So you are thinking about certifications as a Salesforce professional. Here is everything you need to know about the four most common questions I get:
1) How do you make time to get certifications? 🕐
2) How important are certifications really? ✍️
3) How should I prepare to take a certification exam? 🙇♀️
4) How much do certifications cost? 💰
How important are certifications really?
I believe they are very important, with some caveats. Why they are important: 1) they give you confidence and authority when making tough decisions, 2) they ensure you are exposed to key concepts and principles, 3) they help other people understand and assess your competence.
It is normal and in my opinion healthy to have a proper dose of self doubt when designing technology solutions. Extreme confidence leads to oversights and will likely blow up in your face over time. There is too much to know and learn, and so the question is not whether your solution perfectly anticipates all future variables. The question is does your solution put the odds in your favor moving forward by following sound design principles, making proper use of standard features and functions, and setting up the business for success against the requirements. You can’t prepare for every eventuality and most solutions will look stupid at some point because people looking at them won’t have full visibility into the constraints that dictated the solution, where the technology was at the time, etc. Additionally, perfect is the enemy of good, and can result in paralysis that slows down the delivery of a solution that could be delivering value in the short term. One component to having confidence that you are properly considering intended uses of standard features, is being certified on the product and functionality in question.
Certifications require you to get exposed to things that you would likely not be exposed to otherwise. For example, I never even heard about some of the features that Salesforce offers exclusively through their support team around large data volumes until I was taking the data management and architecture certification. That same week I was able to start helping coworkers deliver better solutions for their client’s go-live. Experience is a great teacher, but to experience some things you have to first be exposed to them. Certifications provide that exposure as you study. This is especially true fo admins at end-user companies that might not be aware of key features they could recommend that would really improve efficiency for their company, and in many cases would avoid custom building features that already exist.
Certifications signal competence to your employer, clients, and coworkers. Certainly they are not and should not be thought of as the only indication of competence, but they are one indicator. Salesforce in particular has written their certifications in a way that I feel makes that a pretty good indicator of competence. If someone has a certain certification, I can be certain about what they have been exposed to in terms of features and functions of salesforce. Now comes the caveats. There are certainly people who use cheats to get their certifications, making those certifications less valuable. So when assessing someones competence for hiring or other purposes, the best practice is to ask them questions about specific experience they have putting that certification to use, and to understand how many projects and how many years have been spent putting that knowledge into practice. The combination of certification with experience in an area is a much more reliable indicator that certification alone. If you are thinking about getting a bunch of certifications to appear valuable, when you haven’t been an actual practitioner, understand you will be quickly exposed, fired, and you will only hurt your reputation in the tight knit Salesforce ohana.
How do you make time to get certifications?
This is a question about time management and prioritization. What people are really saying is that they have too many higher priorities during work hours to get certified. So my recommendation is to take the following series of steps to make the time for your certification.
Build a business case. For some reason, people often look at jobs as a place where others dictate to them what needs to happen, and they take those orders and act on them. In truth, the most valuable employees are those who push back on leadership by building an intelligent business case and convincing their leaders to get on board. If you ever want to have any influence in an organization, don’t wait for a title. Start practicing your ability to create change through organic influence and managing up and down the chain of command. This will prepare you to be a very effective leader, that relies on persuasion of authority or force. Leadership aside, this is how you get things you want in life - you negotiate for them. The best resource I can recommend if you are intimidated by negotiation is the book “Never Split the Difference” which is what I consider to be my negotiation Bible. The other book I would read is “Thank you for arguing”, which is all about rhetoric. When you can make a compelling business case, your leaders will create time for you and actively defend that time to ensure you get your certification. They will see it as mission critical. If you need help with this, reach out and I am glad to give you ideas and suggestions, or share a sample pitch deck that you can customize and use to present your business case.
There is really no way that step one should fail. With enough time and focus, I believe you can build a compelling business case in any organization. But let’s say it is going to take a lot of time in your organization and you don’t want to wait - then let me suggest option 2. Create the time in your personal life. Even if you work long hours (let’s say 12 hours a day), you still have about 5 hours a day to work with. Now, your brain is going to be fried after 12 hours of work, so I do NOT recommend coming home and studying. Do the opposite and study first. I recommend getting up very early, and getting 4 hours of study in before work. Let me explain. Your brain operates at peak performance at cool temperatures, like a computer, and that occurs in the early hours of the morning. So if you get up and study before work, you are actually going to get better performance in less time than studying after work. Much better in fact. Now what about family, and kids, and other commitments? The answer is you need to ask them to support your goal. Build the case for why this certification will help them and your family earn more money, be happier, etc. and ask them to support the goal. Commit to them that it will be only one week that you need them to pick up the slack (more on exactly what to do for that week in my methodology below). I would be that as long as you choose a week that works for them, they will be glad to support you.
If option 2 is not possible because you are say, a single parent with children too young to mostly self-govern for a week, well then option 3 is the way to go. Take paid time off (PTO). Yes seriously. Take two days of PTO. Now to avoid needing to do this in the future, I recommend explaining to your boss what you are doing. If you have failed to build the business case, because they need you so bad and there are urgent priorities, etc. Then you taking PTO will likely be painful for them. So explain to them that you are essentially putting your money where your mouth is, and that you believe so passionately that it is in your and the business’s best interest, that you are going to take personal time to do it. A few things might happen. 1) they may just give you the work time to do it. 2) they respect you more next time when you present an idea. 3) you can use this experience to prove you are right, and build credibility for your next business case, decreasing the likelihood of needing to do this again. The best part? You will get a positive ROI on this time. Let’s say you make 50 dollars an hour (roughly a 100k salary). Those two days cost you 800 dollars. I guarantee you will be able to ask for more than that in your raise when you point out you used two days personal time to add value to the company. And if they don’t give it to you, you know it’s time to move on because other employers will. This is the nuclear option, but it works. Two days off are all you should need, and it should be a Thursday and Friday (more on this in part three).
Let me know what works for you! And if you still feel that there are obstacles preventing you from getting certified, let me know and I will help you brainstorm ways to overcome those obstacles. There is always a way.
How should I prepare to take a certification exam?
My first certification was the admin 201 certification. I had recently started working at my first job as a consultant in the Salesforce world, and they had many materials including practice questions that were almost identical to the test. So I memorized those, studied and past it. That gave me confidence 💯, so I quickly tried the same approach for Sales Cloud. I studied any practice questions I could find, and tried to practice hands on the features mentioned in the questions in a dev org. (this was before trailhead was the resource it is today). I took the test, and failed miserably 😭. I knew it just minutes into the test. There was no way I was making it out alive on this one. The questions really tried to trick you, and the answers were less right and wrong and more good, better, best. So I waited a couple weeks, kept studying and practicing, and tried again. Fail. I started to really get frustrated. I was not going to let this keep happening. So I stopped trying. I waited for months and just focused on project work, which was getting me a lot of good experience and exposure. When I came back to it again, I studied harder than I had before, for a few weeks. Finally I took the test and passed. But I was not going to take more of the consultant exams any time soon. That had put the fear of god in me, and I didn’t like failing. So instead I added a couple more basic certifications like dev 401 that I was less intimidated by.
It would be a few years later when I felt like I had so much experience that I could and should tackle the hard certs again. But I needed a structure to make sure I didn’t fail. The landscape had shifted significantly, with trailhead becoming a very good resource. Every certification I sat for from that point on I passed on the first try. So here is the methodology that I refined and that I now follow religiously given all the tools available today: