With so much emphasis on advanced coding and design skills, it’s easy to overlook basic, old-fashioned computer know-how. While having these skills might seem like a no-brainer, Dawn D. Boyer, Ph.D. and CEO at Boyer Consulting, says otherwise.
“I can’t tell you how many high school students in their first year of college taking my IT courses have never opened an Excel spreadsheet,” Boyer says. For Boyer, this creates a disconnect when it comes to the practical reality of making things more efficient and easier in the working world. Similarly, Boyer says that database management is another overlooked computing skill that goes a long way in business.
According Boyer, Microsoft Word is the most important office software program to learn, followed by Excel. “Everyone has to write something in their work,” Boyer says, “and if you have the ability to use Word paragraph and tabs formatting, as well as spell check, grammar and punctuation check, you are halfway to being more proficient in the software than about 80 percent of the competition for a job. [You’d be surprised] how many…Ph.D. students can’t format a document for margins, paragraph indents, and tabs, or even insert a table, [yet] are out on the job market.” As for Excel, Boyer says that vital functions to have a handle on are vertical lookup — a function used to lookup and retrieve data from specific columns in a table — and knowing how to create formulas — expressions that calculate the value of a spreadsheet cell.
If you’re feeling particularly lost when trying to find your way around routine office software, consider taking an online class to get yourself up to speed. Excel, Access, Powerpoint and Word might not be as exotic as Ruby on Rails, but they’re a solid bump up in well-rounded resume skills. Boyer says that it’s difficult to cite specific salary increases due to the amount of other factors involved (education, years of experience, overall skill set, etc,), but to think of these extra skills as a vital way to get yourself to the head of the application process.