Even though it’s still early in the school year, many college seniors have already started their first rounds of on-campus and post-graduation job interviews. Many are competing for positions in office jobs that require detailed knowledge of basic office software in a way that graduates may not have had to use in college.
For instance, some students may want to be investment pros, business consultants or sales managers without really knowing much about what those positions actually do. Take banking, for example. In a broad sense, we know bankers deal with financial transactions and detailed analyses of companies’ financial records — and that they typically make a lot of money. But what does that mean for their day-to-day work? Skill-wise, that means spending most of your waking hours using Microsoft Office applications: Word, PowerPoint and Excel.
Even if you’re not pursuing a career as a banker or a consultant, these three tools can still be useful for your success. Just about any business needs to crunch numbers, present information and create reports for pertinent business activities. So if you want to have an edge over other candidates, you need to have a robust understanding of these tools.
Become a Microsoft Word wizard
If you’ve written even one college paper, you’re probably scoffing at the value of Word.
Sure, everyone knows simple commands like CTRL-C for cut, CTRL-V for paste, CTRL-B for bold and CTRL-I for italic. These basic copying and formatting shortcuts will certainly help you save time writing your paper for Psych 201. But shortcuts are not enough for workplace reports that require fancy layouts, crisp visual support and embedded charts.
The newest versions of Word are more than just simple word processors. Many advanced features will allow you to optimize layouts, streamline tables and use forms to create application-style documents. Word 2013 has a whole suite of new tools for design and collaboration, which can elevate your basic word processing skills to a whole new level.
Master Microsoft PowerPoint
If you’ve taken a business or communications class — or any other class that requires group projects and presentations — you’ve probably already made a PowerPoint presentation or two. At the basic level, this software application is easy to use. Putting together a simple slide show with a few bullet points is foolproof. But true PowerPoint pros don’t create a presentation one slide at time. They create master templates that can cleanly display different styles of data.
Once you’re out of the classroom, some professions take presentations to a whole new level. Management consultants (another sought-after job for graduates) use PowerPoint decks as a client deliverable. They pack each slide in these decks with information, charts and pictures.
Beyond the nuts and bolts of using PowerPoint, there are also YouTube tutorials such as the The Art of PowerPoint that teach you how to create your deck so your audience can easily view it and absorb the information. Font, chart size and layout are crucial factors.
Creating an optimized PowerPoint deck requires knowledge of advanced layout and editing features. Finally, there’s the non-technical portion of your presentation: the spoken component. Your beautiful presentation deck will fall short if delivered poorly, so your speaking skills are equally as important.
Extrapolate your own value with Microsoft Excel
Excel is the powerhouse of the bunch. Word and Powerpoint will help present your information nicely, but Excel will help you determine its value. No matter what business you’re in, Excel is a universal data analysis and decision-making support tool. Business, mathematics and engineering majors may have an edge over others in this skill, but getting started in Excel is easy.
At its simplest, you can use Excel to store data, do calculations and create charts. Those who play around with its more advanced features can do amazing things. Excel can give anybody the power to analyze and visually represent large sets of data. Doing that can sometimes be labor-intensive, but what separates an average Excel user from a pro is knowledge of keyboard shortcuts.
Another differentiator for Excel pros is their knowledge of macros and Pivot Tables. These features will help you interpret and effectively present a company’s most important metrics — a skill that can make you one of the most valuable employees in your organization.
Start preparing for the future now
You may have been wondering how Goldman Sachs and McKinsey make so much money. They certainly wouldn’t be successful without their use of Excel to read and interpret financial data. This gives them the ability to advise clients on how to invest their money and how they should invest the bank’s money.
Inside the high rise offices of big banks and consulting firms, new analysts and junior management consultants sit in front of their computers for up to 16 hours a day and move numbers around a spreadsheet, push them into charts and drop them into fancy Word documents and PowerPoint decks. Maybe that sounds less appealing than what characters do in Liar’s Poker or Showtime’s House of Lies. But it’s the truth when you’re starting out in these industries.
So keep in mind that many types of businesses highly value excellent Microsoft Office skills. Whether you want to come on board as a bank employee or join a startup, honing your skills in Word, PowerPoint and Excel will help you go far in your career and will equip you to create value for everyone. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)
Brad Zomick is Chief Content Officer at SkilledUp.com, a leading curator of online educational content, including over 80,000 online courses from over 300 providers in areas like Marketing, Graphic Design, Content Creation and more. Find online courses at SkilledUp.com to get skills and get ahead, and visit them on Facebook and Twitter.