The two most powerful Microsoft Office tools you’ve never heard of…

Over the years, I have interviewed hundreds of potential office employees.  Nearly every resume I review contains a statement similar or identical to:

“Proficient with Microsoft Word and Excel” or “Proficient with Microsoft Office”

I can almost always point out the lie in these statements with two simple hypotheticals. (For a great read on why you really shouldn’t put this line in a resume, see )  Sadly, almost nobody gets the right answer and that’s a tragedy. Here are the two hypotheticals and why the answers are a tragedy.

Hypothetical One:  Your boss gives you a customer list of recently closed sales containing over 1000 names, addresses, sales amounts and other associated data.  She wants to know if her marketing campaign is working throughout her geographical territory and asks you to figure it out.  How do you take the list she provided and tell her how many sales were closed in each zip code within her territory?

Hypothetical Two:  Your boss gives you that same list and asks you to send a customized form letter (perhaps promoting a new product or sale) to every name on the list.  The letter should display the customer’s name in the letter and, perhaps, reference the prior sale.  How do you generate such a letter to every name on the list.

If your answer to Hypothetical One does not include the words “pivot table” and your answer to Hypothetical Two does not include the words “mail merge”, keep reading.  (As an aside, my experience suggests that roughly 90% of you reading this blog will not know either answer.)

The reason I used the rather strong word ‘tragedy’ earlier is that both of these tools sit at the core of Word and Office (not to mention pretty much every spreadsheet and word processing program available today) and are incredibly easy to use.  When used properly, they provide enormous improvements in efficiency and allow for unique uses of and views into your data.

PIVOT TABLE:  Simply put, a pivot table allows you to quickly summarize large amounts of standardized data.  In Hypothetical One above, using about five mouse clicks, you could tell your boss exactly how many sales were made in every zip code, the total value of the sales, and a summary of any other data that was contained in the list.  For an excellent and short tutorial on how to create you own pivot tables, check out this great site…

MAIL MERGE:  Mail merge allows you to take a large list of data (eg. names and addresses) and incorporate that data into another document such as a form letter.  Mail merge forms can be quite complex up to and including conditional language and formatting.  In the case of Hypothetical Two, you would take the appropriate data from the customer list and merge it into a form letter and in a matter of minutes you would have a custom letter generated for every person on the list.  Depending upon your level of sophistication with mail merge, you could even customize the form to send specific letters based upon zip code or other salient data.  For a quick tutorial on the basics of using Excel and Word to create a mail merge, try this out…

I guarantee that just about everyone can benefit from either or both of these tools so try them out and tell me what you think.


About the Author: AF

Allen Friedman Founder and CEO of Techaerus LLC

Allen Friedman is the owner and CEO of Techaerus LLC, an office efficiency consulting firm. He is also a licensed attorney. Allen founded and managed one of the largest consumer collections law firms in the country and managed over 50 attorneys as well as hundreds of non-attorney staff. Prior to founding that firm, he opened and managed the New York and Michigan operations for the largest consumer collections firm in the United States. Throughout his career, Allen has always placed great emphasis on ensuring that investments in office technology provide the greatest possible returns. In order to achieve these returns, he focuses on three pillars of office management; asset management, training, and automation. His expertise includes document/image management, software and hardware integration, training, and process management and automation. Allen lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife Amy, his children Cassidy and Gideon, and two adorable dogs named Roxie (a labradoodle) and Bentley (an Old English Sheepdog).