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Whether you’re already an Excel whiz or you’ve got a way to go, the humble spreadsheet might be the key to the career you’re looking for. Based on 27 million job listings on various recruitment sites, there has been a marked increase in the demand for baseline computer skills in middle-skill jobs over the past two years. This includes top employer picks like word processing and of course, killer spreadsheet abilities.
A study by Capital One and Burning Glass Technologies revealed that not only are such skills required for the vast majority (82%) of middle-skill positions, proficiency in using productivity software also provides a pathway to high paying jobs for workers without a college degree.
Meanwhile, certified Excel skills have been found to increase the likelihood of promotions and lift earnings by 12% on average compared to the paychecks of non-certified users.
It is not difficult to see why.
Microsoft Excel, which incidentally just hit its 30th year in the market, has been used to map just about everything in the universe into those ubiquitous rows and columns we all know and love (and sometimes loathe). Three decades of development, serious competition from cloud-based upstarts, and user abuse from creative to crazy have turned the venerable spreadsheet software into a nimble tool you can use to make a planetary model, hone your programming skills, and build your resume.
If being boxed into tables isn’t your thing, you can get off the grid (i.e., deactivate grid lines) and experience such borderless freedom you can even use Excel’s Autoshape feature to make stunning artwork. One Japanese creative, Tatsuo Horiuchi, just opened an exhibition of his meticulously detailed illustrations, entirely made in Excel.
Of course, employers prefer seeing you use Excel the way a workplace ninja would. And that is where Excel truly shines. From making simple accounting ledgers to generating pivot tables and data visualizations, Excel’s broad range of features helps companies track their bottom lines, make sense of field data, and generally get things more organized for success.
Underneath Excel’s deceptively simple and universally familiar interface lies power and sophistication that remain unmatched 30 years into its lifecycle. That’s why everyone who wants to get ahead in the workplace should possess decent Excel skills.
In fact, based on thousands of career postings, quite a number of jobs require Excel. This comprehensive list might just include the perfect one for you:
Accountants and auditors
Median Pay: $68,150 per year | 2016-26 Job Outlook: 10% (faster than average)
Excel may have been invented with these folks in mind, with the traditional accounting ledger pretty much serving as the archetype for spreadsheets. These professionals create and pore over cash flows, income statements, balance sheets, and tax returns to keep businesses profitable. Landing this job without a college degree would be a moonshot — if not outright impossible — but having serious Excel skills and certifications definitely props you up for leadership roles and promotions.
Administrative assistants, office clerks, information staff
Median Pay: $37,230 per year | 2016-26 Job Outlook: -5% (decline)
Administrative assistants — including secretaries and other general office clerks — help businesses run smoothly by performing routine tasks. They prepare reports, organize documents, manage records, schedule appointments, and provide support for staff, customers and visitors. Word processing and spreadsheet software like Excel are staples in their toolbox.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has different designations for these roles. The figures cited above are for secretaries and administrative assistants. General office clerks have a median annual salary of $30,580 and a -1 outlook, which signals a slight downturn in the number of projected jobs in the future. Information clerks bring home $32,920 and have a cheerier outlook at +3%. While this demonstrates an increase in the projected number of jobs over time, it is still slower than the average job outlook (or growth rate) of +7% across all occupations.
Business, management, and market analysts
Median Pay: $62,560 per year | 2016-26 Job Outlook: 23% (much faster than average)
One powerful Excel feature — the PowerPivot — was designed to help business analysts generate smarter insight from large troves of data. These professionals help their organizations make well-informed business decisions, especially when it comes to competitive landscapes, market trends, and sustained profitability. They probe past and present data to make projections and to identify strengths, weaknesses, and other patterns.
The figures cited above apply for market research analysts. Management analysts — also called management consultants — find ways to improve business and operational efficiencies via solutions that reduce costs or hike revenues. They bring home a larger share of the pie at $81,330 and enjoy a faster than average job outlook of 12%.
Median Pay: $61,790 per year | 2016-26 Job Outlook: 11% (faster than average)
When it comes to getting your money’s worth, cost estimators are the people you should go to. Cost estimators often work with project managers and engineers to make accurate estimates of the amount of money, time, and labor a specific project requires. They use Excel to input all relevant variables and auto-compute for benchmark quantities. The future is bright in this occupation, with a faster than average job outlook of 11%.
Educators, teaching assistants, and teachers
Median Pay: $56,720 per year | 2016-26 Job Outlook: 8% (as fast as average)
In addition to their subject specializations, educators also need to be proficient at organizing their classes, keeping track of students, and mapping out lesson outlines. These tasks fall well within the capabilities and support structure of Excel, turning a good majority of teachers into general spreadsheet users. In addition to helping track their students’ contact information, many teachers also find Excel very useful in their coursework as well as graduate/postgraduate research.
The cited figures apply for middle school teachers. Teaching assistants make $25,410 per year while post secondary teachers such as college professors bring home $75,430.
Financial analysts, investment bankers, and loan officers
Median Pay: $81,760 per year | 2016-26 Job Outlook: 11% (faster than average)
In many ways, the Excel logo — which prominently features the letter “X” — practically represents the dollar symbol ($), because Excel is arguably the most widely used office tool for tracking cash. This command of cash accounts for Excel's status as a favorite app among financial analysts, bankers, and other money-focused professionals.
Financial analysts help individuals and organizations make informed investment or loan decisions. They certainly use an armada of financial software but spreadsheets are among the most useful for analyzing different financial data sets. Hence, Excel has become a mandatory job qualification for this role.
Loan officers — who usually work for banks, credit unions and mortgage companies — earn a median annual salary of $63,650 and also enjoy a faster than average job outlook of 11%.
Market research analysts and digital marketers
Median Pay: $62,560 per year | 2016-26 Job Outlook: 23% (much faster than average)
Hard core marketing is data science in disguise. Leveraging both creativity and analytical thinking, professional market researchers depend on their skills at gathering, manipulating and interpreting field data. Excel spreadsheets are an indispensable tool for these workers to collate and analyze their findings. Marketers seek new market opportunities and use different tools such as search engine optimization (SEO) to reach and convert audiences. They also use charts, graphs and other data visualizations to convince executives about the impact and ROI of proposed campaigns.
Project managers, project coordinators, and construction managers
Median Pay: $89,300 per year | 2016-26 Job Outlook: 11% (faster than average)
You’ll find project managers in a broad range of fields, with construction and the IT industry coming on top. Project managers plan, coordinate, and supervise the development of software solutions or the construction of different buildings. They set expectations, assign worker functions, manage costs, and ardently keep everything within budget and on time. While they often use specialized software, Microsoft Excel is among the primary tools they readily turn to for handling various tasks at short notice.
The figures cited above apply to construction managers. Project managers in software development — listed as Computer and Information Systems Managers in the Bureau’s occupational handbook— earn an annual median salary of $135,800 and face a rosy job outlook of 12% (faster than average).
Sales, marketing, training and administrative managers
Median Pay: $90,050 per year | 2016-26 Job Outlook: 10% (faster than average)
Sales and marketing obviously involve numbers, with each being described as a “numbers game.” And where numbers go, spreadsheet software is along for the ride. Meanwhile, training and administration require planning, scheduling and organizing different items and resources, often with costs and timestamps involved. Unsurprisingly, where money and time are central, you’ll find Excel helping make sense of it all. From financial modeling and data analysis to market research and inventory management, managers depend on Excel to perform their core responsibilities.
The cited figures above apply to administrative managers. Sales managers make a lot more at $117,960 while training and development managers bring home $105,830.
Remote Excel jobs
Remote job opportunities are a hot ticket in today’s digital work environment, and specialists and masters of Excel are in high demand in the gig economy.
With more than three decades of usage, feedback, and development behind it, Excel’s ridiculously broad capabilities and feature set have all but become peerless. Its powerful tools can crunch troves of data to generate business insight while its graphical support enables compelling data visualizations.
Unfortunately not everyone has the skill to use these features. This state of supply only ramps up the listings for remote Excel jobs on career and recruitment portals like Indeed.com, talent marketplaces like Upwork, and classified ad sites like Craigslist.
A cursory search on these websites for “remote Excel jobs” (and “Excel jobs from home”) yield postings for metadata analysis, creation of spreadsheet-based reports, enrollment counsellors, data entry support, virtual assistants, help desk technicians, and internet research.
Microsoft’s move to offer its productivity suite as an on-demand cloud service encourages collaboration, propels mobility, and supports the ecosystem for remote work. More importantly, it empowers duly certified Excel superstars (who can program clean macros and create nifty pivot tables) to work pretty much like freelance software developers who are proficient in specific computer languages like Java or Python.
Learn Excel and make the pivot you deserve
Microsoft Excel may well be the ultimate all-around business software. Developed to help track, budget, and generate money, Excel is among the most widely used spreadsheet apps for making the bottom line look good.
Don’t you think it’s high time to use it to rev up your income statement as well?
Many jobs require Excel proficiency and some high-paying positions aptly reward mastery of its lesser known but powerful data crunching capabilities. Excel probably has thousands of functions, formulas, and tricks hidden in its deceptively simple UI - learning which are the most coveted by employers is a good place to start.
It won’t be easy to become an Excel power user, but a committed approach to learn Excel’s hidden secrets may be the key to your dream job.