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3 Steps to Becoming an Excel Guru

As a career coach, I work with many former investment bankers and finance people, and one of the most transferable skills I see when these people switch careers is their amazing proficiency in Microsoft Excel. If you work outside the finance industry and have ever come across a new hire coming with a hard-core finance background, you will know what I mean. How do they fly around those spreadsheets so quickly? And what—they don’t have to use a mouse?! It can be quite a wake up call when seeing real Excel skills live. Simply by being good at Excel, not even guru-level, you can increase your productivity, and by extension, your likelihood of promotion. So here are three useful tips to get you started on the road to Excel mastery.


3 Steps to Becoming an Excel Guru (Photo: iStockphoto)

Get rid of your mouse (for at least one month)
This is an absolute must if you want to toughen up your Excel skills. Many of the most advanced users of Excel swear by this training method. This will force you to learn and master all of the keyboard shortcuts, and in your operating system in general. You can increase your speed and ability to create complex spreadsheets and reports if you can edit, format, and code formulas in Excel without using a mouse. This approach is extremely painful for the first week, but the learning is so worth it.

Get to know this command “Ctrl+[“ followed up with “F5”
How do those former investment bankers fly through spreadsheets? This auditing shortcut is a great way to find the source or precedent calculation in a particular cell. Control + Open Bracket will immediately take you to a precedent cell or formula and then hitting F5 brings you back to where you started. This function saves you LOADS of time.

Use macros to automate spreadsheet templates
If you build a number of similar reports, using a macro to streamline and automate the set up process when starting a new report can save precious time and allow you to do more during the day for your team. If you don’t know how to use macros, think of them as a recording tool for commands you are entering into Excel. If you do certain tasks over and over again in Excel, creating macros and actually using them is a sign that you really know what you are doing.

Don’t expect to get really good at Excel overnight. Believe me, Step 1 is the hardest! But if you can get through it, the positive impact on your productivity will stay with you for your entire career.

Debra Wheatman is a certified writer and career coach who has guided the professional development of thousands of clients globally. She is reachable at

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