A guide to using handy advanced Excel skills in your work

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 20 January 2023

Published 13 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many positions may require you to have a strong understanding of computer application skills. If you are currently in a role or want to move into one that requires an advanced understanding of Excel, it may be helpful to learn some advanced formulas. Understanding how to analyse recurring data may be a valuable skill, and learning these skills can help you become more efficient and productive at work. In this article, we discuss what advanced Excel skills are, give some examples of them and explain how you can improve your skills and use them at work.

Related: How to highlight Excel skills on your CV

What do advanced Excel skills mean?

Having advanced Excel skills means analysing or manipulating complex data in a digital form. You may already perform basic data entry on Excel, but having advanced skills in Excel can help you present data in significant ways, such as with reports, tables and presentations. These include more complex formulas and formatting, so it is advantageous to have a more in-depth knowledge of how Excel works, including its tools and functions. These skills are useful in jobs that largely involve working with numbers and data.

Related: How to become a data analyst

Types of advanced Excel skills

Knowing those advanced skills in Excel can help you analyse data and come to meaningful decisions. For example, they can help a supply chain department determine the number of units of a product to order and when to order them. Here are some types of advanced Excel skills:

The COUNTIF function

The COUNTIF function in Excel counts cells that contain certain properties and excludes other cells that do not. For example, to find out how many times a particular entry appears on a list, the COUNTIF formula looks at that list and determines how many cells match your criteria. It is a useful function for analysing data as it replaces manual cell counting.

Related: How to use COUNTIF in Excel and elevate your spreadsheets

The SUMIF function

Similar to COUNTIF, the SUMIF formula adds cells that contain specific properties and excludes others that do not. These properties can include a certain number or a word (e.g. 'true' or 'false') to detect if a number is above or below a certain value or doesn't equal a value. It's a useful formula to use when highlighting summary information from a large dataset.

Related: How to use the SUMIFS function in Excel (with examples)

Filters

Use filters to explore data in a table quickly, as they serve to hide information that you're not looking for and present those that you are. You can also use multiple filters at the same time, so you can easily differentiate between data. For example, if you sold red and green apples, you could use filters to determine how many green apples were sold in the space of a week while excluding red apples.

Macros

A macro is an action that you can put on automation. It can be useful when you have a number of recurring tasks to perform in Excel. You can record a macro to automate those tasks, which may help to increase your efficiency and productivity.

Related: What are macros and how do you use macros for Excel?

Data validation

Data validation tools help you to identify and correct any errors in a dataset. They're also used to prevent errors from occurring by only allowing users to select items from a list rather than typing directly into the cell. Data validation functions include:

  • duplicate entry notifications

  • drop-down menu integrations

  • autocorrect spelling validation

  • email address verification

Related: A guide on how to find duplicates in Excel

Data manipulation

Use data manipulation to arrange data and create patterns. You can use different formulas at the same time to alter a dataset and present it in a useful and easily understandable way. Examples of data manipulation include:

  • removing duplicate data

  • combining multiple lists into one

  • combining columns

  • extracting data into multiple columns

PivotTables

PivotTables have several versatile uses, making them powerful tools to learn in Excel. Use them to extract relevant data from a larger dataset, then sort, count, total or average that data and display it in a new format. This enables you to work with smaller and more manageable datasets rather than a large table. You could use PivotTables to easily present data in a meaningful way, helping you to work quickly and efficiently. For example, you could use a PivotTable when faced with a table containing sales data about different products to group the data by product.

Power Pivots

Power Pivots can boost the functionality of PivotTables by connecting them with external databases. Use a Power Pivot to pull external data into Excel, then run a PivotTable from that smaller table.

Sparklines

Use the Sparkline function to display a visual representation of data via lines or columns inside a single cell. It's a small chart that helps to show trends in a small selection of data. It's particularly useful for showing regular trends, such as seasonality or economic cycles. They are best placed next to the data they're being used to visualise.

Charts

Excel offers over 20 types of charts, including bar, pie, line, scatter and column. Use charts as an effective way to display a data analysis. Advanced charts include more formatting and function options, such as in-cell charts and conditional formatting.

Conditional formatting

Conditional formatting changes the colour of a cell and its contents once the data fulfils a certain condition. Adjust the settings to activate colours that are most useful for what you're analysing. For example, if you want to score candidates from an interview, you could choose relevant colours to show if they are moving on to the next stage; cells containing the word 'successful' could turn green and ‘unsuccessful' could turn red. Conditional formatting is helpful, as it makes the contents of a dataset easier to understand at a glance.

Advanced Excel skills in the workplace

You can apply advanced skills in Excel in the workplace in varying ways. They can help to transform data into logical and clear information, which may help the viewer to make decisions on every level. Using data to support your decisions also helps to increase your confidence that you are taking the best action. Here are some ways you can use these skills in the workplace:

  • Filtering data: Use Excel to highlight the information you want to focus on and hide the rest. This also helps to reduce the chances of becoming distracted, which can lead to errors.

  • Combining data: For work involving streamlining data and information, combining large sets of data can be useful. For example, an online store might want to combine how many customers come from a certain country.

  • Turning data into visuals: Transforming your data into meaningful visuals can help everyone to understand and analyse it more easily. For example, a marketing department may use this to show the efficacy of methods used during a campaign over a lengthy period of time.

  • Controlling quality: Tools like data validation help you edit and verify your data effectively, and can save time in the future and increase quality. You can use drop-down menus to reduce spelling errors by selecting words or phrases from a predetermined list rather than typing them directly into a cell.

Related: 11 top job skills: transferable skills for any industry

How to improve your Excel skills

There are many sources that offer to help you improve and gain a deeper understanding of complex Excel features. Here are some steps you can take to improve your Excel skills:

  • Find free resources: Research articles and videos that teach you how to learn a skill from the beginning. Videos are helpful when you're practising in real-time, as you can follow along with the narrator.

  • Take an online course: Improve your knowledge while working at your own pace by taking an online course. Typically, online courses provide greater and more in-depth information than free resources.

  • Sign up for an in-person course: Attending a course face-to-face can provide you with instant feedback and instructions. This is helpful when you learn the more complex parts of Excel, as you can ask specific questions related to your challenges.

  • Work with a tutor: Working with a tutor can speed up your pace of learning, as you are the only person they may work with at that time. Tutors may also work around your commitments, making it convenient for you.

  • Practise: Excel is a skill that often gets easier the more you practise it, so find ways to include the skills you are learning outside of your work. For example, try using Excel to create a food budget.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Related:

  • What are enterprise skills? (And how to improve them)

  • 10 advanced Excel skills for CV (and jobs that require them)


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