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7 Things Every Employee Should Know Before Saying Proficient In Microsoft Excel

Sometime ago my two sons ages 3 and 2, completed their English lesson focused on the first steps to reading and learning phonetic sounds.  In previous lessons, they learned about letters and the phonetic sounds that these letters make. They also learned blended letters and full words.   After successfully reading a few words on their own they ran to me in cheerful exuberance. “Daddy, Daddy, I can read!”  With a smile on my face, delighted at the progress being made, I reminded them: “You’re working on it, good job, you’re working on it”. My purpose was to encourage their enjoyment of learning and remind them that they had not yet reached the stage where they could fully read on their own.  A similar behavior takes place with users of Excel at times.  Very often employees state, “Yes, I am Proficient in Microsoft Excel”.  This term is casually tossed around by job seekers looking to cater to the skill requirements of employers.  However, what does this really mean?  Proficiency is described as a mastery or skill with a tool.   The following is a list of areas that need to be mastered in order to claim proficiency status. 

Know the Language 

The first core element needed to be proficient in Microsoft Excel is knowledge of the language.  Every industry or occupation contains its own jargon.  Such a terminology is specific to that field and is usually unknown by members outside of that field.  For example, acronyms like VBA, ODBC and the definition of cells, ranges and formats are essential to any communication with Excel.  Mastery of any language takes time and repetition.  Many people lose this skill over time due to inactivity.  The old adage holds true “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”  

Sort and Filter

One of the most basic but powerful features in Excel is the ability to filter and sort a table. Regardless of the job function or occupation that tool will be needed at one point or another to organize data.  A user of Microsoft Excel cannot be proficient unless mastery of that basic tool is acquired.

Link Cells 

Linking is the process of connecting one cell to the display contents of another cell.  The knowledge and execution of that task will lead to increased productivity, accuracy and minimized redundancy.  Linking cells is arguably one of the most commonly used features in Microsoft Excel. 


Excel has over 70 chart types, not counting the combinations that can be made.  The ability to craft a simple chart is a skill that must be possessed by all users.  In addition the ability to select the proper chart for the message and data is essential. 

Formula Creation  

One of the main components of Microsoft Excel is the ability to create formulas and utilize functions.  Every user of Microsoft Excel should know some basic functions and the way to put them together, using a technique called nesting.  That technique involves the use of parenthesis and commas to combine more than one function. 

Distribution Options 

Every user of Microsoft Excel should know how to distribute a Microsoft Excel document.  Microsoft Excel documents can be distributed in various ways:  digital copy, hardcopy.  Users should be able to quickly deliver documents in Excel 2003 or 2007 & higher format.  Email a link to the document if the document is saved in a shared drive.  That will save time and reduce the number of redundant documents floating around an enterprise. 


Every user of Excel needs to have some level of analytical skill.  This point diverges from the others.  It is said that the ability to think critically and analytically is a skill required in every field.  The ability to think critically will allow the users to apply the tools in Excel in new, dynamic and exciting ways to solve pressing business problems. 

Those tools are the building blocks to more advanced tools, techniques and applications.  Without those core elements true mastery in Microsoft Excel cannot be attained.  As a business owner, the next time you interview candidates with “proficiency” in Excel, a cursory look at those items will help determine true mastery.

About the author



Othniel Denis is currently Principal of Excellent Ones Consulting LLC. He brings with him a background in finance, training, and information management systems. Prior to opening his own firm, Othniel spent the last 13 years in finance as an Analyst at organizations like New York University, Nassau County Government and Brookhaven National Laboratory to name a few...

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