Shakespeare puns aside, the professional world can be a challenging journey full of unexpected twists and turns. Whether you’re starting out or taking a sideways step into a new industry, there are several paths you can head down when building your Salesforce career. However, when you arrive at this junction, it can be tricky deciding which way to turn… To your left is a signpost for Skills, up ahead is Experience, and over on your right is Qualification.
So which direction should you choose? And how do you avoid getting stuck on a vicious “experience required” roundabout of unreachable roles? Would a university degree help to speed things up, or could it slow you down? All right, that’s plenty of questions (and mixed metaphors!) for now… Let’s try to focus our answers on the world of Salesforce.
Playing the Game
It can often feel like a “chicken and egg” situation – just replace chicken with skillset and egg with experience. As always, the question is: What comes first, and does it actually matter?
Do recruiters working in the Salesforce ecosystem place more value on one area than the other, and do degrees even enter into the conversation at this stage? Whilst all recruiters will have fairly similar strategies and criteria in mind, it may be useful to consider Salesforce as its own unique environment, which is very much geared towards support and progression.
In terms of gaining new knowledge and skills, Salesforce’s free training platform, Trailhead, is the place to be for newbies (and non-newbies for that matter). It combines demonstrable credentials with in-demand skills and networking opportunities.
Think of it like a game – you can “level up,” meet fellow “players”(Trailblazers), and you’ll also earn “points” with every new module you complete. There are even “super badges” up for grabs… Credentials that will make a nice addition to your resume and “supercharge your career journey.”
Just don’t let the game-like lingo trick you into thinking that Trailhead isn’t a serious platform. Straight away you’ll see the following four icons lined up along the navigation at the top of the page:
There are over a million jobs within the Salesforce ecosystem, and the Trailhead team wants you to find them “whatever your background or interests.”
Described as the platform to “prove your hands-on experience with Salesforce and get a competitive edge that can lead to new opportunities,” it’s free to get started on Trailhead and begin your learning journey. Modules and lessons are broken up into bite-size, digestible chunks. If it feels like they want you to succeed, it’s because they really do!
Surely then, a degree is surplus to requirement, as Trailhead will provide everything you need to launch your career in Salesforce… But is this training enough to help you stand out from the crowd?
Inevitably, the most straightforward answer is no. As with most jobs, there’s a lot more to it than simply working your way through assignments (however hands-on they may be). Work experience can help a lot in your pursuit of the right role.
Bradley Rice sets out some great ways for gaining real-life experience by volunteering for nonprofits: “Expand your network, build a resume, sharpen your skills, prepare stories for interviews, and help a great cause.” Although there’s no guarantee, volunteering can lead to future paid opportunities, and it will certainly help to enhance your network.
The real issue is deciding how much time you can afford to spend training or volunteering before you’ve even landed a job. Realistically, this just isn’t possible for everyone.
Mentors and Role Models
People often speak about the importance of having mentors and role models to learn from and look up to – a professional compass to point you in the right direction.
It’s often about who you know in many industries, but is this the case for aspiring Salesforce professionals?
Fortunately, Salesforce is the place to be if you want to feel like part of a collaborative community. The Trailhead platform may follow a self-serve model in terms of independent learning, but it does encourage conversations, and there are lots of very vocal and supportive groups out there that will welcome you from Day 1.
Returning to our earlier conundrum, let’s remove the inevitable anxiety of trying to prioritize skills, qualifications, and experience. After all, skills can be honed, qualifications can be gained, and, ultimately, experience will come with time.
It’s all about seeing the big picture and really thinking about what you already bring to the table. The soft skills that help to make you a more rounded individual can be just as important as their more technical counterparts – more on this later.
Tony Di Carlo, COO at Salesforce consultancy Cloud Orca, shared his experience of finding the right people for the right roles. For him, “having a relevant degree doesn’t really play a major role” in recruitment, although more specific qualifications can of course help with specific jobs and projects that require technical skills.
“I do think having certain qualifications gives others an advantage if they’re within their job remit. For example, if you have a project manager who is PRINCE2 qualified, it can help!”
Still, there seems to be a clear emphasis on the person behind the application at Cloud Orca, as well as accessibility, training, and support. Does this carry over into their recruitment criteria? Is there a strict checklist in place to ensure candidates have the right skills (both soft and technical) and enough experience before they get started? Or is it more a case of looking at the individual and the specific role or skills gap… Perhaps something in between?
“We have no checklists of skills at Cloud Orca. Personality plays a big role, people need to be able to communicate to their colleagues and our clients. Of course experience is key and on certain occasions, Salesforce project experience is a bigger advantage than certifications. Running a project and solutioning can count a lot more than passing certs. I know that’s a hot topic at the moment but an argument I think is very valid.”
Technical consultant, David Picksley, agrees that personality (paired with an individual’s potential) plays an important role in recruitment. David entered the tech industry via an apprenticeship, and doesn’t see his lack of degree as a lack at all. Combined with his enthusiasm and willingness to learn, David credits attitudes within the industry for creating an inclusive, accessible environment with multiple entry points.
“The tech industry is amazing in the sense that you are measured by so many more dimensions than conventional jobs, including the skills you currently have, your personality, and your future potential.”
The ‘skills shortage’ is nothing new, but a recent Salesforce report shows that the “overall gap between supply and demand is widening.” Salesforce is proactive when it comes to identifying issues and trends, so it’s no surprise that the skills gap is being called out. It may appear to be the ideal time to be looking for a job in Salesforce (with or without a degree), but there are important considerations from both sides of the metaphorical hiring desk.
Stuart Mills, VP at Salesforce, describes “four pillars of skills development work that bridge the gap from sourcing talented candidates to placing them in employment”:
- Digital savviness
- Technical skills
- Power skills
- Hands-on experience
This sounds like the perfect combination, but does every box need to be ticked for you to succeed? “Relevant degree” does not appear (overtly) on this checklist, suggesting that it doesn’t provide so much clout in the tech industry. However, what cannot be underestimated are the technical and power skills that degrees (or other qualifications) can provide.
Outside the world of Salesforce, perhaps the most obvious example is the role of a surgeon. You’ll want your surgeon to have a degree before they operate on you – something that proves their knowledge and expertise. You’ll also want the benefit of those vital soft skills; a surgeon should be an adaptable problem solver able to think on their feet. And, as always, you’ll also want them to have plenty of experience.
Stuart goes on to reiterate the combined importance of soft and hard skills, as well as a shared responsibility between employers and potential employees to bridge the digital skills gap by reimagining what we understand as “experience.”
“The solution lies in focusing more on evidencing hard and soft skills, knowledge and continuous learning. To ensure the digital roles of today and tomorrow are accessible to those who would be brilliant at them, both parties need to re-imagine the way they think about ‘experience.’”
It’s also worth noting that time does not always equal experience. In this fast-moving industry (and many others), it’s certainly no guarantee that a lengthy career translates into competency. In the same way, just because you’re new to something, doesn’t automatically put you at a disadvantage.
Tom Bassett shares his thoughts on the relationship between skills, experience, and qualifications:
“I’m a Solution Architect without a degree. Experience has played a big part in this. Certifications help build confidence and technical knowledge, but in reality, applying this knowledge and the art of tailoring this for your client/industry is a real skill, which no exam can teach you fully.”
Hard vs. Soft Skills
What do we mean by “soft skills” anyway? Here are some other ways of framing the comparison:
- Technical vs. personal
- Practical vs. core
- Skills-based vs. character traits
Analytical thinking, communication, leadership, problem solving, collaborative working… These are invaluable soft skills that you probably utilize each day without even realizing it.
Ultimately, it shouldn’t be a case of one versus the other – both soft and hard skills are important parts of your development, and every team needs a combination of the two to function effectively.
Qualifications: Motivation or Validation?
Salesforce Admin, Stacy O’Leary, has her own experience of qualifications, which has been a ‘mixed bag’ since she took a sideways step into a tech role from the childcare industry. There are feelings of personal achievement, combined with those of professional validation. Qualifications are not necessarily a prerequisite for the role.
“I’ve always felt like Salesforce Certifications are gained mostly for other people, as a form of external validation. Sort of as neutral, third party evidence that you have enough knowledge to pass a test on the subject, and most likely can perform the basic functions of that given job.
“Certainly Salesforce Certifications aren’t actually required to be an administrator. I came from a non-technical career background and with no formal education in this space, and felt like the Salesforce Certifications gave me a boost so that I could compete and be on the same level with other admins who had a longer career history or university degree in business or system administration.”
Despite this sentiment, Stacy feels that a “degree is not that interesting” in terms of recruitment, as it doesn’t tell the full story, especially as many people who find their way into the industry via alternative routes.
“It really doesn’t tell me much about you, or your skills. Especially in the Salesforce Admin space. I have met so many “Accidental Admins” and people who made the career switch from something totally random. People who have excellent skills, and are amazing at their job, but they didn’t have the time or money to get a degree.”
Stacy is currently working towards a degree for her own personal reasons, and not because she needs it to advance her career: “I’m so excited to have a degree, it keeps me motivated to work hard and to not give up.” The wisdom of being a little older and further into her career has brought a great deal of perspective. For Stacy, a degree is an important milestone – a personal achievement that is important for her own ongoing development as well as her status as a role model in her family.
“I have always wanted to earn a 4-year degree, but I’m glad I did not get it when I was younger. Now that I am in my 30s, I have a much better idea of what I want to do with my life, and what career options are out there. I’m working to learn anything that can help me in my career. I will also be a first generation college graduate, so I want to make my family proud, and show my son that you can change careers and be successful, and that the career you choose in your 20s doesn’t have to be permanent.”
And then there’s me. A writer from a non-technical background, with English and Creative Writing degrees, who was ready to enter the world of work at 22 – the Shakespeare pun makes sense now, right?
We’ve all heard of the term “Accidental Admin.” But how about an “Accidental Content Manager?” My interests (writing), later my degree, and later still my experience, have all led me to the position where I am today. A fortuitous, accidental journey it may have been, but my degree has played an important part in every role I had prior to entering this industry.
I was fortunate to be in a position to go to university in the first place. For me, it was the right path as I was able to hone the soft skills I continue to use every day: collaboration, empathy, critical thinking, and so much more. There was no obvious career path laid out for me when I graduated (as is often the case for broader subjects), no freshly painted signposts telling me which way to go, but my degree provided solid foundations from which to build.
There are countless entry points into a Salesforce career. The confidence and drive to learn (and keep on learning) provides powerful fuel, and it really is essential for anyone who wants to work in the ever-changing tech industry. For Salesforce professionals, the reward is finding ongoing support as both the platform and the community become more and more inclusive and accessible.
Research and my own experience tell me that having a degree is a valid path, but it’s also one of many; it is neither an essential component nor is it without value. Ultimately, what will serve you best is your attitude to finding and working towards the role you want, as well as a practical, hands-on approach to learning and networking. You may not land what you imagine to be the perfect role the first time around, but there is room to move around and grow in this industry, and there are always conversations to join.
So, to continue to misquote Shakespeare: To degree or not to degree? Well, that really is the question!