Becoming a god at Excel

Analyst 1 in IB-M&A

I'm gonna be straight up. I'm not too good with Excel right now. How did you guys become Gods at Excel, and what would you recommend for me to do to get better?

Comments (62)

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  • Analyst 1 in IB - DCM
May 27, 2020

It's super cliche but it's the truth, don't use a mouse ever. When I summered at the bank I'm at now the analyst I was helping took my mouse from my computer and told me to build a model. I thought he was a douche, but looking back it was one of the best things to happen in my career.

Before anyone asks I looked up the shortcuts on my phone because I didn't know how to switch applications Without a mouse lol.

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  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 27, 2020

Been told this one a lot, and I can definitely see how it helps. Will keep practicing without a mouse for sure. Thanks!

May 28, 2020

not knowing alt tab from a young age is a foreign concept to me

guess not growing up with a windows machine is a zoomer thing?

  • Analyst 1 in HF - Other
May 28, 2020

Also due to the popularity of MacOS at a young age, there's really not anything like alt-tab in that OS.

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May 29, 2020

Lol been there bro. Can relate to the phone shortcut lookups.

May 29, 2020

What is with these idiotic hardo statements about not using mouse? Are you retarded? Obviously some shortucts are necessary, but trying hard to not use mouse is beyond stupid.

Modelling is about being creative, yet simple in presenting a given result, not showing off what useless shortcuts you know. Simple, easy to follow formulas. Proper formatting. Pasteability. Accuracy.

How much time do you save by using a key shortuct instead of clicking on a ribbon? Miliseconds? Grow up and go off instagram finmemes, It is really ridiculous.

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May 30, 2020

I do not think it inaccurate to say that a first year Analyst (i.e. someone who might spend literally an entire work day on a model) might save an hour or more over that work day by using keyboard shortcuts instead of a mouse. When you can only afford four hours of sleep a day, an extra hour is a godsend.

Also, back when I started out a lot of the BSDs had cut their teeth building models using pen and paper or Lotus 1-2-3... now there are probably a ton of MDs who came up through the pipeline having gone through their Analyst and Associate days churning models in Excel. Do you really wanna be the guy walking someone through a model and slowly clicking through Excel tabs while your MD or Partner is tapping their feet waiting?

    • 1
May 30, 2020

my associate once sat me down and showed me the magic of the new world the alt key brought in ppt and excel; I think most people whove actually worked the job will tell you that every single second 100% adds up. and this not about a model due tomorrow morning and you have the day to do it. it's adding a new set of assumptions for a new output for the latest cut of the strategic advisory deck, its putting together a new ebitda bridge analysis for a management presentation that needs to go to print press asap, it's trying to pump out analysis so you can leave at a decent time on friday night.

if any shortcuts are so long, you might need ur mouse, put it in quick access, cuz it'll always take more time to use it.

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  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 27, 2020

Bump

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Most Helpful
May 27, 2020

Similar to the idea of unplugging your mouse, getting better at modeling is all about building habits. just a few thoughts:

  • Format your work and make sure it's easy to read as you go
  • Don't fall into bad habits and say that you'll make something look better when you're finished with the model.
  • Readability doesn't just mean pasteable into PPT (although that's a big component). You want to make sure your work is easy to check (long complicated formulas suck).
  • Make real comments to yourself and your reviewer.
  • Check your work as you go. Look at your numbers as you go and run a few test cases through your complicated formulas before you move onto the next one.
  • Accuracy is more important than speed.
  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 27, 2020

Appreciate the advice, thank you!

May 28, 2020

Cannot emphasize the importance of simple formulas enough. A lot of analysts come into this role with the misconception that complicated formulas somehow imply that the model will be better. In truth, it makes internal auditing, and buyer/reader auditing a nightmare, and is much more error-prone than taking the simple route. Don't be afraid to add one or two additional rows and break your formulas up - your VP/Associates will appreciate it and it will help improve the "correctness"/accuracy of your model overall.

    • 6
May 27, 2020

If you get the chance, sit next to people who master it and are willing to share how to improve. Best to improving is through actual project work. Both helped me a lot.
Other than this: try recreating models, understanding how and why they were built. The broad logic (assumption, process, outputs), the formulas, the "shortcuts". Good thing is that you have real inputs and a guide/solution (there is not "one" solution and beware, each project is different and tweaks may had been needed).
To get better at excel: excercising shortcuts and formulae is key. Next step, how to make your work/formulas simpler. Simplicity is beauty and may reduce errors.
As mentioned accuracy trump's speed and is actually true speed, as you will spend less time finding and correcting mistakes.

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  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 27, 2020

Appreciate it! Gonna practice recreating models without a mouse and hopefully ground the speed factor. Feel like that's my biggest hindrance right now. Thanks for the advice!

May 28, 2020

Absolutely. It makes a big difference in speed and you'll find out it is also more comfortable, as you don't need to take out your eyes from the screen and refocus.
There are many pages with lists of shortcuts. Learn first the basic, like navigation, etc. You can make a habit at the beginning to learn two or three each day (or five a week or so) and use them proactively.
There are tons of videos Nd tutorials on formulas. I would learn first the basic. For that it is good what your colleagues have used on other models. No need at this point to learn all possible esoteric functions, which you'll never get to use.
Most importantly is however to learn to find the logic of models, how they are built, purposes, limits. One thing is to play keyboard well, but piano mastery entails feeling the melody and ultimately composing your own creations.
Not saying excel is piano, is just a bad analogy.
Don't worry, it's all about practice. Once you are a god of excel remember: "see one, do one, teach one"

Ahhh and remember what the other said: attention to detail, meaningful notes/sources/references and check your work not wice but three times. Your MD will pick your mistakes on first sight or latest when he pulls out his old hp 19b

    • 3
May 28, 2020

+1 SB. This! Knowing all the shortcuts does not mean being good at Excel. Being able to construct a good flowing model that is easy to check for errors is the key.

Personally, I keep a portfolio of models I've seen throughout my career. I see how other people have modeled certain challenges and then basically borrow those ideas. My current model is essentially a hybrid of maybe 7 different models where I've seen someone come up with a good solution to a specific problem.

My suggestion is to try to get your hands on as many professional models as possible and see how everything runs and try to identify which methods are better than others.

    • 1
May 28, 2020

Any chance you're willing to send that model portfolio over? I am new to modeling and expect to face a steep learning curve in PE soon. :D

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    • 1
May 28, 2020

I'd also love to see some of the models you've deemed worth saving if you're able to share

May 29, 2020

Very look forwary to it.

May 29, 2020

this would be cool to check out and happy to improve it as well

May 28, 2020

Unplug the mouse. Remove the F1 key. Practice, practice, practice.

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May 29, 2020

Why do you recommend removing the F1 key?

May 29, 2020

It opens the help window in excel which you can't get out of without a mouse

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May 30, 2020

^That. And you use the F2 key a lot for auditing formulas, so if you accidentally hit the damn F1 key, it wastes valuable time waiting for the help window to open, grabbing the mouse, closing it, and resuming your work.

    • 1
May 28, 2020

As everybody said - no mouse, master shortcuts and formulas.

Consider customizing your ribbon or shortcuts once you realize you work with certain formulas more than others, but do that relatively early to avoid breaking habits.

May 28, 2020

I was in S&T and then moved to a more senior role in PE - with no excel skills...
I grabbed existing models and re-did them. One guy had complex, but models that were always RIGHT. So you get into their brain trying to recreate everything. When you stall, you look at how they are doing the formulas (as little as possible)
Then some models were really shit, so you redo them but better.

Always ask people about how to do something simpler. I asked my analyst how to do a format painter from non-adjacent cells once - it was very straight forward with keyboard shortcuts but it wasn't straightforward at the time. Every formula you don't undertand in a model you just google it to understand how the formula works and you understand it.

Redoing existing models is the best way to learn. I became really good at the stuff in less than six months. I had to learn fast cause it was assumed I knew how to model

I also want to add - modelling for interviews and modelling for work are two entirely different things. I had learned how to model for interviews, that's pretty straight forward as they don't expect you to do everything perfectly in the limited amount of time you have - so it's more about how you set everything up that matters

    • 4
May 28, 2020

In addition to the advice given so far - shadowing someone else when they build a model from scratch is massive. Take frantic notes, and make sure to give him praise to whoever their direct report is. The latter is huge, as it'll make them a lot more receptive to future asks you have.

May 28, 2020

Even esoteric shortcuts add up to meaningful efficiency gains. A couple to get you started that will help you find other shortcuts is (1) alt then you can follow the guide at the top to get to your selection without the mouse and (2) shift + f10 in place of right clicking a cell/s

I'll add color coding (computation, hardcode, link) and the other best practices, eg don't merge cells which makes it more difficult to navigate a tab (center across selection instead)

    • 2
May 28, 2020

any pre-built macro that provides custom short cuts for formatting are incredibly helpful. I can't use excel right now with out it.

Something like TTS Turbo, although this isn't available anymore.

May 28, 2020

TTS Link

Damn, sucks that they stopped. I've been using the TTS Macros for years... not sure what I'll do if/when they become outdated

May 28, 2020
John Pierpont:

TTS Link

Damn, sucks that they stopped. I've been using the TTS Macros for years... not sure what I'll do if/when they become outdated

I used Macabacus in IB and now in corporate finance. It probably has the same exact functionality.

https://macabacus.com/

May 28, 2020

Use the quick access toolbar, customize it to make it your own

May 28, 2020

WSP crashcourse in excel is a godsend. Make flashcards of the shortcuts.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
May 28, 2020

use the + sign on the numpad with your right ring finger to start formulas instead of using the = sign in between - and backspace it's much faster and you're less likely to hit a wrong key

May 28, 2020

There is only one way. Hours and hours of practice.

May 28, 2020

One of the best things that helped me was taking an excel class at my university. You don't have to pay an ungodly sum to attend them either. I know some of these excel classes can be $1,000 USD plus... However, if you can get into one of these programs through your university, or a personal connection at a discounted rate - I would highly recommend attending. Not trying to plug, but Wallstreet Prep and Train the Street will do promotionals at business schools for reduced rates.

Most of the classes through 'Wallstreet Prep' or 'Training the Street' are taught by former bankers, they will give you insight into on the job best practices for your models and focusing your attention on the essentials.

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  • Prospect in IB - Ind
May 28, 2020

Are there any specific courses you guys would recommend to strengthen skills? Also, I'm using a MacBook currently. Do you guys think that's fine, or should I invest in a different laptop (any recommendations?).

Also, even though I'm not OP, just want to thank everybody for their insight. This thread was extremely helpful!

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Restr
May 28, 2020

You should get a PC. There are some people who would disagree, but they're incorrect.

To add what has already been suggested, I would Google and print out a page that has common shortcuts on it and keep it at your desk. Assuming that you're working/studying from home right now, so take that opportunity to repeat the shortcuts verbally as you do them - it just makes the memorization process quicker and they'll become second-nature to you.

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
May 28, 2020

Thanks for the advice! Would you have any recommendations for a PC to get by any chance?

May 28, 2020

At some point being a god at Excel means ditching it and using python

An incoming medical student interested in health tech, consulting, and entrepreneurship.

May 28, 2020

Practice makes perfect. Checkout Exceljet website and Tiger Spreadsheet Solutions on Youtube.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 28, 2020

PLEASE use the quick access toolbar. Customize the shortcuts you use most to save yourself keystrokes. It doesn't seem like much, but they add up on certain projects and will make you leave the office earlier.

    • 1
May 28, 2020

Biggest thing I learned from the senior analysts during my intern stint aside from shortcuts and formatting was creating files that are essentially "unbreakable". This goes a long way to save yourself time the next time you need to update it and makes life way easier on the people checking your work if they can see that it has been built correctly. Although it will take more time to think of how you can create dynamic formulas the first time around, it will help tremendously in the future when it comes to elminating stupid computational mistakes that could have been avoided with a better formula (ex. dynamic match formulas, limiting hardcodes and always referencing the same cell when hardcodes are necessary). Try and build a simple backup (ex. PV chart) in the most efficient way possible and then go into the legacy backup your bank uses and try and understand the differences between the formulas you used vs the ones that it has. Like everyone has already said, practice makes perfect and its a long journey hahaha. Hope this helps!

May 29, 2020

Use Arixcel, Operis OAK. Those auditing add-in make you a semi-god in excel .

May 29, 2020

What do they do?

May 31, 2020

Basically excel-addin with one-shop solutions. Every problems in modeling you suppose difficult has been thoroughly handled by excel professionals.

May 29, 2020

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May 29, 2020
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Jun 2, 2020