Basic Computer Skills Every Worker Needs
When we talk about computer skills in a professional context, we’re usually talking about job-specific skills, e.g. Python for data scientists or Salesforce for sellers. But before you get to the advanced stuff, you need to build a foundation.
Without basic computer skills, you may find it hard to move on to the more complicated software and tools that will help you advance in your career. In fact, there are some skills that are so essential for modern working life, you need them even if your job takes place entirely outside of an office environment.
If you’re having trouble starting or growing your career, ask yourself if you need to brush up on some of these basics. (Then, dive into these free ways to improve your computer skills.)
10 Basic Computer Skills Every Worker Needs
Don’t laugh—knowing how to use email in your personal life is not the same thing as knowing how to use it professionally. To get the most out of your email, you need to be able to:
- Stay organized. Use folders and rules to keep your inbox tidy and your deliverables clear—and delete the junk.
- Stay focused. Disable your alerts and check your email only once or twice a day. Choose a time when you’ll have a few minutes to file messages appropriately and plan responses.
- Stay appropriate for work. Using your personal email for professional purposes like job searching? Now’s not the time for the cute, silly, or NSFW handle. Keep it clean and intuitive—like [email protected].
2. Collaboration Apps
If you haven’t had an office job for a while, you might be surprised to discover that email is no longer the only—or at some companies, the principle—choice for work communications.
Collaboration apps like Slack combine the interoffice memo functionality of email with the immediacy of instant messaging. You may find that most of your watercooler chatter and casual collaboration takes place over a messaging system like this.
Meanwhile, workflow management apps like Asana and Trello have crept out of software development and into the workplace in other industries. This roundup provides a good overview of some of the most common collaboration tools, as well as other productivity apps that might make your workflow easier.
3. Word Processing
Most offices around the world use either Microsoft Office or Google Workplace for their enterprise applications, including word processing software. (No seriously: according to Statista, the two providers combined have 93.2% global market share.)
But just because you’re probably using one or the other (or both), doesn’t mean that you know all the tips and tricks—or even how to get your formatting to go back to normal after an inadvertent keyboard lean moves your margins to the center of the page.
If it’s been a while since you really looked at the options in Microsoft Word or Google Docs, it might be time for a refresher. Both Microsoft and Google offer tutorials:
4. Basic Google Skills
And speaking of Google, do you know what the world’s most popular search engine is showing employers about your work history—and personal life? Even if you don’t use a computer for work, it’s a good idea to Google yourself when you’re applying for jobs.
Chances are that the hiring manager will do the same. According to a CareerBuilder survey, 66% of employers say that they use search engines to research candidates, while 70% review candidates’ social media profiles. Post something that makes you appear unprofessional – pictures of you partying, for example, or rants about a former employer—and you could find your resume moved to the “no” pile.
But Google-proofing your online reputation isn’t the only reason to start searching. Google and other search engines can help you find out more information on the employer, as well. Check Google News for recent stories about the company and its officers, and run Google searches on the names of anyone who’ll be interviewing you.
You might find out that you have more in common with your potential boss than you knew – or you might find some deal breakers that change your mind about interviewing.
5. Social Media
Your social media use can work against you during a job search in some surprising ways. While those party photos are an obviously bad idea, the solution isn’t to become completely invisible online. (Not that you’re likely to achieve that unless you just bought your first computer yesterday.)
The aforementioned CareerBuilder survey showed that employers are even more likely to look up candidates on social media than they are to look for them via search engine.
And if they can’t find you on social, they might think twice before extending an offer—20% say that they expect candidates to have an online presence. Need help curating your social profiles? This primer will tell you how to get the right sort of attention online.
If you use spreadsheets for work, chances are that you’re using Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. The two products have a lot in common—as well as a few key differences. (In short: Excel offers more storage and a formula for just about everything, while Google Sheets makes it easier to collaborate with others and a low, low price point of zero dollars.)
7. Presentation Software
Employers want solid public speaking skills, but just knowing how to deliver a speech won’t be enough to hold your coworkers’ and clients’ attention.
Facility with presentation software can make the difference between a riveting presentation and an awkward yawn fest. Microsoft PowerPoint dominates this space with some competition from Apple Keynote, Prezi, Google Slides, etc.
Learn one of these, and you’ll learn enough basics to transition to whatever presentation software your future employer prefers.
8. Video Meeting Software
Certainly, today’s office worker needs to be able to navigate a Zoom or GoToMeeting. To avoid looking like the clueless coworker in every Zoom-themed commercial, learn more about video meetings and interviews here.
9. Security Best Practices
Surveys show that over half of computer users choose the same password for multiple accounts. You don’t need to be a security pro to know why that’s bad. But that’s not the only security mistake most of us are making.
Even if you never use your computer for work-related purposes, it pays to bone up on security basics. Why? Because ID theft can cause big problems during the background check phase of the job interview process. Keep your information secure and save yourself some headaches.
10. Touch Typing
If you’ve made it this far hunting and pecking, you might be tempted to give touch typing a pass. But there are plenty of good reasons to learn to type, even later in your career. (Just for starters: you’ll save yourself loads of time and appear more professional when you type in front of coworkers, for example, in a meeting environment.)
Best of all, there are loads of excellent free touch-typing programs online, so you can learn at your own speed and on your own time.
More Computer Skills Employers Look For
Depending on the job, there are more skills that an employer may expect you to have. Here’s a list of other basic skills companies look for in applicants.
Operating Systems: Proficiency in using standard operating systems like Windows, macOS, and Linux. Tasks include navigating the desktop, managing files and folders, and understanding system settings.
Internet Browsing: Familiarity with web browsers (e.g., Chrome, Firefox, Edge) for searching the web, navigating websites, and understanding browser settings.
File Management: Knowledge of how to organize and manage files and folders on a computer, including copying, moving, renaming, and deleting files.
Keyboard Shortcuts: Basic keyboard shortcuts for simple tasks, such as copy (Ctrl+C), paste (Ctrl+V), cut (Ctrl+X), and undo (Ctrl+Z).
Basic Troubleshooting: Ability to diagnose and resolve common computer issues like frozen applications, internet connectivity problems, and printer errors.
Security Awareness: Understanding basic cybersecurity principles, including the importance of strong passwords, avoiding suspicious emails, and keeping software up to date.
Software Installation: Capability to install and uninstall software applications and updates.
Printers and Peripherals: Familiarity with setting up and troubleshooting peripherals like printers, scanners, and external drives.
Basic Graphics Editing: Basic skills in editing and resizing images using software like Microsoft Paint, GIMP, or online tools like Canva.
Cloud Storage: Understanding cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft OneDrive for file storage and sharing.
Data Backup: Knowledge of how to back up important files and data to prevent data loss.
Tips for Improving Your Computer Skills
Identify your needs. What are the specific computer skills you want to improve? Do you need to learn how to use a certain software program? Do you want to be able to create presentations or spreadsheets? Once you know what you need to learn, you can start to focus your efforts.
Find a good learning resource. There are many different ways to learn computer skills. You can take a class, watch online tutorials and videos, or read books and articles. Many online tutorials, courses, and YouTube videos are available for free or at a low cost. Websites like Coursera, Udemy, and Khan Academy offer courses on various computer-related topics. Also consider in-person classes for hands-on training. Local non-profit organizations, community colleges, and public libraries often offer computer classes for beginners.
Start with the basics. Don’t try to learn everything at once. Start with the basics, such as how to use a mouse and keyboard, open and save files, and navigate the Internet. Once you understand the basics, you can move on to more advanced skills.
Set realistic goals. Don’t try to learn everything at once. Set small, achievable goals for yourself and gradually work your way up.
Be patient. Learning new skills takes time and effort. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results immediately. Just keep practicing, and you will eventually reach your goals.
Practice regularly. The best way to improve your computer skills is to practice regularly. The more you use a skill, the better you will become at it. Set aside some time each day to practice your skills.
Don’t forget to have fun. Learning new computer skills should be enjoyable. If you’re not having fun, you’re less likely to stick with it. Find ways to make learning fun, such as taking online quizzes or playing educational games.