Last September, I set a lofty professional goal. By 2018, I would get my Salesforce Admin certificate.
For background, I was hired to support our nonprofit constituents by being a face for our organization. My 3+ years of database experience would be helpful, but I accepted this role because it wasn’t that. It was a chance to be external-facing and build relationships, something brand new to me. Salesforce wasn’t part of the equation.
That lasted for about 6 months.
Truthfully, I love databases and ended up using Salesforce for my own work anyway! So when my organization decided they wanted to fully implement it, I dove right in to help. The result was a year of challenge, learning and skill-building as I slowly transitioned from helping our implementation to owning it entirely.
Finding the balance between my intended role and this new one consumed more time than I’d planned (partly why I’ve lapsed with this blog for a few months). That’s why during my last quarterly review, I shared with my manager that I wanted to shoot for my certification.
If you’re an “accidental admin” too, tasked with maintaining your organization’s Salesforce instance, here are a few reasons why you might consider getting certified:
- It’s an official stamp on your accomplishment. Like any certification, passing that exam is a way to show others that you know your stuff (even if you don’t actually know everything).
- Salesforce is increasingly popular with nonprofits and companies alike. The exam questions focus on the corporate use case, but it’s a great way to get familiar on both sides if you’re only accustomed to working in NPSP (a.k.a the common, nonprofit version of Salesforce).
- If your organization is willing to cover your certification costs, and you have at least 1 year of admin-related experience, then why not?
While all of this is great and dandy, I will warn you: that exam is hard. Even after taking an online course and spending a year in the platform, I only barely passed! This wasn’t for lack of trying, but simply because the questions are tricky and there’s too much Salesforce to be learned. So, where to start?
Preparing for the Exam
The first piece is reviewing the materials and guides provided by Salesforce,. Whether you have 3 months or 3 years of admin experience already under your belt, if you know you eventually want to get certified, glance over the core concepts of the exam so that you can start to get familiar.
The second piece is assessing your admin experience. Salesforce recommends a minimum of 6 months as an administrator before pursuing the exam, in addition to supplemental training. I spent 1 year performing specific admin tasks – mostly around customizing objects, creating workflow rules and fields – and that was definitely not enough preparation. Give yourself ample time to learn the system in & out (as much as one possibly can anyway!) before registering for the exam.
The third piece is that supplemental training mentioned earlier. I did not take the certification course offered by Salesforce because of the cost – a couple thousand dollars is preeeettttyy steep. (*Note: there is probably a nonprofit discount that makes the class more worthwhile, but I didn’t even try.) Instead, I chose to take The Complete Salesforce Administrator Certification Course offered on Udemy by Mike and Aaron Wheeler. At a fraction of the cost, the course was invaluable in covering all of the concepts that I had zero knowledge about. (I should note that many of the videos show the Salesforce Classic User Interface, as opposed to the new Lightning interface. But the exam tends to cover functionality that is available on both platforms anyway, and the instructor is good at providing updates from each Salesforce release.)
Between taking that course, reviewing the study materials and continuing to work in Salesforce, I gave myself 2 months to prepare. And because I barely passed, here are some extra preparation tips that I really should’ve done myself:
- Look up exam study guides online. Fortunately my online class came with plenty of written notes and practice questions. But if I’d been more prepared, I might’ve looked up other study guides to use in the 2 weeks leading up to the exam – because there are TONS out there (and all you need to do is a quick Google search to find them).
- Take a full practice exam. The course I took had a few practice questions sprinkled in, but Salesforce offers a full practice exam that I definitely would’ve taken had I known about it sooner.
- Study groups and Salesforce user-generated resources. The Power of Us Hub is a staple in the nonprofit Salesforce community, powered by Salesforce.org. Their summary of the admin certification process, and the resources they provide, are definitely worth reviewing. (Their online community is also a great resource in general for posing Salesforce-related questions to other nonprofit professionals!).
Registering for the Exam
Registering for the exam is the most straight-forward part of the process, thanks to these step-by-step instructions for getting set up through Webassessor. Although you can opt to take the test remotely (proctored virtually), I chose to take the test in-person at a nearby testing site.
Registering is super easy! Just keep in mind that:
- There is a nonprofit discount for admins! More info on that here.
- Time your exam in conjunction with the Salesforce release schedule. Since you’ll have to pass subsequent release exams to maintain your certification, your best bet is to schedule your test as close to the next release window as possible. (If that’s super confusing, check out this link that further explains the release schedule exams. Since I got my certification after November 15, 2017, I don’t have to take the Winter ’18 release exam.)
Taking the Exam
Like I mentioned, that exam was much harder than planned. In retrospect, that was mostly because:
- I didn’t realize the exam was multiple choice and multi-select until the day before. That means that rather than picking one right answer out of many, some questions prompted you to choose 2 or 3. HOW I missed that major detail in my prep, I have no clue…but don’t make the same mistake I did.
- The questions are all over the map. Some ask about granular details (yes, even specific phrasing), while others ask about general business scenarios. That dynamic alone was mentally exhausting.
- The exam isn’t open book, and you can’t have Salesforce open while taking the test either. So be prepared to put your Salesforce memory to the test.
That said, one of the things that really helped was my scrap paper. Since I crammed until the very last minute, the first thing I did was jot down notes on the paper that I was allowed to bring with me to the testing room. I also recommend going through the whole exam first, and just skipping any question that you’re unsure of. That way you get to the questions that you know right away (and sometimes, seeing one question might help you glean the answer to the next).
Salesforce allots 90 minutes for your exam. I submitted mine with 30 seconds to spare, if that tells you anything about the test.
Perhaps the best part of this whole ordeal was knowing almost immediately what the results of your exam were. It only took a few more seconds after hitting the ‘submit test’ button for me to know that I passed.
If I’d had to wait for that result, I might’ve lost it.
It’s been a few months since test day, and I am so glad that I decided to get my certification after all. Not only did I learn a ton just from the prep, but it feels good to have that credential in my pocket after many years of being an end-user. It’s also nice to know that I work at an organization that values my contributions enough to support me in doing this.
Yes, my Salesforce hours have skyrocketed since November. Yes, I’m struggling now more than ever to find the balance between my external-facing role and this exploding one. But I’m really excited about what I’m doing, and I’ll just have to see which direction I eventually veer into (can one be a Salesforce admin and external-facing? Have you done it?? Tell me how!).