What it Means to be Good at Excel

Most offices I’ve worked in have a resident Excel expert. Surprisingly, this is not an IT person. The Excel expert has to know what the business does and also be good at Excel. It seems that its easier to teach someone who knows the business Excel than it is to teach someone who knows Excel the business.

It is good to be this person as you will have a valuable skill that is not easily replaced. Others who know Excel can be found and people who know the company’s business can be found, but it is hard to combine the two skills in one person.

What do they know? – the basics

  • They know how spreadsheets are constructed – that all spread sheet cells contains formatting and either data or a formula.
  • The difference between absolute and relative addressing.
  • Charting – how to make an interesting and informative graphic presentation for the boss or the clients of the company.
  • Macros – how to take procedures that only they can do and record them so that others in the office with less knowledge of Excel can do them.
  • Data import – spreadsheets do not spring de novo from the computer. The data in spreadsheets usually comes from somewhere else. The data may be imported from a file on the server, another application, or imported from the internet. In order to do this effectively, you need to know about file formats on a variety of platforms and the best ways of importing them into Excel.
  • Data conversion – after you import data, its rarely quite right for the Excel environment. Names have to be capitalized differently, dates converted, and so on. Excel has tools which help you with this, and the Excel expert knows them.
  • Tables –  Excel includes specialized tools such as tables  to handle large lists.of data. Tables include database analysis tools to generate reports and totals from tables.
  • Vlookup – The vlookup function allows Excel to function in a manner similar to a database.
  • Pivot tables – Data imported into excel or entered into Excel is often in a format which is not conducive to analysis. Pivot tables allow you to transform the data into formats which are more useful.

If you know these things you know more about Excel than most people who are considered office Excel experts. The office Excel expert is typically self-taught, and has a knowledge of the formulas and functions specific to the company. Often they don’t understand Pivot tables or Macros, features which greatly increase the power of Excel. Learn these things and you will be able to produce much more meaningful and easy-to use reports and utilities for your company.

What else do you need? You specialize

Excel has about 300 different functions. If you include commercially available plug-ins, specialized additions extending Excel’s capabilities, this number goes way up. Fortunately, you don’t need to learn them all. You need to learn the ones used in your field. If you work in real estate or finance, you need the 10 or 15 financial and accounting functions. Education? You need the 8 or 9 statistical functions. Perhaps you will have to learn an Excel add-on statistical package – enhancing your skills and making you more difficult to replace.

How do you learn what you don’t know?

A profound question asked by one of my students. Excel has enough functions that they are easy to forget.  And, as your job changes, you will need to learn parts of Excel that you have never used.

  • learn the menu structure – as you become familiar with Excel’s menus, you learn in what “neighborhood” you are likely to find a function.
  • use the ƒ (function) to look up and read about functions.
  • Google and Youtube are your friends. Everything you will want to do in Excel has been written about and, usually, videotaped.

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