Getting Your First Certification & The Resources to Help

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From the moment I started working with Salesforce I knew I wanted to learn more, I was hooked!  Eight years later, learning Salesforce has helped me professionally and personally in ways I couldn’t have imagined when starting out.  A career in Salesforce is what you make of it, so what better way to demonstrate your knowledge than getting your first certificate?

The last post was all about getting started with Salesforce, and for most people the next step along the Salesforce Odyssey is certification.  I still look back and remember how nervous I was going in for my first certifications.

I had bravely/foolishly booked both my Administrator and Developer certification exams on the same day.  I figured since I would be in the exam centre, why not!?  But I had heard all the horror stories from other Admins in my user group.  Horror stories involving trick questions … People having to sit the exam two or three times… OMG, would that be me?

Fortunately, I passed both and have gone on to complete many other Salesforce certifications too. But I had to start somewhere.  And in this post, I hope to share with you some of the tips & resources available to you before getting your first Certification.

Study hard, but study smart

The first tip for anyone looking at completing a certification is to narrow down what you need to study.  Salesforce is such a huge platform, you need a laser-like focus on what is going to be tested.

Is studying how to implement Live Agent with Knowledge in Service Cloud, relevant when going for your Administrator exam?  You need to know, otherwise you will spend time trying to cover everything…

Your first port of call should be to download the applicable study guide for the certificate you are going for.  You can find these on the Salesforce Credentials site.

For example, let’s start with the Certified Administrator (often referred to as the ADM-201).

To start with, you can see the Exam Guide from the Administrator site.  Then scroll down until you see ‘About the Exam’ section, and then click on the Exam Guide link.  This guide gives you the best start to ensure you study what is relevant:

  • Recommended Training and References: this will normally suggest a course but also includes any relevant Trailhead ‘Trailmixes’
  • About the Exam: covers how the exam is laid out, multiple choice in this exam
  • Exam Outline: which is a breakdown of the topics/concepts included in the exam.


This is a resource many of us who have been working with Salesforce for a long time agree, we all wish we had it when we started out.

But over the last couple of years, we have seen Trailhead grow and become central to learning Salesforce.  Study guides (from above) now reference Trailmixes, a pre-packaged group of modules specific to the exam.  The whole Salesforce ecosystem has gone ‘trail-mad’!

But why is it so good?  Well, it features trails on so many products and features you normally don’t have access to.  Including features from IoT Cloud (I mean how many of us get to play with this on a daily basis).  But it also it contains modules on how Salesforce manages its people, concepts like agile project management and even modules on diversity.  The range is extraordinary, and it is all free!

It also balances the learning process.  It isn’t just about quizzes anymore (though they are still there).  Now you can spin up a fresh install of Salesforce in a jiffy and get real hands-on experience in implementing the lessons you learn.  And this is key, as this really puts you through your paces and the only way to pass is to complete the task correctly.

Work the system…

Trailhead is amazing, but sometimes you want to go further.  For those of us who were around before Trailhead, we mostly used Dev Orgs and Workbooks. Now in a Trailhead-world, these are still worthwhile investments of your time before you sit your certification.

What is a workbook?  Well, these were publicly available PDFs published by Salesforce on various topics/features.  Here is an example of the Getting Started workbook, which covers everything from setting up users, setting up leads/opportunities/accounts and importing data.  But there are more available here.

These are purely geared to working through a use case/scenario from planning to implementation, and when combined with the developer org, give you the full end to end experience.

And you can even link your dev org to Trailhead.

Videos and real-world use cases

When I started out in Salesforce, Youtube had only been around for two years… Yes, there was a time before Youtube!  But my point is that it was a novel place to find cat videos and students singing along to the Backstreet Boys.  It was more for entertainment than education.  But now it has both in volumes!

Salesforce has numerous channels now publicly available, including one for Dreamforce.

One of the ways I personally like to learn new concepts is to see them in action.  This helps me figure out how it relates to the ’real world’ and hear other people talking about their use cases/etc.  Plus once you have a handle on the basics of what to implement, you should learn how and why you would implement it.  It will help solidify the knowledge you have learned.

In my opinion, this is one of the reasons Dreamforce is the largest IT conference in the world.  But we can’t all make it to Dreamforce, and if we do there is too much to attend!  This is where the YouTube channel comes into its own.

Obviously, there are so many videos on YouTube now. To find study guides and people teaching topics relevant to specific certifications, you need to simply search for them and press play.

The Salesforce Community

And finally – I touched on this in my last post –  but User Groups, Salesforce Saturdays, and Mentorship Central are all extremely engaging ways to find help while studying and learning Salesforce.  Most people will readily share tips, they used for getting through their own certifications.

You will find a number of things are common for most people.  But we all learn differently, so we all have our own approach that worked for us.

Additionally, there are so many blogs and sites out there aimed at supporting you through the various certifications.  Personally, I have used the SalesforceBen guides & resources, and countless others.  For my Platform exam (now defunct), I used Jeff Douglas brilliant post as a reference point. There is a lot out there!

Wrap up

So go forth, study with laser precision.  Learn the material, learn how to implement, learn how all the pieces fit together.  That is how you pass and have a successful career in the Salesforce ecosystem.

Hopefully sometime soon, you will have earned a nice shiny blue certification badge to add to all your social profiles!

And finally, remember to enjoy the process.  Salesforce is continually evolving.  Your certification is just the start 😊

3 thoughts on “Getting Your First Certification & The Resources to Help

  1. Adam,

    Excellent post, well articulated, and great suggestions. I started my SFDC career a long time ago, I like many I wore a toolbelt and couldn’t wait to dive in and design, configure and implement, and now some 14 years later I’m still at it albeit I no longer carry a toolbelt. I like to work and collaborate with clients and find those eager-beavers as it were who love to lift up the hood and get to work. For them, these CERTS are very important.

    What I’ve learned over the years is it’s important to always ask WHY and what does it mean to you (Mr/Ms Client) to have SFDC do this or that in a particular way? These applied lessons forged my nonconventional thinking about how to Design/Develop/Deploy or what call 3D/CRM. This sort of out-of-the-box thinking allowed me to solve many a gnarly problem, which, are not emphasized or taught in most of the SFDC certification programs.

    So, its a balance between understanding the platform and knowing how and where to push or mould the framework in order to meet/succeed the expectations of the client’s requirements. That said, Lightening has really made the process way more complicated so in a way, after all this time and hundreds of projects I feel like I have to literally start from scratch, Certs or no Certs.


    Jeff Lionz
    CEO, Founder

    1. Hi Jeff, thank you and glad you enjoyed the post. Your point about asking ‘why’ is a key skill/question. It is so easy to skip – and yet it is the one that tests both your understanding of a problem as an Admin but also the end-user/clients requirements are actually thought through.

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