Focus on People: Mark Hilmer – Secret to Exams is Being ‘Fast and Curious’

Mark Hilmer built a consulting business out of the Salesforce knowledge he gained through the past 6 years. He specializes in helping medium-sized businesses to improve their customer service.

Combined with hands on experience, he shares in this interview his strategic approach to preparing for the certifications. He thinks through which certification he needs to get, determines the right timing for his actual exam schedule and tells us his secret for passing the first time, every time - and we fondly call it being 'fast and curious'.


I’m Mark Hilmer, I’m the Director of Consulting in Lorne Digital. Lorne Digital is an IT consulting company specializing in helping medium-size businesses to improve their customer service, and we do that by helping them with a couple of things. One is looking at the applications they’ve got and helping them work together with better integration and also looking at it at the business process level and making sure the processes that their staff are using actually makes sense, connecting the various teams together. Pretty much, we are overlaying the technology with the processes and trying to enable the staff to just get on customer service rather than having to manually work around system limitations and the silos that develop in medium to large businesses.

How did you get started with Salesforce?

I had my first role with the Salesforce ecosystem, at the time I didn’t know anything about Salesforce at all. I worked in a distribution business in Victoria, who had done a Salesforce implementation and they were looking for a project manager to come in and help deliver that project. They were looking for someone with experience in the industry which I had and a little bit of CRM experience, but not very good at that time. I came in and that project happened to be a Salesforce implementation so I started there and pretty much ever since then, probably for the last six years, I have been doing Salesforce projects which has been really good.

What were your goals when starting and how did you keep motivated?

One of the things I do like about Salesforce is, it’s not just a CRM. It’s an enormous platform, and there’s pretty much nothing you can’t do on Salesforce. Probably the biggest thing that attracted me and kept me working in the ecosystem is the amount you can do without having to be a developer. For me at the time I entered a Salesforce ecosystem, I was a Project Manager. But then I was able to get my hands dirty and was able to start doing some consulting and help setup solutions myself. For me that was a really good thing that I’ve enjoyed about working with Salesforce. So I just liked being able to get in there and work with some tools and leading the delivery of big projects for our clients. I liked that mix which is hard to get from a lot of other platforms.  

The biggest thing that attracted me and kept me working in the  (Salesforce) ecosystem is the amount you can do without having to be a developer... but just because you can do anything in Salesforce doesn't mean you should.

What was the most challenging part of learning Salesforce?

When I first started on Salesforce, it really seemed like a sort of different language but I gradually picked it up. I think one of its greatest strength is one of its weaknesses. Just because you can do anything in Salesforce doesn’t mean you should. When you’re trying to do too much on Salesforce in a way that is not scalable -that is the most difficult thing I find in Salesforce projects. Yes you can do anything but if you do not do some of these things in the right way, it can end up causing you a lot of problems as well, so you gotta be careful. 

Do you currently have a certification, how did this impact your career?

When I entered this ecosystem, as mentioned before, I was in a purely Management role. Then as time went on, I got to the point where I was a fair bit hands on and I just decided it was about time that I get some certification to show future clients that it's not just talk, that I actually know what I am talking about, I can walk the talk as well, so to speak.


So I got Salesforce Admin, Salesforce Sales Cloud Consultant and Service Cloud Consultant. I got all those certifications in the first couple of months of this year and Focus on Force is really good in terms of rounding out the knowledge that I have gained through my experience and just making sure I had the full breadth and depth that I needed to be able to pass the certification exams. I learned some gaps in my knowledge and Focus on Force just helped me do that quite quickly and in a structured way and that was a massive benefit for me. So I was able to get the three certs in two and a half months, something like that, so that was very good.


In terms of how it impacted my career, when I am talking to potential clients, existing clients, developers they know I just have the knowledge as well as the experience to be able to know what I am saying is based on good solid foundation. Particularly my clients, they’ve got the confidence that they can trust in my opinions and recommendations.

One thing I found that, along with having the required knowledge, you need to get used to answering the Salesforce exam questions. So by doing practice exams really quickly, your mind gets used to the structure of those topics and questions.

Could you share what system worked for you in preparing for the exams?

I have done a few of the Salesforce webinars. What I did was, I just went through all of the contents in Focus on Force. Some of them I would get through very fast if I thought I knew it and did the practice test parts at the end of each section. Focus on Force just lays it out for you, it’s pretty straightforward so I would just go through all the modules and when I thought I was ready, I got the practice exams. I would start with the modular based ones and as I got closer, when I was confident enough, I booked the exam. Then I start doing the exam-style practice exams where you sort of have to do all the questions.


My strategy with the practice exams was to do them really quickly because one thing I found that, along with having the required knowledge, you need to get used to answering the Salesforce exam questions. So by doing them really quickly, your mind gets used to the structure of those topics and questions. So what I found was, the quicker I did those practice exams, when I got to the real one, I then have the time to go back and review my questions for the really tricky ones. It really helps you to give the best shot for each question. So these were the key strategies I used in preparing.


What advice would you have for people wanting to start with Salesforce?

One of the great things about Salesforce is that there is so much content out there to help in expanding knowledge. So my advice would be to pick an area that you are interested in, that you want to get in to. Use Trailheads, use the webinars, do some practice projects in your own time and then get the certificates when you feel like you are ready.


Because all of that content and all those certificates are out there, even if you haven’t got real commercial experience in some of these aspects, you’ve got a pretty good chance in being able to get a role in that area because you’ve got all the practice experience and the certificates to say you know what you are actually talking about. If you get in an interview for a developer or an analyst, you can convince them in the interview that you do know what you are talking about by asking very good questions and showcasing your knowledge. 

"Even if you haven’t got real commercial experience in some of these aspects, you’ve got a pretty good chance in being able to get a role in that area because you’ve got all the practice experience and the certificates to say you know what you are actually talking about."

What Certification are you studying for now?

Focus on Force currently provides practice exams and study guides for ten certifications

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