CONTINUED: Challenges of Salesforce Certification

Last week, my colleague Rich blogged about the challenges of becoming Salesforce certified. In his view, a person is more likely to be successful at becoming certified through experience over studying. In my (admittedly much shorter) experience working with Salesforce, I tend to agree that experience is a more valuable certification tool than studying. However, as a newbie, I’m in the process of studying for my administrator certification now, so I thought I’d share some of my key thoughts about it:

I have taken so many practice tests and quizzes, from Salesforce Ben, Focus on Force, Certified on Demand, and Chicago SFDC, to name a few. To validate Rich’s point, I’ve passed my practice exams … but failed the actual exam recently when I gave it a try (I’m already working toward re-taking it). I think that, as many other bloggers have mentioned, the content of many of these exams and quizzes was accurate and helpful - but the question structure did not match the question structure of the exam. Therefore, to help myself prepare better for my retake, I’ve been trying to take exam and quiz questions and flip them on their head -- in other words, trying to find the questions from the answers. Also, I've been doing a lot of Trailhead modules (and superbadges) ... hopefully these strategies move me toward certification success!

One of my biggest challenges in becoming Salesforce certified is my background as a nonprofit program evaluator. While I have a strong grasp on data management and analysis, my business acumen is fairly specific to the nonprofit sector - and in particular, the small, community-based organization type of nonprofits. So, questions on the exam that have examples related to “Support Teams” and “Sales Tiers” get me immediately freaked out. I’m trying to make useful examples for myself on various topics - even fairly straight-forward for-profit topics such as quotes and orders - but I’m looking forward to a day when the Salesforce exam includes examples from a variety of industries, since so many industries are already SF users!

Learning Salesforce from the Ground-Up

Throughout my life, I’ve traveled many different career paths. I went from being a cashier at McDonald’s, to a sales representative for Macy's, to doing green work with Student Conservation Association (SCA), and even to pursuing a career in Massage Therapy. I was searching for something that could sustain my financial situation, while matching my intellect and work effort. That determination and persistence to be successful eventually led me to Salesforce.

I was first introduced to Salesforce through a community outreach education program, which was a joint effort from World-Class Industrial Network (WIN), and Glen Hazel Community Resident Management Corporation (GHCRMC). It was the first of its kind to come to the Hazelwood Glen Hazel community, where I grew up and still live. Part one of the curriculum was a six month training course in administering Salesforce. During that time, we learned many topics including: Microsoft Excel essentials, Salesforce CRM essentials, Salesforce Foundation’s Nonprofit Starter Pack, Salesforce Data Entry, Salesforce Usability Audits, and Process Documentation. It was very effective having classmates and the instructor to study with and learn from.

During the salesforce training class, we were fortunate to also learn Wealth Building Skills, Soft Skills, and Professionalism. Part two of the curriculum was a three month internship. At my host site Urban Innovation21, I was able to put my knowledge and skills in Salesforce to the test. During my time with Urban Innovation21, I assisted with getting their Salesforce instance set up. This included: learning their business practices, identifying important information in their current data model, helping with the Quick Start planning phase, and building custom fields and objects in a Developer Edition.

I graduated top of my class on June 24, 2016.  A few months after graduation, I was offered an entry level position at World-Class Industrial Network (WIN).  On September 12, 2016, I joined WIN as their Technology Analyst Assistant. My first project was to continue working with Urban Innovation21 on transferring data to the same Production instance that I helped develop and design during my internship. I’m  so thankful for this opportunity to advance my career in Salesforce, while I continue to learn from others who have over ten years of experience in Salesforce Administration.

Salesforce for Nonprofits?

People who have known me as a long-time volunteer and nonprofit employee are surprised to hear about my new job, as a consultant at World-Class Industrial Network (WIN), until I explain how I got here. I’ve decided, therefore, to take advantage of this blog posting to explain why I’m excited to be at WIN - not in spite of my background with nonprofits and volunteering, but because of it.

After I graduated from Muhlenberg College (Allentown, PA) with a Bachelor’s in Psychology, I decided to attend Villanova University (Villanova, PA) for a Master’s in Psychology. Together, I long expected these psychology degrees to help me to pursue a career that built on my volunteer work at multiple youth-serving organizations. Specifically, I planned to explore how intersecting identities (e.g., race and gender) impact the experiences and relationships of individuals, especially adolescents. While one obvious path could have been pursuing a PhD in psychology focused on that research area, I decided to shift my focus to utilize the skills I’d gained through my education to make a social impact among organizations that were already doing “the work.” Thus, I moved to Pittsburgh to earn my MSW from the University of Pittsburgh; I intentionally focused my classwork, research, and internships on the “behind-the-scenes” elements of the social service sector, so that I could most effectively integrate my research skills into the sector where they were most needed. After graduation, I conducted independent program evaluations for a number of local youth-serving organizations and served as the Program & Evaluation Director of Amachi Pittsburgh, a local nonprofit serving children of the incarcerated. Each of these opportunities enabled me to connect my academic background and skills with the needs of charitable organizations as they aimed to collect program data, analyze it, and share their results broadly with the community to raise awareness about their important work.

While at Amachi, I was engaged in a project working closely with WIN consultants to implement Salesforce as a data management system and quickly became excited about the many opportunities it held for nonprofit organizations. In addition to the Salesforce Foundation grants that enable small nonprofit organizations to access sophisticated Salesforce tools at little to no cost, Salesforce is highly customizable and integrates with a myriad of applications that many organizations already use, such as Google and Constant Contact. As a program evaluator, I saw how inadequate, inefficient tools hinder data collection and waste time for many organizations; Salesforce can address these problems. I recognized that, like any system, Salesforce would take time and effort to configure and would require some staff training. But, overall, I felt compelled to join the WIN team so that I could bring Salesforce - paired strategically with my program evaluation experience - to a broader network of social service organizations. I’m excited to help organizations reach more people, make a more lasting impact, and tell their story better… please reach out to me any time at to learn more about why Salesforce can help your nonprofit grow.