From Cloud Illiterate to Certified & Hired In 5 Months

So you’re working hard studying for hours upon hours in the (seemingly) endless endeavor to commit the many preliminary details of the Salesforce platform to memory, or at least to the extent that will enable you to pass the Administrator exam and acquire the coveted title of Certified Salesforce Administrator.
While internalization of platform principles is absolutely essential to your success as a Salesforce administrator, getting hired is what will ultimately enable you to use and sharpen those skills in live business situations. This article will outline my journey from knowing absolutely nothing about Salesforce or tech in general to securing a position as a Salesforce consultant in 5 months. And it is just that–a journey, but one that can be traversed with more or less ease depending on (i) your understanding of what exactly Salesforce wants you to know to acquire certification (hint: it’s not complete memorization of functionality) and (ii) the references you build along the way to becoming certified that will subsequently help you get hired.

Understanding What Salesforce Wants You To Know

Salesforce is a living, breathing ecosystem of many different business units, each individually geared towards optimizing a specific facet of the Salesforce cloud offering. This is important to note because, as an Administrator, you’ll want to be able to maximize the functionality available with each new iteration of the platform without having to dedicate thousands of pages of documentation to memory. Think of the Salesforce platform and documentation as your Spellbook, and you’re the Wizard who makes the magic happen for clients with a flick of your wand. In other words, knowing where to look (in addition to a moderate amount of detailed knowledge) gives you much more mileage than committing every feature to memory, which might be humanly impossible.

When I started the Admin Beginner Trailhead I was going for straight speed. I figured the Administrator exam would be a lot like exams in college; read it and spit it back out. This was obviously tactically incorrect, as I’ll get to later, but I kept to this strategy all the way through the Intermediate and Advanced modules as well. It wasn’t until I miserably failed my first attempt did I realize that I was dealing with a different beast in the Admin exam. After coming to terms with the fact that my preparation strategy was ineffective I (sullenly) drove back home and used the Salesforce Administrator Exam Study Guide to guide my documentation reading and proceeded to read recommended documentation on every topic listed on the guide, twice, while watching DreamForce videos about each topic after reading (read, watch, read again), as these sessions are usually hands-on presentations of the functionality behind the features and help to visualize functionality that is sometimes opaque on a page. A good rule of thumb for the amount of documentation per topic; if any single topic has documentation over 30 pages, find something more precise. At times documentation is written about a group of features bundled into one name (for example upon searching Campaign Management you may find Sales Cloud documentation that ranges in the 70-120 page range, whereas this documentation here is only 16 pages and is specifically about Campaign Management).

To summarize, don’t be afraid to read documentation, a lot of it. In fact, get used to it; extensive knowledge of the platform is ultimately what will make you valuable as an Administrator, but don’t feel like you have topainstakingly internalize every single word. In fact, it’s really difficult to comprehend every word and term you come across the first time, which is why I recommend reading anything twice. Understanding of the platform grows much like a tree; from the root up. Cultivate the ground and roots of your preliminary Salesforce knowledge and I promise you that the more advanced, value-adding concepts (like Pardot implementation for example) will be much more intuitive. I’ll put it this way, on my first exam attempt I knew I was toast 10 questions in; on my second exam attempt I knew I was going to pass 10 questions in. It’s about building the knowledge and confidence that will (1) earn you a certification and (2) translate into fluid knowledge of the platform that will enable you to seamlessly complete your first assignments as an employed Salesforce Administrator.

How To Build References & Experience Pre-Certification

Salesforce gives 10 free Salesforce licenses to any nonprofit that asks for it, which means that there are a lot of small nonprofits with Salesforce instances that have no idea how to use them; that’s where you come in. Contact five of your nearest local nonprofits and I guarantee you at least one of them would be thrilled to refer you in exchange for some guidance. Even if they don’t get the chance to talk to a potential employer on the phone it still looks great on your resume and sets you apart from others with a certification but little applicable experience.

A huge part of my securing a consulting job was the fact that I had done a full-scale architecture and rollout with a local nonprofit less than a month after I got my certification. You don’t even necessarily have to be certified to help out, but in that case I would aim for something less extensive like configuring a couple of workflow rules and arranging their NonProfit Starter Pack application to show the correct tabs, etc. Also, nonprofit centered applications like Volunteers For Salesforce are great ways to become familiar with intermediate functionality, like web-to-lead, in real world context.

Here’s what the conversation was like with my local nonprofit;

(Q) Do you use Salesforce? (A) Yes! (Q) Well, I’m working on a certification, mind if I help you out to gain some experience and beef up my resume? (A) OMG thank you so much, please help us!
It’s literally that easy, and it puts you in genuine situations with actual data that builds the kind of fluid platform knowledge Salesforce and other companies are looking for. Also, these nonprofits are usually small (10 users or less) so it’s a great place to start and get your hands dirty without undue complexity.


Lastly, I’ll leave you with a list of things that I was expected to know how to do my first day on the job (and I got a lot of experience doing all of these things in the nonprofit instance). And remember, enjoy the journey; things are only once anew, so make sure to soak up the freshness of your perspective and tackle it head on. After all, there are still so many more certifications to earn after the Administrator exam, so learning to thrive and revel in the unknown is key to forming and maintaining your mastery of the platform. Here’s to you, my future fellow Admins!

P.S. When architecting for nonprofits don’t be afraid to write out documentation for that process as you go; you wouldn’t want to spend all of that time researching and implementing only to have them not know how to use it. It also helps you to iterate on specifics about your process, what it’s accomplishing and how it’s accomplishing it.

Data Migration

– Know how to use Data Loader (this includes upserting to relate objects i.e. upserting new Contacts that are related to an existing Account)

– See this great series by Salesforce for details


– It will be assumed that you have a complete grasp on this topic going into any assignment

– See this series by Salesforce for details

Validation, Workflow Rules

– Know how and where to look to troubleshoot validation/workflow rules as well as how to construct them

– Master-Detail / Lookup relationship distinct attributes and implications

– Know where M-D field should be created and differences between the two

Field Mapping

– This comes up a lot when mapping web-to-lead/web-to-case forms

– Similar to Data Loader field mapping process

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