Was Your Career Helped by Excel?

Last week someone sent me a lovely email, describing a young woman’s career beginnings. They said I could share the story with you, but asked to remain anonymous.

Maybe your career began in a similar way. Did you start out with an Excel career in mind? Did you struggle at first, and did Excel help you move forward? Did you help someone else get ahead, by giving them a few Excel pointers?

The Story

Here’s the story from the email:

My daughter had a very rough first year of work after completing a marketing degree, basically having to act as a receptionist and assistant dogsbody to lots of people.

Then she landed a job at a small firm where she found they were doing things extremely manually. I introduced her to pivot tables, and with a bit of help, she has completely transformed their spreadsheets so they can do in minutes what took them days and weeks, without any errors.

The best part is that her new skills and spreadsheets have, for the first time, given her something she can call her own, and respect from her colleagues. She is fiercely proud of her work, and keen to learn more. What a transformation!

It’s hard to imagine that pivots could be girl power, but here they were.

Go pivots!

Did you know what a dogsbody was? I’d never heard that before, but Wikipedia explained that it’s someone who does grunt work.

It’s great to see that people are getting recognition for their Excel skills, and saving time, and reducing errors in their work.

Excel Resources

If you’re trying to learn more about Excel, but don’t have a free consultant at home, you’ll find lots of free tutorials here on this blog, on my pivot table blog, and on my Contextures website.

If you prefer to learn from a book, there’s an interactive Excel Books list on my website. You can sort and filter the list, and download an Excel file with the data.

And if you want to invest in an online Excel course, I recommend these:

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12 Responses

  1. Roger Govier says:

    Hi Debra

    What a great story!!!
    I couldn’t agree more.

    Interestingly, a new client I went to visit last month, wanted me to cut down the workload their secretary had each month in producing management reports for the owners and trustees of the business.
    Whilst the secretary was quite proficient with Excel (as were the owners of the business), none of them had even heard of Pivot Tables. I pointed out to them that they were recording their data in the wrong way and producing their budgets in the wrong way (having data entry onto a sheet with 12 monthly columns etc.).

    I showed them a data table which I then turned into an effective report with about a dozen mouse clicks, and they were amazed.
    Pivot Tables are now a fixed part of their office “vocabulary”

  2. Jeff Weir says:

    Pivots helped my career, and then ultimately became my career.

    I used to work as a researcher for a political party who were in opposition. Basically the job was “try to make the Government look bad”, so I was constantly asked to produce graphs of say Greenhouse Gas Emissions for this country, that country, and those countries, for those particular years, so that our emissions looked as comparatively bad as they could. So I’d whip back to my office, put together a new graph, whip back to my political master’s office, only to be told “hmm…not damning enough. Drop this country, and leave out year x”.

    So back to my office, rearrange the data, make a new graph, and then scurry back to my masters office for another of many iterative ‘improvements’.

    Then I stumbled across Walkenbach’s Excel 2000 bible, and discovered I could do this stuff in real time using pivot tables/charts. And then I discovered the internet was filled with examples of how to take things further, notabley including this site and Jon Peltier’s site. And then I discovered that people like you and Jon would actually answer the questions I’d leave in the comments. For free!

    And now I find myself fixing people’s Excel Hell issues for a very nice hourly rate. Just yesterday had a client with sluggish spreadsheet that referenced an overly obese dataquery via 1.7 Million formulas. My recommendation…rewrite the data query so it brings in just what you want, and hook it up to a pivot table.

    So thanks, pivot tables, and thanks Deb and Jon et al.

  3. Jeff Weir says:

    Forgot to add that just 7 years ago I remember asking my fellow political researcher “What do these dollar signs in this cell mean”. It’s amazing how the internet and a few books let you develop an amazing career over such a short timespan for free. (Well, assuming you don’t count the time you spend reading and answering questions on help forums in the wee hours).

  4. Whitney Matson says:

    Excel definitely helped me in my first job. My boss thought I was a genius, and at the time I had far less skill than the young woman in your story. I want to pass this on to others so they can appreciate that Excel is a basic business skill that too many people don’t have. If you do or you are better than average for your setting, it can definitely help you get ahead in certain environments. Thanks for sharing!

  5. AlexJ says:

    Debra,
    I guess I was lucky, because I learned Excel in my first career, and it became a important tool for my second career. I actually started with Walkenbach’s Excel for Dummies, and just kept going. While resources like Peltier and Contextures have been really key in many areas, including VBA, the biggest differentiator was learning pivot tables.
    Ultimately, while I CAN be the “how do you do that in Excel” guy, or the “can you fix my broken spreadsheet” guy, Excel is still the tool, not the deliverable. 
    Regardless of the actual subject of the problem, I routinely use Excel to draw information from data, see new perspectives by integrating data sets, and to automate functions.
    The most gratifying scenario is when a client’s attitude flips from “we could never do THAT” to “we should have done that a long time ago!”.
    I’m hoping that the concept of data-driven decision making becomes more profound for the clients I serve.

  6. Paul Kerkum says:

    I work on a financial department and although most of my colleagues know a thing or two about Excel, my ‘expertise’ is the number one thing that makes me stand out. They’ve even put a flag on my desk, so everyone knows where to go with their questions. I love Excel.

  7. Tony says:

    I only became an ‘expert’ when I worked with people that could not even spell Excel, let alone use it !!

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