Andrew Clinton is one of our Salesforce Administrators and started at Ribbonfish in October 2019. His route to working with the software is not traditional and is one of the reasons his experience and attitude attracted us. Here he reflects on Salesforce careers and the barriers to joining IT consultancy companies in the UK.

“If you’re wondering ‘what is Salesforce?’ allow me to explain. It’s a cloud-based customer-relationship management software service with additional applications for customer service, marketing automation, analytics and application development. It’s one of the most widely used business applications and Ribbonfish specialises in developing it for publishing.

A quick internet search will show you the growth of Salesforce since its launch in 1999. This rapid adoption has recently seen an explosion in the number of people using it. There are an estimated four million new jobs coming to market over the next four years.  Looking through job adverts you’ll see the ever-present ‘two years’ experience and an admin 201 certification’ requirement on the specifications. From a company’s recruitment perspective that makes sense. But it’s unlikely all these roles can be satisfactorily filled with accidental admins (people within the company placed in implementation and maintenance roles) and poaching employees from other companies isn’t a sustainable solution. If demand for Salesforce resource continues to outpace supply, employers are going to have to reassess their entry requirements, potentially easing up on the demands. What to do? To help with this quandary, there is another pool of talent swelling up to fill these roles. Which brings me to how I got into Salesforce and my job at Ribbonfish

At the beginning of my journey Salesforce was completely foreign to me and unrelated to my work. More often than not, people I knew had never heard of it when it came up in conversation, with CRM System also drawing blank looks. Like many others I had to search out an entry point toward understanding it, hopefully leading me to employment. After gaining a large theoretical background, I left a long-standing career to step into my first proper role in the Salesforce world. I was abruptly introduced to market conditions and a revolving door back to unemployment, so I activated the bat signal – my LinkedIn open to opportunities button. Within a few hours I’d taken five calls from recruiters asking about my situation. This continued over the week. I saw first-hand the demand recruiters talk about. I had three years of snatching time on Trailhead (the Salesforce careers, skills and accreditation hub), six months of voluntary admin work with a charity, attending various user meetups in London, collecting Trailhead badges (showing you’ve learnt the theory) and gained three Certifications (certs), which allowed me to get noticed by recruiters, but it still didn’t cut it with employers. Most of those phone calls went no further. How was I going to break through this barrier?

If companies consider easing their hiring requirements to get us keen outsiders in, it’s up to applicants to at least meet them halfway. Brace yourself. These are the key lessons I learned:

1. It won’t be enough to have a few Trailhead badges and a vague understanding of validation rules. Companies will need you, and expect you, to get started and crack on. They might have been someone there that didn’t work out and you have to fix something that is already broken. A steep learning curve may await. Be ready for it, just in case.

2. Certifications are seen as the pinnacle of understanding by some in the community. However, knowing the theory doesn’t guarantee practical success. The debate over experience vs certification will rage and rage. See 1.

3. Salesforce have made it as easy for you to learn the ropes as they can, such as the Trailhead app for iOS. They’ve laid out examples of career paths, recommended study guides for each one and built study trails for different certifications. Use them and develop your knowledge and skills.  

4. If you want to get into this career, the onus is on you to understand it and make it happen. You can try and blag your way in, but you’ll be found out in time.

5. Patience and self-belief are essential.

People might be (but should not be) put off applying for roles because of the mind games we often face when we decide to try something new. Messing about on a practice system (an ‘org’, available through Trailhead) and being paid to maintain a live one is a huge mental leap. If you know you’ve maxed out your training resources, you need to have faith that you’re ready to do the job. Self-doubt goes way beyond Salesforce, it stops people applying for jobs in all industries and impacts our personal lives too. But that’s a discussion for another time and place.

During my week of recruiter calls I was put in touch with Ribbonfish. The call went well and I was brought in for an interview. But…mind games! I’ve got no paid experience. Why would you bring me in? I asked what sort of problems I’d encounter in the role. ‘The sort of things you were asked in the phone interview.’ Pfft. No way. Nobody will ever ask me to find out how many user licences are available. What are the REAL things people will want me to do? Fast forward to the email asking how many user licences are available. Touché. It turns out updating a manager, deleting a draft order, changing lead owners…they’re real things! The practice orgs and live orgs are the same. The same functionality exists. There are no hidden features waiting to jump out on you when you land a role. There will be bumps along the way as you get your head around the way that company uses Salesforce, understanding the hows and the whys of their setup, along with their own terminology and internal processes, but the system itself is no different to the one you already know.

I keep hearing the same topics at Salesforce meetups. How do I break into a Salesforce career? Do I need experience? Do I need certifications? How do I get noticed? It’s the classic school disco stand-off: Salesforce roles on one side and hopeful applicants on the other, practicing their moves. I’ve considered this topic before and I always come back to the same verdict; there’s no definitive answer. I always feel it’s a cop-out, I know people are hoping to be given that one nugget of information, but there wasn’t one particular thing I did to get ready for this role. Here are the insights I’ve gathered on my travels:

  • Do as much as you can
  • Go on Trailhead. Get badges; get superbadges
  • Try and find a charity to volunteer for
  • Build things in your own org
  • Watch YouTube demonstrations
  • Build up a LinkedIn profile
  • Write a blog
  • Contact recruiters
  • Apply for jobs

For the companies considering taking on these outside applicants, if they’ve put in the effort, you need to have faith that they’re ready to do the job. We all want to make this work, and we all need each other to make it happen.

It’s still early days for me and there’s always something to learn, but I consider the initial entry to be a very challenging time for Salesforce wannabes. I’m fortunate enough to be in the next phase, dealing with general admin requests, managing tasks and priorities, trying to manage expectations, working with managers and developers, understanding my limitations, and fighting off imposter syndrome.

In terms of my new role, I haven’t had any surprises. Yet. Surprises are good like that. I felt I was ready to take this on, and so far I’ve been proved right. The Salesforce community helped get me ready for this, and it can help you too. There are plenty of blogs out there for those taking on solo admin roles, joining admin teams or consultancies. Whatever situation you find yourself facing, get reading, get watching, get involved, because there are others that have already walked that path. Or blazed that trail. I crashed into this market and kept going, making a racket and hoping somebody would give me a chance. Thankfully, Ribbonfish did.

Andrew Clinton is a Salesforce Consultant working in the London office. Follow Andrew on LinkedIn. Find out more about how Ribbonfish’s Salesforce CRM consultancy for publishers transforms business processes here.