How Salesforce certifications can boost your career (and where to start)

Salesforce has created an ecosystem of products and services beyond its core CRM tool, building a huge demand for knowledgeable Salesforce professionals who bring skills with industry-specific extensions and business-aligned apps.

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hunur / Getty Images / Thinkstock / Salesforce

Could getting a Salesforce certification blast your IT career to the next level? Consider these eye-popping stats about Salesforce, which led a seismic technology shift in 1999 when it debuted cloud-based CRM software-as-a-service (SaaS) and a unique collaborative model. Two decades later, research shows that Salesforce and its vast ecosystem of partners, consultants and developers will create a whopping $1.2 trillion in revenues and 4.2 million new jobs between 2019 and 2024. Hot enough for you?

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As this technology powerhouse has created or acquired dozens of products beyond its core CRM tool (including service, marketing, community and commerce clouds), and fostered the rise of a wide swath of industry-specific extension and business-aligned apps, the demand for qualified, knowledgeable Salesforce professionals who are able to configure and implement the software within this outsized “Salesforce economy” continues to increase.

“The growth in Salesforce job opportunities is just nuts, it’s crazy,” said Josh Matthews, a  Salesforce recruiter and president of Endeavor Staffing. “I’ve been in recruiting for over 20 years, and I selected this as a niche because it was on track for strong growth.”

These days, certified Salesforce practitioners play various roles within the ecosystem: Some work directly for Salesforce end customers, as in-house pros that specialize in Salesforce and manage, administrate, tackle development and technical architecture, or serve in other IT roles, such as business analysts and CRM managers.

The other big opportunity for job-hunters is as Salesforce consultants who implement Salesforce products for clients and do integration and advisory work. They may work at the largest global consulting firms or on small teams with a handful of employees, and everywhere in-between.

The increasing value of Salesforce certifications

To meet the training needs of potential Salesforce pros, one of the big secrets to Salesforce’s SaaS success has been its ability to offer easy access to learning in-demand skills; connecting to peers and mentors; and earning certifications that highlight overall mastery of a specific role and can be verified by employers to confirm skills and experience.

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According to former Salesforce senior vice president and current Cultech managing director Bruce Culbert, back when Salesforce went public in 2004, there simply were not enough qualified Salesforce professionals in the industry to keep up with the growth of the company, so it naturally had to promote learning and training.

“With the high demand for qualified, knowledgeable Salesforce professionals, the company needed identifiable, quantifiable criteria,” he explained. “Certified service providers made businesses feel comfortable that they were dealing with a certain amount of competency and getting the best value from their investment.” 

Since 2014, the hub of all things Salesforce certifications has taken place through Trailhead, a vast series of interactive online tutorials that guide students through different learning paths, or “Trails.” These are composed of modules that lead to assessments, and gamification plays a big part in promoting learning: Students earn points and badges after finishing modules, for example. The modules are free, but the certification exams have fees starting at $200.

For those looking for an efficient yet flexible way to take their IT chops to the next level of pay and responsibility, as well as to increase their marketability, Trailhead’s self-service learning platform allows job-seekers to easily accumulate Salesforce certifications as a way to build a resume and chart a path towards a successful and lucrative IT career — whether as a developer, administrator, architect or consultant, among other roles. For example, leading job site Indeed included the role of Salesforce developer role (with an average base salary of $112,000) in its top 10 fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs of 2019.

Ian Brown, a recruiter for Salesforce contractors, said Salesforce certifications have risen sharply in value, going from a nice-to-have a decade ago to a must-have today. “Salesforce certifications are now a minimum barrier to entry,” he said. “I won’t submit candidates for Salesforce developer positions, for example, unless they have, at a minimum, the Platform Developer 1 certification.”

The benefits of Salesforce certifications

For Carl Brundage, master architect at Odaseva, which provides data protection, privacy and compliance for enterprises that run Salesforce, earning 30 Salesforce certifications wasn’t something he simply decided to do, but was a journey that evolved over time (and peaked when he earned Salesforce’s pinnacle credential, Certified Technical Architect, awarded to only a couple of hundred practitioners worldwide).

“When I was new to the Salesforce ecosystem six years ago, people on my team had five or six certifications and I wanted to show my commitment and credibility,” Brundage said. “In the first three months I earned five certifications.” Then, he said, he developed a “learning mindset” and discovered Salesforce certification is a “great way to validate what I have learned about a topic, as well as boost confidence and credibility.” 

No matter which certification or how many are earned, there is no doubt that Salesforce certifications offer a variety of benefits, says Debra Maranta, vice president of customer and partner success at Odaseva, who also previously served as director of Trailhead’s architect and partner programs at Salesforce. “It’s all about providing in-demand skills for today’s jobs as well as connecting to peer and mentor communities,” she says. “Whether it is someone who wants to go further in their existing role, or wants to transition into another role or make a wholesale change, Salesforce offers many possibilities to transform your career.”

Salesforce certifications can particularly benefit those from diverse or underprivileged backgrounds looking to gain foothold in the Salesforce ecosystem, added Brown. “There are people who would have struggled to break into a career in the IT sector but with Salesforce, getting certified offers them an entrance into the community,” he said. “Previously, it was more weighted solely towards commercial experience, but with today’s skills shortage people are definitely considered based on their Trailhead profiles and certifications.”

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5 types of Salesforce certifications

Salesforce certifications fall under five key roles:

1. Salesforce administrator

Administrators work with stakeholders to define requirements, customize the platform and help users get the most out of Salesforce — everything from automating complex business processes, creating reports and dashboards and training Salesforce users. Five different Salesforce administrator certifications are available:

  • Administrator
  • Advanced Administrator
  • CPQ Specialist
  • Marketing Cloud Administrator
  • Platform App Builder

2. Salesforce architect

An elite certification, architects are in-depth problem solvers, responsible for the overall technical design and how custom elements are built. There are three tiers of Salesforce architect certification that recognize specialized knowledge and skills:

  • The Salesforce Architecture Designer
  • The Salesforce Application Architect and System Architect
  • The Salesforce Technical Architect (CTA)

3. Salesforce developer

Salesforce developers code software or application solutions on the Salesforce platform or other areas of Salesforce cloud technology. There are five Salesforce developer certifications:

  • Platform app builder
  • Platform developer I
  • Platform developer II
  • B2C Commerce Developer
  • Marketing Cloud Developer

4. Salesforce marketer

Salesforce marketers create and implement targeted marketing campaigns to connect with customers and deliver effective one-to-one customer journeys. There are six Salesforce marketer certifications:

  • Marketing Cloud Administrator
  • Marketing Cloud Consultant
  • Marketing Cloud Developer
  • Marketing Cloud Email Specialist
  • Pardot Consultant
  • Pardot Specialist

5. Salesforce consultant

Salesforce consultants tackle complex business challenges and solve them through innovative solutions using Salesforce. There are nine Salesforce consultant certifications:

  • Community Cloud Consultant
  • Education Cloud Consultant
  • Einstein Analytics and Discovery Consultant
  • Field Service Lightning Consultant
  • Marketing Cloud Consultant
  • Nonprofit Cloud Consultant
  • Pardot Consultant
  • Sales Cloud Consultant
  • Service Cloud Consultant

In addition to Salesforce certifications, Trailhead offers hundreds Trails, which allow students to explore new skills, including in-vogue, highly desirable software including Einstein (which offer advanced AI capabilities), Field Service Lightning (a mobile-friendly field-service hub) and CPQ (a sales tool that provides accurate pricing for any product configuration).

The Salesforce certification that offers the most earning potential may be the “pinnacle” Certified Technical Architect, but experts emphasize that choosing the right Salesforce certification path depends on what you are looking for in your career. For example, if you’re seeking a role that’s more technical, a developer or architect certification might be right for you. However, if you enjoy technology but want to work with people, a consultant certification might be the right direction to go in.

3 Salesforce certification tips to help you get started

  1. Consider the Salesforce Administrator certification first. The Administrator certification can be an easy way to try out Trailhead, and some of the specialized certifications require you to have the administrator certification first, said Matthews. “It helps you really understand the way the system works and offers a base-level competency.
  2. Go for badges. Even if you already have a certification, don’t stop learning, said Matthews. When you finish a module, project, or superbadge, you're awarded badges that general knowledge in a specific topic area, and a superbadge represents real-world proficiency in that discipline. “Earning a variety of badges and points can help you show your passion for Salesforce and that you are serious about learning,” he said.
  3. Don’t settle for certifications. Certifications alone won’t get you a Salesforce job. Hands-on experience is key, said Brown. “Consider volunteering and offering your Salesforce skills to a nonprofit or small company,” he said. “Doing so can also be a springboard to deciding what certification to do next.”

The future is bright for those with Salesforce certifications

The value of Salesforce certifications is showing no signs of slowing down, said Brown. “At the moment, Salesforce is creating an ecosystem and an economic scale the size of a country,” he pointed out. “The idea that you can self-learn and self-study is a beautiful thing at this time when the digital economy is rapidly changing and there is such a skills shortage.”

According to Culbert, Salesforce certifications are simply a great way to build career momentum. “They are perfect for self-directed, self-motivated people to accumulate knowledge and competency,” he said. “There are so many opportunities to map out a path with Salesforce certifications.”