VLOOKUPs in Excel: Mastering Them Through a Step-by-Step Guide

VLOOKUPs in Excel – using a step-by-step guide to learn and perfect the skill of using them in a spreadsheet

VLOOKUP in Excel: Excel iconThis week’s hint and tip is on VLOOKUP in Excel. VLOOKUPs are one of Excel’s most powerful and used functions. They are the function we are often asked about most on our courses and it’s no surprise as they are a very useful function in the package! We cover VLOOKUPs in our Advanced Excel training course but as they are so popular, we decided to do a hint and tip on it. We are going to go through it now below.


What is a VLOOKUP?

VLOOKUP, short for “Vertical Lookup”, is a function in Excel that allows you to search for a value in a specified column of a table and return a corresponding value from another column. It’s a game-changer when it comes to quickly retrieving data from large datasets.

Here’s how to use VLOOKUP effectively. Just follow the steps below.



  1. Prepare Your Data: Before creating your VLOOKUP, ensure that your data is organized in a table format, with a unique identifier (like an ID or name) in the first column. This identifier will be used for the lookup.
  2. Understand the Syntax: The basic syntax of the VLOOKUP function is as follows:

=VLOOKUP(lookup_value, table_array, col_index_num, [range_lookup])

    • lookup_value: The value you want to find in the first column of your table
    • table_array: The range that contains the data you want to search through
    • col_index_num: The column number from which you want to retrieve the data
    • range_lookup: An optional argument that determines whether you want an exact match (FALSE) or an approximate match (TRUE or omitted)
  1. Start with Simple VLOOKUPs: Begin with basic VLOOKUPs to get comfortable with the function. Practice using exact matches before moving on to approximate matches


Once you have an idea on how to use them…

Once you have learned how to create a VLOOKUP, you can then follow the steps below to take it further.

  1. Handling Errors: Excel can return errors when a value is not found. You can use the IFERROR function to display custom messages or other values for errors. This can make your spreadsheet more user-friendly
  2. Use Named Ranges: Instead of manually selecting the table array, create named ranges for your data. This makes your formulas more readable and reduces errors
  3. Sort Your Data: Ensure that your data is sorted in ascending order when using approximate matches. VLOOKUP relies on this for accuracy
  4. Stay Updated: Keep an eye on your data; if it changes frequently, your VLOOKUP formulas might need adjustments
  5. Practice, Practice, Practice: Like any skill, practice makes perfect. Create sample data and experiment with VLOOKUPs to reinforce your learning


The VLOOKUP function is a great tool to have the knowledge of in Excel and can help you in your job on a day to day basis.


Worked example video

The video below shows you how you can use this feature in the spreadsheet attached here. (clicking here will download a copy to your computer so you can try it out!). We hope that you find the video useful and enjoy learning about it!

Take a look below at the video to find out more and then try it out on your own computer!

We hope you have enjoyed this hint and tip on VLOOKUPs in Excel. Why not take a look at our previous video hint and tip on how to correct incorrect date formats in Excel?