Excel Certification: What It Is and Why It Matters in the Professional World

Taylor Karl
/ Categories: Resources, Microsoft Office
Excel Certification: What It Is and Why It Matters in the Professional World 1658 0

Excel Certification: What It Is and Why It Matters in the Professional World

There is a reason Microsoft Excel has withstood the test of time. It's the ultimate business software for everything from budgeting to data analysis and forecasting. Accountants, Project Managers, sales reps, and public relations experts are just a few roles that rely on Excel to manage data. It's one of the core tools in the Microsoft 365 stack, and the better you use it, the more valuable you are to employers.

Although it may not be a strict requirement for most jobs, obtaining Excel certification benefits career development. It demonstrates a commitment to professional development and proficiency in Excel, which can be a distinguishing factor in the job market. Certification can give candidates an edge, showcasing their drive to excel beyond the competition.

On this page:

Assessing Your Needs and Goals

Microsoft Excel is a must-know program in every field. It’s a spreadsheet software that is foundational to all data entry jobs. And with just about every job requiring some level of data entry these days, it’s more important than ever. Excel allows you to easily create graphs, charts, and spreadsheets using formulas, graphic tools, calculators, charts, macro programming language, and other essential functions.

Many organizations require Excel proficiency for positions across various departments, such as finance, data analysis, project management, and administration. More companies want Excel-certified workers because an Excel certification demonstrates someone's commitment to professional development. Excel certifications give you a competitive edge over other candidates for that reason.

An Excel certification will show dedication and competency to the program and is a way to show competency in the program. Microsoft offers two primary levels of Excel certification: Excel Associate and Excel Expert, but you can also attain the Master and Microsoft Certified: Data Analyst Associate. To achieve the Excel Associate level, one needs to pass exams in Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. The Excel Expert level is more advanced, requiring a deeper understanding and proficiency in Excel.

Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS): Excel Associate

The MOS Excel exam targets beginner to intermediate users and focuses on a fundamental understanding of Excel. You don't need any prerequisites to take the exam, which covers basic features and functionalities like creating and managing worksheets and workbooks, working with data and formulas, and basic chart creation.

While there may not be firm requirements to take this, Microsoft does recommend that you have 150 hours of instruction and hands-on experience using Excel to ensure you can work in the software independently. You have to score a minimum of 700 to pass this exam.

Microsoft Office Specialist: Excel Expert

MOS Excel expert is geared toward more advanced users and covers more complex tasks requiring in-depth knowledge of Excel. The Excel Expert exam focuses on more sophisticated Excel features such as managing options and settings, advanced formulas and functions, data analysis tools, and PivotTables. You should have earned the Microsoft Excel Associate certification before taking this exam.

Microsoft Office Specialist: Master

MOS Master is the highest certification level intended for users seeking comprehensive proficiency in multiple Office applications, including Excel. Getting MOS Master certified requires passing several Microsoft Office exams, including the Excel Expert exam, Word, PowerPoint, and Access or Outlook.

Microsoft Certified: Data Analyst Associate

The power to wield and analyze data has made Excel a potent tool for business over the last few decades. Professionals who use data analysis in their day-to-day roles store data in Excel but analyze it in Power BI, which allows for much more in-depth analysis. The Data Analyst Associate certification proves they have a strong understanding of Excel and Power BI and have the skills to prepare, model, visualize, and analyze data.

Preparation for Certification

Excel certification exams are practical and task-based, conducted in a lab setting where candidates complete specific tasks using Excel. All MOS exams are 50 minutes long. This format assesses the practical application of Excel skills in realistic scenarios.

Certification preparation involves pretests and practice exams that simulate the exam environment. This method helps students become familiar with the format and types of tasks they will perform during the certification exams. We recommend reviewing Microsoft's website to see the exam criteria and the practice items they list to see what could be covered. Make sure you are familiar with those. If you are not searching the web for information about using specific features, a training class can help fill in the gaps.

Challenges vary widely among students. Some beginners may need help with basic computer skills. In contrast, others need help mastering more advanced features like pivot tables for analyzing large data sets and how to write and edit VBA macros for task automation in Excel. Learning these advanced and specialized features requires dedicated practice.

Costs and Time Investment

The time required to prepare for these exams varies and depends mainly on your experience level in using Excel and conducting data analysis. MOS Excel, Excel Expert, and Excel Master all cost $100 to register. Microsoft recommends that you have at least 150 hours of practical experience in Excel before attempting to acquire one of the certifications. The Microsoft Certified: Data Analyst Associate exam costs $165 to sign up.

Comparing and Choosing the Right Certification

If you're wondering what Excel certification to choose, it depends on your needs, goals, and experience. Because it costs to register for all these exams, you want to be honest with yourself about what's most appropriate.

The Associate exam is typically the easiest of the MOS exams and targets users who can do basic charting and functions. The expert focuses on Macros, advanced charting, pivot tables, and more advanced functions.

The Data Analyst Associate certification targets professionals who can deliver actionable insights by working with available data and applying domain expertise. That means you need an understanding of how to:

  • Provide meaningful business value and create easy-to-comprehend data visualizations.
  • Teach self-service analytics to others in your organization.
  • Deploy and configure solutions for consumption.

Success Stories and Case Studies

So many job opportunities require a firm grasp of data management. If you are trying to earn a role as a financial or data analyst, the MOS certifications can help you give your career a boost.

For example, as recently as 2021, financial analysts earned a median annual salary of $81,410 for their ability to help businesses decide how to invest their money. With the field projected to grow in the years ahead, it’s a great time to pursue this career path.

As businesses get more and more digital, data analysts stand to benefit a lot. With more data collection methods, organizations are hungry for trained (and certified) Excel professionals to analyze it. Payscale reported in 2022 that data analysts earned an average annual salary of $62,830 for their ability to crunch the numbers and turn them into action using charts and figures created in Excel.

Getting Started

Practical application is critical to mastering Excel. Continuous practice and applying skills to real-world scenarios are crucial for deepening understanding and proficiency. Regular use of Excel in practical situations helps retain skills and adapt to new features and updates. Combining self-study and instructor-led training can be valuable for learning more complex concepts.

To get started with the certification process, we recommend you visit the official certification websites to learn more about each certification and the registration process:

Some helpful study resources include self-paced practice papers from the FAQ page from Microsoft:


It doesn't matter if you are brand new to the world of Excel or a seasoned pro who has been using it since the beginning; Excel certifications are an excellent investment for your career. Just about every business under the sun has a use for you, and getting certified will only make your resume stronger. Be honest with your experience level and go after the certification that makes the most sense!

Obtaining a Microsoft Excel exam enhances your employability in a competitive job market and boosts your confidence. Learn more about Excel certifications and start planning their certification journey today!