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Basic Excel Skills

Now a days, any job requires basic Excel skills. These basic Excel skills are – familiarity with Excel ribbons & UI, ability to enter and format data, calculate totals & summaries thru formulas, highlight data that meets certain conditions, creating simple reports & charts, understanding the importance of keyboard shortcuts & productivity tricks. Based on my experience of training more than 5,000 students in various online & physical training programs, the following 6 areas form the core of basic Excel skills.

Getting Started

Excel is a massive application with 1000s of features and 100s of ribbon (menu) commands. It is very easy to get lost once you open Excel. So one of the basic survival skills is to understand how to navigate Excel and access the features you are looking for.

When you open Excel, this is how it looks.


There are 5 important areas in the screen.

1. Quick Access Toolbar: This is a place where all the important tools can be placed. When you start Excel for the very first time, it has only 3 icons (Save, Undo, Redo). But you can add any feature of Excel to to Quick Access Toolbar so that you can easily access it from anywhere (hence the name).

2. Ribbon: Ribbon is like an expanded menu. It depicts all the features of Excel in easy to understand form. Since Excel has 1000s of features, they are grouped in to several ribbons. The most important ribbons are – Home, Insert, Formulas, Page Layout & Data.

3. Formula Bar: This is where any calculations or formulas you write will appear. You will understand the relevance of it once you start building formulas.

4. Spreadsheet Grid: This is where all your numbers, data, charts & drawings will go. Each Excel file can contain several sheets. But the spreadsheet grid shows few rows & columns of active spreadsheet. To see more rows or columns you can use the scroll bars to the left or at bottom. If you want to access other sheets, just click on the sheet name (or use the shortcut CTRL+Page Up or CTRL+Page Down).

5. Status bar: This tells us what is going on with Excel at any time. You can tell if Excel is busy calculating a formula, creating a pivot report or recording a macro by just looking at the status bar. The status bar also shows quick summaries of selected cells (count, sum, average, minimum or maximum values). You can change this by right clicking on it and choosing which summaries to show.

Getting Started with Excel – 10 minute video tutorial

Entering & Formatting Data, Numbers & Tables

Handling Data would be one of the main reasons why you are using Excel. Excel is quite intuitive and simple to use when it comes to typing data or handling it. Because of its grid nature, it can store & manage thousands of data points with ease.Built in features like copy, paste, find, highlight, go to, styles etc. make the process of maintaining data very easy for you.

Resources to learn Data Handling & Formatting

Typing & Formatting Data in Excel
8 tips for formatting your workbooks
Impressing your boss with spreadsheet formatting
Introduction to Excel Tables
Use Tables to handle data better

Calculating Totals & Summaries using Formulas

Formulas make Excel smart. Without formulas, Excel is just like a massive grid where you can keep data. Using them you can calculate totals, summaries, answer questions and gain insights. Built in features like Autosum make it very easy to write formulas for your needs without thinking or learning much.

Resources to learn Excel Formulas

Introduction to Formulas
Introduction to IF formula in Excel
Top 10 formulas for aspiring analysts & managers
15 important formulas for everyone
51 Everyday Excel formulas explained in plain English

Books to learn Excel Formulas

75 Excel Formulas

Courses to learn Excel Formulas

Excel Formula Crash Course (60 formulas, 31 lessons)
The VLOOKUP Video Book (VLOOKUP and other important formulas demystified)

Conditional Formatting

Conditional formatting is a powerful feature in Excel that is often underutilized. By using conditional formatting, you can tell Excel to highlight portions of your data that meet any given condition. For example: highlighting top 10 customers, below average performing employees etc. While anyone can set up simple conditional formatting rules, an advanced Excel user can do a lot more. They can combine formulas with conditional formatting to highlight data that meets almost any condition.

Resources to learn Advanced Conditional Formatting

What is conditional formatting
Introduction to Conditional Formatting
5 Tips on CF
Highlighting Duplicates

Creating Reports Quickly

The number 1 reason why Excel is used in business is this – to create a report or chart. And this is also where a lot of beginners struggle. While entering data, calculting totals or formatting tables is easy, making a report is often a very complex task that requires days of learning & hours of work. Fortunately, it is not all tha complicated if you learn it right. Start with below links.

Resources on Reports & Charts

Pivot Tables – Quick & easy reporting feature of Excel
Creating a pivot report
How to select correct chart for any situation?
Making a chart in Excel

Using Excel Productively

It is not enough to know various features of Excel. As a beginner, it helps to know how to use Excel productively. This includes knowing important keyboard shortcuts, mouse shortcuts, work-arounds, Excel customizations & how to make everything looks slick.

Resource to use Excel productively

Keyboard Shortcuts
Mouse Shortcuts
Excel Productivity Tips
Making better Excel workbooks
Important shortcuts & productivity tricks
Top 10 things you can do in Excel in 10 minutes

Beyond Basics – Becoming Awesome in Excel

Once you know the basics, chances are you will be asking for more. The reason is simple. Anyone with good Excel skills is always in demand. Your bosses love you because you can get things done easily. Your customers love you becuase you create impressive things. Your colleagues envy you becuase your workbooks are shining and easy to use. And you want more, because you have seen the amazing results of Excel.

This is where learning Excel pays off. I highly recommend you to join my most comprehensive Excel training program – Excel School. It is an entirely online course that can be done at your own pace from the comfort of your home (or office). The course has more than 24 hours of training videos, 50+ downloadable workbooks, in-depth coverage of all the important areas of Excel usage to make you awesome. To date, more than 5,000 people have enrolled in Excel School and became champions at their work.

Click here to learn more about Excel School Program.

10-10-10-10 book - Fast Track your Excel Skills - by Chandoo

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