How Excel Accelerated My Career
Developing Excel skills can definitely improve your career, and your life. As my Excel skill set has grown over the years, I have been able to pursue an increasing number of opportunities to generate additional income. My growing expertise has also allowed me to automate processes to create space to develop my career. This has been related to Excel as well as expanding my expertise across multiple business disciplines such as accounting, marketing, and operations.
Obviously, growing your Excel skill set can improve your career growth as well as your prospects. But it can be difficult to know what to focus on, as Excel is a vast tool.
Spend a short time browsing job listings to discover in-demand skills. You will see that organizations are looking for candidates that are knowledgeable in formulas like the VLOOKUP, pivot tables, and even VBA development.
The first wake up moment for me regarding the focus my development was many years ago when a manager of analysts at the company I worked for told me that any resume with no mention of VLOOKUP got tossed.
HOW I GOT STARTED
The story of developing my Excel skills and the effects it has had on my career starts with a midlife career change. After spending 16 years in a career where I didn’t even sit at a desk, I began working in the new world of data analytics.
Unable to do much beyond data entry and copy and paste, I knew developing my Excel skill set had to become top focus. But where to start?
Fortunately, the organization I worked for was invested in the development of their employees. Therefore, I was able to participate in several classroom style courses to learn more about Excel.
But I am going to fill you in on a secret that accelerated my development that has nothing to do with classroom learning. Don’t get me wrong. These classes definitely taught me a lot.
But the secret that took my development to a different level had more to do with mindset than anything else.
PARADIGM SHIFT: CHASE SOLUTIONS, NOT SKILLS
A couple of years into my new career, I had a moment that changed my perspective to a degree that I am going to now explain. This was the single most pivotal moment in my development as an Excel user.
One of my teammates was leaving for a new job and she was handing off a weekly report to me that she had been in charge of up to that point. In a nutshell, this process required logging into a web app to retrieve a set of weekly metrics. She would then proceed to copy and paste those values into an Excel report.
There were several metrics across many columns and then some that had to be skipped because they contained pre-built formulas to make some calculations. As you might imagine, this process took a long time since it was 100% manual. I won’t even discuss the potential human error involved in these manual processes.
I was struck by all the problems with this approach. A few weeks into my new responsibility for this report, I began to think to myself, ”there has to be a better way!” I ended up writing my first macro to reduce the cycle time for updating this report down to seconds. I wanted to run down the halls of the office when it finally worked the way it was supposed to. I was so excited!
But beyond developing my first macro, I learned how to use VLOOKUP and how to import data from the web.
Did you catch that? I had never written a macro. I had never used VLOOKUP. I had never imported data from the web. Why? Because I never needed to. But as I tackled this one problem, my eventual solution led me to learn all three skills simultaneously.
That’s what problem solving does for your development. It creates high impact, multi-dimensional opportunities for the growth of your skills. It builds your Excel expertise, several skills at a time. Your development will skyrocket once you begin to create solutions.
SMARTER, FASTER, BETTER
If I could have a dollar for every time I have said “there has to be a better way to do that”, well, I’d be pretty well off. But that’s what continued Excel development will do to you too. If you become solution minded, you will likely find yourself with a much more optimistic attitude toward learning more about Excel.
Instead of thinking in terms of what you don’t know, you should focus on what is possible even if it means learning something new. I have often found myself in this position and it’s been rewarding in my career.
ANYBODY CAN POINT OUT THE PROBLEM
Want to know another secret? Leadership doesn’t want hear about the problem.They want the solution. This is the value in the change of mindset to a solution-oriented Excel user.
I could sit here and break down every technical aspect of the solutions I have created or I could emphasize the quantifiable results. Do you think a hiring manager or HR professional wants to hear me brag about why I think INDEX and MATCH is superior to the VLOOKUP?
They will be far more interested in the reduction in cycle times for updating reports from hours or days down to minutes. Start talking in terms of the man hours recovered by developing that kind of solution and you will get their attention.
OUTCOMES: THE SECRET THAT SEPARATES YOU FROM THE REST
Here’s the thing: just because I don’t know everything about Excel doesn’t mean I’m not equipped to develop into exactly what the job role requires and even beyond. My experience with Excel has made me the enthusiastic problem solver that employers need.
For example, I once managed a team of remote telephone surveyors that had to meet sample size and distribution objectives. Many of them struggled to self-manage this even when I provided weekly updates of their numbers.
However, I was able to leverage pivot charts and pivot tables to provide them with a different set of optics into the same data. Many of them immediately and dramatically improved their outcomes. This is what managers and business owners want to see.
I had never really used pivot tables and pivot charts up to that point in my career. But because I was willing to turn to those tools as a possible solution, I was not only able to develop my pivot table and pivotchart skills, they in turn produced dramatically improved outcomes.
This is the flexibility Excel offers. And as you couple your growing Excel skill set with your solution oriented mindset, you will be able to consider far reaching possibilities for producing improved outcomes.
PROJECT APPROACH: USE YOUR CHALLENGES TO FOCUS YOUR DEVELOPMENT
When you can tell stories about solutions in a language business professionals understand, you will instantly improve your prospects, your confidence, and your life.
The ability to tell stories with the specifics of the challenge, the solution, and the outcome is going to separate you from the pack of candidates that simply talk about all their skills. This really should be the basis for improving your Excel skills. You have to create stories; testimonials that tell of the solutions you have developed. Your skills will be inseparable from that story. They’ll speak for themselves.
If you are struggling to make the connection between improving your Excel skills and how it will translate to a better life for you, just think about your current challenges. Where could things be better? What are the things that drive you a bit crazy about your Excel tasks and projects? Point out problems in order to identify opportunities for developing solutions. This is the best place to start. Then you can begin writing those stories, one at a time. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]