Five things to learn to be better at Excel

Excel is a powerful tool that is widely used in offices around the world for tasks such as data analysis, budgeting, and record-keeping. However, many office workers only know how to use a small fraction of Excel’s capabilities. To help the average office worker make the most of this powerful program, here are the five most important things to learn about Excel:

Formulas and functions

Excel has a wide range of formulas and functions that can help with tasks such as calculations, data analysis, and financial modeling. Some of the most useful formulas include SUM, COUNT, and AVERAGE, while functions such as VLOOKUP and INDEX/MATCH can help with data manipulation.

SUM and COUNT are simple everyday things that can be made into very powerful tools and save you a huge amount of time. VLOOKUP, well, understanding VLOOKUP makes you above average for an office worker.

I once sat in on an interview for a data analyst role, for which we wanted an Excel expert. We interviewed them and then gave them a 30-minute Excel test. The number of people who couldn’t do a VLOOKUP but had claimed to be proficient in Excel was shocking.

Pivot tables

Pivot tables are a powerful tool in Excel that allow you to summarize large amounts of data in a few clicks. They are useful for creating summary reports and identifying patterns in data.

Now, anyone who has ever worked with me will know this. I am very much against Pivot tables. It isn’t that Pivot tables aren’t good, they are, it is that most people don’t know how to use them but think they do, and that makes them dangerous.

One example from a former role I have is when a pivot table was used in a report to keep a record of how many vehicles the company had. Data was getting cut and pasted all over, most often to make charts. End result, they had a list of vehicles, a column with the number 1 in it, and a sum to add up the 1’s so they had a vehicle count. Expect, sometimes it was a 1, sometimes it was a “1”. Yes, the Pivot table would show the difference, but when copying from the table no sense check was done. End result was a company that planned budgets based on vehicle numbers without really knowing those numbers.

Charts and graphs

Excel has a variety of chart and graph options that can help to present data in a clear and visually appealing way. From simple bar charts to more complex scatter plots, Excel’s charting capabilities can help to communicate data effectively.

Charts and graphs make your spreadsheets stand out, which in turn makes you stand out.

Macros and VBA

Macros are a way to automate repetitive tasks in Excel, such as data entry and formatting. VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) is a programming language that can be used to create more complex macros and automate processes.

This may sound scary to someone with no programming knowledge, but it really isn’t as you don’t even need to write the code. You can record your actions, which then write the code.

In a couple of former roles, I have used Excel VBA to automate a huge amount of tasks. I will probably write an article about it one day, so keep checking back.

Data validation and conditional formatting

Validating data and conditional formatting can help to ensure data accuracy, improve data entry speed and create more visually appealing worksheets. Data validation rules ensure that only certain types of data are entered into a cell, while conditional formatting can be used to highlight important data points or trends.

Having the ability to quickly spot errors in data gives you a huge advantage in any role. It isn’t just about making the data look nice, it is about checking the data is correct.


By mastering these five important Excel skills, the average office worker can greatly improve their efficiency and productivity. Additionally, it’s worth noting that Excel is constantly evolving, with new features and capabilities being added with every new version, so it’s important to stay current and continue learning.

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