Whether you work at an accounting firm, a marketing company, an auto dealership, a school attendance office, a manufacturing plant’s human resources department, or an office associated with city, county, state or federal government, chances are, you’ll be called upon to use and learn Excel.
Just about every workplace has a demand for Excel, the computing world’s most commonly used software program for comparative data analysis. Excel has been available in various incarnations for more than a decade. Each subsequent release takes the program to new territory.
Popularly known as the best spreadsheet program on the market, Excel is powerful, easy to use, and remarkably efficient. Excel is highly interactive. Its spreadsheet cells are arranged in a collection of rows and columns, each of which can hold a number, a text string, or a formula that performs a function, such as calculation. It’s easy to copy and move cells as well as modify formulas. The spreadsheet is displayed on the computer screen in a scrollable window that allows the document to be as deep or as wide as required.
Working for a major newspaper in Northern California, I was one of several reporters involved in the annual evaluation of our county’s economy. The job involved collecting data that would be punched into Excel spreadsheets that ultimately ranked information according to the category of statistics being reviewed.
The beauty of Excel, from the standpoint of newspaper research projects, is that you can use formulas to recalculate results by changing any of the cells they use. With this model, you can use the same spreadsheet data to achieve various results by simply defining and changing formulas as desired. It is this feature that makes Excel so useful in so many different arenas.
With a click of the mouse, we reporters were able to get answers to a wide variety of questions. Which employers had the greatest number of workers? Which ones had the highest amount of gross annual receipts? Which ones appeared to be growing and which ones had declining sales? What was the volume of real estate loans and had there been a decline or increase from the previous year?
We looked at local and national retail, services, financial institutions, government entities, agriculture, the wine industry, tourism and hospitality, manufacturing, residential and commercial real estate, everything imaginable.
Excel allowed us to examine ratios, percentages, and anything else we wanted to scrutinize. Finally, we were able to use Excel to compare the results to data from previous years.
Since reporters tend to be former English majors, most of those who worked on this annual project were more familiar with Microsoft® Word than any other software program. Therefore, most were required to undergo Excel training. For some, learning Excel was easier than for others. A few relied on guides such as Microsoft Excel Bible or Excel for Dummies. Some reporters underwent an Excel tutorial while others learned by doing.
Not only were the Excel spreadsheets crucial to the research, the format of each was published in the newspaper. Here is where some additional Excel functions came into play. Editors were able to make the spreadsheets more visually appealing by using colors and shading, borders and lines, and other features that made the spreadsheets easy for readers to decipher.
Wearing another of my several hats in the newsroom, I often wrote articles concerning the local job market. I found proficiency in Excel was a requirement for a wide variety of employment positions and that area recruiting firms offered their clients opportunities to take free or low-cost Excel tutorials in preparation for the workplace. Most employers expect job candidates to already know the software that the work will require and don’t want to have to train new hires.
Don’t kid yourself. If you’re seeking any kind of office work, you’ll need to know not only Microsoft Word but also Excel.
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Sheri Graves is an award-winning writer who freelances from her home in Santa Rosa, California.
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