Essential Excel Skills That Will Make You an Excel Expert

Whether you’re just starting out on your Excel journey or have been using it for a while, there are a few essential skills you should know about Excel: the best ways of doing things, certain pitfalls to avoid, things that will impress other people (especially your boss).

In this article, I will talk about the 28 essential skills you need to know about Excel, including some of the best hints and tips I can think of to get you started as a beginner – or make you more productive as an experienced user.


28 Essential Excel Skills You Need to Master

In Microsoft Excel, you will get numerous skills that you can learn. But, here, we will discuss 30 essential Excel skills that can be helpful for your day-to-day life. It brings great value while dealing with various problems. Follow all 30 essential Excel skills carefully.


1. Converting to PDF

You probably need to send out an Excel spreadsheet or report to clients quite often – but do you want them to look at all your data and formulas? Probably not.

Although there are a number of ways to stop people from looking at and changing things on your spreadsheet (you can hide things, protect things, or disguise values with formatting), with a little bit of know-how, all these methods can be circumvented.

As with everything else, often the simplest route is the best.  If you want to prevent other people from changing your data, simply convert your spreadsheet to PDF and send out that. Converting Excel documents to a PDF file is simple and all current versions of Excel can do it without the need for additional software.

Essential Excel Skill: Converting to PDF

If you need some help with this (or if you’re looking for similar tips and tricks), Activia Training has launched a new section on their website which has some great tutorials and how-to videos.

Read More: 102 Useful Excel Formulas Cheat Sheet PDF (Free Download Sheet) 


2. Using the Fill Function

Let’s say you need to keep 12 months of complex accounts in one workbook. You have created 12 sheets and named them from January to December, laid out and formatted the January sheet, and then proceed to copy and paste the spreadsheet to the other 11 sheets.

This is a tedious method and if the data is pasted incorrectly, it may even prevent you from quickly generating a summary sheet later on. In fact, the best method for doing this is to use Excel’s “Fill Across Sheets” tool.  Using the Fill function will allow you to duplicate one sheet across many others quickly and accurately.

If you need some additional help with using this feature, Tom has a great step-by-step tutorial on his blog.

Read More: How to Show Formula in Excel Cells Instead of Value (6 Ways)


3. Using Named Ranges

I have a formula here that sums the total of three different ranges on three separate sheets:

=SUM(‘Jan Sales’!$D$10:$L$10, ‘Feb Sales’!$D$10:$L$10, ‘Mar Sales’!$D$10:$L$10)

And another one that does the same thing:

=SUM(JanTotal, FebTotal, MarTotal)

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Which one do you prefer? Personally, I like the second one, since it’s much easier to understand and it was much easier to create as well – I never had to go to the other sheets to select the data ranges.

The second formula makes use of so-called named ranges. Named ranges (or defined names) apply to a single cell or a range of cells and, as you can see in the formula, can be used as a direct replacement for the cell or range address.

Named ranges are also intrinsically absolute, so no need for dollar symbols to anchor refs. Named ranges are also, by default, global – so when you create a named range on one sheet, you can use that name on any other sheet and it always refers back to its original location.


4. Formatting a Dataset

Once you’ve created your spreadsheet, you’re going to do either of two things: enter data or review data. Neither of these things is helped by a proliferation of fonts, sizes, and colors.

To make your spreadsheet easier to understand, try to pick one font and stick with it. Use emphasis (bold or italics) to highlight differences between headers and data, and use light cell coloring to pick out summary rows and formulas.

Finally, leave all the formatting till last. A working spreadsheet with no formatting may not look good, but it works. An unfinished spreadsheet that looks fantastic is, however, useless.

Essential Excel Skill: Formatting


5. Choosing Right Layout

It may seem obvious but a lot of people just open Excel, start typing, and hope for the best. However, you need to do a little planning before you dive in and start creating a spreadsheet. Generally, we tend to understand the data that we need to get into the spreadsheet, but give little thought about what we actually want to get out of it.

Have a good think about what you hope to get out of the spreadsheet and make sure that you lay out your spreadsheet in a way that will achieve this.


6. Protecting Your Work

You have gone through a great deal of trouble designing the perfect spreadsheet, so the last thing you need is someone opening it and accidentally overwriting a formula, or changing something they are not supposed to change. And this is where protection comes in.

Excel has some great tools for protecting your work and controlling what your users can change. You can protect formula cells to stop them from being changed, stop columns or rows from being resized, or even stop the user from changing the structure of the workbook by adding or deleting sheets. At an advanced level, you can even allow only certain users to edit particular regions.


7. Using Keyboard Shortcuts

Most people just reach for the mouse when they want to perform an action in Excel, but with a few keyboard shortcuts, you can speed up your work and save a great amount of time. Here are a few to get you started:

Keyboard Shortcut Function
Ctrl + * Expression is that text string or cell value that we want to format according to our needs.
Ctrl + Space This is our desired cell formatting.
Shift + Space Select the current row
Ctrl + 0 Hide the current column
Ctrl + 9 Hide the current row
F4 Apply absolute refs (in a formula)
F3 Shows the name box (in a formula)
Ctrl + : Enter the current date
Alt + = Auto-sum the adjacent data

8. Saving Time with Auto-fill

Just enter a formula and need to use the same thing in adjacent cells? Instead of typing the formula again, you can use auto-fill. Auto-fill allows you to quickly copy the values from one cell to lots of adjacent cells, either vertically or horizontally.

And it doesn’t just work with formulas either, you can use auto-fill to quickly create lists of days, months, or even create your own lists. Auto-fill will also automatically increment dates and numbers for you, saving you lots of time in the process.


9. Analyzing Large Data Sets

One of Excel’s main tasks is to organize data, and with the new versions of Excel able to handle over a million rows, you can have a lot of data. And when you need to get answers to complex questions from this data, it has all the tools you need.

Pivot tables can be scary beasts to the uninitiated, but once you understand how they work, you will quickly see how easy they can be and how useful they are at summarizing and organizing data. And all this with just a few clicks!


10. Customizing Ribbon

I love the ribbon, but it can be a bit irritating having to switch from one tab to the other to find the commands you want to use. The good news is that since Excel 2010 we have been able to customize the ribbon. You can add your own custom tabs and then drop onto it a selection of the commands that you use the most frequently, which could even include macros.


11. Creating Charts

Your boss doesn’t want to see a table full of data for the past year’s sales, they want to see trends, the number of products sold each month, or the average customer evaluation results in graphical form.

Graphs and charts can be quite complex if you want them to be, but a basic chart can be produced in literally a couple of clicks, and the latest versions of Excel make it very easy to try out different charts and formats as well.


12. Using Array Formulas

If you need to do calculations on multiple ranges and don’t want to go to the trouble of adding lots of redundant columns, array formulas are the answer. They can be quite complex and impenetrable, but they can also save you lots of time and, as a bonus, impress your colleagues.


13. Using Custom Views

How often have you carefully set up a spreadsheet for printing, got the page breaks just right, scaled it correctly, added headers and footers, and then had to change it all again to print out a different region?  It can be really frustrating to set up a spreadsheet for printing time and time again, and this is where custom views can help.

A custom view will record all of your current print settings and allow you to re-apply them instantly at a later stage. As well as print settings, they can record filters and hidden rows and columns.


14. Grouping and Outlining

If you have a lot of columns or rows on your spreadsheet, it can be a bit of a chore constantly scrolling left and right or up and down to get to the point where you want to be, only to then have to go back to where you started. Grouping and outlining can help with this by allowing you to quickly expand and collapse a number of rows or columns instantly. It’s like a super hide/unhide feature and once you understand it, it’s very easy to apply.


15. Locking Headers

How often have you found yourself on row 987 of your spreadsheet only to realize that you can’t remember what the values in the columns are? This is a common problem, especially when you have to work with a number of columns with similar values.

The answer to this problem is to lock or freeze your header row or columns. Excel makes it very easy to ‘freeze’ the top rows or first column of your spreadsheet, so as you scroll, the headers will always be visible.


16. Automating Complex Tasks with Macros

Macros are an incredibly useful and powerful tool in Excel. With macros, you can make Excel do things that it can’t do already, or take those tasks that take you an hour to complete and do them in a couple of seconds.

Although macros can be very complex and the programming side can take a bit of learning, it is possible to create useful and time-saving macros without knowing anything about programming. If you want to give it a try, there’s a more detailed guide on the How-To Geek blog. Or you can use ExcelDemy.com’s complete step-by-step guide on Excel VBA.


17. Automating Sub-totals

One of the most common tasks in Excel is to add subtotals to a column of values, for example, if you have a sheet full of sales data and you want to show how much of each product was sold. In this case, you could insert new rows after a group of products and then sum the values above, and then repeat the process for each product.

I have come across people who spend hours each month doing just that, which is a huge time-waster. The sub-totals tool will do the same job in seconds and, when you’re finished, it can also remove the totals just as quickly, leaving your spreadsheet exactly as it was.

Essential Excel Skill: Subtotal


18. Filtering Data

Filtering is one of the 30 essential Excel skills. When you are dealing with large sets of data, you often only need to look at a particular subset of that data. Rather than searching for the data by scrolling up and down, the smart solution is to filter your database.

Filtering using auto-filter is quick and easy and will allow you to get the data you are interested in inefficiently. Recent versions of Excel also have lots of pre-set filters to quickly find text, numbers, and date ranges.


19. Data Sorting

In Microsoft Excel, you can sort your dataset into order. Using the sorting process, you can sort your data in ascending or descending order. While sorting, we need to check whether the sorting is correct or not. To sort the data, we need to go to the Data tab on the ribbon. Then, from the Sort & Filter group, you will get the Sort option. For basic sorting, we can use the A to Z sorting which means lowest to highest, and Z to A sorting which means highest to lowest.

After clicking the Sort option, you will see the following three options.

  • Sort by: it denotes the column which is the base of sorting.
  • Sort On: This section provides you with four different options: cell values, cell color, font color, and conditional formatting icon.
  • Order: In this section, you can get three options: ascending order, descending order, and custom list.

When you utilize the ascending order, then, you will get the following result where the data is sorted from A to Z.

Essential Excel Skill: Data Sorting

When you utilize the descending order, then, you will get the following result where the data is sorted from Z to A.


20. Using Pivot Table

The pivot table is one of the most valuable assets in Excel. This illustrates the best possible ways to analyze data. By using the pivot table, you can prepare a summary of a large dataset.

To create a pivot table, select the range of cells. Then, go to the Insert tab on the ribbon. After that, from the Tables group, select the Pivot Table.

As a result, you will get the PivotTable from table or range dialog box where you need to select the range of cells or the range of cells may appear automatically if you select it before applying the pivot table. Then, choose the place where you want to put your pivot table. Finally, click on OK to apply.

After that, the PivotTable Fields will appear where you can select the fields through which you want to create the pivot table.

Essential Excel Skill: Pivot Table

Finally, you will get the required pivot table that summarizes the large dataset and provides a well-established summary. That’s why the pivot table is one of the most valuable Excel skills in your day-to-day life.


21. Learn to Use SUMIF/SUMIFS Functions

In terms of calculating the summation of some numbers sometimes we may need to apply conditions or criteria. MS Excel helps us with these kinds of problems by providing another powerful function named SUMIF function. But when you want to evaluate the sum of the range of cells under multiple conditions, you need to use the SUMIFS function instead of the SUMIF function. Both of these functions help you to get the sum of a given range of cells.


22. Learn to Use COUNTIF/COUNTIFS Functions

In Microsoft Excel, the COUNTIF function is widely used to count cells with a given condition or criterion. In this function, you need to define the range and criterion. Using these inputs, the function returns the output of the total number of cells that meets the criterion. Whereas, you can use the COUNTIFS function to count the number of cells satisfying one or more criteria from any range of cells in Excel. This function Returns the total number of values in the array that maintain all the given criteria


23. Data Validation

When we want to limit input to a cell or a range, then we use Data Validation. This feature is most useful in times of data collection. This ensures the data is error-free. For example, if we want to record the age of Students in a cell range, then we can set the Data Validation to be numerical values only. Moreover, we can set upper and lower limits for a particular type of data and it will not accept any values beyond that. Additionally, Excel allows us to enter custom functions to achieve complex conditions using this feature.

To open data validation, you need to go to the Data tab on the ribbon. Then, select the Data Validation option from the Data Tools group.

Essential Excel Skill: Data Validation

As a result, the data validation dialog box will appear where you can add validation criteria.


24. Moving Columns to Rows

Another important Excel skill is to move the column to rows. Sometimes, you have data in columns that need to be rotated in rows. In that case, you can use the transpose feature.

Then, copy the column headers cell C4 to cell F4. After that, select a new cell where you want to paste it as a transposed format. Right-click on a cell and a Context Menu will appear. From there, click on the transpose option.

Essential Excel Skill: Moving Columns to Rows

Finally, after doing some modifications, we get the following result. See the screenshot.


25. IF Formula

In Microsoft Excel, the IF function is used to check if a condition is met and then the defined statements will be shown based on the given condition. Otherwise, it will show blank or false. Using the IF formula, you can easily set the criterion, if it meets the criterion then it returns a certain value. Otherwise, it returns another value. For example, you have a dataset that includes the sales target and sales achieved column. By using the IF function, you can set a criterion if the sales achieved are greater than the sales target then, it returns achieved. Otherwise, it returns not achieved. This function is one of the most essential Excel skills in our day-to-day life.


26. Apply Conditional Formatting

When you format a cell or more than one cell based on some conditions, that is conditional formatting. For example, you have a dataset in Excel. The dataset has some numbers in some cells. You need to format the cells with a Red background color that has values less than zero. Here the condition part is: if the numbers are less than zero and the format part is: fill those cells with the Red background color. You can do it manually, find out the cells that have values that are less than zero and make their background color Red. If your worksheet has 10-15 numbers, manual formatting is not the worst job, otherwise, you will use Excel’s conditional formatting feature. To do the conditional formatting, go to the Home tab on the ribbon. From the Styles group, select the Conditional Formatting drop-down option.

Essential Excel Skill: Conditional Formatting

Then, you will get several conditional formatting options from the drop-down option. Select your preferred option to do conditional formatting.


27. Find and Replace Option

The find and Replace option is another essential skill in Microsoft Excel where you can find a certain value or text and replace it with a certain value or text on all other worksheets. This skill saves a lot of time because you don’t need to find value manually. First, go to the Home tab on the ribbon. Then, select Find & Select drop-down option from the Editing group.

After that, select Replace from the Find & Select drop-down.

As a result, the Find and Replace dialog box will appear. First, write what you want to find and what you want to replace it with. Then, set the search with a sheet or workbook.

Essential Excel Skill: Find & Replace


28. Paste Special Option

The paste special option is a part of 30 essential Excel skills. This option helps you to get total command of how you want to paste your values. Let’s say you have cell values where you applied formulas previously. But now, you want to paste it as a value. In that case, the paste special option helps you to solve this issue. First, copy the cell values in your dataset. Then, go to the Home tab on the ribbon. Then, select the Paste drop-down option from the Clipboard group.

Essential Excel Skill: Paste Special

As a result, the Paste Special dialog box will appear. Here, you get several paste options and operations. To paste only values, you need to select Values from this dialog box.


Essential Excel Skills for Accountants

While in terms of the accounting sector, Excel skills can be a vital part of the calculation. To be a well-known accountant, you need to have some basic Excel skills. You need to know all the previous 28 Excel-related essential skills. Besides those 28 skills, you need to master a few more skills to be an accountant.


1. What If Analysis

What-if analysis is a process through which you can see the outcome by changing any cell in the dataset. By using the what-if analysis in Excel, you can use several sets of values and get the desired outcome. For example, in the what-if analysis, you can calculate the total expenses of several houses and finally select your preferred house. That means, using the what-if analysis, you can establish a proper overview of all types of things and also denotes how it reacts in the future.

The main purpose of the what-if analysis in Excel is to determine the outcome in a statistical mood and do the risk assessment. The main advantage to use what-if analysis in Excel is that there is no need to create a new worksheet but we can get the final results for different inputs. There are three types of what-if analysis in Excel: Scenario, Goal Seek and Data Table. The scenario and data table take the input values and provide the possible outcome using these inputs. To get the What-If Analysis in Excel, you need to go to the Data tab on the ribbon. Then, from the Forecast group, select the What-If Analysis drop-down option.

Essential Excel Skill: What-If Analysis


2. Auditing Formulas

Accountants need to work with a large dataset where they apply several formulas to get the desired results. But in a large dataset, it is tough and time-consuming to check all the possible errors. In that case, you can use the formula auditing approach through which you can check whole dataset formulas. For small datasets, you can also use formula auditing. Formula auditing is an essential skill for accountants in the long run. To do formula auditing, first, go to the Formulas tab on the ribbon. Then, select the Error Checking option from the Formula Auditing group.

Essential Excel Skill: Auditing Formulas


3. Sparkline Charts

The sparkline chart helps you to embed charts in a cell. It provides the ability to consolidate a large amount of data into a single spreadsheet. The sparkline charts can be useful for data analysts and accountants to create a better spreadsheet with valuable information. The sparkline charts can be three different types: Line, Column, and Win/Loss. To use the sparkline charts, you need to select the range of numbers. Then, go to the Insert tab on the ribbon. After that, select the Sparklines drop-down option. From there, you can select any of the chart options.

Essential Excel Skill: Sparkline Charts


Essential Excel Skills for Data Analyst

To become a data analyst, you have to have some specific Excel-related essential skills through which you can do the job. Before doing anything, you need to cover all the Excel skills that were discussed previously. Those skills are also valuable for a data analyst. After that, you need to cover the following skills also.


1. VLOOKUP Function

The VLOOKUP function can be a valuable asset for the data analyst. In the function, the lookup value can be a single value or an array of values. If you enter an array of values, the function will look for each of the values in the leftmost column and return the same row’s values from the specified column. In the case of data analysis, you need to take values from another table, the VLOOKUP function helps to do this.


2. FORMULATEXT Function

The use of the FORMULATEXT function can be another useful skill, you need to learn as a data analyst. As a data analyst, you need to work with lots of data where you have to utilize numerous formulas. After finishing the task to check the formula of a certain cell, in that case, the text formulas can be vital.


3. TRIM Function

While dealing with lots of data, sometimes you may face problems with having extra space. In that case, you have to use the TRIM function. The Excel TRIM function is categorized under the TEXT functions. It removes the extra spaces from a text string. It saves valuable time. Otherwise, you need to do it manually. Because of this extra space, the calculation can be different. So, the TRIM function is vital for a data analyst.


4. CONCATENATE Function

In data analysis, you need to split values from one cell to another cell. After completing the task, if you want to combine those values into one text value, the CONCATENATE function helps you to do so. It joins two or more text values or numbers into one single text value. That is why using this Excel function is essential for any data analyst.


5. LEN Function

When you need to count the character in cells, you need to utilize the LEN function. This function returns a number of characters in a text string. If any data analyst needs to count the character in one cell or multiple cells, he/she needs to use the LEN function effectively.


6. LEFT/RIGHT Function

When you take data from different sources, these data aren’t ready for analysis. The data analysts spend most of their time clearing data. By default, Excel calculates formulas from left to right. The LEFT function helps to pull a set of numbers from the left and the RIGHT function does the opposite.


7. Add Slicer in Pivot Table

The slicer helps to filter the pivot table and makes an excellent report. The data analysts use several slicers to filter several pivot tables and finally, provide a meaningful output. Slicers help to take your dataset to the next level through their unique functioning. That is why it is an essential Excel skill for data analysts.


8. IFERROR Function

Data analysts use the IFERROR function to handle and eliminate errors from the given formulas. IFERROR is categorized under the Logical functions in Excel. It returns an alternate value if a formula results in an error. It helps data analysts with various problems while dealing with a big dataset.


Essential Excel Skills for Business Analyst

To become a business analyst, you need to have several Excel-related skills through which you can do the job properly. You need to adapt all the possible Excel skills that we discussed previously. After that, you can focus on the following essential Excel skills.


1. Excel File Format

While using the Excel file, you may experience some file format-related issues. Some tools only take CSV files. Some clients may not accept macros Excel workbooks. In that, you need to be careful about the Excel file format which is one more preferable compared to others. Otherwise, you may face misunderstandings with customers.


2. Visualize Pattern in Data

One of the biggest roles of a business analyst is to visualize patterns in data. Then, provide an optimum decision that is good for both customer and their own business. To visualize patterns in the data, you need to have profound knowledge of Excel commands and Excel functions. All of these combine with you a better business analyst and help you to make correct decisions.


3. Understand Industry Specific Functionalities

To become a well-known business analyst, you need to understand industry-specific functionalities such as NPV, PMT, IRR, etc in Excel.  Otherwise, you can’t figure out what you need to do in some specific condition. The business analyst should be capable of using statistical distribution functions. The overall ability to understand all of these functions will make them better business analysts.


Conclusion

Here, we have shown 28 essential Excel skills to become a professional Excel expert. All of these are fairly easy to use and user-friendly. These skills can solve lots of problems in your day-to-day life. In this article, we also discussed the possible Excel skills for business analysts, data analysts, and accountants. I hope you found this article exciting. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask in the comment box. Don’t forget to visit our Exceldemy page.


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Kawser

Kawser

Hello! Welcome to my Excel blog! It took me some time to be a fan of Excel. But now I am a die-hard fan of MS Excel. I learn new ways of doing things with Excel and share them here. Not only how-to guide on Excel, but you will get also topics on Finance, Statistics, Data Analysis, and BI. Stay tuned! You can checkout my courses at Udemy: https://www.udemy.com/user/exceldemy/

  1. Excellent article. We’ve included it in our list of the most useful and interesting spreadsheet-related articles at http://www.i-nth.com/resources/connexion
    One thing I’d add as an essential skill is knowing how to build a reliable spreadsheet. This involves techniques such as: building in self-checks to highlight any anomalies, using tools such as Tables that adapt to changing data, and inspecting every cell to test that it does what is intended.

    Cheers,
    Bob.

  2. I have data like 2-feb-17,3-feb-17,4-feb-17,2-feb-17

    How can I get the result as 3 by counting only the unique date.

  3. Very nice information Kawser! Excel has always been a mystery box for me. The more I feel familiar with Excel, the more it presented me new formula. There is a non-ending learning on Excel and your blog post give just another opportunity for us to enhance our knowledge in Excel. Thanks for sharing!

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