You’ve gotten through all your courses, studied management theory from front to back and had several interviews in your field. But on your first major placement you get caught out when it matters most. Not a likely story coming from a TRSM grad, that’s for sure.

Why?

One reason is because of the huge emphasis on attaining practical, top-notch Excel skills at the School of Accounting & Finance.

The Power of Excel Workshop Series

My affinity for Excel at TRSM began last spring, when a few of us from the School of Accounting & Finance (SAF) were put before several Faculty Advisory Boards to solve advanced on-the-spot financial problems using Excel. The SAF is the type of school that defies convention in such profound ways as to remove the calculators from 1st year finance exams. At SAF, students hit the ground running, developing the abstract thinking skills needed to meet the demands of the modern workplace. Excel modeling is a crucial component of the program curriculum.

To say these meetings were a success would be a huge understatement. The following term, the Business Career Hub piloted a workshops series titled The Power of Excel, a three-level program available to all students at TRSM. The rationale was that if SAF students had such an incredible edge, why shouldn’t it be available to the rest of the student population?

The Power of Excel has been running stronger than ever, with a 30% increase in the number of workshops being offered this term over last. My personal vision for the project is to hopefully develop some type of a certification to go along with the workshops.

The TRSM Edge

The problem in industry right now is that everyone defines Excel proficiency in a different way. Ryerson seems to be on the cusp of changing that. When most people define proficiency as being able to use the SUM function to add a column, and you get a TRSM grad to build a dashboard in less than an hour, the whole office finds out about it and word gets out! That is the #TRSMdifference.

Like an artist carries around a portfolio of their work, so too should a business student carry around a repertoire of the various models they’ve built. It’s no longer just about theory, but as our Interim Associate Dean of Students, Dr. Allen Goss, puts it, it’s about “taking that theory and turning it into practice.”

There is no better tool out there than Excel to start building your portfolio. Let’s look at why.

Why Excel?

Excel has become entrenched in business processes worldwide for three major reasons: accessibility, versatility, and widespread usage. Firstly, there is so much information available about Excel: from hundreds of books to free YouTube tutorials, there is no shortage of information on how to best use the program.

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It is also the most versatile program out there that connects to a wealth of other common business software packages. It is globally widespread in that almost every major office worldwide has Excel powering and manipulating data of all kinds.

But Excel is just for the finance world, is it not?

When most people think Excel, they think of the number crunchers. Although this has some merit, let’s get one thing straight: it is by no means exclusively a tool used for linking a balance sheet and an income statement together. I received an email from a nutrition and food student after one of my workshops saying, “Excel is used in my future profession of dietetics to keep data records and calculate nutritional requirements.” Excel can be effectively used to model common business problems that TRSM grads will face regardless of major.

Let’s look at two straightforward examples:

Marketing

A Marketing grad receives a document containing the company’s sales records for the past month (over 4,000,000 lines). They have been asked to prepare a report for senior management to graphically show which stores met their sales targets, and which ones did not.

The Excel Edge: Import the data into a new Worksheet using Power Pivot and use Pivot Tables to slice and dice the data before preparing a control panel able to visually depict the results.

TRSM Time: 40 minutes

Human Resources

You were just sent a survey result with employees ranking their job satisfaction from 1 to 5. Included in this survey was a record of the number of hours part-time staff worked this month. You need to figure out which employees were entitled to overtime pay and also summarize the survey results.

The Excel Edge: Use a CHOOSE statement to summarize the survey results before then using a COUNTIF statement to calculate a distribution. An IF statement will figure out which employees worked past the regular-hour-threshold.

TRSM Time: 20 minutes

The Bottom Line

As students, we need to be objective when we call ourselves proficient. Instead of proclaiming that you “know Excel”, turn that into something like “I know how to manipulate thousands of lines of data and produce a meaningful report in less than an hour” (something you can learn at The Power of Excel!)

As educators, we need to encourage students to model abstract problems so they can turn theory into practice.

As employers, we need to be aware of the Grand Canyon of difference between knowing Excel, and knowing Excel.

Posted by William Snyder

William is a 4th year Finance major at TRSM and is considered by his colleagues to be one of the Excel gurus at the School of Accounting & Finance. He has been instrumental in the creation of the ‘Power of Excel’ workshop series offered through the Business Career Hub. As an educator, he is motivated to help others help themselves capitalize on the competitive advantage Ryerson’s practical approach to education offers. Apart from his involvement within the TRSM community, he is also an accomplished classical pianist.