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October 29, 2008 8:04 AM   Subscribe

How do I get 'rock hard' Microsoft Office skills?

So my manager gave me the advice a couple of weeks ago that the most useful thing I could learn in my current job is to develop 'rock hard IT skills', referring to Word, Outlook and Excel. I work a lot with quite long Word documents. My skills are OK, but occasionally I get sent mad by Styles, tabs and the like.

I guess the best way to do this is just to buy some books and work through them, but I'm turning to Ask MeFi's formidable technical experience to guide me on my way. Any recommendations, for blogs, books or courses? How did you garner your expertise?

Thanks in advance.
posted by greytape to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Microsoft offers online training "courses" and tutorials that are free and actually really helpful.

However, if your boss is asking you to improve your skills, she should really be willing to send you out for training (and pay for it!). My last company sent us for training courses for a variety of software at a company called New Horizons. If your company doesn't already have a relationship with a training center, you can do some legwork to find out what's available in your area. Lots of places also offer online training courses.
posted by tastybrains at 8:17 AM on October 29, 2008

I thought the expression was "rock solid." Anyway, Word and Outlook aren't so difficult to get the hang of I don't think. Everyone gets driven mad by "styles," but as long as you are using them and not just changing the appearance of headings by bolding them and changing font sizes, you should be ok.

Excel, however, is another story. You could spend years learning the ins and outs of excel, vlookup, visual basic add-ons, pivot tables, and stuff like that. Using excel in a sophisticated way can be a form of programming, really. So with excel, instead of trying to learn everything about it, if I were you I'd work through some tutorials to master the basics and then, assuming you have some good examples, take the spreadsheets you use in your job and try to "reverse-engineer" them. Once you understand how they work you'll be able to fix them if they go wrong - a very useful skill particularly if the person who originally developed them has since left the company. Then, try to think of any processes that you do manually that might be able to be automated in excel, and get to work on that, rather than just randomly learning excel without a specific goal in mind.
posted by hazyjane at 8:35 AM on October 29, 2008

This book is used to teach Word/Excel in a software applications class (haven't used myself). There's also asking for a subscription to (online bookshelf) if you like the books they offer and you're good at teaching yourself.
posted by ejaned8 at 8:42 AM on October 29, 2008

Get your boss to pay for your training, and possibly certification. Microsoft now offers a variety of Office certifications - while they may not be all that useful in future jobhunts, they do nail down what you know how to do and what you don't, serving as a good benchmark.
posted by catlet at 8:50 AM on October 29, 2008

Generally, if you're working with Styles in Word, you probably already know as much as you need to with that application. As others have said, Excel is considerably more sophisticated, and becoming an "expert" will really add to your productivity.

PowerPoint is often overlooked. It's tough to make really, really good presentations, so it might be worth asking your boss for $1000 for a training course.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:59 AM on October 29, 2008

My go-to Excel reference is Tech on the Net

It's mostly useful for explaining how to use some of the more obscure formulas
posted by VTCarl at 11:27 AM on October 29, 2008

Like I said in this previous Ask, my husband bought the O'Reilly Personal Trainer series for Excel before his current job, and it was really good for someone starting at a not-quite-beginner and going from there. I thought it put him at a very solid understanding of what Excel can do, with some experience doing those things, without going too far into the visual basic and programming aspects. They have a similar one for Word.

Features I use all the time, and wish I had been trained for (which really is the ideal solution, if your employer will pay for it), instead of having to figure them out as I went along:

- vlookup formula
- concatenate formula
- pivot tables
- All the intricacies and quirks when making charts from data (like how you have to fiddle with the source data to make a clustered and stacked column chart)

- using Word Fields for If-then constructions in mail merges
- Field Codes and Field Code Switches
- Nesting of Field Codes/Word Fields
- Utilizing templates and styles, using the "organize styles" tools
- Using references (cross references, tables of content, etc.) and how to use them with Field Codes

- The Archiving option
- Working with different accounts in Send/Receive groups

It takes a bit of practice, but there are some really good tools in the Office suite that can help make you more productive. Good Luck!
posted by gemmy at 11:55 AM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

The problem with PowerPoint is that it's really really bad a making good presentations in it, and people rely too much on presentation software. Projectors are terrible at presenting some forms of information, and very few PowerPoint classes are going to teach you how to recognize when PowerPoint or projectors are inappropriate. I know in my software engineering course it was a massive pain in the ass to try to show diagrams (UML class diagrams, if you must know) on a projector.

Spreadsheets are a common form of abuse. They can get really complicated, but it turns out most people use them wrong. Excel mixes presentation with calculation, and leaves no room for explaination. But a lot of people expect a record based system, where a set of values are grouped into an entry. I cannot tell you how many times I've been asked to sort a spreadsheet. This is database territory, and I wonder how much better life would be if .CSV (comma separated values) opened in Access by default.

Obviously, I think rock hard IT skills isn't knowing everything about software, but knowing enough and knowing which tools to use for the job at hand.
posted by pwnguin at 1:44 PM on October 29, 2008

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