuse there.

      1. A Non E. Mouse*

        About 99% of my Excel knowledge was gained this way, as it seems is that of our IT staff who admit they mostly Google problems (which makes me wonder why we have an IT dept).

        Curious – do you feel the IT department should provide that training, as well as be experts in the software itself?

        And do you feel that same requirement apply to all end user software?

        That’s generally not how any IT department I’ve been a part of has functioned, but I have definitely ran across (and still do) the belief from end users before and am curious as to why (genuinely curious).

        I actually happen to know a lot about Excel and it’s advanced functions, but I also know an awful lot about stuff our end users don’t even know exist – just like they know more about accounting, HR, the products we sell than I do.

        1. Clisby*

          Yes, helping people with Excel would have been no part of an IT department’s responsibilities where I’ve worked. Upgrading to a new release of Office? Sure. Helping people figure out how to log in from home so they can access the company’s Office suite? Sure. Hel;ping people learn to use the software? Nope.

        2. John Smith*

          That’s how they put themselves across, yes. As experts and trainers in Office products. Yet when I call with a particular issue, I’m usually met with a response like “I’m just googling it now”. I’m like “what do you think I did before calling you?”. I asked someone in IT and they said most of their solutions they get from the internet. A lot of the time, problems get escalated and it takes about 5 days before getting a response by which time I’ve sometimes worked out a solution and IT respond that there is no solution. Maybe we just have a crappy IT dept!

        3. quill*

          You have the IT department so that only one person / group has the admin password and if the fix breaks something else, you know who broke it!

          (Personally though I find IT is at it’s most proficient when someone can give them all the context about how something broke. Never underestimate how much easier it is to google how to fix your computer’s guts when you know what all the different guts are called and have a working frame of reference for guessing what the problem is to begin with.)

      2. ecnaseener*

        our IT staff who admit they mostly Google problems (which makes me wonder why we have an IT dept)

        Because not everybody is able to google this stuff like you are! Knowing how to search for questions, where to find and interpret helpful answers, how to do this quickly and efficiently – it is a skill that you’re not born with. April is one such person who wouldn’t be able to just google it if there was no IT to help.

      3. Andy*

        > it seems is that of our IT staff who admit they mostly Google problems (which makes me wonder why we have an IT dept).

        If I had to guess, IT staff “admits” it the hope the people will realize they can google too. So that people google for themselves. Pretty often, through there might be exceptions, this sort of support is not what IT is hired to do. It is not supposed to be their jobs, but relationships are better if they bite it and google for others anyway.

        Even where this support is expected, tech jobs rarely expect you to have memorized things except those most often used. Figuring things out is part of job.

      4. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        “About 99% of my Excel knowledge was gained this way, as it seems is that of our IT staff who admit they mostly Google problems (which makes me wonder why we have an IT dept.”
        Because having the skills to know where to find an answer, and how to apply it, is not something everyone can do. Ask any librarian.

      5. April*

        The vast majority of info I find online about excel assumes you already have a base level of knowledge that I do not have.

      6. April*

        The vast majority of info I find online about excel assumes you already have a base level of knowledge that I do not have.

    5. DK*

      I’ve used a pretty good free online tutorial, I’ll put the link in a reply below. It’s got tutorials for various versions through Excel 2016. It helps if you have the program so you can try it out, but even if you don’t, the tutorial shows pictures and videos of everything, so you can get a pretty good idea of things.

    6. Well...*

      I learned Excel because I had it on my computers growing up and LOVED making lists and tables. I liked to track the hours I spent working on homework, over-analyze my weekly productivity, color code things, etc etc. Going from brute force data entry to using the more complicated functions had obvious advantages, and I Googled whatever I didn’t know.

      I even published a paper in undergrad using an excel graph, which is pretty unusual because other graphical software is better, free, and more widely used. I was naive and didn’t know the norms of the field yet (this was before I switched to Linux, and couldn’t afford a Mac, so I was one of the few windows users in my group), and I tinkered enough with the graph that it looked passable to my PI.

    7. Forrest*

      I’m the same age as you — finished school in 1997 — and I slightly randomly signed up for a general employment skills training scheme in 1998 which included “basic Excel”, which taught me enough that I’ve been able to figure it out since. I think I can use about 1% of Excel functions– like your colleagues, I can make reasonably organised lists and tables, cut and paste lists, filter data, and things like “count all the people called Sarah in this list”, or write a spreadsheet that tells me how much money I have, how much I’ve spend in different categories, and how much I have left.

      I would try and do a basic/beginner Excel class, either through work or even just finding one on YouTube. I think mine in 1998 taught me the difference between cells, columns and rows, how to use filters and freeze panes, how to use Wrap Text and change the sizes of columns and rows, how to create new tabs, and to use some very basic formulas, and it was a really useful start! None of that has really changed in 20+ years, but I can see how totally baffling Excel would be without it.

    8. Allonge*

      The ‘where did everyone learn it’ is why I would even expect older people to know more about Excel than fresh grads. If you needed Excel as a digital immigrant, you took a course because you needed it for work. In many cases you followed this up by many smaller learning actions (Googleing, follow-up trainings) and actually using it day-to-day (because otherwise you can’t do your job).

      Even if a younger person was taught MS Office at school, they may or may not have used it since. But quite often they were not taught anything, and they are expected to be proficient because ‘digital natives’. These days that is more likely to be Tiktok familiarity, not Excel.

      Uh, but to answer your actual question: yes, took several courses, then actually had to use Excel and kept Googling/asking my coworkers until I was able to on the level that was needed. Somebody else creates the pivot tables I use and I do need to Google formulas a lot or use the help function, but I am comfortable with my lower-intermediate skills.

    9. JR*

      I graduated high school in 2000, and I learned in a high school computer class that everyone was required to take. We learned touch typing, including using a number pad; MS Word, Excel, and Powerpoint; and general computer navigation like how to find programs and files.

      1. JohannaCabal*

        I had a class like that in high school plus another one in college that was a required class.

        The problem, especially with my high school class which I took in 1997, was that much of what I learned what out of date in a few years.

        1. quill*

          Our touch typing instructor made us put in two spaces after a period despite the program we used marking us down for it. We only had a required typing class in elementary and middle school though…

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        I’m jealous; when I graduated HS in 2005, the only computer class we had in school was heavily focused on just touch typing. I think we did a little Word and a little PowerPoint, but it was several years post-college that I even found out that Excel does stuff like formulae, or that there’s such a thing as “pivot tables”.

        I thought basic familiarity with excel meant knowing how to use it to keep track of data as though it’s a really organized notebook… I definitely unintentionally exaggerated my “basic” familiarity on my resume, since you don’t know what you don’t know.

      3. JustaTech*

        Same here. Though I did almost fail 10th grade for not being able to pass the typing test (up yours, Mavis Beacon!).

        But!

        I’ve had a computer at home since I was 4. Both of my parents are very computer literate and could help me if I had questions, and then I went to a tech school where I used a reasonable amount of Excel and Word (and a whole lot of other stuff). And I still would not say that I am an expert in it at all (because there is a lot of stuff I don’t do in Excel, so I don’t know how to do it).

        For a long time I thought I “wasn’t good at computers” because I was comparing myself to my FANG-employee friends. But when I talk to non-tech people it turns out I’m quite good, and I have the ability to translate from “tech professional” to “person who mostly uses a computer for web browsing”.

      4. April*

        Lol the school district where I did most of high school, I took “keyboarding” there, and my class was still using electric typewriters, the kind with a tiny two-line dot screen. In 1996. If you did get to use the computer lab, it was one of those screens that only had one-color text.

    10. Washi*

      The thing about googling this stuff is that it is often an iterative process. So I might first google “keep top row locked when scrolling,” look through the results, see that the word “freeze” seems to come up a lot, then google “freeze top row” to find better instructions. When looking for a particular bit of VBA code to stick in my macro, I might go through 5-10 google searches just to find exactly what I want, because yeah, it is tricky when you don’t know what the keywords are! But over time you just start to build up your vocabulary and it becomes easier.

      I’ve never taken a class on Excel so when I have learned the most is when I’m doing something that requires it. It’s not something I would want to just take a class about in the abstract, personally. I just really don’t retain all the little details of how stuff works in Excel unless I’m actively using it at the same time.

    11. Snow Globe*

      I guess I was fortunate that I attended graduate school in the early nineties when spreadsheets were just becoming popular. I had a class on ‘quantitative analysis’ where we spent several weeks learning about spreadsheet features (except we used Quattro instead of Excel). Later versions had some changes, but with that basic knowledge I kept up. My son is a millennial, and I encouraged him to take a 1 credit class in Excel when he was at college. Even though his high school provided laptops for all students and everything was digital he hadn’t learned anything about spreadsheets before he took that class.

    12. Jay*

      I am slowly, slowly, slowly learning to use very basic functions of Excel because I have to. I’m 61 and very good with Word and PowerPoint, which was all I ever needed before, but now I have an administrative position where data is delivered to me in Excel sheets and I have to be able to use them. I don’t need to do anything with formulas (yet). It takes a ridiculous amount of time to figure out how to do stuff. I ask for help from colleagues or my husband, and I use Google. A lot. I’m leaving this job at the end of the year and quasi-retiring. If I were staying, I’d definitely hunt down some kind of training, probably an online course.

      And we do have MSOffice at home! I don’t much care for Google Docs, we’ve used Office for years, and we’re lucky enough to be able to pay for it (and deduct the cost because my husband and I both have consulting businesses as side gigs).

      1. Marzipants*

        Oh, God, I am sincerely so sorry for you. I have Excelphobia and have avoided learning it for 25 years (luckily the AA in my department—I teach at a university—is also Excelphobic and sympathetic). Best of luck.

    13. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I mean, my son had an entire two weeks dedicated to the proper use of Excel in his computer class (an elective), in 6th grade. Last year.

      I know I use it daily and have never had a class in it. My Mother used it with serious proficiency and was self taught before Youtube was really a thing.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Oh, that’s awesome! You’re proving me wrong, I was saying earlier that all the schools have taken computer skills off the curriculum because they think the ‘digital native’ kids already know – good to know it’s not all schools.

        1. Clisby*

          Both of my kids (25 and 19) had to take a class like that in high school. I have no idea whether they’ve had any use for Excel, though. I’m sure they’ve at least used PowerPoint when they’ve needed to make presentations.

        2. Marzipants*

          Yes, this is completely untrue. I don’t know why people think that using a smartphone or tablet teaches you to use a computer or any of its functions. My niece is entering ninth grade and cannot do anything on her laptop that is not internet related: she can’t create a document, save a file, make a folder, nothing. She didn’t learn any of this in grade school or junior high.

          1. ecnaseener*

            My sister teaches high school and her students were never even taught how to type :( I’m not that much older than her students and I learned typing in first grade!

            1. ecnaseener*

              Wait, the instant I sent that I started to doubt. Maybe it wasn’t first grade, that would be a lot to ask at that reading level. Elementary school definitely.

    14. Cat Tree*

      My high school had a required computer class. Part of it was typing, but part of it was Word and Excel. This was around 2001.

    15. Mockingjay*

      Don’t feel bad. I am proficient in nearly every MS Office program except Excel. I do use it for lists, but half (most) the time I’ll create the list as a table in Word, then copy/paste the table into Excel. The minor calculations I have to do in some reports are also done in Word; it’s got prebuilt equations to insert.

      Keep in mind that MS Office programs have the many of same functions – it’s how MS bundles the package. So if you can’t figure out how to do something in one program, look to see if there is a similar feature in the application you use regularly. For instance, Word has SmartArt and Chart functions that might work for you.

      1. LC*

        I truly mean this in the least snarky way, I’m genuinely curious.

        How is creating a table in Word then copying it over to Excel easier than just typing the same data in Excel to start with? I feel like creating a table in Word first just adds extra steps without making anything else easier (and possibly makes it harder, depending on what the end result should be).

        1. Helena Handbasket*

          Agreed – I’m surprised at all the “Excel-phobic” replies here since I’d consider Excel to be the easiest productivity tool to pick up in a usable way, and much more intuitive and Google-able than Word, Powerpoint, or especially things like Access (shudders).

        2. Mockingjay*

          Because I am a very heavy Word user (it’s the main software for my job) and can create fully formatted tables in seconds; I’ve developed and added custom table styles to the NORMAL.DOTX template. Whereas I only use Excel once or twice a month, usually to enter a date completed cell in a spreadsheet someone else created. I am excruciatingly slow at doing things in Excel. I simply don’t use it enough to be proficient.

          It’s no different than someone preferring keyboard shortcuts over mouse and ribbon clicks. It’s whatever works for you and that you use most often.

          (Weirdly, I taught myself Access, because I use it to create searchable fields and displays in SharePoint.)

    16. londonedit*

      I’m nearly 40 and I never had any proper IT training at school. I taught myself how to use Word, because I needed to write essays at university and then I got a job in publishing, but I never had any need for Excel and I have absolutely no idea how it works beyond an incredibly basic level. I wouldn’t have a clue about formulas or pivot tables or anything like that. Even with Word, I know how to do the things I need to do, but I don’t feel like I know anything about the more advanced things you can do. Authors are always sending me lavishly formatted Word documents and it just makes my life more difficult because all of those things have to be stripped out for typesetting anyway!

      In my early years at secondary school we would have the odd ‘going to use the computers’ lesson, but there was only one computer room with 20 computers for a school of 1200 children. Then when I got to year 10 and 11 (when you’re studying for your GCSEs, aged 14-16) I chose to do 10 subjects instead of the 9 that was standard at my school – the people who studied 9 subjects got to have IT lessons, but those of us who did 10 didn’t have space in the timetable to fit the IT lessons in. We were told we’d have some intensive IT days a couple of times a year, but that never happened, so I ended up with no actual IT lessons at school.

      1. BadWolf*

        Similar age, the only “computer” class I had was typing. That was actually very useful in the long run. But learning presentation, spreadsheets, word programs, all on the go.

    17. Bucky Barnes*

      I’m not an expert at it but I can get by. I’ve had to learn on the job. They showed us the basics in grad school 20 years ago but it was in one 1-hr class, so not nearly enough time.

    18. ceiswyn*

      I’ve never taken a class on software in my life.

      I pick up the new software, I try to do the thing I want to do or have been asked to do, I have a quick look at the help to see if it’s any good, I poke around the obvious menus, I wonder ‘what does this do’ and then try it – that gets me familiarity and the basics.

      Later, I start thinking things like ‘it must be possible to do this’ and ‘surely there’s an easier way’, and that’s when I Google and read and learn to do more advanced stuff.

      Honestly, just looking at the help and actually READING any error messages and confirmation dialogs would put you ahead of 90% of users.

      1. April*

        Yeah, none of that is intuitive for me. “I start thinking things like ‘it must be possible to do this’ and ‘surely there’s an easier way’,” part of my problem is that that literally never occurs to me.

        I mean, the fact is I have very little reason to learn excel currently other than the possibility of switching jobs at some vague future point? It just feels like one of those things I *should* know how to do.

    19. Cookie D'oh*

      I graduated from high school in 1995. I used Word a lot to write papers, but I don’t even remember when I used Excel for the first time. Maybe in some college class? I use it at work for very basic functions. I have no idea how to do pivot tables or make graphs. My job doesn’t require me to do that, but if the need arose I’d probably have to figure it out by trial and error.

    20. Lora*

      Yes, several, but I am an Old who used Lotus 123 back in the day. I also got my first computer from my grandfather, who built it out of components in his garage – it did simple spreadsheets and word processing, and was connected to a dot matrix printer. I had a computer literacy class in undergrad, when MS Office wasn’t installed as a suite and you had to buy programs individually; we learned about Word, Excel, Access, query building and how to use HTML which was a very new thing so we were quite excited to make fluorescent webpages in Comic Sans. Imagine my excitement in grad school when you could add midi files and Blingees to that Geocities page! Plus, now you could make more complicated macros to automatically do things like formatting and complex calculations without having to span several columns!

      Since then Excel has gone through many iterations to add a lot of plugins specific to the various fields that use it: statistical, financial, engineering etc. all have their own types of plugins and macros. I have had courses in grad school and business school about the various plugins and extensions for these purposes, though I still vastly prefer specialized stats software and would rather write my own financial macros and formulas. Most of the more advanced functions are really for displaying math neatly and automatically generating graphs – which is now frequently done in Power BI instead. If you are very fussy about your math, you’ll notice a lot of errors based on what someone mentioned above, it’s trying to anticipate your intent instead of letting you set your own parameters, which is why I do all the more serious work in different programs. But for quick and dirty answers, it can do that within a reasonable margin of error, which is why people like it, especially in finance.

    21. Caboose*

      I’m in the weird cusp between millennial and gen z, so I learned Excel (and other office products) because they were the only options for schoolwork– Google Docs wasn’t really a viable option until I was decently far along in high school, and even then, Sheets was absolutely not on par with Excel at that time. But people in my situation are probably relatively few in number, just based on timelines– not a lot of years where people could grow up as *digital* natives but not *cloud/web* natives.

    22. Jennifer*

      I went to a technical college where I learned how to use Excel and Word and some other Microsoft programs. Graduated the same year as you, coincidentally. I think there should be classes offered in high school or at least at every college. Based on some of these comments, there are a lot of kids graduating that are well educated but don’t have the basic skills needed to perform the day to day functions of their jobs.

      There are some great free tutorials now.

  16. Not always right*

    60 something year old here. I remember Lotus 123, Smart suites and, of course, Excel. I use Libre office at home. My last job before I retired used Google docs. I found Excel 1,000 times easier to use than Google docs. All this to say, never assume what computer skills based on age. Please ask everyone. You could preface your asking about skills with a disclaimer if it would you feel better, but I don’t think that’s necessary. I like the suggestions that you ask about specific skills needed for the job you are hiring for

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      Google sheets works almost as well as Excel. I use it for all my personal excel needs, and haven’t run into anything I do in excel I couldn’t replicate in sheets.

      But definitely ask, and don’t just ask, make them give examples, and don’t offer up tools for them to say “yes” too. Try something like “what functions or functionalities do you use in excel” don’t say “do you use pivot tables and vlookups.” That I learned the hard way lol.

  17. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

    #4 If new employees will need to complete certain tasks in Word or Excel, have you thought about incorporating a short skills test into the interview process?
    Even just a 15 minute “format this Word document to meet this style guide” or “create a graph of daily sales over the past month based on the data in this spreadsheet”, or whatever it is that is closest to what they will actually need. If they don’t know it, you can move to the “so how would you usually go about finding out?” question, and get a decent idea of where you need to start their training.

    1. Old, but techno savvy*

      I was just going to say the same thing. If it’s that important, make a skills assessment and go from there. I think it’s pretty presumptuous to think those with 25+ years of experience has secretaries and used dictation machines. I’m in that camp and I have never used a dictation machine, never had a secretary, have to arrange my own business travel and do my own expense reports.

      I have some younger colleagues who don’t know how to use those applications and some older colleagues who know how to make them sing using VBA!

  18. AC*

    LW 1 – If you have not already, your first step should be to use the Suppress Background Noise setting on Zoom. There is a similar setting on Microsoft Teams and likely any other videoconference platform you use. It’s quite effective.

    1. OP#1*

      Yes I have done this and I do also have noise cancelling headphones. They’ve helped to reduce the noise and I’ve been upfront and asked some of the other assistants (the same grade as me) for help in judging when the noise has been reduced

      1. Loz*

        It doesn’t seem to be mentioned yet, but if you are in “a small flat” your neighbours may well be affected as as well. You might want to include them in your fixes as well as work/Zoom if you think it’s going to take a while to correct. (I am speaking from experience of being involuntarily roped into other people’s life choices to own dogs).

        1. Allypopx*

          I mean this is also true of children. These are just the things that come with apartment living.

          1. lapgiraffe*

            As someone who has seen this play our from many angles including once on the condo board enforcing, loud dogs in apartments do not always get tolerated and they can be forced to be removed/rehoused if things get bad enough, “right to a peaceful living space” and all that. So OP would be doing themselves a favor by considering all angles when it comes to continued training and testing every way to mitigate a barking problem.

        2. Forkeater*

          Yeah this to me was more concerning than the coworkers- what about her neighbors, probably many of whom are also working from home?

          1. OP#1*

            Luckily we are very close with our neighbours and we actually discussed the rescuing of the dog with them beforehand. I am always considerate of my neighbours with my dog, many of them also have dogs. My dog doesn’t bark very often, my problem was that when he does it’s very deep. Honestly he’s only barked during two since I started a month ago and it lasted for about 20 seconds.

      2. lapgiraffe*

        My friend has a very very barky dog, and it’s been more of a problem for her neighbors than for her and she tried just about everything you can imagine trying to keep the peace. The thing that’s worked the best is a bark collar that sends out citronella if he barks and it’s not 100% but it’s pretty darn effective. She’s been using it for almost two years now and what a difference it has made in the barking (and in the neighbor relations)

  19. Josephine*

    #4

    Just…ask everyone. My colleagues (age ranges 30-65) all struggle using common office software, even if they have used them for 30 years or if they had to use them in university. I have explained to one a colleague younger than me (I am in my late 30s) three times how to set a cross reference in Word (which, for the record, is a very frequently used function in our job). Many people are surprisingly IT illiterate, I’m not sure why especially with the younger set just out of school – and I should mention all of my colleagues have STEM degrees here.

    Don’t assume it’s an age thing. It’s a curiosity thing and how much they care to retain things once learned.

    1. Andy*

      > Many people are surprisingly IT illiterate, I’m not sure why especially with the younger set just out of school – and I should mention all of my colleagues have STEM degrees here.

      A lot of it is not taught in school. It is expected that you are able to learn it on the job or from internet. Then again, it is expensive proprietary tool. One reason is that schools prefer free alternatives – that way students are not forced to buy windows and pay money for office. They can use google docs, they can use libre office. Many STEM people use linux instead of windows.

      The original push to get Microsoft software into schools was an anticompetitive move designed to skew market into monopoly. Which is exactly what happened and now there is push to use free alternatives.

      1. onco fonco*

        Yeah – my kids learn specific things that they’ll be using in school, they know their way around an iPad and a Google doc, but I’m not sure anyone at school has given them a basic grounding in Office.

        I’m in my late 30s and know people both older and younger than me who freeze in the face of unfamiliar functions – or who laboriously memorise one specific process that they perform repeatedly without knowing why it works. My last boss very kindly told me that for a specific task she was training me on I’d need to copy and paste this weird string of letters that meant nothing to anyone, but they kept it in a doc on the shared drive where we could all find it. When I looked at it, it was an HTML tag I knew from my LiveJournal days! The entire office then thought I was some kind of tech genius.

      2. Josephine*

        Nah, no one in the fields my colleagues come from use Linux. I mean they may be used to Apple products (so unix systems) but none of them have the IT faculties to even know what a kernel is. Trust me on this, I know pretty well what’s going in my field. And even the Apple crowd is rather limited here (we’re not in the US, the price tag usually turns people off, especially students).

        Of course this is not taught in schools. I didn’t learn it in school. I learned it through trial and error and google, just as pretty much everyone else who has any background knowledge does. But this drive to find this out isn’t there, which is surprising to me and why I even mention STEM degrees. Because at university this was different, the people in my graduate department knew what to do.

        I shouldn’t need to teach people three times how cross linking works. It’s simply a complete lack of interest in knowing how the product they work with works….to the point where they even use the copy button because even when you tell them there’s a keyboard shortcut and show them, they’re used to the button. It’s why a task that takes me five minutes takes them at least twenty. It’s not fair to school needs to teach this, because school hasn’t taught this to most people and we still manage.

        And I’m pretty blunt about this, too! I get a lot of “Jo, did you have IT education?” and I’m saying “Nah, I just google this stuff” and also “Before I call the IT hotline I call Jo” and me responding “Or you could…google?” I have a colleague who is younger than me and will be leaving us and she’s all “but when I have IT trouble I have you” and I really have been telling her “look, you can’t call me anytime once you’re at a new job unless you stay with [Org]” but this simply doesn’t take.

        For the record, I also don’t see this as any school’s responsibility. Why does school have to teach this? School doesn’t teach how to use a fork/knife/chopsticks to eat and school may be responsible for teaching me how to read but I don’t see it in the school’s responsibility to shape my media tastes (I like fantasy and crime novels, this was not shaped by school where we mostly read classic literature). Plus, I’ve been out of high school for a few decades now, computer literacy simply wasn’t a thing or even necessary at the time and still I built networks at the tender age of 16.

        Bottom line, I see this in anyone’s individual responsibility and I find it really annoying to blame this on education. If you’re curious and want to know, you find out.

        (This is assuming you have the financials for access to a computer/internet etc, but we’re not talking about people here who didn’t have this. The people I work with all come from rather privileged backgrounds, I’m actually the one who grew up with financial constraints and had to rely on financial aid, jobs, and a budget to get through school – and again, we’re not in the US, so circumstances might differ anyway.)

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Sometimes you might only learn specific things in Word and Excel, but not the whole program.

      So yes, you can type in Word, but have no idea how to do a mail merge or use style sheets.
      I’m proficient in Excel, but have no idea how to do many accounting related functions because I mainly use Excel as a database, and not for accounting.

      1. Josephine*

        And that’s fine, but it’s not an age thing regardless…

        (I mention STEM degrees, because I am used to STEM people having the drive and curiosity to figure stuff out. That’s what it was like in university. My colleagues simply don’t. But then I am also the cryptid who only has to stand next to a computer to make it work.)

  20. CurrentlyBill*

    LW4: Someone with 25 years professional experiences as been in the field since 1996. Microsoft Office was already well established by that point. There’s no reason to think they wouldn’t have experience with it if they worked in an office environment.

    Ask everyone, drill down to specific needs, and be very careful about making assumptions based on age, race, disability, gender, etc.

    1. cncx*

      yup, been working since 97 myself and came here to save this. drill down to what is necessary for the position- requirements for excel proficiency vary wildly between positions

  21. Andy*

    LW4 Put need to know that software already into ad. There should be self-selection already at that level, but it sounds like it is not.

    Then have test for basics things you expect them to do. Dont rely just on self-assesment, but actually have them produce things. And for intermediate/expert functions, teach them. They should not need to know everything you use, but they should know enough to make it possible for them to learn quickly.

    > Is it unreasonable of me to assume people have these common proficiencies, or assume that someone would take it upon themselves to keep up with these times that are a-changin’?

    They know what they know exists. These software are not cheap or free, they dont excuse the price outside of office. So if people dont use them in work, they dont know them. But the biggest barrier is for people to even know this might be needed and then have a place where they can learn it. Just buying and messing with sofware ends with bad results for most people, because those tools are to wide and they will learn random things rather then useful things – and then drop out bored.

    1. J.B.*

      This is the office manager, if the skills are relevant to the day to day job I think discussing with the hiring manager makes sense. But if the hiring manager doesn’t prioritize those skills s/he will expect the office manager to figure it out.

  22. AnonymousPenguin*

    LW #5: In my mid-20’s I interviewed for a job I really wanted and bombed it. I called the interviewer the next day, admitted that I didn’t present well and gave examples of how badly I did. I asked if it was possible to meet again and start over. The company agreed and hired me after the second interview. That was 25 years ago so maybe it wouldn’t fly today, but it can’t hurt to be honest and ask!

  23. Edwina*

    LW4: I’m 68, a screenwriter, and honestly if anyone’s really, really literate in computer programs, it would be our age group. We grew up with computers from the beginning–I remember the original cards with the little square holes, mechanically sorted by primitive computers; in college, my fellow students were just discovering how to program. We understand things from the bottom up–how programs got built, how one thing led to another. We’re the generation that INVENTED the internet.

    NONE of us grew up with “dictation” and secretaries. That was our fathers’ generation (I say “fathers” because women didn’t get those jobs back in the day, they were the secretaries). We’re the ones who were insistent on the newfangled new “computer” machines. We may have started with typewriters (the IBM selectric was REVELATOY), but we were using computers more than forty years ago.

    We started with the most basic MS-Dos programs, had to teach ourselves basic HTML code so we could post things on the first versions of the internet. We were figuring out our way around the internet from the very, very beginnings of the internet–long before a lot of Gen Y and Gen Z were even born. Had to figure out how to do things like tables and insert pictures when you basically had to figure it out from scratch! We worked with Daisy Wheel printers, then laser printers, then inkjet printers, we’ve had to learn from the ground up how to use various programs, spotting the bugs and seeing them fixed with every new iteration.

    We’ve had DECADES to play with Word, and Final Draft and Screenwriter, and Excel, and Powerpoint, and I personally know every possible little trick in Word. How to insert anything, how to split tables, how to format, how to alter the formatting, how to convert things from PDF’s to Word, how to collaborate, how to create shapes and text. We play with fonts and colors and sizing A LOT. Word is an amazing, powerful program.

    Kids in their 20s and 30s often don’t know how to use any of those programs. They grew up with phones and Google Docs and everything sort of automatic, they do not have any kind of fundamental, basic understandings of how all these programs WORK, and how to use them.

    Sure, there are older folks who have just decided not to keep up with things, but there are just as many younger folks who don’t know how to do it. You’re honestly being ageist here. Ask everyone! And I really like the suggestions to put together a little “test,” asking them to do certain tasks. That would really show you who knows how to do these things!

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes this is where my father (70ish) is. He studied data processing as a mature student at university when computers were just being rolled out as a thing people could use and learnt different (now obsolete) programming languages. Then he worked as an IT manager in the NHS. So he’s a lot more sighted on how computers work and what happens when they go wrong. When I need to use Excel for more than entering data in a table, he’s the one I ask. When I can’t remember how to create a pivot table, he’s the one I ring up. I think because he’s seen computers evolve he’s always been interested in how they work and what IT programmes actually do.

      I used computers for university and then for work as a matter of course but I think my generation and more recently have just had them as a feature of life so people are a lot less interested in how they work. They just assume they do. Unless you’re someone who really enjoys playing with computers (and a lot of people don’t) it’s quite easy to live with a fairly basic knowledge of the things you regularly use.

      If you want to know if people know a certain product or have certain skills you need to ask everyone in detail and not make assumptions. Ideally test for it as well.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I agree up to a point. I think how much you grew up with these things and whether and how much you use them in your working life depends a huge amount on what your industry and specific job is/was (for instance, “none of us grew up with dictation and secretaries” simply isn’t true in a lot of industries – I’m at least 20 years younger than you and when I started working having a secretary and dictating was absolutely the norm – we used dictaphones rather than the secretaries taking shorthand, and they typed using PCs not typewriters, but it’s not correct that no-one is/was in that situation.

      I do think you’re right that older applicants may well have as good or better skills than younger ones – I don’t need anything very complex in Excel but I am aware that I am much more willing than many of my younger colleagues to poke about a bit to work out how to do something.

      Equally there are people of all ages who are totally clueless. I had someone only last week ask me to send them a ‘clean’ version of a word document which we have been drafting . Apparently they don’t knowhow to turn off ‘track changes’ and stop showing mark up… Which I would view as very basic . I also discovered when I started to amend their draft that they don’t know about auto numbering either. They are a similar age to me.

      1. Gray Lady*

        I had a temp job that I later did freelance back in the early 90s that consisted entirely of transcribing from Dictaphone.

    3. Forrest*

      This does depend so much on aptitude and the type of job you had, though! My parents are just under ten years older than you and were both professionals, and most of this list would baffle them. By the time their jobs went digital in the mid-1990s, my dad had reached the level where it was very much up to him how much he engaged– he had to learn to use email, but he could get away with with writing most documents by hand and letting someone else type it up. (He learned to use Word after he retired because he needed to be able to write up newsletters for the sailing group committee he sits on, and funnily enough they don’t provide a secretary.) My mum had a less exalted public-sector job, so she had to learn to use Windows 3.1 and then Windows 95 properly, and just got onto XP before she left work. My dad would wait until I came home to ask me a “difficult computer question” like “how I save this”, and my mum would be so indignant that he thought that was difficult when it was something she did every day.

      I don’t think you can assume ANY of it. Ask everyone!

    4. doreen*

      That depends on location and field as much as age- I am ten years younger than you and not only were there secretaries typing from a dictaphone when I began working , to this day there are typists at my agency typing from handwritten reports – and the people handwriting those reports to be typed are younger than I am. Sometimes much younger. I am the only person I know who learned to program with punch cards in college – it wasn’t a required course and none of my friends were CS majors. So while I wouldn’t agree that our age group is really literate in computer programs , I would agree that the OP should ask everyone – because be interviewing could get you or me or my 31 year old son who isn’t really proficient with Google/Excel/Word because he has never needed to. And assuming that he has skills that we lack would be a mistake.

    5. MissDisplaced*

      Asking about specific aspects of Excel is key. Excel is a massive program and people use it for many things.
      I consider myself knowledgeable in Excel, but I fo not use it for heavy accounting functions (I do not have an accounting role) so I would be lost. I do know how to make advanced plotted maps and graphs in Excel, which would probably stump others in accounting.

    6. Worked in IT forever*

      Thank you for such a great comment. It’s bang on. I’m a late Boomer. I used punch cards and a Selectric in university. I started in the IT industry in the 80s. The fellow boomers I’ve worked with would be more than competent in stuff like Word. (Dictation machines make me think of Mad Men, though I guess they were around later.) Relatively few people in my Fortune 500 company had access to a secretary even in the 80s. You want a document or spreadsheet, you do it yourself.

      And yes, I’ve worked with people who are highly technical by training, so maybe any software program will be easier for them to use or they’re more motivated to learn how to use it. But my 80+ father, who did have secretaries in his career, now uses Word and Excel in his personal life. I don’t make assumptions about age.

  24. nnn*

    #4: Another thing you might consider doing is an actual skills test, where users are not just tested on the skills they already bring with them but are also allowed to google.

    In addition to different people having different proficiencies for different reasons, there are also some people who can learn software quickly and don’t actually require training, just a bit of time mucking around. If candidates can carry out a typical task in a reasonable timeframe even if they have to google some things, that’s far more relevant and informative than whether they’ve used the software in question.

    1. sunglass*

      +1

      We were recently hiring for a role that required proficiency in HTML and CSS. The person we ended up hiring is the one who, when we asked what she’d do if she had to do something in HTML she wasn’t sure about, said “oh, I’d Google it.” Being able to recognise the problem, look for the solution and then implement it is an important skill.

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      The skills-test thing would depend a lot on the job, though. I can’t imagine what it would be like to interview for a job as a lawyer and be asked to take a practical test showing that I know how to use MS Word! Even though it’s an important part of the job, spending interview time on it would make me wonder about what the job really is and if the employer has their priorities straight.

      1. Beth Jacobs*

        I think you could integrate it though. It would be completely natural to ask a lawyer to draft a legal document as part of a skills test and looking at how the result is formatted would give that insight to the employer. Basically try to mimic how you’d be using the program on the job.

  25. Decor*

    OP4, I work with people in their early 20s who don’t know how to use basic programs like Word or Excel properly. Today, I literally had to coach one of my direct reports, who is 26 and a lawyer, how to properly save a document. My boss, who is in her 50s, had to show a 28-year-old how to use the dot points properly in Word last week.

    I think Alison gives excellent advice.

    I would just put a generic line in an email to all staff regarding how to use of the software needed. You could even say something like, “if you have any questions, or even just want a refresher, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!”

    Video tutorial links or how-to articles online might be a good inclusion? That way, no one feels picked on.

    1. Lynn Marie*

      A lot of people of all ages don’t know how to use Google to its fullest extent, including the ability to find a quick and dirty answer to a Word or Excel function question. So much easier than taking courses or tutorials like we had to do in the olden days.

  26. Drag0nfly*

    Number 3’s encounter is interesting. Wouldn’t it just be simpler for employers to just drop the requirement to have a degree? And instruct applicants not to mention having one because it won’t factored in? If an industry is one where college is not legitimately necessary, e.g. it’s not medicine, then just skip the requirement.

    If employers *really* want to level the playing field, why have an irrelevant barrier to entry in the first place? The exorbitant price of college can be an insurmountable barrier for some, to the point where having a degree can be considered privilege in itself.

    1. Green great dragon*

      I would fully support this. A route into “graduate level” jobs for ‘academically able but doesn’t actually want to study further’ would be a great thing. But realistically, there’s a long way to go. And even if people stopped requiring degrees, there’d still be a large group of applicants for whom their studies are most of what they have to put on an application form.

    2. Threeve*

      Once or twice I’ve seen a requirement listed as something like “at least 6 years of combined education and/or experience.”

  27. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    #4, You wrote that some candidates are 25+ years out of college, and then wrote “Some hires started out their careers using dictation machines and having secretaries transcribe their work.” Anyone who used only dictation machines and transcribing secretaries is, with just a few exceptions, WAY older than you’re thinking, unless you’ve had a remarkable amount of people in their eighties and nineties sending in resumes. Word and Excel have been around a lot longer than you think, and the older candidates you’re likely to encounter have probably worked with those programs as all the kinks were being fixed from the early versions.

    1. Andy*

      Thinking about this, having secretary when you are starting career would be rare even back then. Run-of-mill entry level admin positions did not had secretaries available to do transcript for everything.

      1. doreen*

        Having your own secretary when you were starting your career would always have been rare. It was much less rare to have a secretary or typist type for a group of people – when I was a caseworker back in the 80s , my manager’s secretary typed all of the reports for about 20 caseworkers. My next job required more typewritten reports so there was one typist for each unit of five people – even to this day there is one support staff person assigned to each unit of seven and that person’s duties include typing for those seven people. And part of the reason it went from five to seven is that in when the support staff were assigned to units of five they had to type everything for those five people. Now, in a unit of seven, they might type for two people.

    2. cncx*

      Yup, I graduated from college in 2001 and had internships in 1996 and 1997 using word perfect and altavista. I also work in IT and the skills gap for things like Word and Excel actually shifts younger, not older.

    3. Forrest*

      I was typing up dictated letters in 2008. If they’re hiring in law or medicine, it would be extremely normal for people who finished university in the late 00s and early 10s to have learned dictation as a skill (I think doctors probably still do!)

    4. Anthony J Crowley*

      One of my friends is a medical secretary and she transcribes letters by doctors who use dictation machines to this day. I was typing up dictated letters as recently as 2015.

      1. allathian*

        I think that the medical field is one of the very few exceptions where dictation is still a thing.

        Dictating well is a skill like any other. I know I couldn’t do it, because my aural processing is very poor. I couldn’t get three coherent sentences out, never mind a letter or a report.

        1. Anthony J Crowley*

          Ok, but when I was doing it 6 years ago that wasn’t in the medical field and I’d bet good money that the people I worked for then are still dictating!

          Totally agree about it being a skill. I couldn’t do a good job of it either!

  28. Onetime Poster*

    LW4: Interesting… I have 25 years of professional experience (well, 24 to be precise, post-college) and I’m quite well-versed in the Office suite. Of course, I realize I may be an outlier as my profession *is* computer-based. I have also been a hiring manager for about half that time. As such, I actually find it interesting that the youngest candidates I’ve had are the least knowledgeable about Excel and Word, or the entire Office suite. I think this is because that software is expensive and only available broadly at schools or places of work. While most PCs have trials of the software, it doesn’t go far before one needs to purchase. Too, in Apple Computer-land, it’s not as prevalent. Thus, younger people gravitate towards the freebies such as Google’s offerings.

    All-in-all, I agree with Alison and many others here. There’s no reason to single out “older” people. Just like your candidates ages, experience and skills are a spectrum. You would be hard-pressed to find a rational approach to not only this question but also other skills that might favor (in your opinion) older people over younger, such as: using the phone over email or instant messaging, professional etiquette (e.g, email, chain-of-command, etc.), basic finance issues, and—my pet peeve of younger folks (in general)—writing and grammar skills.

    While the Office suite of skills may be necessary to your roles, it’s quite learnable and trainable, at least as compared to softer skills such as those I listed above.

    1. allathian*

      There’s also the point that as more schools go digital, they usually use the cheapest options, including Chromebooks and Google software.

  29. Small Dog Owner*

    #1 On a recent Skype meeting I apologised in advance for any woofing (my jack-chi takes his role in protecting the homestead very seriously). The senior person I was meeting with told me not to worry. During her previous call, her three boxer dogs had let themselves out of the room she’d temporarily shut them in, given the postman a vigorous rendition of the Song Of Their People, and then eaten the post.

    All part of life’s rich pageant – with the increase in WFH a few interesting background effects are unavoidable. However, it looks as though you’re doing all you can to manage any disruption, and I hope the training is effective in helping your dog stay calm.

    1. Forrest Rhodes*

      Laughing loudly at your description of the Boxer Chorus and the Post. Thanks for starting my Monday off with a long and most enjoyable laugh!

  30. 'Tis Me*

    I’m an older Millenial. My sister is a younger Millenial (8 year age gap). When she’s asked me to check her essays, I’ve had to sort out things like her using spaces to indent paragraphs (unless a style has somehow applied itself, in which case there will be a mixture. Also, not like “always X spaces” – somewhere between about 8 and 20 spaces), carriage/line returns to start a new page instead of page cuts, etc etc.

    And OK, maybe I don’t TECHNICALLY need to tidy those things when asked to help make sure her essay makes sense, but they practically cause me physical pain, and the fact that she doesn’t understand how I can magically make it all look so much tidier on the page makes me sad (I work in publishing)… To my mind, she can barely use Word. OK, she can type stuff in it, add tables, insert figures, and do very basic text formatting (one of her friends apparently does this instead of commenting/track changes corrections mark-up) – but that’s about it…

    Although in a work context I was HORRIFIED to discover that some of my peers – possibly a few years younger than me but a comparable age – didn’t know how to toggle hidden characters on and off, some years back (I don’t think they used Word at home, but still)… I’ve also had older coworkers who fit the stereotype of “uncomfortable with this new software, not thrilled we have to do it this way now”. All my colleagues were still functionally competent.. Not people I’d expect to know how to Pivot table/record a macro/use a Vlookup – but able to do the core parts of their jobs, if perhaps less able to set up work trackers etc themselves.

  31. Violet Fox*

    #4 Maybe just make training material for Word and Excel? They aren’t actually commonly used software outside of office type settings these days. For serious academic stuff, especially things with a lot of formulas/mathematics, LaTeX is still the norm. For day to day GoogleDocs/Pages/things that don’t cost extra money are extremely common to use.

    Also if people are coming from the Linux/Unix side of the academic world, there is a very good chance they have never touched Word/Excel because they don’t run on Linux based systems.

    At least in my experience there are broad ranges of tech competency and comfort across all age groups, so I’d either ask everyone or assume that everyone is going to need some basic training material or at least a cheat sheet.

  32. Erin*

    LW1: if you’re a Webex user, it has a noise reduction option you can turn on to keep you hear but will filter out dog barks. It’s kind of spooky but he worked great for me.

    1. The Price is Wrong Bob*

      +1. Google meet also has a noise cancellation feature, our admin claims it passes the “dog bark” test. So even if you are using a cheap headset + the noise cancellation on the interface, it should really help. Whether you can ignore your dog is a separate issue….

  33. Green great dragon*

    OP1 I hear that you don’t want to be ‘the one with the distracting dog’. But one of the joys of wfh has been meeting the pets of the department and you do say he doesn’t bark often, so I wouldn’t jump straight to the assumption you will be. Are there any meetings where you could take a little time to discuss everyone’s pets (team meeting, say) to limit questions in more work-focused meetings?

    1. Violet Fox*

      Only good part of Zoom for me has been seeing everyone’s pets! It’s just such a nice little cozy thing in the midst of everything else that’s been happening.

  34. Skippy*

    LW4: please don’t assume that older people are not tech savvy. Not only is it false, but stereotypes like this that make it so much harder for those of us over 40 to get jobs.

    1. JohannaCabal*

      As I approach 40 this is on my mind.

      I knew a man in his 90s who was very involved on the Internet (email, posting on message boards, etc.). I’ve also read that a lot of younger people are great consumers of technology (downloading and using apps, buying smartphones and tablets) but do not really have “backend” expertise.

  35. KWu*

    I’ve been working remotely full-time for 4 years now for a tech company, so take this for what it’s worth, but it’s pretty normal to come on and off mute as needed even during a 1:1. It’s not rude or anything, and people can tell why when you mute yourself quickly at the start of the some noise disturbance like you yourself are about to have a coughing fit.

    1. allathian*

      That’s a fair point, at least in cultures where interrupting the other person is considered rude rather than a sign that you’re paying attention to what they’re saying.

  36. Grace Less*

    4. Ask everyone so you can gear training and resource materials appropriately. We had a new grad who struggled awfully with Word — turns out she had used Google Docs exclusively through high school and college. Once she had the basics of the software down, her performance increased tremendously.

    1. AGD*

      I had to think back to how I did this as an undergrad 10-15 years ago. When I typed my homework – most of the time – I printed it out at the library, and did that by emailing it to myself…at least until one of the precursors to Google Docs showed up. Couldn’t believe how cool it was to sync and edit files online.

      Both of these were an improvement on my process in high school, which involved floppy disks.

    2. JohannaCabal*

      Plus, I can remember when all computers automatically came with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. There was no Google Docs so when I went to college in the early to mid-00s I was forced to learn those software applications.

      Another thought, this might be another thing that holds disadvantaged groups back. Access to software like Word et al now has to be purchased.

  37. Delta Delta*

    #4 – Joining the chorus of “just asked everybody.” I’m a late GenXer and have worked with the following people: the guy 4 years older than me who found it absolutely outrageous that he should have to create his own Word documents, the career legal secretary who didn’t understand how to save a document into a folder, and the GenZer who – and I am not making this up – did not know the alphabet. If you want someone who can format legal pleadings – say that. If you want someone who can do a mail merge – say that. Don’t assume anything about anybody’s skills, since they’re probably all over the place.

    1. HannahS*

      Definitely agree. I’m under 30 but I can use only the most basic functions of Word and Excel. I absolutely had an education where you might assume that I would have learned Excel, but I wasn’t formally taught and didn’t care to learn it on my own. I got by with the minimum. There are absolutely jobs that I could take that would require much more skill than I have and you wouldn’t know unless you asked me.

      Until these things are integrated into the curriculum and taught in a standard way to everyone, you really can’t assume who knows what. I know a very capable self-taught computer programmer who was in his 50s before he learned about ctrl+c and using the shift key to make capitals.

  38. Lynn Marie*

    Yet another affirmation that you can’t assume who knows Word, Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint, or even Google, Chrome, or Firefox whether young or old. Ask everyone and assume everyone has some deficits. Not every workplace uses every aspect and many have bespoke programs that preclude Office 365. Access used to be a pretty standard requirement that has gone by the wayside, along with WordPerfect, but has been replaced by more specific databases. (And yes, I miss WordPerfect too; there was so much you could do with it.)

  39. Nuke*

    #1 – I’ve got a neurotic dog who randomly barks at pretty much nothing (not a rescue, but he had An Event as a young pup that left him with horrendous anxiety… We’ve been getting through it for 12 years!). I explain that to my supervisor, coworkers, etc, and they’ve all been very understanding. Then again, we use meeting programs that have a chat function (typing) so I’m able to use that instead of speaking if we’re having a noisy day. I also have a lot of other animals in the large room where my work computer is that make noise all day (mice and their wheels!). People obviously tend to be a little more understanding about loud human kids, but I haven’t encountered anyone getting annoyed that my dog was noisy..

  40. Liz*

    Re LW4 – ask everyone, and test where possible. Don’t assume.

    Age means nothing in this regard. Schools have recently had to wake up to the fact that they had to start actually TEACHING IT again. They had young people going through the system with next to no computer skills because, although schools assumed they would just grow up with technology, many of them are more proficient on tablets and smartphones. Office skills have to be taught. Most kids aren’t making pie charts for fun on their home PC.

    I did grow up using Office, but I’m still only at a very basic level because my jobs thus far have never required anything I couldn’t fudge with what little skills I had. And yet in the eyes of many of my colleagues, I’m a computer whiz because I can put a SUM formula on a timesheet.

  41. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

    LW5, for the first few lines of your letter, I thought for sure you were the person I interviewed recently! The stories diverged enough that it’s not possible, but: amazing application materials, shorter interview than allotted, fuzzy internet, less than ideal responses to questions are all things I experienced with an applicant recently. They’d sent in a beautiful cover letter, had a diverse and well-rounded background, and had been in my top 5. Then the interview… fizzled. We couldn’t tell if they were uninterested in the job but interviewing because they felt it was more courteous to make contact, if they were a person who needed more than a 2 weeks to prepare for an interview, or a person for whom written communication is easier than verbal. Or maybe it was a bad interview.

    LW, I can’t tell you if you’d get a second interview. Working in your favor- and in the favor of this applicant- is pre-existing connections. You’re a volunteer at your org, and Applicant’s reference is someone who I hold in high esteem. Working against you is the applicant pool. If there aren’t a lot of applicants or most of them were meh- your cover letter and volunteer work will help. If the competition is full of amazing people, your interviewers might just figure “the chemistry wasn’t there. we can pull from these 9; we don’t need a 10th.”

  42. BlueBelle*

    LW4, I ask people to rank their proficiency in the software I need them to use. In the last 5 years almost all new university grads I have hired have no idea how to use Word or Exel. Most have used tablets in highschool and college. If someone doesn’t know the basic Microsoft package I make sure to let them know they will need to get a certain level in a specific time frame and direct them to the classes on our LMS.

  43. Frally*

    At the risk of giving an unpopular opinion, hiding where you went to college rubs me the wrong way. If I went to a good school that’s hard to get into, worked hard and did well there, I think it’s an important thing for an employer to know.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Except that how well you did in school doesn’t necessarily have any impact whatsoever on how well you’ll do in the workforce, because academia is weird and different in about a thousand different ways.

      1. Threeve*

        And it’s only appropriate to include GPA on your resume for the first few years out of college (and even then, I honestly don’t care). After that, it makes you look out of touch.

      2. After 33 years ...*

        Compared to academia, “the workforce” is different in about a thousand different ways. I’m not weird, just different.
        One of those ways centres around the requirement for references from people employed at academic institutions. Blind assessment has some advantages, but I’d suggest that training in recognition of systemic bias is better.

      3. Neptune*

        Well, I think that depends a lot on the type of degree/job we’re talking about. I think a lot of people on here sort of assume that everyone has some humanities/liberal arts education that is mostly a proxy for “can you write a bunch of reasonably legible papers for three years”, which doesn’t really have much bearing on whether you’ll make a good office manager or nonprofit grants administrator or the other sorts of jobs that come up here most frequently. But if you work in a field like mine, where the degree is more like specialised training and what you learn is utilised constantly in the field, then it actually is a pretty good predictor of success in the industry if someone got into a good, rigorous program and performed well there. Bias is an issue in this field as it is everywhere but I don’t know that this particular measure would work that well for us – we do a lot of skills tests at interview, which I think helps a lot. Interested to hear thoughts from anyone else in a similar field!

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Fair – I’m in a field where the educational programs all seem to teach to a perfect world scenario, where (for example) the teapot repair folks in the educational materials always dictate their reports in clear enunciated language with no background noise, no interruptions, no mumbling or slurring or technical hiccups. But in the real world they’re mumbling out a bunch of jargon and shorthand, while they cram a peanut butter and honey sandwich into their mouth and are regularly being interrupted by people to ask and answer questions that have nothing to do with the report they’re dictating, and oh by the way the battery on their recorder is low so it’s beeping a long high-pitched squeal every ten seconds. So we have a huge disconnect between doing well in the classroom setting and doing well in the actual real world setting. (And the hypothetical teapot repair folks are generally resistant, as a monolith, to putting any effort toward moving the real world scenarios back toward the ideal, which doesn’t help.)

          1. Neptune*

            Ah yeah, I know that sort of problem well! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a perfect predictor – that exact kind of situation crops up everywhere so maybe I’m overstating. I think I just mean that in some jobs there’s a much closer relationship between quality of education/training and quality of work than in others.

        2. Brett*

          On top of that, i happen to be in a field where the school you went to reflects exactly what type of training you have in the field.
          If you want to school A, I know you have extensive background in earthenware teapots (because that’s all school A teaches) even though your work experience is only metal teapots. Or that if I am looking for someone with experience in forged cast iron teapots, it’s okay if somehow has no background in it because only one school teaches it (and everyone from that school takes a job with the Cast Iron Teapot company if they want to stay in that field), so I need to set my sights lower for transferable experience.
          It is actually even more detailed than that for my field. I can point to specific professors at specific schools who are the primary researchers in certain specialties (and literally taught everyone else who researches that at any other school).

      4. all good*

        You’re right that there are differences between academia and a job, but there is definitely a correlation between being successful in school, especially a challenging school, and being successful in the workforce. If there wasn’t, no employer would bother recruiting based on education.

      5. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

        Yes, this. I sometimes work with university students from a ‘name brand’ institution, and I can say with conviction that while they can write a great term paper, their educational training does not set them up for our specific workforce any more than my state school degree does. Working hard as a university student is not the same as holding down a FT job and doesn’t necessarily confer success. I know people who were great in undergraduate and flamed out in the workforce. Conversely, I know people who dropped out midway through freshman year but found careers they excel in.

        The caveat to that is there are professionalized programs attached to certain school names, and that does make a difference if you don’t have a lot of work experience. For example, if you’re applying for an entry level job in digital preservation, UT Austin does (or did, at one point) have an excellent video game preservation program. I would weight their application over someone else applying with a more generalized degree.

    2. WellRed*

      But the employer has no way to gauge how hard you worked to get admitted vs the legacy student with a C average who coasted right in. And lots of people do great in school and flail in real life. Not saying I agree with this new practice but I can see an argument for it.

      1. joss*

        And along that same reasoning, if you need and additional argument for this practice, the employer has no way of knowing whether you missed admission to the “great school” because openings are limited and you were squeezed out by the C average legacy student. The candidate from the less prestigious school may be for superior to the one from the “name brand” school

    3. Forrest*

      I don’t think anyone has invented a university that’s hard to get into if you’re rich.

    4. BlueBelle*

      The problem is a good portion of the people who go to a “good school” didn’t get in based on their merits. They were admitted because of who they are, their legacy attendance, and donations made to the school. Also, people who went to the same school will often put other alumni at the top of the pile.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Yep. A big reason for blind hiring is to try to filter out some of the privilege inherent in some people’s choice of colleges.

      2. ('_')*

        It’s also the case that universities require/prefer students who took many advanced classes in high school – but there’s a wild variety in how many advanced classes are offered in a school. A private school may have an advanced class for all subjects, a well-funded public school may have half a dozen, a poorly-funded public school may have none or one.

        Which basically pre-emptively caps your high school performance – and the universities who are likely to accept you – based on zip code.

        1. Mental Lentil*

          Also, it’s one thing to be able to take an AP or IB course in high school, and it’s another thing for your family to have the money to take the test that gets you the credit.

    5. GNG*

      I think that’s a fair point. I do think removing where you went to school can decrease bias in the screening stage, but once they advance beyond screening, I don’t think anything would prevent the candidates from mentioning where they went to school in the interviews.

    6. Middle School Teacher*

      I think this letter is super timely and relevant after the letter last week about going to a super-religious college.

  44. WellRed*

    I find the software question and comments interesting. Where I am, it seems like all the employers lament how they can’t find qualified workers yet they don’t offer training ( Im speaking broadly across the job spectrum for lower level jobs). Schools don’t train. Many Employers don’t train. Stuck in the middle: someone who wants to work.

    1. Generic Name*

      There are tons of free training resources at libraries and in the internet out there. I wanted to get a job doing a specific thing related to my degree, but I’d never done it and didn’t learn it in school. I managed to find a local training course on the topic and took it on my own time. Now I’m working a job using the skills I learned in that training course. I’m not saying it’s easy or that everyone can take time off of a job and lay for a course, but it’s not impossible.

  45. Falling Diphthong*

    Is it unreasonable of me to assume people have these common proficiencies?
    Demonstrably yes, if the things you think should be common in some abstract world of hiring are not true in the actual world of hiring.

    Is it unreasonable of me to assume that someone would take it upon themselves to keep up with these times that are a-changin’?
    Often times people don’t know what they don’t know, so “I’m proficient in Word” will mean they can use it fine based on their past jobs that used Word. If they’ve never had to use formulas in Excel in their job, or their company didn’t use TEAMS, then they may not guess what you view as “this basic tech skill everyone should have” and what’s “something it’s normal not to know if you haven’t used it before.” Just about everything fell into the latter bucket until someone needed to learn how to use it, and sometimes five minutes or one email (“Go to this menu, choose A, then B, then C, then D, and it’s the box near the end”) is what it takes to learn That One Thing.

  46. I don’t post often*

    OP4- I thinking asking everyone is the right way to go. That still doesn’t get you what you really need to know which is “if you do not know how to use a basic function in a Microsoft program, what is your first step?” Many people will say “Google”. Many people say “ask (person)”. But then there is also a set of people that simply do not know the capabilities of the program that I think you want to weed out. My husband showed his secretary last week that there is a calculator on her computer. She began her career at a time when she was expected to take dictation. She legit had no idea the computer had a calculator. This could also be true of someone in their 20s that has always had access to a smart phone.
    I think what you really want to know is will they self-teach and problem solve a bit on their own. I’m not sure how to ask that question.

  47. ageis just a number*

    Please ask everyone about MS Word, Excel ,etc. My least literate are always the young staff.

  48. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    #2 — I want to follow up on Alison’s last comment on this question. Do people really need that much time to prepare for an interview with a particular employer? Not any employer in general (I assume you would do this at the same time you’re resume polishing, etc.) but for a particular job.

    What would you be doing with that time? How much researching the company or practicing your “tell me about a time” answers do you need? I’m curious what others do for the prep work – maybe I’m doing it wrong!

    1. Dr. Rebecca*

      I just recently used my week of lead time to prep for an interview at (very prestigious university) by researching the people I would be working with. I read their bios, looked at their CVs, made notes on their specialties and research interests, and thought out in depth answers to questions I thought might come up for (very specific diversity/equity/inclusion job). While I did not get the job, I impressed the whole team and was offered detailed feedback and help for the future by the team lead. I wouldn’t necessarily do this for every job, but if the info is out there, I would use it.

      1. Allypopx*

        That sounds like a few hours of work though, which I think is Alison’s point – there’s a difference between genuinely needing an entire week and only being able to carve out a few hours in a week to dedicate to preparing.

        1. Dr. Rebecca*

          I don’t see much of a difference? Having the whole week allowed me to do the research unhurried and unstressed, and to really think about and incorporate what I learned. The LW wants a week; for some jobs that’s entirely reasonable. I do, however, agree that the LW should read the room and take less time if necessary, but if they ask for and are given a week… *shrug*

      2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        OK, I could see how that might be more applicable for academia. The raw materials typically don’t exist in the commercial world. Even with stuff like LinkedIn and corporate website “about the team” pages, there isn’t really any way to identify who the 8 people you’d be working with, what their entire work histories are, etc.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I don’t think I prep for interviews at all, or not specifically anyway. Anything I’d want to make sure I know about the company or the position before an interview, I’d look into before applying. Anything I couldn’t come up with on my own, I’d need to ask in the interview. So for me, I’m sort of confuzzled about the concept of the needing time to “prep” after applying and before interviewing. I get feeling put on the spot if they, say, called you an hour after you applied and wanted to interview you within a few hours of that – but that for me wouldn’t be about needing to prep so much as feeling rushed and therefore uncomfortable, but again, that’d be a feeling that would happen to me if we’re talking in terms of hours rather than days. Plus the mind-boggle factor since usually what’s framed as days ends up turning into weeks in hiring, not the other way around.

  49. Minerva*

    LW 4 – I’m 45 and spreadsheets were a thing for my whole career. Examine your biases, I am surrounded by non technical 50 year olds who set up spreadsheets for volunteer record keeping, basic budgets, scheduling, and all sorts of purposes. I could argue they are more likely to use spreadsheets for things younger folks use a specialized app for, if anything.

  50. NoDumbBlonde*

    LW 4, yes, you’re being ageist. I’ve been in the workforce for 35 years in several different industries, and it may surprise you to know that I typically know more about using Microsoft Office products than anyone else in my office, regardless of job. Word and Excel weren’t invented last year; they’ve been used in many industries for decades now. As Allison said, there are young people who don’t know anything about using Word or Excel. I’ve worked with several of them. There’s a whole range of skills across a whole range of ages. The job description needs to state the minimum requirements as to the applications the candidate needs to know. This is basic common sense in hiring. If the applicant’s resume doesn’t indicate or imply their skill level, then ask, but ask all candidates, not just the older ones. Wow.

  51. PacketLoss*

    LW1: Depending on what web meeting platform you are using (e.g. Teams, WebEx, Zoom, GoToMeeting, etc), there are sometimes advanced audio setting that let you adjust audio compression. This can also help limit background noise by focusing more on the speaker or the sounds closest to the microphone. There’s lots of articles and documentation you can find online depending on the platform you’re using that will show you how to find these settings and how to adjust them.

  52. SassyAccountant*

    LW #1. How big is your dog? I have two Yorkies who are both neurotic and I drag their beds into the office with me and the one is usually content with that but the other I usually have to hold in my lap. Since she’s small and in my lap 9 times out 10 no one I’m on a call with even knows. That one time she pops up in my lap most people think she’s adorable and are VERY understanding because so many of us are in the same boat, be it pets, children, etc.

  53. Dwight Schrute*

    Ask everyone about excel and word skills- I’m a 25 year old and I can’t do anything in excel

    1. Clisby*

      I worked for 27 years as a computer programmer and never needed to use Excel. (I did use it a few times when producing documents with a lot of tabulated data, because I found that easier in Excel than Word, but I *could* have done it in Word.) Excel doesn’t handle nearly enough data for me to have been able to use it in programming-related tasks.

      On my own, I used Excel once to create a mail merge for a neighbor who was running for city council. Ten minutes with Google was all I needed to be able to do that. Never done it since, so I’d have to look it up all over if I wanted to do it again.

      If companies want people to be proficient at Excel and Word, they should train them.

  54. MCMonkeyBean*

    For LW 1 I’m curious how much they need to talk on group meetings. It sounds like they generally leave their mic on until the dog starts barking–I would recommend making mute your default! I do that in group meetings and a lot of my colleagues do as well. Everyone’s got background noise to deal with, whether it’s kids crying or neighbors mowing the lawn or even just the sounds of your own keyboard as you type (which is the main reason I stay muted).

    So unless you are like hosting the meeting or presenting, I would switch to muting by default in group meetings and only unmuting when you need to speak. This should cut down on your coworkers asking questions about your dog.

    Obviously that’s not a huge help for the one-on-one meetings. For those I think the best you can do is as Alison suggested, ask if they are okay to continue or would prefer to reschedule. Or again if it’s a meeting where you wouldn’t expect to talk much, you could say something like “sorry about the barking, I’ll just mute while you’re talking” and then you don’t have to worry that they think you are muting because you’re ignoring them or whatever.

    If this isn’t happening all the time though then it’s really probably not a big deal! I know you want to make a good impression while you are new but I think it’s unlikely this is what people will remember about you. Good luck with the new job!

  55. blink14*

    LW # 1 – Headphones are your friend. I’ve been working 100% remote since March 2020, while living with family for a good portion of that time. Most days I can just close my “office” door when I have a meeting, but we were also provided with a set of bluetooth headphones which work great on the days that there’s a lot of noise going on. Make sure whatever headphones you get are truly compatible with the programs your office uses for meetings – AirPods are known to have trouble with Microsoft Teams, for instance.

    Early on I got in the habit of muting myself, regardless of the situation, during group meetings when not speaking. It really helps cutting down on background noise that doesn’t sound loud to you, but may be loud to other people. In your one-on-one, I would just explain that you may mute yourself from time to time if there is background noise and you are working on a solution (I would say that headphones would be the solution, since you can’t predict every time your dog barks, or if there’s perhaps a siren going by, another phone ringing, etc). Maybe headphones are even something your new organization can purchase for you!

  56. iglwif*

    LW4 – ask everyone! Almost no one, of any age, actually gets formal training on these allegedly intuitive software tools, and my colleagues and I (ranging in age from mid-20s to early 60s) regularly astonish each other by sharing tips about which one of us thought “well everyone knows this” but nobody else in the conversation did. Also, packages like Excel and Word have such a huge variety of features that which ones you’re familiar with will vary based on what you’ve been asked to do with them in the past, so someone might be a whiz at one set of skills but clueless about another set, even within the same application.

    LW3 – I am constantly astonished by the fact that “what university candidate went to” is a thing in the US, but since it does seem to be a thing, removing that info seems like an excellent idea.

  57. Roscoe*

    #3 Theoretically, I don’t think this is bad. In reality… I just don’t know that I agree. To be up front, I went to a Big 10 school. Its a public state school, but one with a pretty good reputation. I don’t think I’m better than anyone because of the school I went to. That said, I also don’t know that my education and University of Phoenix online, or other “for profit” type schools, should be judged equally. I think doing it blindly is easy to agree with in an example like Alison gave for an HBCU vs. random predominantly white college. But to act like there is absolutely no difference in some schools seems like its a bit too far in the other direction.

    1. Elbe*

      I agree. If you’re going to count a degree from MIT and one from a scam online university equally, why even require it at all?

      College experience becomes less and less relevant the more work experience you have. I would be okay with people removing colleges from their resumes past a certain point, just like they do with GPA today. But it seems pretty critical for a recent grad. And it seems pretty critical for a manager who is hiring recent grads.

      It’s really unfortunate that so many people take something with legitimate value and legitimate distinctions and use it as an excuse to gatekeep unnecessarily. It’s like why fraternities and sororities often technically claim to be “volunteer organizations” – because having volunteer experience is legitimately something that belongs on a resume for a young person. But everyone knows that they’re just doing it because they expect (and often receive) preferential treatment from hiring managers who belonged to the same frat or a similar one.

    2. HannahS*

      I’m not sure that blinding an application is the same as acting like it makes no difference, though. It stops people from making unconscious snap judgements.

      To me, it would be like removing age identifiers. No one could argue that age has NO impact on the professional experience of a 25 year-old versus a 50 year-old, and it’s also true that either could be an excellent fit for position, depending on who they are as individuals and the requirements of the job.

      1. Roscoe*

        Its kind of semantics though, right? You can’t make a snap judgment, but are are also putting 2 people on possibly equal footing who in reality shouldn’t be.

    3. Neptune*

      Yeah, I think that that particular example is a bit simplistic. I mentioned above that in my field there are certain degree programs which are head and shoulders above the rest in terms of graduate performance, instructor quality, academic rigour, fieldwork hours etc, and the top graduates are considered highly desirable. Well, because it’s a newish STEM field most of those programs are at pretty undistinguished universities that would be very few people’s first choice in anything other than our area. (The closest equivalent I can think of is somewhere like Loughborough, which is fairly obscure in everything except sports science, in which it’s a global centre of excellence.) It isn’t about filtering out everyone except Oxbridge/Ivy League grads; quite the opposite!

  58. LessNosy*

    OP 4, I’m also firmly in camp “please literally ask everyone.”

    I work with an associate, who I need to depend on to do many things in Microsoft Office products. He is a fairly fresh grad, has his MBA, and just learned 3 weeks ago what CTRL + F is and how to use indent/rule in Word, among (many!) other things. Our team passes tips and tricks to him all the time that we consider second nature.

    So, yeah, education/age doesn’t always dictate familiarity with these programs! If it’s really important to you, it’s a great screening question for anyone and shouldn’t seem ageist.

  59. Tuckerman*

    #1 Glad you’re working with a trainer. During important meetings where I can’t be disturbed, I crate or gate my dog in the farthest spot from my desk. If it’s a call where it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I’m disrupted, I gate him in the next room. If it’s a call where noise doesn’t matter, he can stay right next to me. We have a 1,000 sq. ft house, so not a tiny flat, but also not huge. This works well.

  60. Observer*

    It feels condescending to ask someone who has been in the profession for 25 years if they know how to use basic functions of Microsoft Word, or if they can utilize formulas in Excel. It would never even occur to me to ask younger people if they had these skills, so it feels ageist

    It feels ageist because it IS ageist. Totally and completely. If competence in various software is important then you ask EVERYONE. Because your assumption that younger people actually know what they are doing is totally incorrect. Especially when it comes to stuff like “SharePoint and TEAMs, Word and Excel (functions), the occasional PowerPoint” These are not things that every younger person, even someone who has gone through college and has degrees (advanced or not) is going to know. Worse, when they DO “know”, they have some fairly bad ideas of how this stuff works or should be done.

    1. Observer*

      sticking to the first thing they learned and not having familiarity with more modern programming (save me from WordPerfect, please).

      I’m going to point out that this comment proves your bias. Word Perfect did a LOT of things far better than Word ever did. I still prefer it sometimes, though I rarely use it anymore, as it’s just not worth the data interchange hassles. That’s not something you need to care about per se – you don’t use, you don’t need it and therefore it’s not something you are going to be impressed by per se. But what IS important here is that someone who was able to REALLY make use of the WP features is far more likely to do well with advanced Word features than someone who has used Word since grade school, but has never had to do any sort of major work with it. Because the WP person will have familiarity with a lot of the concepts vs someone who literally doesn’t know the what a header is nor the difference between a footer and footnote or footnote and end-note.

      True story:
      Years ago we were primarily WP because we started with WP when Word was barely usable. We had an admin assistant who could do wonders with it. She needed to find a new job (she was moving and her commute had become untenable.) She started looking for jobs and everything said “need to know Word”. She spoke to me about it, and I told her to pick up any tutorial and spend half an hour with it. I said “You know enough about word processing that you’ll pick everything you need in a few minutes.” What actually wound up happening is that she went into one of these “testing” places and took an evaluation. It turned out that even without the tutorial she scored 80%.

      The bottom line here is that if you are looking for people who can learn, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference with Word Processor or spreadsheet they used in the past. What makes a difference is whether they learned how to use the various functionalities of their software and the limits of said software.

  61. Daisy-dog*

    #4 – I know you’ve gotten a lot of feedback already and I haven’t read all the comments. Is there an issue with including these functions as a part of your training? For some, it would be easy. Just include in your instructions – select the number from this document, Ctrl-C, go to other document, Ctrl-V. Could you even create a resource that provides step-by-step guides on how to do all the more complex functions that you expect people to need to know?

    I personally am awful at remembering how to use different functions (Vlookup, mail merge, etc.) if I haven’t used it in the last 6 months. Not only can this resource be used as part of training (“see page 7 if you need help with the pivot table”), it can be a refresher to these employees when they are out of training if they don’t use this process daily. Yes Google works as well, but this could be easier for some people to use.

  62. BlueBelle*

    Dog barking: with the pandemic people are now much more laid back with dog’s barking, hearing housemates, kids playing, the doorbell ringing, than ever before. I let people know upfront that my dog may bark and no one seems at all upset or annoyed by it. we do the best we can!

  63. Elbe*

    I’m not sure how to feel about #3. I think that this is really good for established workers who have professional experience, but it seems a bit more tricky for recent grads.

    There are a lot of really unfair preferences toward certain schools, but – at the same time – there are also really large differences in the quality of education that you get from one school to another. I’ve taken classes at multiple schools some are really not even close. For a recent grad, their schooling is their main accomplishment and it doesn’t seem fair to essentially make all accomplishments equal when they definitely are not.

    For experienced workers, it’s great to disregard the school because their performance on the job is far more relevant than their college. But I wish there was a better way to separate out legitimate differences in colleges and ones that are classists.

    1. employment lawyah*

      It really matters how large the pool is.

      If you hire in a small town for a small office, and you get maybe 20 applications for a position: you read them all. You should talk to them all at least for a