Fluency in Microsoft Excel is not just a nice-to-have: it’s a requirement for many jobs and considered a foundational job skill. If it’s been a while since you’ve used Excel, or you’ve never quite mastered it, I encourage you to get comfortable with this tool. When you’re in a job interview, you’ll want to demonstrate your mastery of Excel by describing a recent project where you used it and talking about the Excel refresher you just took.
There are many resources out there, including friends and family members, you could use to brush-up your Excel skills. Contextures.com is a great resource – I receive their weekly tips and training suggestions.
Excel – My Favorite Function
I use Excel at work every day and have a few favorite tricks I’ll share. You’ll need to use your computer, instead of a mobile device, so you can follow along with me for our Excel mini-lesson.
Sorting and Filtering –
This is where Excel really shines for me! When I have a spreadsheet full of numbers, it’s useless until I can extract some type of insight out of it. Sorting and filtering the data so I can look at it from different angles or drill down in one area is the best way I’ve found to bring data to life.
Do this along with me so you can really learn how this works.
Step #1: Get a sample excel file from http://www.contextures.com/xlSampleData01.html
Step #2: Copy and paste the data file labeled “Sample Data” into excel so we can work with it (step-by-step instructions are on the page)
Step #3: Save the file so you’ll have it to practice with
Step #4: At the top left of your data file is a gray triangle – click this to highlight your entire worksheet:
Step #5: On the far-right side of the tool bar across the top of your spreadsheet, find the “Sort & Filter” drop-down menu, click on it, then select “Filter”.
You’ll see drop-downs that look like little triangles appear in the corner of the top cell of each of your data columns:
Now we’re ready to filter the data! This is really exciting!
Step #6: This table contains sales data for an imaginary stationary company. The sales are listed in chronological order, but let’s filter this table to see the sales for each region so we can determine which region is doing the best.
Click on the drop-down in the “Region” cell, then click on “Select all” to deselect this and then click on “Central”. Now you see just the orders for the Central region.
Step#7: Let’s drill down on each rep’s orders. Click on the drop-down in column C. Deselect “Select All” and then select Andrews. Now you can see just Andrews orders in the Central region.
If you look at the bottom of your table, you’ll see that Excel has tallied the number of records for you: There are 4 records showing when you filter on Andrews in the Central region.
Step #8: To go back to your full data table, select the drop-down for the columns where you have filtered the data and click on “select All”. Your full data table should re-appear.
Step #9: Play around with the data table and find some different ways to sort the data and gather insights from the table.
Now you know how to filter data in an Excel table, which is a great skill to have!
Bonus Excel Tip: When you have a data table, shade the first row a light color and bold the text to make your header row stand out. If there’s one column of data in particular that you want to highlight, shade it so that your reader’s eye will immediately be drawn to the important part of the table. Always make your tables visually appealing.
I encourage you to update your Excel skills. Check your local market for refresher courses or there are plenty of online tutorials.
Need some data to practice with and a reason to use Excel? Put your household budget in Excel so you can get your finances in order while brushing up on this extremely useful tool.
Looking for a job is your job now. Schedule time to do this work and stick to the schedule.
Spend some time up front thinking about what you want to do. You don’t have to narrow it down to one option – recognize that there are multiple possibilities that could work for you and be flexible enough to change course as you learn more about yourself and the job market throughout your job search. My favorite book on this subject: Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.
Invest in yourself. A few things worth spending money on as you restart your career are a killer resume, a professional LinkedIn photo, a course to update your skills, and a professional outfit and shoes for interviews.
Set goals for yourself and write them down: Make 3 phone calls a day, schedule 2 informational interviews each week, find 3 interesting new companies per day. Reward yourself with a healthy treat for meeting your goals.
Realize that this can take longer than you’d like. Persevere. Learn from your mistakes – because you will make some. Pick yourself up and keep going, even when it gets frustrating.
Set up informational interviews. You will learn a lot and grow your network by doing informational interviews. (And you thought these were just for kids!) Buying someone a cup of coffee and learning from them is a highly productive way to spend job-searching time.
Have a supportive network as you transition back to the paid workforce. Looking for a job is hard work and it can be frustrating. You will need a tribe to help you get through it. Plan to meet regularly with them – coffee every Friday morning, for example. Keep each other accountable and encourage each other.
Get out from behind your computer! You will not find a job from the comfort of your home – this I promise you. You must get out and talk to people if you want a job. This can be uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier and you may even enjoy it as you get better at it.
Your job will come from your network, not from a job posting you saw on the internet. Start building your network today and you will reap the benefits of being a connected person for the rest of your career.
Networking is all about building relationships with people – it is a give and take. You may not realize it, but you’ve been networking your whole life and you already know how to do it. Be interesting and interested in other people and always ask what you can do for them.
Don’t let the “what if’s” keep you from pursuing a job you want. When Mom returns to work, the entire family has to adjust – and they will. “What if I can’t pick up at school every day?” and “What if I can’t make dinner every night?” are valid concerns, but don’t hold back on getting a job you’d like because there’s a chance that others in your house will be inconvenienced. You can outsource almost anything and planning ahead will solve a lot of these dilemmas.
Get Back to Business! Back to Business holds Meet-ups and workshops in the Raleigh, NC area and offers useful information and resources in blogs and through ebooks in order to help women returning to work. Visit us at www.backtobusinessconference.com.
I’d like to address LinkedIn and how important it is in your job search from a slightly different angle and share some smart strategies for using LinkedIn as a job searcher that you can do today.
Remember, LinkedIn is your ticket to finding out who works where and who’s hiring. For a job seeker, this is important information.
Here are 3 things to try on LinkedIn today:
TIP #1: Look up your dream company using the feature that allows you to see “people who work at…”. Are you connected to anyone who works there? If yes, send them a message asking for a phone call. It can read something like this:
I hope you’re doing well. I’m considering my next career move and have always been really interested in XYZ Company because my background in project management seems like a great fit for the roles XYZ is currently hiring for. Would you have 15 minutes during the next week or two for a phone call so I could ask you a few questions about the company and hear about your experience there?
Thanks in advance!
If you aren’t connected to anyone there, look at the second-degree connections and pick out someone you know who has a connection at the company. This can be either someone in the department you’re interested in (preferably) or a recruiter. Send a message to your connection asking for an introduction.
Here’s a template you can use:
I see you’re connected to Jane Smith on LinkedIn and Jane works at XYZ where I’m really interested in getting a job. Would you be able to introduce Jane and me via email or LinkedIn? My email address is xxx. Thanks for your help!
Did you try it? It’s pretty easy, right? Now try it a few more times – your goal is to expand your network and this will take work every day. Once you get an introduction or schedule a phone call, be ready with great questions, your elevator pitch, and an offer of “what can I do for you?”
Tip #2: For our next trick, message someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time to keep the connection fresh. Just a very brief “hello” is all we’re after here. Here’s an example:
It’s been a while, but I’ve enjoyed following your success on LinkedIn and hope things are going well for you at XYZ Company. I’m working on my return to work after taking a career break and I’m really excited about the possibilities!
Why do this? Because you never know who Bill knows or what kind of help he may be able to provide. If nothing else, you’ve done what people always say they plan to do (keep in touch with their network) but never seem to get around to actually doing – so good for you! Your contacts will recognize that this is smart networking and give you credit for it. Plus, if you need to reach out to Bill with a specific request in the near future, it won’t be so awkward because you’ve checked in with him recently.
Tip #3: Ask for recommendations! Having multiple recommendations is a great way to fill out your profile and asking for them is easy. Use the “Ask for recommendations” feature on LinkedIn. Or you can send your request via email. Allow me to get you started:
Hi Sally, I’m planning my next career move and filling out my LinkedIn profile as part of the process. Would you write a brief recommendation for me? I was hoping you could reference our work together as project managers/my technical skills/the great teamwork we had while working together at X Company. I’d be happy to do the same for you so please let me know if that would be helpful. Thank you!
A few things to keep in mind about your request:
- Be specific about what you’d like people to comment on. This helps them write something quickly and gets you just what you want on your LinkedIn profile.
- Offer to reciprocate.
- Keep your request brief!
- Don’t shy away from asking people for recommendations even if it’s been many years since you worked together. They’ll remember you and the work you did.
Try these out today. Why today? Because doing this now while it’s fresh in your mind is your best bet for getting it done. Also, because these are things you need to do on a regular basis and you’ll get more comfortable as you do them more often. Start today and then do them again tomorrow.
Remember, your job as a job seeker is to expand your network. If you’re returning to work after a career break you’re going to have to tap into your network to find your next opportunity and LinkedIn is a great way to do this.
When not offering tips on making LinkedIn the focus of your job search…well, actually, because LinkedIn IS that important, Katie can always be found offering LinkedIn assistance to her UNC MBA Candidates and women like her who are returning to the workforce. For more information and tips, check out www.backtobusinessconference.com.
Interviewing for jobs can be nerve-wracking! In my role as a Career Coach at a top-20 business school, I hear from multiple recruiters each year about the things candidates did well (and not so well) during job interviews. Here are three things we hear from recruiters that might help you avoid making some common interview mistakes and get the offer:
#1 Bring Your Energy! Maybe candidates are trying so hard to be “professional” that they forget to let their enthusiasm for the company or the position shine through. Or maybe nerves get the best of some interviewees and they just can’t relax enough to show their excitement. Whatever the reason, your interviewers are investing their time and resources bringing you in for an interview and they want to see that you’re excited to be there.
Here are some ways you can show your energy:
- Clearly articulate how happy you are to be interviewing for the position.
- Smile! It sounds basic, but in a pressure situation you might forget this most basic way of connecting with other people.
- Pay attention to your body language – sit up straight, talk with your hands, speak clearly and at an appropriate volume.
#2 Be prepared to talk about why you’re interested in this company. You’ll need to do your research to answer this question well. This is your chance to show that you’re the kind of person who does their homework and comes prepared. It’s also a chance to compliment what you admire about the company and demonstrate that you’re self-aware enough to know why you’d be a good fit for them.
Here’s how you can show your interest:
- Have 3 reasons why you love this company in mind when you walk into your interview.
- Come prepared to talk about how your strengths match up to what the position requires.
- Answer this question in terms of what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.
#3 Ask insightful questions at the end of the interview. A recruiter once told us that she interviewed a candidate whose questions for her hit on the three things that kept her up at night. This candidate had so thoroughly researched the company and the position he was interviewing for that he was able to zero in on the business issues that they were grappling with and ask thoughtful questions about them. He got the job!
Here’s how you can ask insightful questions:
- Know who the competition is, what the trends are in the industry and what, if any, threats exist to the way they currently do business. Use this information to formulate questions that show that you did your homework.
- Research online by reading industry blogs and the company’s website and Linkedin page. Supplement this knowledge by talking to people you know who work at the company to get the inside scoop.
- Be sure to mention during your interview that you spoke with people who work at the company as part of your preparation. This shows you went the extra mile to understand their business.
The keys to interviewing well are preparation and practice. Be sure to bring your energy, do your research so you know why you’re a good fit for the company and ask smart questions of your interviewers. Get a list of common interview questions and record yourself giving answers so you can hear how you sound. Enlist a friend to give you a mock interview and some honest feedback.
Then get out there and show ‘em what you’re made of!
When Katie’s not working to place MBA candidates, she’s writing articles, conducting workshops and MeetUps, and preparing courses to help women like her transition back into the workforce. Find out what’s going on at www.backtobusinessconference.com.
Focusing on our job search means updating our resumes….which means a solid review of our skills – determining which relevant skills we already possess and which require an update. Here are the critical skills we’ve identified and then what some experts have to say about them –
Professional Skills: Communication, Leadership, Teamwork
These are interpersonal skills that are so vital, yet not always common, in a work environment. Clear and concise verbal and written communications, the ability and confidence to have others follow your lead and the ability to work well with others as a leader or member of a team are crucial for success.
Business Basic Skills: E-mail, Spreadsheets, Word processing, Budgets, Scheduling
Being proficient on e-mail and in scheduling is probably not that tough for women re-entering the workforce as we’ve just spent the last many years coordinating our families’ activities! But a Microsoft refresher course is definitely in order with recent technological upgrades and advancements.
Technical Skills: Software-specific, Coding
Recruiters and employers are often looking for technical skills. Search job postings in your area of interest and check on LinkedIn to see what skills people working in your intended field possess. Remember that even if you don’t plan to go into a technical field, it can be important for you to understand the language of technology and have a basic understanding of modern technical terms.
Use our Job Re-Entry Checklist to assess your skills and identify any gaps that might need a refresher or training.
What the Experts Say
These skills are so important, that reacHIRE’s comprehensive PowerUpTM training program includes 70+ hours of training in these areas. reacHIRE has a program in Boston and RTP that helps women to successfully re-enter the workforce. Sonja Neiger, reacHire’s Regional Director, Talent & Training tells us that they include finance fundamentals, working with big data and understanding the software development process in their training.
“Most businesses are very interconnected, so strong communication skills are critical” says Leigh-Wallace Hines of The Select Group. “I typically also look for responsibilities listed on a resume where the candidate has given presentations using various methods (in person and teleconference) to groups of people and written documentation or marketing materials. When speaking to a candidate over the phone or in person, I want to make sure that they speak clearly and that their personality will mesh well with the environment that they will work in for our customer.”
Regarding technical skills, Hines says that “if someone is looking to ‘start from scratch’ and enter the technical world as a Help Desk Analyst or a Network Technician, then having some sort of certification (unless they have a Bachelor’s Degree in the field) will demonstrate that they have the baseline knowledge to be successful in the role. For a data analytics role, having demonstrable experience with software relevant to their field (SAP, SPSS, SQL, etc.) is important. If someone has been out of work for some time, candidates should be able to show some sort of effort in keeping their skills up-to-date by attending seminars, conferences, or classes at a local technical school.”
If you’ve been a busy, involved parent, chances are good that you’ve probably cultivated many of the skills that employers find desirable in candidates while you were on your career break. Many women stay active by managing committees through their churches or children’s schools, leading PTAs, organizing events or fundraising. Don’t overlook the value of these activities. Take a good look at what you’ve been involved in and make a list of the tools and skills you used in those situations, even if it wasn’t paid work.
Once you identify those skill areas in which you are relatively weak, make a plan to improve them. Your plan could include attending Back to Business events where you can brush up on some of those critical job skills in a hands-on environment. And if you’ve been putting off volunteering, now is a good time to pick a few activities that will help you strengthen a skill area you’ve identified as important to your next career move.
Communicating that you possess these skills is the next step. We’ve addressed that in subsequent Back to Business articles on effective networking. So keep working on your checklist and stay tuned!
Independence. Role Modeling. Responsibility. Additional Income.
These are just a few reasons why returning to work can be good for you and your family. Let’s break this down:
Independence – Our job as parents is to raise children who will be happy and productive members of society. At the most basic level, they have to be able to support themselves, cook for themselves and do their own laundry if this is ever going to happen. When mom returns to work, a shift occurs in the household and other people pick up more responsibility for the things that we used to do. This shouldn’t be a burden on our children, it’s an opportunity to develop the life skills that they need. Better that they learn them while you’re around to provide guidance than when they’re out on their own and don’t have you to redirect if necessary. So go ahead, post directions for using the washer and dryer in the laundry room and let your children have at it! It’s possible to raise successful kids without over-parenting.
Role Modeling – You’ve role modeled good parenting, problem solving and many other positive qualities all these years. As a job seeker, you have an opportunity to model successfully navigating a process that your children will one day go through. Let them see you put in the hard work, ask for help when necessary, pursue a goal and deal with the inevitable rejection that is part of the job search process. Talk to your family about what you’re doing so they can learn from you and support you.
Responsibility – This goes along with the independence we talked about above. Don’t just hope your children will step up and help out when you return to work – make it their responsibility to carry part of the weight. They’ll feel good about contributing (even if they don’t say so). And they’ll know that being part of a family has both benefits and obligations. Their future spouses will thank you!
Additional Income – Know what college costs these days? Yikes! Even if your brilliant children will earn scholarships and you don’t need the income to feed your family, I promise you’ll feel good earning your own paycheck. For some of you, going back to work isn’t an option. And some of you may be facing life changes that require you to return to work, such as a recent divorce. Aside from the necessity of earning, returning to work can help you find new meaning with how you’re spending your time and give you the opportunity to develop new skills.
So if you are looking to return to work – enjoy this! Look into the future and imagine yourself with a whole new set of competencies, then make a plan for getting there.