What exactly does it mean to have advanced skills in Microsoft Excel? In many job searches, you’ll see it listed time and again, but rarely is the capability described in any detail. So if you have any background with the software, you may be considering whether you are okay to characterize your ability as “advanced.” Moreover, you might wonder if you will be comfortable performing the Excel tasks the company expects from you.
In this article, we’ll take a quick look at some of the most widely used advanced features of Excel. This should help you get an idea of where you feel confident and where you might want to gain some training. You can also get started on learning today with an advanced Excel course online to make sure you are versed in the software.
Functions are easy to create in Excel and, by design, they simplify and automate tasks that would otherwise be much more labor intensive. That said, there are a number of functions that, in practice, require some skill in order to solve complex problems. Part of the challenge for you is knowing when and how you can apply these and how to design them for your specific purpose. If this is a specific area you would like to work on, you can take an online course on advance formulas and functions in Excel. Here are some examples:
IF: Gives an output based on whether a condition is true or false for a given cell. Where the IF function really starts to come in handy is when it is nested within a larger formula. An example you will come across fairly regularly is a chain of IF functions that effectively creates an algorithm.
OR and AND: Often used as components of a larger formula, the OR and AND functions determine the truth or falseness of any defined condition or all defined conditions, respectively.
VLookup: Searches a column within a range for a user-defined input and returns a corresponding value from another specified column in that range.
HLookup: Searches rows in a range for a user defined input and returns a corresponding value for a defined row. This transposes the VLookup method but will have very different applications in daily use.
Concatenate: Combines multiple values and strings and outputs them to a text string
Mid: Extracts a substring from a defined string. The user defines the starting and position and number of characters to extract. This function can be very useful within larger formulas for data processing.
This is not a comprehensive list by any means. However, exploring these functions and applying them to problems will give you a better understanding of how to use functions at an advanced level in Excel.
In getting acquainted with Excel, most of the functions you will have used output a value to a single cell. However, there is another set of advanced functions that work on an entire range. One of the most commonly used is the Transpose function, which essentially allows you to switch the axes for your data, so that the rows become the columns, and vice versa.
Data sorting and entry
Understanding functions is critical to using Excel at an advanced level, but it is not the only capability you will want to develop. Another area that may be important in working with spreadsheets day-to-day has to do with organizing and preparing data and cells within your tables. This involves several features of Excel. Here are some of the most common ones:
Applying data validation: There are many cases in which you want to put parameters on the input a cell will accept. Data validation allows you to define these
Creating drop-down selections: Often going hand-in-hand with data validation, users can apply drop-down selection lists containing the accepted inputs for a given cell
Custom filtering: If you have learned the basics of Excel, you will know how to apply filters to your tables. Within those filters, you have advanced filtering options to slice and dice data virtually any way you need. If you are less than comfortable with the basic application of filters in Excel, you may want to brush up in a course on Excel essentials.
Protecting sheets and locking cells: When you are preparing an Excel spreadsheet that a group will be using, you will want to be familiar with the tools that ensure version control.
Macros and VBA
A basic understanding of macros in Excel will help any user complete tasks much more efficiently. While in many cases, an employer might not specifically prefer or require this skill, using macros can help you finish those tight turnaround reports without making mistakes or pulling all-nighters.
Learning VBA thoroughly will give you complete control over your macros so you can customize them to do complex tasks, even ones involving multiple programs. In cases where VBA is a job expectation, it will likely be stated directly. However, if you are working on a team that relies on spreadsheets regularly, your knowledge of VBA could allow you to create some enhancements and quickly show your value.
You can begin automating and programming your spreadsheets today with a course on Excel VBA and macros.
If you will be working with statistics in Excel, there are specialized tools designed to help you crunch the numbers. And since they will save you a lot of time vs. manual calculations, you will likely be expected to know the ones that are applicable to your work. While some of these items are built in to Excel’s functions, most are available as features of the add-in analysis toolpak. Make sure you have that resource installed and get to know some of the functions within it. If you would like some guidance on using the tools, you can also take an online course in statistical analysis with Excel.
Creating a report with data visualization (e.g. graphs and charts) is a capability you learn at a basic level in an introductory Excel course. However, the tools you have to work with for this purpose are robust and deserve special attention if you will be producing company reports. You might consider taking a course on creating Excel dashboards that look great and deliver on the data analysis.
The Excel features covered here should give you a feel for what an advanced user can do with the program. However, there is still much more. To name a few, you might want to understand pivot tables, financial modeling functions, and/or referencing data between sheets and workbooks. Consider how comfortable you are with all of these features and try out some of the mentioned resources for getting to know the ones that will take your skills to the next level.