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February 4, 2009 10:29 AM   Subscribe

I am about to interview for a job that requires working knowledge of Excel. I have never used Excel. What are the most basic things I can learn in two days that will increase my odds of impressing them?

I am interviewing for a job on Friday that involves meter reading RF transmitters and the like. I would basically be driving around the city and gathering information on radio equipment and inputing the data into Excel. The problem is I have never touched Excel. Ever. I have had to learn complex military data systems and programs before so I am not afraid of Excel, but it seems pretty robust and I need to know what is expected of a someone who is competent with it. I think if I can demonstrate I can perform basic functions with Excel, I will have a good chance of getting this job.

Please help me, Hive Mind.
posted by Brandon1600 to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You can easily learn how to sort, cell reference, create formulas, create pivot tables, name ranges in two days. Pick up the Excel Bible.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 10:37 AM on February 4, 2009

You can sign up for a temp agency such as Kelly or Manpower, and once you're in their system you have access to free training on various computer programs, including Excel. It only takes a couple hours to sign up and to go through the training. Even if you never take an assignment from them it's worth it. Give one of them a call today and you can probably be in there testing and training tomorrow.
posted by xenophile at 10:39 AM on February 4, 2009

Wow... never used it? that's almost weird to me.

Really it won't take long, it's like using a multitude of little calculators all interconnected.
In this job you'll be collecting a lot of data, and each data entry gets a separate cell.
Probably learning to graph the data you collect, doing some statistical analysis and whatnot would be a good idea.

Just check out the tutorials, and give it a shot.
posted by lizbunny at 10:42 AM on February 4, 2009

Seconding pivot tables and the simpler formulas. Also, extra simple but really flashy is conditional formatting. Makes cells get coloured red when they go in the minus and so on.
Check out "autofilter" which gives those dropdowns up top to filter by, and over in the "window" menu, you can choose to split the screen, which lets you keep the headers up top, while scrolling down your sheet.
posted by Iteki at 10:43 AM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here's the Microsoft Office Learn Excel site. And check at your local library for books. The "Teach Yourself Visually Excel 2007" by Nancy Muir is a good basic guide, but your library will have something - books to enhance job skills may even be part of the reference collection, so guaranteed to be on hand.

Good luck!
posted by readery at 10:45 AM on February 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

You can learn everything you need to know for this job in about an hour. Just sit down, go through the tutorials, and get familiar with the interface.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:46 AM on February 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

If they just want you to put data in Excel, your studying will be done in about 5 minutes. Spend some time over the next two days with the Excel Bible and you'll be close to overqualified. Don't sweat it.
posted by Aquaman at 10:47 AM on February 4, 2009

Make a sample spreadsheet for yourself (say, a list of what you've bought, how much it cost, and the date) going back about a week. Add a few formulas at the bottom to calculate your average expenditure, total expenditure etc, and make a nice little bar chart of it. That's probably 75% of it there. It's also an easy way to convince someone you know something of Excel, if they ask for examples.

If you're going to be dealing with large datasets, be sure to check out AutoFilter, Sort, and PivotTables.

There's a whole world of possibility in Excel with macros or VBA but I don't think you need to get into that at all, prior to the interview.

Be sure to right click on a cell and go to Format. I use all those options all the time (borders, wrapping text vs not, number of decimal places to show, $ sign or not, etc.)
posted by losvedir at 12:11 PM on February 4, 2009

Do you have a working copy of Excel? If not, Google docs is a similar worksheet application that's free. However, some of the functions are aren't in the same spot on the interface which might throw you. Also, different editions of Excel have a slightly different interface so that might be a little strange if they give you a test.

For data input, Excel is easy-peasy. Find someone with a working copy and play with it for an hour by using one of the tutorials. You'll be fine.

Good luck on your new job!
posted by 26.2 at 12:23 PM on February 4, 2009

2nd xenophile. That's how I learned it. And don't sweat it, if you can breathe, you'll be overqualified in about an hour.
posted by cestmoi15 at 12:53 PM on February 4, 2009

Your local library probably has some computers with Word/Excel on them if you need access to the program.
posted by O9scar at 12:57 PM on February 4, 2009

Yeah, it is super simple, and I doubt you will need to be a "power user" for this job. Download the free 60 day trial from here and just play around with it. There are tutorials you can look at on the microsoft site, and just googling around will turn up others.

Without knowing the exact specifics of your job, I can't be certain, but I really doubt you'll need to know how to create charts, or do all the fancy accounting stuff. Just learn the basics and you will be fine.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:50 PM on February 4, 2009

Ditto the idea of just tracking your own expenditures. If you want to learn pivot tables, also add a "purchase category" (food, maintenance, etc.) and then try to sum by category using a pivot table.

And, I'm imagining you were just joking, but in case you weren't, don't really try to "impress" them. :) I think I'd be more likely to think twice if someone said "I have input many formulas using excel" than if they were quietly confident.
posted by salvia at 2:03 PM on February 4, 2009

There is a very good chance that you will be working with someone's pre set-up spreadsheet and you literally need to do data entry. In that case, the most important things will be to know how to enter data, save a file, move around in a spreadsheet using arrow keys, maybe use some key commands, print and how to NOT MESS IT UP (and there's not that many ways to do that). Chances are good that there is a spreadsheet that exists and you mostly need to take it, fill it with data and then maybe do something with it like email/print/save/transfer.

If you interact with Google much you can look at their Google Spreadsheets and get the hang of working with spreadsheets just by tootling around. While Google Spreadsheets aren't Excel per se, a lot of the functionality is nearly identical and you could interact with it for free, online now. So you could look at a tutorial like this and you can look at the actual spreadsheet and then if you have Excel you can look at it for that as well.

So think about setting up a sample program in Google Spreadsheets or Excel that does something basic -- I use mine for travel budgeting, a few columns that add up in different ways, some mileage calculations, whether I've been reimbursed or not and a grand total at the end -- and play with it a little. Keep in mind that depending which version of Excel you have, the interface may be somewhat different but the functionality is pretty much the same.

So, if you're good with comptuers generally, make sure you convey that and feel free to mess with Excel for a few days and then say you "have used it a little" or something but are confident that you could use it in a work environment. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 3:07 PM on February 4, 2009

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