The Top Five Excel Skills that Employers Look for

Table of Contents

  • Organise and Clean your Data in Excel
  • Present your Excel Data with Interactive Graphs and Charts
  • Look Up Values using VLOOKUP, HLOOKUP, and XLOOKUP
  • Protect Your Cells and Worksheets
  • Save Time with Basic Excel Macros
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Final Thoughts

You're hunting for your first/next (delete as appropriate) job. You've scoured the internet, the job boards, LinkedIn. You really like the look of several positions, but one little thing is holding you back - Excel. All these positions require a degree of analytical experience, and more frighteningly, spreadsheet knowledge.

Perhaps you've used Excel before a bit, but you are not the greatest. So what exactly do you need to know?

Unless the role is very data specific, for example, a data analyst, accountant, business analyst, actuary, it's likely that ayn employer is looking for an intermediate understanding of Excel.

If your role is more generalist, then it's likely you'll need to understand and interpret data using Excel. But, most importantly, you'll need to know some essential functions and formulas that allow you to manipulate that data and pull out some valuable business insight.

If that all sounds too confusing. Don't worry. We have your back. This article looks at the top 5 things employers look for when assessing Excel skills.

If you've been asked to take an Excel test as part of an interview process, take a look at our guide on how to pass an Excel test.

Organise and Clean your Data in Excel

Excel is a powerful data management tool, and many businesses still rely on Excel for basic data storage and analysis. If you are going to be interacting with a lot of data in your role, then you need to learn to use Excel to organise data. Here are the top functions we recommend getting to grips with to help with this.

  • Data filters allow you to quickly sort, hide, and search for information within the spreadsheets. 
  • Data sorting makes it easy to arrange data in a spreadsheet. You may, for example, want the data to appear in ascending or descending order. Another other option could be in alphabetical order and so on. 
  • Pivot Tables help with data manipulation and analysis. You can add, average, count, summarise and draw meaningful insights quickly and easily using a Pivot Table. You will love the features when it comes to creating reports and dashboards as well.
  • Data validation reduces the possibility of errors when entering data in the cells. 

It's worth noting that these functions are helpful far beyond essential data management. Learning how to use the PivotTable function allows you to perform quick analysis. Filters and sorting help you quickly make sense of large datasets. 

The following is an example of creating a Pivot Table.

Present your Excel Data with Interactive Graphs and Charts 

Imagine you are called in to present in a management meeting or even a board meeting. As terrifying as that might sound, it's something that could easily happen, and you'll need Excel by your side for this. More specifically, you'll need to be able to bring your data and numbers to life using graphs and charts. 

Instead of presenting the data as text and numbers, you'll want to use the charts and graphs available in Excel. These must-have skills help simplify presentations. 

The best part about this is that Excel makes bringing your data to life really simple. Start with basic bar charts or stacked column sharts. Next, use line graphs to represent timelines. Better still, use Pivot Charts and create an interactive dashboard.

Finally, make your presentations even more interesting by using interactive controls, dynamic controls, embedded videos, and audio.  


Look Up Values Using VLOOKUP, HLOOKUP, and XLOOKUP 

VLOOKUP, HLOOKUP, and XLOOKUP are functions that help you search and find data across the table or worksheets. If you're going to be using Excel, it's essential that you learn some of the lookup functions.

The ones you need to know are:

  • Vertical Lookup (VLOOKUP) allows for data retrieval within columns.
  • Horizontal Lookup (HLOOKUP) the same as VLOOKUP, but works within rows.
  • XLOOKUP is like the new kid on the block. It combines the functionalities you get with HLOOKUP and VLOOKUP. So, it covers both horizontal and vertical lookup ranges. It's only available in the newer versions of Excel, but if you have access to it, then you don't need VLOOKUP or HLOOKUP.

Lookups, can take a bit of time to understand and master. They are not the most straightforward functions you'll learn to use. These functions may confuse you at first, especially as you get your head around terms like range, return value, approximate match, and exact match. 

How lookups work at a basic level is quite simple. You specify a value or cell that you want your lookup to find in a range of cells. Once it finds that value, it will return a value adjacent to it. Meaning if you have a table of data and need to pull out various pieces of information, you can do so.

The XLOOKUP function is a revised version of VLOOKUP/HLOOKUP and has more arguments that dictate the return type. We promise that you will find these Excel functions a lifesaver. You can find these formulas in the Formulas tab, as shown in the example below.

Protect Your Cells and Worksheets

You are working on a team project, and you have shared a critical spreadsheet with your teammates. Now, how would you feel if one of them accidentally deletes necessary rows of data? 

You'd panic, wouldn't you?

That's why data security is no laughing matter. 

You must be careful about whom you give access to the information. Any breach or loss of data could have profound repercussions for your organisation.

Fortunately, Excel allows you to lock cells, protect a worksheet, protect a workbook, or protect an Excel file itself. An Excel file can be encrypted and locked, preventing other users from opening it. In addition, you can set a password to open or edit the Excel file, thus protecting data from unauthorised users. Also, you can mark the file as final if you don't wish further changes and add or remove a digital signature. 

Any employer would be happy to hire a data security-conscious individual. And they will appreciate the fact that the steps you take don't involve extra expenditure. 

The example below shows you how to protect a workbook in Excel. When you use this option, you'll see that it opens in read-only mode.

Save Time With Basic Excel Macros

Let's face it, some tasks in Excel can be pretty repetitive. You also know that most businesses run on reports and metrics. These usually need to be regularly updated using the same process. 

You'll spend time manipulating data, analyzing, and creating these fantastic reports and datasets. Then, you'll repeat the process again and again. 

Fortunately for you, Excel allows you to eliminate repetitive, time-consuming tasks with macros. All you need to do is record specific actions or specific instructions. You can then run them as often as you wish with simple instructions in Excel to execute.

You will need to enable the developer tab on Excel to access this helpful tool. By default, it remains out of sight. Here is how to enable Macros:

File >Options>customize ribbon > main tabs > select developer.  

Macros are a huge time-saver and incredibly impressive. Show your employer that you can save the company time and resources. 

this nifty little tool. You never know, it could be the final push into landing your dream job.  

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I describe Excel skills on my resume?

  • Your resume matters a lot when it comes to landing your dream job. It's a window projecting your skills and strength. Never lie about your Excel capability on your resume. Instead, take an Excel test and link to the result from your resume. Alternatively, adjust the details of your Excel knowledge to the job role you are applying for.

    For example, if you have applied for the role of Project Manager, you can project your skillset as managing data, creating reports, and analysing data using Excel. And, if you are applying to be an accountant, the must-haves in your resume must include pivot tables, macros, and using formulas like SUM, COUNT, AVERAGE, etc.

  • What are the Excel Skills that a Data Analyst must-have?

  • The key responsibility of a Data Analyst is to gather, investigate, and analyse data to forecast outcomes, create data visuals, and provide remedies. The basic Excel skills you need include creating Pivot tables, generating reports, comparison using charts and graphs. In addition, data Analysts must be familiar with the forecast functions in Excel to understand modelling and analysis techniques. On top of this, you'll be expected to have intermediate to advanced Excel skills and be familiar with logic, lookups, statistical functions, Pivot Charts, timelines, charts and more.

    Final Thoughts

    This article covered some of the main things a potential employer would look for in a job seeker. Please note this article is not conclusive as businesses have many different requirements when it comes to data. However, learning the techniques we've listed here won't do you any harm and will allow you to talk knowledgeably about Excel in an interview or hit the ground running when asked to use spreadsheets at work.

    We recommend taking an Excel course to bolster your understanding of Excel as a next step. Of course, that's exactly what we can help you with :-)