Like it or not, Microsoft Excel will be your best friend throughout your career.
The program is used in nearly all businesses and industries and if you are a finance or accounting major, you’ll be living inside spreadsheets.
Excel is a tool and tools are items that help you accomplish something. Tools also require knowledge, skill, and experience on how to wield it properly to help you the best it can.
Excel is a powerful program with more functionality than we will ever know what to do with, but learning the program at a basic or intermediate level is a bare-minimum for performance at a job.
Where Excel is Used
The first place you are exposed to Excel is usually in school. Throughout grade school, Excel is introduced to students and is used for basic assignments and projects to get kids familiar with the program.
Once students reach college, the use of Excel can differ based on what major you are studying in. For engineering and business, Excel is commonly used and majors within the school of engineering or business will typically offer required classes or elective classes on learning to use Excel.
Majors such as writing or history may not utilize Excel as often, if at all.
When it comes to work, Excel is used by almost every business in every industry.
It is used for analysis in solving problems, increasing efficiencies, and building figures to use in presentations to management, investors, government agencies, and clients.
Excel can also be used in your everyday life as well. It is great for personal finance when building budgets or running calculations for things such as loans, savings, and investment accounts.
You could also use Excel for your diet and health by storing data on the foods you eat and the tracking of metrics related to each item of food including calories, carbs, sugars, protein, etc.
These are just two examples out of many applications of Excel in your daily life. The more you know about Excel, the more you’ll think of ways Excel can be used to make your life easier.
Why Learn Excel Sooner Rather Than Later?
Learning something new is tough. I understand that. In the back of our heads, we know that Excel is something we need to become well-versed in, but we are also intimidated by the amount of learning and effort required to become skilled.
Putting off the learning of this skill will only hurt you and make things harder than it needs to be. A little time put into learning Excel will pay dividends for the rest of your life and your career.
Here are 5 reasons why you should learn Excel as soon as possible:
1. You’ll be using it frequently and for a long time
The biggest reason to learn Excel sooner rather than later is for how often you’ll be using the program in your career and everyday life.
As stated above, you will use Excel in school, definitely in your job, and also in your everyday life. If you had to use something every day, wouldn’t you want to learn how to use it effectively?
Excel is likely something you’ll be using for the foreseeable future. I can’t see things changing and moving away from Excel and into another program since Excel has become ingrained in society for business and operations.
It will be a tool you use whether you work for a company as an employee or as an owner of a business. Assuming you will fall into one of those two categories until retirement, you’ll likely use Excel for decades to come, so it is best to learn it now.
2. You’ll get things done and get things done faster
The more you advance your Excel skills and knowledge, the more you’ll be able to get things done and get things done in a faster time.
Excel is honestly capable of many things we won’t ever know or need to know, but you can at least find out what you need to know specific to your job or career.
By learning how Excel is used in a career path and what Excel is capable of doing, you can use the tool to your advantage to run more accurate and advanced analyses to aid you in your career.
Combining awareness on what Excel can do with skills for being efficient, you’ll not only get more done, but you’ll get more done in a much faster time.
Being able to work quickly within Excel and navigate its interface will save you days or months of time over the length of an entire career. That’s free time you have the chance to get back and use for whatever you want!
3. Your work will be less prone to human error
Using Excel for analysis and computation will allow you to get the correct answers to problems you are looking to solve.
By using Excel instead of computing things on your own, you greatly reduce the chance of human errors that can come from typos or incorrect usage of math.
4. Your work can be easily adjusted and flexible
In Excel, you show your work and anyone viewing a workbook can see how your numbers were calculated.
Since everything is documented and calculated within the workbook, it is likelier that your work will be accurate. And if your work does contain a mistake, that mistake can be identified and adjusted.
By using input cells for calculations and financial models, you allow for the model to be easily adjusted for whatever is needed.
If you created a financial model calculating forecasts of revenues for the next 5 years, you can have an input cell where the growth rate of revenues can be adjusted to whatever is typed into the input cell. Maybe you want to see what the numbers look like with a 3%, 5% and 7% growth rate.
Knowing how to structure your Excel workbooks in a manner that allows for them to be flexible and easily adjusted will make your workbook more useful to the user.
5. It will improve your career
Excel skills are highly sought after in business.
You’ll need Excel skills to get hired for internships and for full-time positions out of college. Many companies will even issue an Excel skills test during the hiring process to ensure a candidate is skilled enough to perform at the job they are hiring for.
Once you are into your career, Excel can help you become a better employee in a few ways:
- Helping you run more advanced analyses
- Allowing you to produce work that is free of human error
- Allowing you to complete tasks and projects much faster
By doing these things, you’ll become better at your job and can put yourself in a position for a promotion. If you aren’t promoted within the company you are working for, your Excel skills can take you to another company as well.
Advanced Excel skills are often a major requirement for certain positions out there and create a high barrier to entry for those who aren’t great at using the program.
If you can use Excel effectively, you can qualify yourself for these positions you otherwise wouldn’t be qualified for.
How to Learn and Get Better at Using Excel
Earlier in the blog post, we discussed the areas of Excel you need to know.
As a reminder, they were:
- Knowing what Excel is capable of
- Knowing how to use everything
- Knowing where things are located
- Knowing shortcut keys for speed and efficiency
To learn Excel, it will come down to two things:
- Absorbing information for awareness
- Practicing by doing
The second point is essential for learning Excel. You cannot simply read and watch tutorials on Excel. The best way to learn is by doing and learning actively.
Here are the best ways to get better at using Excel
There are online courses available to learn anything nowadays and my preferred method of learning Excel is through an online course.
The most popular resource for online courses (and probably all you need) is Udemy. When you go to Udemy and search “Excel” you’ll get back results for all types of Excel classes. Read the reviews and check the ratings to get an idea of what Excel course is the best for you.
Here is one that I have personally taken and recommend:
Some Excel courses are more generic in understanding the program, but there are also courses to teach you the specifics to your career path.
My career path is in finance, so I look for resources that can help me with Excel skills related to finance, including financial modeling for valuation, budgeting, forecasting, building financial statements, comparing data, calculating numerous metrics, and much more.
(Read our review on the course: FMVA® Certification Review: Is It Worth It?)
Not only is it a great course, but you’ll also earn a certification that is growing in popularity and credibility.
You’ll learn skills and have something to put on your resume and bring up when applying for jobs.
Take advantage of your college credits, campus, and professors by enrolling in classes that teach you how to use Excel.
I enrolled in two classes that were offered as electives. They were not mandatory and I could have opted for the easier electives, but I knew Excel was something I needed to master.
The two classes were:
- Advanced Excel for Finance
- Financial Modeling
If your university offers classes on Excel, do not hesitate to enroll in them. Enrolling in college courses on Excel offers benefits some of the other methods can’t offer:
- In-person lectures and help from a professor
- A structured syllabus to teach you things in order and on an appropriate schedule
- Classmates you can collaborate and learn with
- Resources a college campus can offer
- A grade affecting your GPA which motivates you to do well in the class
Books are great for learning anything. For Excel, I wouldn’t say it is the best way to learn, but it doesn’t hurt.
Here is the book that I own and reference: Excel Bible 2019. It is full of information and walks you through everything in Excel from basics to advanced.
This book also comes with access to online example workbooks you can follow along with while you read. Access to these examples is important when using books to learn Excel.
You don’t just want something that offers text. You want to be able to follow along with something you can work on and actively learn with.
After reading the book one time through, I now keep it on my shelf and reference it whenever I forget how to do something on Excel.
YouTube is the perfect solution when you need to look up and refresh on something specific in Excel.
Maybe you don’t need an entire course walking you from A-Z on Excel.
Maybe you just need to find out how to use VLOOKUP, how to insert a chart, or how to format a table.
YouTube is great for these one-time things you need to look up. Simply search and watch several videos until you grasp the concept you were trying to figure out.
Some YouTube channels will also offer links to the Excel workbooks they used as an example in their video.
Google as a resource to Excel is similar to YouTube in that it is great for looking up specific things you need to learn at that moment.
While YouTube is great, results from a Google search can lead you to detailed blog posts that might be easier for you to follow. Check out the Excel category on this blog for examples of what you could find when searching how to do something in Excel on Google. Here is a link to one on Index Match.
Blog posts that teach Excel utilize screenshots and text to explain how to do something with visuals and text.
The audio on YouTube can be hard to follow along with, requiring you to rewind or turn on subtitles that aren’t always accurate. Blog tutorials are usually structured logically and clearly walk you through how to do something on Excel in a digestible step-by-step fashion.
Depending on your learning style, you may find some resources more valuable and easy to learn from than others.
Try them all out and test what works for you.
Maybe I am preaching to the choir with this post explaining the importance of learning Excel. You may know Excel is important, but the point to take away from this post is that you should learn Excel sooner rather than later.
If Excel is going to be frequently used in your everyday life, why put off learning it any longer?
Taking a few weeks or months to level up your skills will be well worth the investment of time and energy.