The Importance of Excel Training & 3 Top Formulas to Get You Started

I can trace my professional career back to one assignment. I worked for a company of 60 employees with buying interest from large organizations. And with the needed push for an increase in sales productivity we worked to improve back end support in sales operations. At this moment, an assignment popped up on the radar and my boss asked me to take a shot. The one assignment that would ultimately shape all other assignments: a multi-functioning excel based ordering template easily used by the sales organization. But there was one problem: zero Excel training.

Hello, crash course in Excel programming. Since there wasn't any one else in the organization that could tackle this project, I regarded the task as one that could propel my knowledge base as well as my visibility within my department. Little did I know, the weeks that I spent investing in Excel training has made all the difference in my professional career development. And after years of experience I know why:

Excel training benefits the entire company

As a finance professional it makes sense that I am experienced with Excel. But, despite popular belief, Excel is not strictly an accounting and finance related program. In fact, Excel helps users track information across the entire company.  And thus Excel, is used anytime money OR data is used.  Since, it is the age of technology and data, most companies are overflowing with data. Because of this, these companies are in need of employees that can organize and interpret the data into useful information. From administration, operations, project management, servicing, logistics and marketing. All departments receive benefits from users who are comfortable with using Excel. As such, Excel training is an excellent way to increase employ-ability while improving your effectiveness within your organization; no matter what department.

When we use our time to invest in these types of skills, we increase not only the companies ability to turn data into useful information, but we also increase our own earning potential.

Most popular uses of Excel

  • Organize and interpret information more easily
  • Creating and outlining business processes
  • Project management tool
  • Budgeting and Forecasting
  • Reporting and Visualizations (charts, graphs, presentations)
  • Analyzing sales, business intelligence and marketing data

Defining beginner and advanced Excel skills

Beginner skills

  • Navigating the user ribbon
  • Creating workbooks
  • Entering and editing data, text or numbers
  • Inserting and deleting rows, columns and fields
  • Creating simple math formulas
  • Building charts and graphs

Advanced skills

  • Using pivot tables
  • Creating macros in Visual basic
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Creating complex formulas

While Excel is not a program mastered overnight, Excel does offer skills that can be built upon one another. And simply knowing a few Excel formulas, can get you started right away.  In the following weeks and months, I will be creating a series of Excel basics to help you in your pursuit of Excel training.  For this reason, here are 3 Top formulas that I've used time and time again to help organize and use data within Excel.

 3 Top Excel formulas

 SUM  / AVERAGE

The SUM and AVERAGE formulas do exactly as you would expect. They SUM or AVERAGE 2 or more numbers organized on an excel spreadsheet.

Formula:  =SUM(value 1, value 2) or =SUM(values from one cell through another)
                   =AVERAGE(value 1, value 2) or =AVERAGE(values from one cell through another)

What's interesting about this formula is that it can be used to sum numbers stacked horizontally, vertically, or even sum numbers with in different areas on the spreadsheet.

Let's take a look at a few examples:

The first example looks at SUM values stacked vertically.

SUM values with in different areas of a spreadsheet (not stacked).

As mentioned, SUM and AVERAGE are very similar in application. Simply substitute "Average" in place of "SUM".

And again, you can SUM or AVERAGE values not stacked. Even if the "3" was in column D, row 7 (not pictured below) one could use the same formula = average(C4, D7)

 SUMIF / AVERAGEIF

The SUMIF and AVERAGEIF formulas build upon the formulas above. Not only do they SUM or AVERAGE 2 or more numbers organized on an excel spreadsheet, they sum and average IF a certain criteria is met within the set of data. For example, if you have a list of sales reps with their monthly sales along with the state of sale; say Georgia and Florida. But what you need to do is to sum or average sales only in  Georgia,  not all states listed (your criteria) you could do so with this formula.

Formula:  =SUMIF(criteria range, criteria, sum range)
                   =AVERAGEIF(criteria range, criteria, sum range)

As an example:
What this formula is doing is looking into the range C4:C18 for the state "GA" and adding the values in D4:D18.

And again, substitute "AVERAGE" in place of "SUM".

Month / Year

The Month / Year formula which allows you to pull from a date entered into a designated field, only the month or year of that date. As a result, this formula allows the user to pivot, filter or sum based off of the month or year instead of a set of `30 dates in every month.

Formula: = Year (date reference), or Month(date reference)

Initial data set below.

And now, adding in the Year and Month formula for sorting and pivoting needs.

These Excel formulas should get you started.  If you found this helpful, let me know what you Excel formula you would like to understand or excel problem you may need help with and I'll be sure to include in a recent post as part of our Excel training!

3 Tips for Career Advancement from Over a Decade of Experience

When I went back to work, we were in the middle of a recession. I took the first job that I could find with the intention of achieving higher levels of career advancement once my foot was in the door. After leading several teams and talking with several friends and co-workers, this is quickly becoming the single most discussed topic. How does one advance their careers?

What I’ve found is that there isn’t just one way to advance your career. Career advancement happens by pushing and pulling several different levers. There is no get rich quick scheme. It takes skill, hard work and dedication. And it’s not only possible it is inevitable.

Here are 3 Tips for Advancing Your Career

1. Don’t be afraid to stretch yourself:

It is common place for women to apply for a job, only when they’ve meet 100% of the job requirements. While men tend to apply when they’ve met only 40%. Why is that?

Studies show that this phenomenon contributes to the assumption that women don’t have enough ‘gumption’ when it comes to career advancement. Yet as a working mother with more than enough reasons to be serious and dangerous about my career advancement, I can unequivocally tell you that women have some of the strongest motivators existing today. In fact when we commit to a company we commit to success. But what is happening is that as natural processors and organizers, we tend to view a job description as the end all be all in the check list of required skill sets. However, by applying for jobs higher than our comfort level, and even current experience we stretch ourselves and land those dream jobs.

I was presently surprised to learn that job postings overstate requirements by atleast 20%. We should understand that job postings  are intended as a wish list of the perfect candidate. Know that a perfect candidate does not exist. If you have confidence and comfort in the amount of boxes you can check on the list of requirements, then don’t be afraid.  Stretch yourself and apply for the position!

Learn what is out there and what other companies are looking for in an in·tra·pre·neur like you. Apply, and then gear up for tip # 2.

2. Always be in the practice of interviewing:

It is always good practice to be in the practice of interviewing. My mentor would tell me that I should be interviewing monthly to quarterly if I wanted to achieve continuous career advancement.  At the time he was my boss, so I couldn’t understand why he would tell me to go interview. However, after completing the first handful of rounds, I understood.

When I went for my first Director interview I had stretched myself and applied for that next level as suggested in the first tip.  It was exhilarating to recall my fast paced career path. Better yet, I gained insight into what would be required of me in the next phase.

When interviewing you not only learn how to hone your elevator pitch, but also what skill sets are required to achieve your expected career advancement. If nothing else, you are  forever expanding your network. You then take what you learn and put it into practice in the final tip.

3. Demand of your current role what you require for career advancement:

The age old adage of “ask and it shall be given to you” no longer applies. Companies are operating on learner teams than ever before. Organic growth seems to be a thing of the past. Mergers and acquisitions are becoming the quickest way to boost revenue, while streamlining operations and headcount to supercharge EBITDA. With out the proper “promote from within” infrastructure your boss and his boss aren’t able to cater to your requirements for career advancement. They need the next level of skill and they needed it six months ago. (For example: Excel Training)

Regardless of where you choose to implement a new set of skills, the feedback you received in your interviewing rounds can give you a baseline of what you need to be doing today to raise yourself to the next level. Seize your Career advancement on your own terms.

Because of this, I interview a level up and I always ask what skills are most important to the interviewer. Since I’m interviewing a step above where I am currently employed, this gives me insight into what I need to learn. I then take that knowledge back to my current role and implement away. As captain's of our own ship we must think critically and strategically about implementing this new experience into our current rolls. For some that may mean a candid conversation with the boss.  For me, I usually just start doing the work on my own fruition. I can’t waste my time trying to waste someone's time on training me.

Wrapping up:

I will admit it is not always easy. Once you know what you need to learn; examples, training and the like are not readily available. That’s where you have to pull out your thesis work experience and start researching the heck out of what you need to know. Research what your perfect job looks like, and gain that experience right in the comfort of your current role.  It will allow for a more smooth learning curve and will provide your company with needed resources.

In the end the inevitable will happen. You will achieve career advancement through your current company due to the fact that you are functioning on a higher level than you were before. Or you will have checked off the last couple of boxes you needed to land your dream job.

6 Strategies for Networking Utilizing What You Already Know

Today we all have one of the biggest networks ever known to mankind. Technology has both made our world smaller and more accessible, yet expanded our pool of individuals with which to connect. Our social media feeds flood us with the importance of networking. Articles explaining how our networks can connect us with the right influencers and create opportunities down stream. Feeds that remind us that networks offer security and career advancement. Yet, the problem is there isn’t a lot of information out there on how one goes about networking. And while many of us ‘connect' with large networks of individuals, our networks are not very effective nor beneficial.

Here are 5 key strategies in creating a beneficial network and utilize what you already know:

1. Understand that you already know how to network.

Networking can seem like a big deal. With all the focus on building networks these days, it’s easy to get carried away. Have perseverance. It doesn’t have to be so complicated. Simply put, networking is something we’ve all been doing since grade school. Remember when you needed to get out of traffic ticket, needed help with a teacher, or needed grandma to convince your Mom to let you go on Spring Break? Or perhaps as an adult recall when you needed the cheapest tree removal service or best home painters and you called all your friends to find a service that fit your needs and budget.  You didn’t worry yourself with how to ask for help correctly. You simply called the people you knew (your network) to create a desired outcome.

That is really all we are talking about here. Networking is simply working with people you know that can do life with you.  To ease the burden, networking has been a part of our DNA and life skill since we starting having desires we could not meet on our own.

2. Understand that Networking is not using others:

Every time I see an article or book on networking my eyes roll into the back of my head. Not because I do not value the importance of networking. But, because networking is so overly explained in regards to "getting ahead in ones career", it can seem that networking is really just using others to get ahead.  In my book, this is not networking. Networking is not creating connections for the sheer purpose of using them somewhere down the road. When people try to connect in this manner it is not only disingenuous, but obvious and can feel awkward all parties.

Recall the ticket, teacher and Spring Break previously. Or the tree removal service and painters.  We were able to reach out to our existing network and ask for help without it being awkward because we already had mutual relationships with those of whom we asked.  It’s important to connect with others for the purpose of creating mutually beneficial relationships, not for the purpose of abusing or overusing their extended network or skills. By asking ourselves what can we offer to the relationship we create not only a more fulfilling connection, but a stronger one as well.

3. Understand the difference and importance in creating multiple networks for various reasons:

Understand that certain networks work for some areas of your life, while additional networks work for others. As a vegan, I can not go to my business network of predominately meat eating men and ask them for vegan dishes.  Nor could I go to a vegan meet up and ask try to talk about Financial Planning and Analysis trends and topics on a deep level.  When we needed that tree service or painter we were careful to reach out to those of whom could help us source the information.  We didn’t reach out and waste the time of those that couldn't help us source the information.

When beginning to build out networks, be mindful of what it is that you wish to obtain and depart upon the group.  Hoping to find strong business women who encourage you to climb the corporate ladder? Desire to be surrounded by entrepreneurs that help you scale to new heights? Perhaps, you really do just need some updated recipes or want to work on your golf swing.  Whatever it is, realize that you can not meet all your life’s needs in one group of people.  Our multifaceted lives demand a range of interesting people, some that overlap in interest and many that connect with very specific attributes of our personalities.

4. Get out there and star networking:

To do this, ask yourself what it is you desire and look for organizations that you can server or join to meet that desire. Be strategic with your search. As a leader in finance and technology, that is where I would start.  Getting to know more people in my space of interest. Once you find your organizations, attend a few sessions or activities and feel out the crowd, message and trajectory. If none of it aligns to your goals and aspirations, it’s okay to move on. When you do find a organization that you want to explore deeper, start out by being present, don’t go in sneaking business cards into everyone’s palms and pockets.  Show up, be present, invest and what the connections unfold.

5. Make time and Show up:

As a busy mom, we are the first to ‘no show’ an outing with friends or co-workers. We have to stop doing this. Often times it’s easier to put our heads down to meet that deadline than it is to peel away and connect with our newly formed network or co-workers. And harder still if there are family responsibilities that we must tackle after our long work day. We may think that plowing through and over preforming will get us the promotion that we deserve. But studies show, it’s the network and interpersonal relationships that create career advancement (within and outside of the company).

Not only do we need to make time to be there for others, but when we commit we should follow through. Breaking commitments is the quickest way burn bridges. And with the interconnections of networks, one bridge can shut down your entire network. We must be mindful of others' time and follow through. Sometimes we can forget that when both parties commit to something, both parties were saying no to something else in order to be there. In short, make time and then show up.

6. Ask for help and and give help when needed:

If your network is our net worth, then all the activity within that network, is a bank. Make sure that within your network you and investing in others, as mentioned before. Make those deposits into the bank, and when you need the help, ask for it.

Unfortunately women are the least likely to call in favors and ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. In fact leverage is the rich mans tool. When you have connections with others with whom you have a mutually beneficial relationship, go to them. Understand that no one gets anywhere on their own. Those same people we are afraid of asking for help, are in desire of someone to help. They themselves received help in their climb and are not only willing but wanting someone with whom to pay it forward.

To make things short, you already know how to create lasting and effective relationships, so go and do. Make time and follow through. Then remember when you get to where you are going, turn around and help the next one in line.

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Overcoming Obstacles with 3 Highly Effective Techniques

Obstacles are everywhere. Exemplified by one of my favorite quotes:

“Be kind to those around you, because you never know what they are going through,”

The quote strikes a chord with me. We all struggle, all the time. While I can’t pretend to know what obstacles anyone faces, the quote implies, it’s certain obstacles are being faced. It’s helpful to have a strategy to overcome obstacles when we see them approaching. I use the below three point process when I find myself in the mud and muck of our daily grind.

1. Don’t run away from obstacles:

Growing up we moved once or twice every school year. No joke.  It was fun to discover what new room waited opposite the mountains of U-haul boxes. But mostly it sucked, being sucked away from friends and routine just to resettle into another. No, I did not grow up an Army brat, despite the many who thought our constant moving stated otherwise. We moved, because when obstacles would arise, my Dad seemed to just get going.  For many, it can seem easier to jump ship and literally move on than to face an obstacle outright.

Fast-forward, now with kids to consider, “moving on” dropped from my vocabulary. I have a deep connection to follow through and the ending of seasons on high notes. So instead of run, or move, I choose early on, I won’t run away. When faced with obstacles, I explore every option. I work every angle. I keep at it because there is always something to take away from the experience.  Every day serves it’s purpose. Through this resolution,  I find myself asking the same three questions.

2. Ask yourself these three questions:

One such obstacle came during my career where there existed very little communication, very little support, virtually no resources and certainly no direction. The CFO, Controller and Accounting Managers had left. I then became an army of one. While I knew the business, I was still discovering what my role should entail. With a new boss and big company environment, I faced one of the biggest obstacles of my tenure.

I spent the next 18 months in a plateau; angry at the lack of resources and training. But my fault or not, I was getting no where but behind. Faced with very little momentum and frustration, I asked:

Is it as bad as I think it is?

It’s really easy to jump on the train of negativity and start blaming outcomes on the situation and obstacles at hand. When we do that, we all of a sudden take zero responsibility for any perceived or impending failure. Yet, on the other hand, when something good happens, we take all responsibility. We hold to our stance, when things go away, it has nothing to do with us.

Often times what we think is bad, is really just difficult. If we look past the difficulty, we see can start learning and creating action. Doing this, helps us notice what is going right, but also what needs to happen to get the outcome that we desire. Many times it leads directly to the second question:

Is this something I created?

What was my role in this? Was I doing anything that helped to create the environment or situation?  Did I help these obstacles grow?

I know this can be difficult to ask. We pride ourselves on calculated risks and responsible steps. But there is almost always something that we did to help matters progress to current status. It takes two to tango. With my above mentioned scenario, I didn’t connect quick enough with the new boss. Networks become increasingly important, and I had missed my chance to connect. Nor did I readily carry the full load of expectations. Two choices existed. Assume no responsibility and doing nothing. Or accept full responsibility in the outcome and dig in. For a while, I’m afraid to admit I chose the prior rather than the latter and only hurt the situation. When I was done wasting time, I had an even bigger ship to turn around.

Can I avoid this from happening again?

Simply put, what can do or stop doing when faced with obstacles? What can we do personally to ensure this doesn’t happen again – for ourselves, for our co-workers, for our company? What is our take-away?

Using the same scenario as before, my take away put me back in control. I worked through ways to connect more naturally in social environments. I built what I needed from scratch. And I scoured the internet for examples, ran through endless templates and hours of work before landing on what worked. In the end I built my role from scratch. Yet, I was in the best position to decide what was best for my company. I was in control of my direct contribution and in control of overcoming my obstacles. And the above questions take me through that process.  Yet, truth be told, overcoming obstacles isn’t the true promise of the process. The growth is.

3. Stay focused on the end goal:

As I work through issues, it’s important for me to stay focused on what is truly promised when we overcome obstacles. So much more is learned through the long stretch of struggle than in the last moment of triumph. Overcoming our obstacles does not promise fame and fortune. It does not promise we will be the head of the class, or the boardroom. But it does promise growth, pride, fulfillment and the ability to bring others to the next level with us. When I don’t focus on the promise, I get side tracked. I get greedy,  selfish, unfocused, anxious. All of which benefits no one. Focusing on the promise instead, erases the pressure and judgment for a more efficient and effective learning curve.

I have found in the application of these techniques that we must always be learning. We must strive to make every day serve it’s purpose, letting nothing happen by chance. Every experience can be used to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, our desires, our strengths and weaknesses. When we do this, we not only mold ourselves into a more productive and positive version, but we mold the very road we travel into something of benefit instead of defeat.