12 shortcuts that will make you an Excel guru and add hours to your life

Bill gates microsoft excelFlickr / Microsoft Sweden. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0Bill Gates using an early version of Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel is a crucial tool for anyone operating in modern business.

But there are risks.

For one thing, it can be intimidating for beginners.

Furthermore, Excel errors can have devastating consequences, such as the one that undermined one of the most famous economics papers of all time.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

There are a few basic skills and shortcuts that can really save you a bunch of time.

It takes years to become an Excel expert, but if you’re trying to justify putting it on your resume you should at least know these 12 shortcuts.

Let's say you have some ugly raw data that needs formatting ...

Excel

Ctrl + Shift + $ makes the number format into currency, with commas at the thousands and two decimal places

Excel

Control + Shift + ! automatically formats them into a number with two decimal places and commas

Excel

Control + Shift + % makes the format into per cent.

Excel

Control + Shift + : (colon) posts the current time into a cell.

Excel

On the same token, Control + ; (semicolon) posts the current date into a cell.

Excel

There are also a few basic functions which are used to edit text

EXCEL

For example, =LEFT(B2,12) outputs the 12 leftmost characters from the string in box B2

EXCEL

On the other hand, =RIGHT(B2,19) outputs the 19 rightmost characters from the string in box B2

EXCEL

The function =LEN(B2) is really helpful. It spits out the number of characters in B2

EXCEL

All three of these are most powerful when used in concert together.

EXCEL

VLOOKUP is one of the more powerful functions in excel. It's the kind of function that you'll never hear of until you desperately need it, at which point it will save you hours.

Excel

Right now we're looking to find out what John McCain's education was from a list of 100 Senators. So, we type in 'John McCain' into the first term.

excel

Next, we select the array that we're interested in, which is A4:C104 here.

excel

VLOOKUP searches for the first term in the first column of that array. The '2' in the third term says to return the answer in the second column of the selected array once VLOOKUP finds 'John McCain' in the first.

excel

Then, 'FALSE' tells VLOOKUP that it doesn't need to be an exact match. This is necessary if the list is unsorted.

excel

So, VLOOKUP finds 'John McCain' in column 1, then returns the value on the same row in column 2 of the array.

excel

So in this example we're trying to find what year 'Dianne Feinstein' was born -- data in column 3.

excel

And it returns 1933, Dianne Feinstein's birth year.

excel

The rand() function generates a pseudorandom number between Zero and One.

Excel

This is excellent for generating simulations, like a Monty Hall trial.

Excel

Let's say we fill out a row of formulas, and want to fill it in all the way down. We can just double click on the square in the bottom right corner of the highlighted section...

Excel

...and it will fill in through the rest of the file. This is very handy when the file is massive.

EXCEL

Finally, the LINEST() function is also very useful. Here, we're going to run a linear regression to see if there's a relationship between the Fed's monetary base (in billions) and the price of gold.

Excel

The output of this function is an array. So, select a two by five section. Type in =LINEST. First select your x-values.

Excel

Then select your y-values. then, type in 'TRUE' and 'TRUE,' indicating you want a y=mx+b output and the error bars listed. Now, since this is an array function, hit either Command-Enter (on Mac) or CTRL+SHIFT+ENTER (on PC)

Excel

This tells Excel that you want it treated as an array function. Here's what the output of the 2 by 5 array looks like. The reasonably high r-Squared shows that there is a potential correlation between the two. The slope tells us that generally, for every $1 the price of gold grows, there's $1.7 billion in growth in the monetary base.

Excel

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.