ask the readers: how can I get Excel skills?

I’m throwing this one out to the readers to answer. A reader writes:

I’m still two years away from graduating, but I’ve been looking around to get an idea of what kind of job I want to do and the majority of positions I’ve seen require experience with working in Excel. As a literature student, Excel is something that I’ve never used for coursework and don’t really expect to use in the next couple of years!

Where would you recommend I look to get this experience? A short skills course, if one exists at my university? Would playing around in Excel to familiarise myself be enough? (I already have strong computer skills, e.g. I taught myself HTML.) I know the ideal thing would be to find an internship which would require me to learn it, but I already work weekends and holidays in a retail job and can’t afford to give that up. (I’m in the UK, and internships are more uncommon here.)

This is a really common situation, because loads of suitable-for-a-recent-grad jobs want Excel experience. Perhaps the only uncommon element is that the reader is taking the really smart step of thinking about this two years before she needs to, which is awesome because it means that she may come out of school more competitive than her peers.  So what’s your advice for her and others in this boat?

{ 111 comments… read them below }

  1. Tammy*

    I would find ways to use excel in your own life. For example, use it to create a sweet automated budget and expense spreadsheets, and then experiment with graphs to see where your money goes. You’ll find yourself gaining a pretty advanced understanding of formulas, etc.

    1. Anonymous*

      I second this. Just make a basic budget to get your feet wet. Sometimes you can download this from your banking website into excel. Or look for a pre-formatted excel sheet to tinker with until you are ready to make one of your own.

      If you can learn HTML, you can learn this. Just remember, HTML is a very, very forgiving language, that basically ignores any mistakes – the way we can still read a paragraph even if the grammar isn’t stellar. Excel will be stricter, in that it’s math.

      Good Luck.

      1. anon-2*

        HTML is preposterously easy to learn.

        When the Internet was first rolled out to the world in the early-mid 90s, I built a series of Web pages based entirely on HTML.
        I did attend one of the first Internet shows in Boston, because I received professional passes. There were HTML software tools.

        I went to the B&N bookstore and bought a book for around 20 bucks. It showed how to build web pages with only HTML. Then I surfed the web, and saw existing pages, and “View Source” on a good page would show the HTML. Anyone who took any intro programmer course and moderate patience could learn how to build web pages in a weekend.

        And back then, could make some money doing it. Things are more complicated now, but, there are software tools out there to assist you in performing the task. Microsoft Publisher is a good one, if you have the full Office suite, you have that.

      2. A Current College Student (not the OP)*

        Yes, HTML is quite forgiving. But if you want to check whether your HTML has any mistakes, you can try Unfortunately, its error messages aren’t too informative, but it’s much better than nothing.

        1. Richard*

          And please, for the love of god, use said validator with any HTML you do – It not only improves compatibility across browsers, but being strict about your HTML being valid makes you better at using it. I can write valid HTML pretty much off the bat now, without worrying if my page is going to look the same between IE9 or Safari on a Mac.

    2. Meghan*

      A personal budget is good but you might want to start even simpler. Use excel as a checkbook register. Create a ‘contact list’ with all your important numbers just in case your cell phone fails. Create a grocery list so you can print off your ‘normal’ purchases and tick off what you need during the week.

      1. Anonymous*

        The problem isn’t that you haven’t had a need for Excel, it’s just that you haven’t known how Excel will fit your needs. Use it to plan out your courses, compare textbook prices, budget, create a schedule (in table format, please), basically anytime you need to plan something, try using Excel. This will lead you to a) learning, b) searching for functions as you need them – if you need it, Excel probably does it, and c) becoming aware of how to make a spreadsheet ‘pretty’ – that is, easily understandable to yourself and others. There’s nothing worse than a bad spreadsheet that does everything but simplify things!

        1. Julie*

          This made me laugh because I was remembering my first job in which I used a computer. I was bored a lot and there was no additional work for me to do, so I decided to teach myself PowerPoint. I typed all of my boss’s letters in PowerPoint first to practice with it, and then I typed them in the format he wanted in Word. It seems like this wouldn’t do much toward helping me learn PowerPoint, but it actually did (that’s the funny part – to me anyway). :)

    1. Jamie*

      This. You used to be able to download a truncated version of excel which could be used for the training, but that was 2003 and prior so it’s possible they discontinued that.

      I used that to teach myself excel ages ago, and I was able to pass the test at the temp agency at expert level without ever having really used the program…but that’s going way back before version 2003.

  2. Robby*


    I learned Excel on my own, but I wanted something that was going to refine my skills and teach me more. But I didn’t want to enroll in a class because of time restraints and the cost.

    So I found out about For $37 a month there are video walkthroughs on Excel 07, 10 and any software you might want to use down the road. I highly recommend this because you can go at your own pace and always do the same lesson over and over again.

    Excel is like Math. You need to practice and practice. I still have so much to learn, but check it out. It has helped me immensely.

    Hope this helped out.


    1. KayDay*

      I highly recommend…I used it to teach myself InDesign, and it is really top-rate. I think it is much better than a class (you can do a little each day, instead of all at once, and go back to what you struggle with) and better than a book (better to see the demonstrations, I always struggling with reading about how to use a new program).

      Also, try your best to find out exactly what you need to know using Excel. Many jobs say they require “Excel” but it reality, there are pretty specific tasks they are requiring (data collection, making graphs, preparing budgets and cash flow, etc). You can also look at the different templates available on the office website for inspiration.

      1. KayDay*

        p.s. the introduction videos on are free, so you can check out a few before you decide if you want to subscribe.

      2. Lesley*

        I also love–I used it to train our entire department on InDesign and InCopy.

        I’ve been in quite a few positions where it mentioned Excel on the job description, but I’ve never actually needed to use it, 10 years into my career.

    2. The Knitter*

      I work at a library. We offer free Microsoft Office Suite training. Its self motivated, but we bought the “seats” available for you to use.

      1. Anonymous*

        This. Your public library is an amazing resource, and many people don’t even realize how much it can help them improve their lives over and above “Checking out books.” Many libraries hold job workshops, help you research topics (like cover letter writing), help you learn a second language, and more. Ask your librarian what services they offer.

  3. Catherine*

    Your university library or technology department (or perhaps even some of the academic departments) may offer workshops that will give you a solid grounding in Excel, and you can use that to explore further on your own. The benefit of attending a workshop is you get a sense of the correct terminology involved that will help you not only have the skill, but also be able to articulate it.

    1. JPT*

      Agreed… generally these workshops are fairly cheap. You can also use online tutorials to learn software, like, or sometimes there’s even great stuff on YouTube.

  4. Anonymous*

    I was in the same position when I graduated ( a few years ago now, also as a lit major), and I position I wanted at a publishing firm specifically required Advanced Excel skills. I asked a good friend who had taken an Excel course in college to sit down with me and walk me through it, and took out some books (there are tonnes of great books with a broad range of experience levels) and I was a pro in no time.

    If you start familiarizing yourself with formatting and basic navigation, and then work on some formulas, you’ll get a sense of how the program works and more advanced skills will come easily.

    And I had 2 weeks! You have two years :)

  5. Emily*

    As an English major, I too was woefully ignorant with all Excel could do when I graduated. I ended up learning everything I know about Excel on the job as I went (making liberal use of the help documentation and Google, something I still do when I need to do something beyond my knowledge), which isn’t really ideal, but shows that you don’t necessarily need to take a college course to learn it.

    A book like Excel for Dummies would probably suffice, or check out the online video training at (which is awesome for all sorts of computer skills, from Microsoft Office to Adobe to learning javascript). The price is cheap compared to those 2-day crash courses at hotels (or even compared to tuition) and I’ve found them to be really excellent and informative.

  6. sarah*

    In college I took an Accounting class (seemed the easiest way to fulfill my math requirement) but the best thing I got out of it was Excel skills. So maybe you could check out your course catalog and see if anything has an excel component?

    1. Karthik*

      If you have a relatively strong math background, you can also look at classes in decision analysis. It’s a great skill to have on its own, and when you start looking at decision trees, the ability to program quickly and accurately in Excel becomes the only way to get your homework done without pulling all nighters…

  7. Jessica*

    I would look at area community colleges. It’s becoming very common for them to offer skill based training as part of work force readiness programs. They have a different demographic to serve than a traditional higher education institution and are probably more likely to offer something in the vein that you are looking for.

  8. Joey*

    Some public libraries or the local social/human services offer these kinds of training for free.

    There’s also some things anyone can do to familiarize themselves with excel like keeping a log of your diet or workouts or try downloading your bank statement to play with it. Granted you’re not going to get into the advanced stuff but you as long as you have some data you’ll be able to learn quite a bit.

    1. M*

      I was going to suggest checking out the local public library as well, although I’ve found most computer courses the ones near me offer are very basic. I also recently learned that at my local library you can book a 30 minute meeting with a librarian to help with research, computer skills, homework, etc. That might be a better option since the OP sounds like a fast learner.

    2. Jubilance*

      I second the suggestion of a public library. Most library systems offer courses on various computer-related topics & the schedule should be pretty easy to find, either online or calling the local branch.

      For more advanced instruction, I’d try either a local community/technical college or perhaps a continuing education dept at your (or a local) college as well.

      1. Amanda*

        You may also want to see if your library subscribes to Learning Express Library (lots of us do!). It has four levels of Excel courses (Basic, Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert) for versions of Excel from 2003-2010. You can do the courses at the library or at your very own house, usually by logging in with your library card number.

  9. Marie*

    If you were able to teach yourself HTML, I bet you’d be able to teach yourself Excel. I have taken Excel courses, and they’re really hit and miss — you never know if you’re getting something way too advanced or something that starts out by explaining what a mouse is; I have never gotten something that is just right. I normally just keep trying to do new things with data, and when I hit a brick wall, I google it and read up. It’s not a perfect process, but it’s been WAY more than enough for me in the workplace.

    A budget is a great place to start! I also learned a lot by making a food diary in Excel. My doctor had told me I was Vitamin D deficient, so I decided to make a spreadsheet to track my food for a while, and identify some good places to improve. I didn’t track calories (I wanted to play with numbers and spreadsheets, not put myself into a diet tizzy), but I tracked everything else (vitamins, iron, protein, etc), and actually got some really helpful info out of it (I was also low on Vitamin E and potassium). It took a lot of spreadsheet creativity to figure out good ways to tally that info into usable numbers, and I had learned a lot by the end.

    1. Anonymous*

      you never know if you’re getting something way too advanced or something that starts out by explaining what a mouse is

      Thinks back to university… how about an “Introduction to Excel” that spends seven pages explaining what a mouse, monitor and keyboard are, how to point and click, and how to start Excel…. and then on the eigth page asks you to use the knowledge you’ve gained to construct a Turing machine inside an Excel spreadsheet?

      1. Laura L*

        Ha! I had an Introduction to Information Technology class in grad school (for library science) and we literally spent the first 2 weeks of the semester discussing input and output devices (aka, mouse, keyboard, monitor, speaker). That means we spent about 6 hours (probably fewer because the first class involved introductions) discussing this. It was painful. We spent less time on the internal parts of the computer and hardly any time at all learning HTML or Excel or Access or any tools that would actually have been helpful to us as future librarians.
        It made me so annoyed.

        1. Bill La Fave*

          This sounds very much like the course designer didnt use the correct analysis to determine what the learners already knew. I would imagine at the graduate level that most people already had a handle on computers input basics (althought you never know).

          1. Laura L*

            Well, considering some of the people in my program, I wouldn’t be so sure that they all know how to use a computer.

            However, I think the problem was that whoever designed the course based it too heavily on the textbook.

          2. Liz in a Library*

            Sadly, depending on the graduate program, this is often not at all the case. The wonderful grad student I had a few years back who was brilliant at her program, but who thought you had to physically use a highlighter pen on the monitor screen to highlight a document could have used a class like this.

            I’ve also had some librarian colleagues who could barely use a computer. And they have a directly information-related graduate degree!

            1. Laura L*

              This is true. It’s one of the reasons I’m glad I have a non-library job (although still related to the degree).

  10. Chocolate Teapot*

    I suggest looking at if your university does a short course on excel. I did a part time IT course after graduating which covered the Microsoft package.

  11. Shayna*

    Check the career office of your university or the continuing ed department of a local community college.

  12. Emily*

    My college offered a course for only 1-2 credits that met one day a week that taught the microsoft office suite. If you wanted to, you could get certified afterwards. I found it valuable (I had to take it as a core class as a business major).

    Also, my public library offers a lot of free classes on Excel (and Microsoft Office as a whole), but I’m not sure what libraries are like in the UK…. Hope that helps!

    1. Liz in a Library*

      I really like VTC for this too:

      They are pay, like Learning Express, but valuable, and you may have a subscription through your library without knowing it.

  13. anth*

    (1) Depends on what you’re interests are, but I just started reading this book Mathletics and they have excel worksheets that you can play with the data for ( Look for other things closer to your interests that might have corresponding data in spreadsheets.
    (2) Volunteer for something where you need to do membership management.
    (3) Take a statistics class and ask the professor for help doing calculations in excel. Or just find a business statistics professor and ask if there is a TA who can get you started doing that.
    (4) Use the excel help function any time you get stuck. It’s always better to learn something by trying than to have someone show you/do it for you. If it’s not in excel help, google it. Chances are someone else has asked that question or explained it online. If it’s not there, it’s probably not possible. Some stuff just isn’t possible. Yet.
    (5) Look online for excel tests, then try to do them yourself (with the help function). These generally include the basics you need to learn excel – formatting, conditional formatting, tables, graphs, some basic formulas and math.
    (6) Someone else suggested you just start keeping track of something. Are you applying to jobs? Do you use mint or another online site to track bank accounts? You can download your spending history and play with it and work on a budget. Trying to be better about budgeting time?
    (7) It helps to be a very analytical thinker when you’re learning excel, think in steps, be patient. Try, try it a different way, try again, double check what you’ve already done to make sure you don’t have typos or other mistakes.

    Will you/r parents pay me as a tutor? I live & breathe excel. I love it.

  14. Pranab*

    Learn the excel however you can. But the ability to use excel as a statistical tool should be your final aim. If you can do that a big sector the financial industry, which uses excel quite heavily, would open up for you. Start with the basics and then start getting into difficult topics. Excel is quite mouldy if you start using it frequently. No need to pay for a course, the Microsoft website is quite vast, but get a good book on excel for the advanced stuff, if you want to spend money. Banks in UK do have some outreach programs, saw it in a documentary, which you can participate in. HTML would be helpful if you want to start your career as a webpage designer or something but don’t rest on your HTML laurels . You have 2 years to finish so go for excel in a big way.

    NB: To put into perspective, HTML is a strong computer skill for a literature guy, but for computer programmers it is a skill to master at the most in a day.

  15. Anonymous*

    I really want to agree with those who say use it. A budget is a really good one. Tracking classes and grades can be another really good thing to do in a spreadsheet. If you live with roommates and people are picky, track everything thru there. I’d also second the recommendation of taking a class where you’d use it, like a business, accounting, or statistics class. It will help broaden your horizons in general and will give you some pratical use.

    Personally I’ve never really found the classes out there about excel to be that helpful, I have however found google to be invaluable to help with excel.

  16. Laura*

    There are free courses on many subjects (Excel among them) at Community Foundation). I recommend that you find a use for Excel…perhaps you are a student officer and can enter and manage (or offer to do so) membership or financial information into Excel for the group.If you have a need to learn it, you’ll learn more quickly and forget less. Good luck!

    1. Anonymous*

      I recommend this website as well.

      I have my Microsoft Office Specialist in Excel and I’ve done a ton of training courses (including Microsoft’s) and this is by far my favorite.

  17. Jo*

    I am an accountant and use excel extensively every day. I also learnt some of its awesome capabilities as part of some maths courses I did at university. Based on my experience of how people can misuse excel (ie mostly treat it like a word document/series of boxes) I would consider the following if recruiting say for an admin role which would require familiarity/ working knowledge of excel:-
    I would be sceptical of any self taught domestic use ( again because you can use it without really using it)
    I would rate a course in either the full office suite or just excel from a recognized institution & yes some of the courses are a joke.
    Getting some experience say volunteering where you used excel suggested above would be beneficial.

  18. Mike D.*

    I agree with everyone that says do your budget. You’ll bet in there and play around, and get used to summing values and beyond that a few other functions. I have a book that’s part of Microsoft’s “step by step” line that was good. Excel is hard to learn it you don’t use it all the time though.There’s more to it than you would think.

  19. Blue Dog*

    Excel is like golf. You can “learn” how to use it in about 2 hours and then spend the rest of your life getting good at it. I think one of the best ways is opening up the spread sheets that someone else has done and looking at the formulas they use.

    Tracking expenses is a good start. Manually calculating GPAs is good. Tracking NHL standings or football standings. Actually, I even us it to make lists.

    Good luck.

  20. Savvy Working Gal*

    I highly recommend taking a course at a community college that meets once a week and assigns projects. My experience has been a one day seminar and playing around with excel at home does not give you enough knowledge to prepare spreadsheets for a job. My company has sent employees without experience to both and those who’ve taken the semester class get up too speed much quicker. Also, don’t tell future employers you are proficient in excel (or include to on a resume) when you’ve only taken a day seminar. You are not. I had an employee do that once and was really irked when I realized they didn’t even know how to save a file. Now I ask specific questions about their experience; classifying those with only one seminar as not proficient. Also, don’t take your work home and have your spouse or kids create your excel spreadsheets. It doesn’t do you any good when an immediate change or update is needed. I have seen this as well.

    I have been working with excel for twenty years, being forced to learn when my company’s IT person removed Lotus 123 from my computer. In my current job I produce several financial comparison spreadsheets at the end of each month. Management thinks I am some kind of wizard and I get many compliments on them. (If they only knew how easy they were.) My professional organization holds a class on excel every couple of years. I always attend and always learn something new. Good luck.

    1. KayDay*

      Whether or not to say you are proficient in Excel is a lot more complicated than it seems. To some people proficient in Excel is knowing how to make a pie chart. To other people, proficient in Excel is knowing how to do…well…things I don’t know how to do. And, unfortunately most job descriptions just ask for people who “know” excel. It’s generally best to tell employers what you can do (“experience creating budgets, tracking degree completion, and computing GPA in Excel”).

  21. Laurie*

    If there’s anything anyone can say to put a smile on my face, it’s the word “I need your help with Excel”. I am a financial analyst and an Excel junkie (read: I use Excel to write letters).

    My perspective on this is, I can’t tell you one specific source where you are guaranteed to pick up Excel, since you know best what your learning style is. But I can tell you what you should know, and give you a list of the best FREE Excel resources on the web.

    Excel Basics

    1) Navigate spreadsheet, tabs, print / page setup
    2) Formatting
    3) Basic formulas (sum, average etc)
    4) Basic charts (line, column, pie)

    Beyond Basics – Data tables, Conditional Formatting, Keyboard shortcuts, Advanced formulas (vlookup, if, offset), Pivot tables, Statistical Data Analysis, VBA

    To add perspective,
    1) Take an accounting class
    2) Set up your own budget on Excel
    3) Set up a favorite book list, add some data, try to “visualize” it by doing sums, averages and charts.

    Best Resources
    1) (
    2) John Walkenbach (
    3) Bill Jelen (
    4) Jon Peltier – Advanced Charting (
    5) Jorge Camoes – Excel Charts (

    Book Recommendations
    Take a look around on Amazon, but books written by Walkenbach and Jelen are already bestsellers. You can’t go wrong with them.

    1. Sara*

      I second the above links as excellent resources. I do a ton of VBA development and Excel wizardry for my job, and I find myself returning to these sites again and again. Peltiertech and mrexcel have been particularly useful.

      I also agree with all the commenters who say to come up with a project to do in Excel as a starting point. Almost everything I know about Excel and VBA, I learned on the job simply by thinking “hey, I want to make a spreadsheet that does x” and then researching online to figure out how to do it. I think it is easier to learn this sort of thing when it is in the context of building a solution that actually does something you need.

      Once you have a solid basis of building block type knowledge, you can start supplementing with more formal reference material as well.

      This is also a plug for VBA – it is totally awesome, and if you already have some programming interest, which it sounds like you do, you will find VBA to be a relatively easy and extremely valuable tool. Good luck!

      1. Laurie*

        @Sara, yes! I absolutely agree with learning on the job. That’s how I have found myself learning each new feature in Excel.

        @OP, I forgot to say this:

        Kudos on thinking about job requirements for something you might get two years down the road. You are wayyy ahead of the game. And, yes, as a literature student you probably won’t need to use Excel ever, but it’s a good tool to know and if you find yourself getting interested enough, you can use it now for freelancing, doing bookkeeping for your neighborhood business or to get a part-time job while you support your primary passion.

    2. Rachel*

      Hey Laurie, thanks. I consider myself a decent Excel user but never really knew how my skills measured up against power users.

      Any tips for someone who just “upgraded” to Excel 08 for Mac (yeah, I’m slow) and realized, too late, that WTF, they took out macro support?

      1. Laurie*

        @Rachel, I feel your pain. I’ve been a Mac user since 2007, and had the same reaction when I installed Office for Mac, and consequently, never used it.

        Honestly, Office for Mac’s Excel won’t do anything for you in terms of developing super-efficient Excel habits (shortcuts, for example), and their user interface is a hotch-potch of Mac design and Office functionality that will just confuse you if you are looking for employment in the corporate world (where you may feel free to die of shock if you encounter Excel on a Mac).

        Two options here, if you don’t like Excel 08 for Mac and/or miss VBA support:
        – Upgrade quickly to Office for Mac 2011. If you’re eligible for academic discounts, it should be quite affordable.
        – Install VMWare Fusion 4.0, Windows 7 and Office 2010. A lot of effort, I know, but you will have the best of both worlds on your laptop.

        I would recommend the second option if you plan on working in the corporate world (accounting, finance etc) and want to become an expert in Excel.

        1. Rachel*

          Thanks, Laurie. I was happy to see Office ’08 so cheap–hate to draw a correlation and say this must be WHY it was available so cheaply–but it’s possible. I’m not eligible for academic discounts, and lucky enough for me, I’m not seeking corporate Excel-wizardry employment. I’m confused why you say the Windows version is necessary, though. Besides the lack of macros (sigh–though I just had a look at Excel’s Applescript dictionary and it looks like most of what I need is accessible), all the other things you listed as beyond the basics are possible on a Mac. Ok, I admit, I’ve never used vlookup, but I know it’s there! Why should anyone be confined to using one particular OS in this day and age? If you’re the type who can’t remember to switch from ctrl-V to apple-V then yeah, I guess switching OSes would be a pain. :)

          1. Laurie*

            Yes, definitely agree that you can do everything I’ve listed as ‘beyond-basics’ in Excel 2008 (except for the VBA, of course). I love my MacBookPro, and recommend Macs to anyone within earshot as well, so I absolutely get where you are coming from. And, I personally don’t have trouble switching between OS’es, though there’s the occasional oopsie with hitting Ctrl-Q and expecting a program to quit. :)

            My opinion comes from being a corporate/financial user of Excel, and from having used Excel on Windows for 7+ years, and then making the transition to Excel on Mac, and then seeing how the two versions have been “growing up” since 2007. I have noticed that the shortcuts in the Mac version are somewhat lacking and need to be manually programmed to approximate what the Windows version comes with. This prompts more mouse-clicking, which reduces efficiency quite a bit. Second big reason is, Microsoft is the one developing the Mac version of Office, and for very understandable reasons, they introduce new features in the Mac version a year or two after they are available in the Windows version. And, as much as they try to keep compatibility level between equivalent versions (Windows Office 2010 and Mac Office 2011), some things that work in Windows don’t work in Mac.

            Again, all this is relevant only if you intend to fly through financial modeling in a corporate environment. And, I don’t look at it as ‘confinement’. I look at it as learning Italian in Italy, instead of learning it in Spain. Close enough, but it’s “native” only in Italy.

            And, about Office ’08 being cheap, I would say it’s only because there’s a new Office ’11 already available so the older version is cheaper.

      2. Anonymous*

        I highly recommend LibreOffice, a free (as in freedom and gratis) office productivity suite compatible with all major file formats (e.g. MS Office Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, etc.). I know a chemistry professional who uses Calc (the LibreOffice spreadsheet program) and he says that he can do everything he does on Excel, no problem.

        LibreOffice is available for GNU/Linux, Mac and Windows.

        On that note, you may want to check out these lists of free-as-in-freedom applications to replace proprietary software on your home or office computers:

        Free software replacements for Mac

        Free software replacements for Windows

    3. Khushnood Viccaji*

      Just my 2-bits on @Laurie’s exhaustive response :)

      6) Debra Dalgleish (
      An excellent source of tips / tricks / downloads for Excel.

      7) Francis Hayes (
      He sends out a free weekly newsletter with bite-sized tips on Excel.

      Excel for Dummies by Greg Harvey
      Excel VBA Programming For Dummies by John Walkenbach
      (you need to select the appropriate book as per the Excel version on your computer)

      RSS Feeds:
      You can also subscribe to the RSS feeds on some of the sites mentioned above, so that you get their latest posts in your feed reader (I use Google Reader).

      ALL THE BEST !

    1. NJB*

      I was going to suggest that site also! It is a good site for many things of all age levels, kids and adults.

      Also, OP, don’t over look YouTube. I have a co-worker that got me hooked on the videos–you can learn anything on YouTube–even how to make cheese–no joke.

  22. Kate*

    I learned Excel over time in my career and I’m a blackbelt at this point. The best way to learn it is to use it. Start with something simple like trying to create a budget sheet of your expenses and income using info from your online banking. Start with simple adding and subtracting. Then think of other things you might want to do, like the COUNT functions, which can count lists of certain characters, cells with text, etc. If you look in the Help section of Excel, there are different examples that you can cut and paste into worksheets to manipulate.

    I also learned a lot from books, usually Excel books come with sample CDs to practice with. The best thing to do is practice practice practice. The more you do it, the better you get.

    Also, I learned a ton of things taking Excel tests at placement agencies. If you use a placement agency, ask them to test you, and pay close attention to what you’re asked to do.

  23. Flapjacks*

    Newly unemployed, I’m seeing the same Excel requirements in job postings, too. I also have no Excel experience outside of what I learned in high school nearly 10 years ago. I found the tutorials offered by MotionTraining on YouTube to be invaluable ( It’s really helpful because the instructor takes you through step by step as you make your own spreadsheet. I learn by seeing and doing, so it’s really the most valuable method for me (plus it’s free!)

  24. Anonymous*

    While lots of online training options are out there, I think that your best bet would be to obtain a Microsoft Certification for Excel. Whiel practicing in your daily life is very helpful, you can’t show your budget to potential employers. I found a good summary here: There is an book that you can use to study for it that I tracked down on Amazon for under $20: You might need to update this to obtain a certification for Office 2010.

  25. Aaron*

    I don’t think this is something the letter-writer should worry too much about. Maybe this is field-specific advice, but for my consulting job post-college (which used excel heavily) the company was basically looking for smart people and assuming they would pick up excel when they arrived.

    If your career services office offers some Excel training, it doesn’t hurt. But if all you do is spend time learning the Excel menus, you’re missing a chance to make yourself much more marketable by asking why the company wants to see those Excel skills.

    If they require financial modeling, try to take a corporate finance class that does exercises in Excel. Or if the jobs require bookkeeping, take an accounting class that uses Excel. You get the idea: put your Excel skills in a context that will really jump out to the employer.

    In a literature context, it’s the difference between being able to say “knowledge of Microsoft Word” and being able to say “edited and revised manuscripts for publication; heavy use of Microsoft Word.” Who do you think is getting the job? (I have never known anyone to get a leg up for any job above temp level because they put “Excel skills” on a resume.)

  26. Riki*

    Oh, Excel. How I love/hate you! I learned most of what I know on the job. IMO, when it comes to MS Suite, being comfortable with computers is more than half the battle. Just knowing that there’s an “Undo” button helps, lol!

    Already plenty of great advice here. Definitely check out books (do the exercises!) and online tutorials. Also check your public library, education/skill-share workshops and city agencies. My city has a small business services division that offers free courses in Quickbooks, Excel, basic bookkeeping, etc. Maybe there’s something like that where you live?

    I agree that using Excel to do your budget is wonderful way to practice what you learn. Since you’ll be using *real* numbers that actually mean something to you, you will have a better idea of how you see and do with your information.

  27. Rachel*

    Excel definitely gets easier the more you use it, so try to incorporate it into your life as much as you can.

    Once you feel confident with the basics of Excel, Google “Excel short-cuts” and work through the list. Knowing tricks like using when to use the home/end key or ‘ctrl a’ can save you a lot of time, if you’re ever given an Excel test as part of an interview.

    I also recommend finding an Excel mentor. Some of the most useful tricks I’ve learned came from watching over a co-worker’s shoulder and asking questions.

  28. Sarah*

    Try your public library! They may have classes/workshops or access to online tutorials (I know my library subscribes to a learning database that includes Excel training tutorials through advanced levels). We also have books, but even I (a librarian who loves books) would probably not try to learn a computer program from a book. Though it’s clear some folks do!

  29. AnonMouse*

    In addition to the purely math uses for Excel, I find it really helpful for organization.

    My mom has used it to track RSVPs for a big fundraiser, and I use it to make really big inventories of archival collections and used it to track the 1,000+ college applications my 100 seniors were working on when I was a temp registrar. My absolute favorite thing in Excel is SORTING. Ahhh. It does all the work for you! I’m a little nuts about color-coding stuff, and you can sort in tiers — for instance, you can sort something chronologically and then alphabetically after that (like if you were trying to sort a list of alumni by graduation year and then by last name). You can add as many tiers as you want, too. I also like that you can sort by color-code… hahah. ;)

    My dad uses it for form letters — that’s super useful. For instance, you could create a form letter in Word that has a space for names, addresses, salutations, etc, and then in Excel you can have a column for each one and then you can just push one button and it’ll create form letters, one for each person/entry!

    I also like knowing how to import and export information from Excel into other programs. For instance, rather than typing information into a museum collection database and clicking between each box (for about 20 text boxes per item, spread across five tabs in a program, ugh!)… I can just put everything in Excel, and after a little wizardry, it can go straight into the museum database.

    Anyway. :D You have lots of resources! Good luck!

    1. JT*

      I do this sort of thing a lot. I can do formulas OK in Excel, but mainly use it for lists for events, people, etc.

      And also to input or clean up data before using it in other ways.

  30. Jamie*

    When it comes to excel just remember two things:
    1. It’s a deceptively vast program and most people only use about 5% of it’s functionality at best. So no matter how long you’ve been using it , every so often you’ll discover something new – which is always fun.

    2. Unless it’s calling for advances expertise, just knowing basic formatting, formulas, and how to copy and paste will put you ahead of 80% of the applicants who claim to be proficient in excel.

    (If you can run a query, apply conditional formatting, or use pivot tables the normal excel users will erect a statue in your honor and revere you as their god.)

    1. Jamie*

      I really need an edit function – because I do know that ‘advances’ and ‘advanced’ are two different words.

    2. KayDay*

      re: 1 – you are totally right. I always say that two people can both be “proficient” in excel and have completely different barely over-lapping skill sets.

  31. Sg*

    I took two business courses at a local college, the scenarios used in class helped me understand how this would be used in work situations. It also helped that I had a part-time data entry office job using it, and then I self-taught myself how to use it in other areas.

  32. fposte*

    I’d like to put in a quick plug for the posting in this very column from commenter MilleniMedia about dealing with budgets:

    I know that wasn’t exactly the question, but I think it’s a question that underlies a lot of Excel use and would help people coming to terms with Excel think about its application.

  33. Anonymous*

    I only want to say how great it is that the OP is thinking ahead like this! This is someone who will do well in the workplace.

  34. Ashley*

    First find out what a spreadsheet is– what you can do with it. Then, 15mins/day 2-3 times a week on Excel itself and online manuals. You’re more than an Excel expert in those 2years.

  35. Anonymous*

    Some local libraries offer computer courses. See if there are any dealing with Excel. But hey, the entire MS Office Suite is worth learning.

  36. Ellen M.*

    Public library (for free classes and/or Excel for Dummies or similar books), free online tutorials. You don’t have to spend a dime.

  37. anon-2*

    You want to learn Excel. While you’re at it, you should also learn to use, at least the basics in the entire Microsoft Office suite. You would need to be functional in Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and perhaps Publisher and Access.

    Get a student level copy of Microsoft Office, at a minimum. You may already have that on your personal computer. I would think if you had the chance to get the full-blown version of Office, you’d have Access and Publisher, which can also help you tremendously.

    Now – if you go to any of the major bookstores, or even your own campus bookstore, you should be able to find a manual for each component.

    I use Powerpoint, and figured a lot out, but when we went to PP 2007, I went out, bought a book – the Step-by-Step from Microsoft, for the whoppin’ grand total of $25. Now the 2010 version of it goes for around $15 on Amazon.

    They have one for Excel. Same price. Get the book. The hardcopy. You’ll want to try stuff out with the book open and on the screen. Read the book and play with the product. If you’re proficient, you’ll do well with it, and you can legitimately say “I have worked with this.”

    If you don’t have any real work to do with it — make something up. Experiment. Take some numbers, for instance, anything from house prices in four different towns over 10 years, draw graphs and charts.

    Cut and paste baseball statistics and apply formulas — example – take a pitcher’s statistics but limit it to Wins, losses, innings pitched, walks, hits. From there you can easily write a formula to calculate winning percentage and WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). Then draw pivot tables.

    Then think of ANY real life office situation and try it out.

    Now let me tell you a little, dirty secret all of us computer professionals know. There is one place where you can ‘fudge’ experience. If you KNOW how to use the product — be it Excel, Word, SAS computing language, SQL, and so forth – put it on your resume.

    You may not have used it in the workplace — but you HAVE used it. And if you’re in a position where you’re called upon to use a skill — you’ve got it.

    I’ve found the Step-by-Step guide invaluable for PowerPoint. I think I’m gonna buy the Excel book sometime soon. And I’m going to play with Publisher.

    But to learn it = JUST USE IT. That’s how I learned. But then again, that’s how I make a living… by figuring things out.

  38. Anonymous*

    I’m in the UK too and got free computer training through the Job Centre. I think they and the career service at your university would be able to let you know of somewhere where you could do some modules of the European Computer Driving Licence which will give you a good overview. The library should also have plenty of books to help.

  39. Tina*

    In the UK there is a course called the European Computer Drivers Licence (ECDL). It’s a basic course that allows you to cover all of the Office suite of programs and teaches you a bit about computers themselves as well. Your uni probably offers it (I did it as an easy credit course!). It should give you a good grounding of the basics and once you’re comfortable I would then look at:
    Lookup functions – helps you link data from one table to another, saves manual copying over.
    Pivot tables – they look confusing to start off with but it’s worth sticking with it, they automatically summarise huge ranges of data without you having to do very much and you can change it all around within seconds.
    Macros/VBA – They help automate tasks in all Office packages from simple formatting to running whole programs from within Excel.

    The main thing to remember with Excel is if you think ‘there should be a better way to do this’ then there probably is! Google it and you’ll find an answer. You won’t be able to learn everything and when you get into a job you’ll find out which areas you actually need but being comfortable with the program itself and being able to learn new things quickly will make you stand out.

    If you’re a lit student you’ll already be proficient in Word but I’d also get yourself familiar with Powerpoint. It’s constantly used in business. You don’t need to be a wiz but it will take away some of the stress of writing a presentation if you can at least getting it looking how you want to!

    Excel actually have their own blog that’s quite interesting:

  40. Tonya*

    Be sure to check the Continuing Ed/Adult Learning Department at your school. I took a 5 hour, 2 night class on Advanced Excel (pivot tables, charts, etc.) at our local two-year college. It cost less than $60, and the real-life examples used (since it was tailored to adult learners) made it very easy to understand and apply. I’ve probably saved a week’s worth of manual work each year by using what I learned in that class.

  41. Susan*

    Does your school have a career center? They might point you to a class. As the commenter above me said, try the local public library for a class? Or what about finding another student to tutor you?

  42. Becki*

    Since you are still in school, look for a student in engineering, science, financial analysis, etc. who would be willing to teach you excel. I graduated with an engineering degree and I had a friend who was an English major. When she wanted to learn Excel we made a deal that I would walk her through assignments or personal spreadsheets and answer questions for her and in return, she would edit the report and presentation for my capstone design project. Worked out wonderfully for both of us.

  43. Lori*

    Buy a book and learn it yourself, a bit every day. I’m personally using New Perspectives on Microsoft Office Excel 2010 Comprehensive by Parsons, Oja, Ageloff and Carey. It’s very comprehensive and walks you through step by step.

  44. Anonymous*

    You can use personal examples or take a class for one of your college electives that uses Excel (accounting, finance). You can also you some work examples if you have internships where maybe your boss asked you to do some date on excel.

  45. Chris*

    Again…late to the party. Really need to change my RSS reader.
    I love Excel. More than I could possibly put into words.

    Two titles I think are excellent:
    Microsoft Excel Business Modeling and Data Analysis by Microsoft Press. Excellent excellent book. If you need an introduction, here’s where I would start.

    Also, I recently used Data Analysis and Decision Making with Microsoft Excel. Its used often in MBA baby stats courses – it also comes with sample files of completed exercises and a really excellent plug in called StatTools. All the exercises in the book can be completed with just excel formulas, but StatTools – for the $40 price tag after buying the book is an insane deal.

    Also: In the real world, data sets don’t typically come in nice excel format ready for operations. The data importation features that appeared in Excel 2007 are excellent – but I also recommend picking up a program by Coginveiw called PDF2XL. Once PDF became the document standard, it made excel importation difficult. I use this program constantly and it you ever have to deal with PDFs, its worth picking up a copy.

  46. Cassie*

    I’m not sure what type of job you will be looking for, but you may not need superhuman Excel skills. I had a little experience w/ WordPerfect in high school (this was back when people still used WordPerfect), and no spreadsheet experience whatsoever. I learned how to use Excel (& Word) as a student worker, on the job. If you’re familiar with computers – as you seem to be, it shouldn’t be too difficult.

    I’m pretty sure most public libraries (in the US, at least) and college computer labs have Microsoft Office installed or a similar office suite. Come up with some project – tracking your monthly expenses, calculating your grade, whatever interests you. It’ll help your understanding and also be more interesting. I took a computing course in college – we made one spreadsheet. And one word document. And one webpage. It was pointless (granted, this was 10+ yrs ago so hopefully computing courses are a bit more … useful?). I also took an accounting course – we did not use computers at all. Had to learn everything manually.

    At work, I do financial/admin stuff – I use formulas but just the basic ones. If there’s something that I want to do, but am not sure if it’s possible – I’ll google it. In the 10+ years that I’ve been working, I’ve never had to use VBA or macros. I just learned macros last week because I wanted to see what I could do with it (also learned a bit of Python just for the heck of it). I work with a bunch of engineers. They barely know how to use Excel.

    Lastly, if you’re the hands-on type of person that learns by trying things out (like me) – definitely just play around with Excel and see what happens. Some people want to be taught specifically how to do this or that – they can’t or don’t want to “figure it out” on their own. If this is you, then a class (whether @ college or public library) would be better.

  47. Ak*

    In California, EDD offers training to people who are eligible to work in U.S. One of their training partners is Microsoft. Through local career centers, they offer free Office Suite training with certificate. That might be your best option. If you don’t like to learn with other people, then you can learn via Office online website. It offers thousands of tips and videos.
    Excel requires practice. To know is only the beginning.
    Good luck!

  48. Ak*

    BTW, I think college kids DO need to have at least intermediate level of knowledge of MS Office Suite before they start job hunting.

  49. Anonymous*

    I am taking Excel, Microsoft Office, and Power Point classes at my local Library…and they are free!!!

  50. Kuang*

    If you taught yourself HTML why couldn’t you teach yourself Excel? There are many textbooks on Excel and is an excellent resource that has video tutorials for essentially all software. My school has a subscription to for free and offers short courses for all Office and Adobe softwares. Check to see if your school has these resources available.

  51. Lianna*

    Just launched a new site ( with fun Excel quizzes for beginners to advanced users.

    Completing quizzes unlocks achievements and adds to your ExcelScore which hopefully will be a good free alternative to those $100 certifications.

    Would love some feedback on how to make the site better.

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