Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How to Earn 5 Salesforce Certifications in 2 Months

Salesforce Certified

If you are looking for shortcuts or test answers, you can stop reading right now.  While it is possible to make this journey, there is no substitute for hard work.  If you are ready to invest in learning the platform, keep reading for my experience and insight. 

First the background, I started working with Salesforce in June 2014 after joining a Salesforce Partner.  While new to Salesforce, ten years of prior SaaS and CRM experience meant familiarity with Cloud concepts.  What I needed to learn was the Salesforce specifics – capabilities, functionality and terminology

My objective in this endeavor was to get up to speed as quickly as possible in order to contribute to my team and ensure customer success.  Earning certifications was a great source of external validation that I had a firm grasp on the material.  So here is how my journey unfolded. 

As a Salesforce Administrator needs broad knowledge of how to configure Sales Cloud and Service Cloud applications, it seemed like an appropriate place to start.  The Administrator Certification study guide helped me understand the learning objectives to cover.  What I quickly discovered is the breadth of application, feature and functionality knowledge an Admin must posses is extensive.  To learn the material, I used online training, my own developer organization and workbooks to prepare.  The details of How to Learn Salesforce were covered in a previous article.

About four weeks into my preparation, I was not feeling very confident.  While I had covered a lot of material, my first exam was only two weeks away and the material was not gelling.  I found having exams scheduled was a great motivator.  In addition, I found it beneficial to take the exam when the material was fresh.  After discussing with my co-workers, one suggested taking a look at the Developer material first.

This was my aha moment when the light bulb went off.  I found the developer material to be much more focused and a better place to start.  It included an introduction to the Force.com platform, the Data Model, User Interface and Business Logic.  Additional topics on Data Management and Reporting rounded out what I needed to know.  Now, I was on a roll and felt on top of the material.  I scheduled my Developer exam for the next week, even before my Admin exam.  This was definitely the right exam to start with.  The material was more focused and it helped me understand what the exam looked like.  Passing this exam was a confidence boost and the developer content provided additional insight for Admin.

Now my attention was back on admin and the additional areas to know.  One significant difference from other CRM systems, is the multi-level security model.  It took multiple lessons and different types of content before I completely grasped the concepts. What really helped solidify it for me was the Who Sees What video series, available on YouTube and now in the Trailhead module on Data Security.

My approach for all the exams was to take copious notes from the training to create an outline of the material. I would then write out “answers” to the objectives on the study guides.  It helped validate my learning and see what else I needed to know.  I also used example question flashcards that can be found on various websites.  One strong word of caution here. With the frequent updates to Salesforce, old answer can quickly become obsolete.  Additionally, there are many wrong answers out there.  Anything that I missed, I verified with an authoritative source, such as the current Salesforce documentation on trying in my development org.

Passing the Admin Exam, meant I qualified to try Sales Cloud Consultant, Service Cloud Consultant or Advanced Admin next.  I opted for Sales Cloud based on my prior experience.  Using the same methods previously described, I passed the exam the following week.  The Sales and Service Cloud Exams are different than the other exams, as they are more scenario focused and longer in duration.  Three exams in three weeks plus a previously scheduled vacation, meant it was time to take a break for a week.  When it was time to get back to it, I switched my focus to Advanced Admin, rather than dive into the Service Cloud scenarios.

In reflection after learning the material and passing the exam, it would have been better to take this right after Admin.  The content builds on the material in Admin and is a great segue to learning more.  Finally, I returned my attention to Service cloud, wrapping up certification number five about two months after my Developer exam.  Since then, I took a deep dive into Apex and Visualforce, passing the Advanced Developer exam in early December and eagerly awaiting the opening of the next programming assignment window. 

At the start of this year, I decide to take a look at Pardot to better understand marketing automation.  Pardot has a great deal of material available on their site, which is fantastic for learning.  However, Pardot does not offer a developer org, which hurts those who learn by doing.  The available content was enough for me to have a new appreciation for marketing and to pass the Pardot Certified Consultant exam in February. 

From my experiences, one final tip about certification exam content.  The exam outline is an accurate depiction of the content on the test.  The weighting of a content area reflects the number of questions to expect on the exam.  If a section indicates a 10% weighting and there are 60 questions in total on the test, expect to see 6 questions about the topic.  Furthermore, look closely at the wording of the objectives.  If it indicates describing the use cases for a feature, anticipate questions about when to use a feature.  Conversely, when the objective talks about describing features and capabilities, expect detailed questions and specifics.

That has been my journey in learning Salesforce and becoming certified.  A lot of late nights and hundreds of hours of study, has netted a great deal of new knowledge .  Let me know what your experience has been and any tips to share.

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