What are some of the best Excel tools for professionals?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 April 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.

The spreadsheet software, Excel, contains many powerful tools that can help make your job easier. These options range from flash fill to drop-down tools that you can use to organise your spreadsheets better. If you work with Excel every day, knowing how to use these functions can help you increase your efficiency and improve your skills at work. In this article, we look at the various Excel tools and how you can use them in your worksheets.

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What are the most effective Excel tools?

There are several Excel tools you can use to increase your work efficiency and improve the accessibility and readability of your worksheets. For example, graphs can make your worksheet more concise while allowing readers to get a cursory idea of sales figures and other data patterns by simply skimming the document. Functions, such as COUNTIF and SUMIF, are simple Excel tools used for locating and adding data.

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Some of the most effective functions in Excel include:

Flash fill

Flash fill aims to simplify the process of filling in data. This function analyses the data patterns in the surrounding columns and replicates them to the opposite column. This is useful for separating two sets of data from a single list of data, such as first and second names.

To use flash fill correctly, click on an empty column and drag down to the bottom. In the list, simply select the 'Flash Fill' option. Excel recognises when you start typing information in the blank column and enters the data automatically. If for any reason you choose to edit any of these entries again at a later date, Excel can adjust the data automatically to reflect the new additions.

Use tables to filter and calculate data

You can organise your data better using the 'Format as Table' option. This allows you to add a filter to each column. You can customise the column and row formatting in the table by selecting the 'Table Tools > Design Tab'. Each cell contains a drop-down list that you can use to select functions like SUM, AVERAGE and COUNT. You can use the SUBTOTAL function to find the sum of the data currently visible. Charts created using this data automatically update when the user adds new information to the original table.

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Drop-down lists

When adding data to long lists, you can use a drop-down option to save you from typing the individual information. Simply click on a cell and press' Alt'+the down arrow to see a list of the preceding cell content as options. Select the entry you need, and press enter to fill in the cell.

You can also create custom lists by selecting the desired range and typing the information in the 'Name Box' to the left of the formula bar. Click the column you plan to add the list to and select 'Data > Data Validation'. Choose 'List' from the drop-down menu and select the range you designated as a source.

Isolating variable data in a data area

Changes may not occur automatically if you're using Excel to record data that changes over time, such as VAT rates. In this case, it's best to store this information in a separate area on the spreadsheet, allowing you to check and replace values easily. You can place the current VAT rate above your data without including it in the calculations themselves. This way, you can simply refer to them as you make calculations without having to restructure the entire worksheet.

This is an ideal option if you share your worksheets with others, such as colleagues or clients, enabling them to change one cell at a time without modifying the overall calculations.

Exception reporting with conditional formatting

Conditional formatting is a great way to highlight exceptional values that require further action. When managers review data in worksheets, they usually look for specific data amounts that are inconsistent with what they expect. Conditional formatting involves determining the exceptions you wish to highlight and writing up the rules to isolate this specific data in the workbook. This is a dynamic method that automatically updates the formatting when the data changes. This can be useful when reviewing a debtor list where high results falling outside the normal data ranges are important.

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Pivot tables

Pivot tables allow you to sort, count and total average data and store it in a single spreadsheet. This option typically allows you to create a new table summarising the data. Pivot tables are effective because they automatically group matching data. This is useful for creating summaries of large amounts of data from the tables that would otherwise take hours to analyse and evaluate.

To access pivot tables in Excel, click 'Insert > Pivot Table' after creating your table containing the relevant data. This function can be useful for sales data where each line typically contains products and amounts since a few basic commands can provide you with a summary of a single product.


Slicers are excellent components to add to your pivot tables. They function in the same way as filters in that they allow you to show certain data while hiding other information. Instead of using drop-down menus, slicers utilise buttons, increasing the presentability of the worksheet while making filtering much easier. You can access slicers by clicking the 'Insert' menu, where you can then select the data categories you wish to present.


COUNTIF is a simple command in Excel that allows you to count the number of cells that contain specific properties. For example, if you wish to find out how many times the name Adam Smith appears in a document, you can use COUNTIF to analyse the cells and give you a total. To use this feature, type the following command: =COUNTIF(range{range of numbers you're looking at}, criteria {criteria you are searching against}). An example may look like this: =COUNTIF(B2:B12,â€Adam Smithâ€). Although it's simple, this feature is important when analysing data and is easy to use compared to other Excel commands.


While COUNTIF allows you to count the number of cells that meet certain conditions, you can use SUMIF to sum up the value of the cells that meet those particular given conditions. The relevant information in the cells can include certain numbers or words or values above or below a certain range. Much like COUNTIF, this function uses the following command: =SUMIF(range,{range of cells to analyse}, criteria{the criteria that determine which cells to add together}, sum range {the cells to add together}). An example may look like =SUMIF(C5:C8, “Adamâ€, D6:D9).


Excel has over twenty charts, including bar, column, line and pie charts. Most people and companies use these four options to present data as they're more commonly used in a business context and easy to read. To create bar, column, pie and line charts, you simply need a series of numbers. Scatter charts are a little more complicated as they require two sets of data for comparison. For example, these data sets can include ingoing and outgoings.

To create any of these charts, select the area with the relevant data, click 'Insert', and choose a chart from the chart section. Using charts to illustrate data can be a highly effective way of quickly communicating different interpretations of the data.

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A sparkline is a small chart within a worksheet that visually represents the selected data. This tool is perfect for showing data trends. For example, in a sales environment, a sparkline can represent seasonal increases and decreases in consumer spending.

To add a sparkline, see that you select a blank column next to the data you wish to represent. Then, select the 'Insert tab, click the 'Line' option in 'Sparklines' and insert the data range in the dialogue box, for example, (B4:F7). Positioning a sparkline next to the data you're representing can help others with access to your worksheet quickly analyse the figures and information in it.


You can use the IFERROR function to deal with errors in a formula. This function typically returns specified values. If it detects an error in a formula or if a formula is correct, it simply returns a result. The IFERROR function can quickly help you detect and resolve any issues if there are blank spots in your formulas or they contain typing errors. To use this function, type =IFERROR(the cells in which the software calculates the sum, the expected result, e.g. a number) next to the formula you wish to resolve. An example of this formula is =IFERROR(D5,E7,0).

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

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