8 Advanced Excel Skills to Boost Productivity and Proficiency

8 Advanced Excel Skills to Boost Productivity and Proficiency

Whether you’re a seasoned independent professional or working toward an independent career as a data analyst, you need valuable skills to leverage and stand out from other freelancers. Since we live in a digital world, generating data at every turn, companies are always looking for talented professionals who can turn raw data into insights that can help them make better-informed business decisions.

In this article, find out how learning advanced Excel skills can help you land more work opportunities. Use the following links to jump to specific sections:

Excel skills levels

With so many businesses relying on data to help guide business decisions, it’s important to be able to input, manage, and analyze that data with Microsoft Excel. However, whether you use Excel for production data, marketing data, or financial data, there are different levels of expertise. Read on to see where you stand.

Basic Excel skills

The basic skill level for Excel includes in-depth knowledge of the three ribbon tabs and their tools—namely, the Home tab, the Page Layout tab, and the View tab. In addition, at this level, users should know how to get different view options (like zooming in or out) and basic spreadsheet formatting.

Examples of basic Excel skills include:

  • Successfully navigating and saving an Excel workbook
  • Data entry tasks
  • Building formulas using SUMIF, AVERAGE, COUNTIF, and ROUND
  • Appling SUMIF, AVERAGE, COUNTIF, and ROUND formulas within worksheets
  • Doing subtractions, multiplication, and division
  • Presenting a data summary and printing the results on paper

Intermediate Excel skills

Most users with intermediate Excel skills have the basic skills locked in plus more at this level. That includes knowing the difference between an Excel function and an Excel formula.

Note that a function is a program that processes inputs and produces a result or output within a spreadsheet cell. On the other hand, an Excel formula is a cell entry where a user enters one or more Excel functions to get a result. So, functions are the building blocks of formulas.

Intermediate skills also include understanding how Excel functions “behave” when using them in a cell or moving them across sheets. In addition, users should know what Excel functions do when they copy, paste, or drag them.

Some examples of intermediate Excel skills include:

  • Knowledge of formulas and functions, like VLOOKUP, CHOOSE, and MID
  • Working knowledge of charts
  • Building formulas to manipulate text and dates
  • Using the Formula tab and Functions library

Advanced Excel skills

Someone with advanced Excel skills is familiar with most, if not all, of the functions in Excel. An advanced user should also be comfortable teaching others with Excel.

At the advanced level, most users typically process large quantities of data using spreadsheets, graphs, data tables, calculations, and automation to produce results. Advanced-level users can also build Excel spreadsheet models, dashboards, and templates that basic and intermediate users can use. Some even create compound and complex formulas, such as array formulas.

Examples of advanced Excel skills include:

  • Building and applying advanced formulas, like SUMPRODUCT, INDIRECT, INDEX MATCH, and OFFSET
  • Knowing what a PivotTable is and how to build one
  • Knowing what an add-in is and how to install one
  • Understanding and using the AutoFilter feature
  • Recording a macro and using it later
  • Editing or modifying simple recorded macros

Top advanced Excel skills

You can do many things with Excel, seeing as it has 475 formulas in its functions library. But gaining knowledge and experience using advanced skills will separate you from basic users.

Here are a few advanced Excel skills that are must-haves for many industries:


A macro is a computer program that does an action or a set of actions as many times as necessary. It’s recorded and used to automate repetitive tasks. For instance, macros are often used by financial analysts to generate weekly, monthly, or quarterly sales reports.

Macros are written through Visual Basic for Applications (VBA)—an object-oriented programming language for Microsoft Office applications. Macros and VBA tools are found in the Developer tab. With VBA, you can refer to Excel Objects and use the properties, methods, and events associated with them to automate almost every task.

You create a macro by recording your mouse clicks and keystrokes. After you’ve created a macro, Excel will execute those instructions on any data you give it. You can also edit it to make changes to the way it works. For example, you can use a macro to quickly clean up and format data, automate properties and actions in PivotTables, and create and modify user forms.

Here’s an example of a macro outcome that sorts sales from highest to lowest:


Source: https://spreadsheeto.com/make-a-macro/


A PivotTable is an Excel feature used to create reports from large datasets. It’s a powerful tool because it allows users to look at the same data from different perspectives. You can use a PivotTable to calculate, summarize, analyze, and see comparisons, patterns, and trends in your data.

You can use PivotTables to sort, count, total, or average data stored in one large spreadsheet and display them in a new table. A PivotTable is an interactive way to:

  • Present and analyze large amounts of data in many user-friendly ways
  • Summarize and sort data by categories and subcategories
  • Create custom calculations and formulas to be applied to the dataset
  • Filter, sort, and group the data to focus on the information you need
  • Present concise, attractive, and illustrated reports

Below is an example of a PivotTable based on household expenses:

Pivot Tables

Source: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/overview-of-pivottables-and-pivotcharts-527c8fa3-02c0-445a-a2db-7794676bce96


The INDEX MATCH combines two Excel functions: INDEX and MATCH. It’s an advanced and dynamic version of the VLOOKUP or HLOOKUP formulas.

INDEX returns the value of a cell in a table based on the column and row number, while MATCH returns the position of a cell in a row or column. The two formulas can look up and return the value of a cell in a table based on vertical and horizontal criteria.

Here’s an example of the INDEX MATCH formula at work to figure out how the capital of Russia, Moscow, ranks in terms of population:

Index Match

Source: https://www.ablebits.com/office-addins-blog/2014/08/13/excel-index-match-function-vlookup/


Filters are used to temporarily hide some of the data in a table so the user can focus on the data they want to see. You can find Sort & Filter in the Data tab in Excel to filter a range of data based on the criteria you specify. You can also use AutoFilter or built-in comparison operators like “greater than” and “top 10” to filter by number values and cell color.

Once you find what you’re looking for, you can reapply a filter to get up-to-date results or clear a filter to redisplay all of the data. Filtering becomes even more helpful when you need to filter more than one column combination. In the example below, you can see a list of players in group A who have secured two or more wins:


Source: https://www.ablebits.com/office-addins-blog/2020/06/17/excel-filter-function/

Conditional formatting

Conditional formatting is a great way to design a spreadsheet, as it gives a user a quick way to add a visual analysis layer to a data set. It changes the color of a cell and its contents depending on the criteria you enter. For instance, you can highlight any negative numbers in red or cells that contain a specific word. Below is an example that shows the highlighted USA orders:

Conditional Formatting

Source: https://www.excel-easy.com/data-analysis/conditional-formatting.html


Charts strengthen data presentation by providing an easy-to-understand visual aid, especially when dealing with numbers. It allows users to compare pieces of a data set relative to the other data in that set. Building charts is one of the most effective ways to display data analysis.

There are more than 20 chart types in Excel. However, bar, column, pie, line, and scatter charts are the most commonly used. The bar, column, pie, and line charts need a single series of numbers to create a chart. If you want to make a scatter chart, you need two sets of corresponding data to compare, such as height versus weight.

Here’s an example of a graph presenting the percentages of customer responses to the question, “Did inbound marketing demonstrate ROI?” relative to whether they have a service level agreement (SLA):


Source: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/how-to-build-excel-graph


The OFFSET function is a built-in function in Microsoft Excel. Its purpose is to return a range that’s a specified number of rows and columns from a reference cell or range. Referencing a cell in Excel typically requires clicking on it or typing in a column and row.

The range that OFFSET returns can be a single cell or a range of multiple consecutive cells. When returning a range, it also allows users to specify the size by inserting the number of rows and columns. Proficiency with the OFFSET function is handy in formulas that require a dynamic range.

The syntax of the OFFSET function is “=OFFSET(reference, rows, cols, [height], [width]).” It returns a reference to a range constructed with five inputs:

  • A starting point: The cell or range of adjacent cells you wish to offset your result from
  • A row offset: Tells Excel the number of rows to move up or down from the “reference” argument value
  • A column offset: Tells Excel the number of rows to move to the left or right from the reference argument value
  • A height in rows: Allows you to specify the size of the returned range in the number of rows
  • A width in columns: Allows you to specify the size of the returned range in the number of columns

Out of the five possible arguments, two are optional: the height and the width. Check out the example below:


Source: https://exceljet.net/excel-functions/excel-offset-function

Power Pivot

Power Pivot is a powerful add-in for Excel used to create sophisticated data models. The biggest advantage of Power Pivot is its capacity to handle large data sets from several sources, all within a single Excel file. Excel experts also use Power Pivot to connect PivotTables with external databases.

You can also use Power Pivot to create relationships between multiple tables. Then, you can bring them together and display your analysis using PivotTables and Charts. All in all, this add-in helps you perform information analysis quickly and share the results easily.

Here’s an example of a PivotChart created with Power Pivot:

Power Pivot

Source: https://kubicle.com/learn/excel/creating-a-pivotchart-from-power-pivot-data

What jobs require advanced Excel skills?

Excel is used in many industries, but some professions and jobs require it more than others. Here are the top five jobs that need advanced Excel skills to perform their job descriptions.

Data analyst

The process of collecting data points and creating a cohesive and meaningful narrative is the ultimate goal of data analysis. A data analyst examines and presents data into useful information to help companies make better-informed decisions. They also identify data trends that can be used to make predictions about the future.

Some advanced Excel skills that a data analyst needs are PivotTables, INDEX MATCH functions, charts, and forecast and trend tools. For instance, if you know how to build charts, you’ll be able to organize raw data into a readable format that makes it easier for users to extract actionable insights. Charts and graphs also make spreadsheets easier to view and understand.

Upwork is an exciting platform for bold freelancers who want flexibility with their projects and schedule. If you already have advanced Excel skills, put them to good use. Set up your professional account and connect with clients looking to fill data analysts jobs. That one connection could lead to a high-paying career as a freelance data analyst.


Accountants organize, create, and analyze financial documents to ensure they’re accurate and up to date. They also file tax returns, make financial statements, and file other important documents. Accountants must be proficient in Excel, which means having knowledge of the auditing functions, formatting, and using formulas to filter out different values and sums.

Using formulas helps accountants determine profit margins or department budgets. Excel also allows them to customize fields and functions to make calculations.

Are you an accountant dreaming of choosing your work? Upgrade your Excel skills and connect with business owners looking to fill accounting jobs on Upwork.

Financial analyst

Financial analysts are responsible for tracking a company’s financial performance against a plan. They analyze the business’s performance against market conditions to create forecasts and provide periodic reports. Financial analysts use Excel to track, update, and present information that guides decision-making.

There are hundreds of financial analysis models that can be performed through Excel. Analysts also use it to run budgeting analysis, risk analysis, or track cash flow. They may use analysis features like data manipulation, formatting, PivotTables, lookup, and valuation equations.

Financial analysts have in-demand skills, and they get paid handsomely for it. Uplevel your Excel skills to command the price you want. Check out the financial analyst jobs waiting to be filled on Upwork.

Market analyst

A market analyst helps businesses make informed decisions based on insights extracted from raw data using data analytics. In addition, they help assess the market to find areas and solutions with the goal of growing the company—all of which require keeping track of and analyzing data.

Market analysts need advanced Excel skills, such as PivotTables, conditional formatting, and extensive knowledge of VBA. They use conditional formatting and VBA to segment large data sets so the data can be examined more carefully. Visualization also helps achieve easy-to-read presentations.

Are you a market analyst looking to work for yourself? Set up a free profile on Upwork to showcase your skills, experience, and desired pay rate to clients. Have a look at the market analyst jobs and connect with companies that value your skills.

Administrative assistant

Administrative assistants provide support to keep operations running smoothly. They perform different tasks, such as bookkeeping, scheduling, maintaining records, and organizing document systems. All of this requires intermediate or advanced Excel skills.

For instance, administrative assistants use Excel to create spreadsheets and enter raw data reports, such as employees’ schedules and vacation times for easier viewing. In addition, it’s also critical for administrative assistants to be able to understand spreadsheets and data from other departments, vendors, and customers.

Check out these administrative support jobs on Upwork. Connect with companies that can’t wait to work with you.

The benefits of learning advanced Excel skills

As an independent professional, you’re valued for your skills, whether you’re an accountant, a data analyst, or an IT professional. If you want to command better pay, you need to separate yourself from other talent and gain more skills. Advanced knowledge and proficiency in Excel will not only make you in demand but it’ll also improve your efficiency.

There really are no drawbacks to learning advanced Excel skills. Check out how it can get you more Excel job opportunities with Upwork.


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8 Advanced Excel Skills to Boost Productivity and Proficiency
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