A Salesforce professional's guide to working at a startup

March 16, 2023
15 min read
DA Ledger

What a Salesforce Administrator or Developer should know before taking a job at a startup

In this week's post, I'm going to break down a question from a Some Magic Nuggets reader. They're in the final stages of their interview for a Salesforce administrator job at a startup.

Here's what they ask:

A quick recap of the Salesforce admin job summary

  • Your potential manager knows you have excellent project management skills, but he's got some concerns about your technical chops as a Salesforce administrator.
  • If you both decide you're a good fit for each other, you'd potentially be joining a company with high expectations and unrealistic deadlines.
  • You'll be the company's most technically savvy Salesforce person, but you'll clear architecture decisions with your manager.
  • Some examples of significant projects on the horizon: removing Lead duplicates at scale, something you haven't done at their scale. You're going to implement a Cloud you've never seen.
  • You'll dive deep into learning about how to customize the platform - at scale. It'll be like drinking from the Salesforce admin firehose.

The common theme in the above statement is that you will be wading/diving into uncharted territory concerning your Salesforce knowledge and work pace.

If they extend an offer, you're at a fork in the road:

  • Negotiate the offer and take the Salesforce administrator role
  • Let them know it's not a good fit at this time

I'm not going to tell you which choice to make. Instead, I will provide guidance on what I see as the pros and cons.

Then, I'll talk about how you can control the narrative of your working style.

I'll speak of my mini-litmus test for joining a startup.

Lastly, I'll talk about how I work now and how it's different from the early days of my Salesforce career.

Salesforce administrator jobs at a fast growing company

The pros of taking the Salesforce administrator job

You'll get several years of Salesforce administrator experience in a fraction of the time

You will get several years of Salesforce experience in a fraction of the time. You will laugh at the idea that you thought you thought you were ever in a position where you couldn't answer any of your future interviewer's "curveball" situational questions. You'll easily have things to put on your resume.

You will have your pick of the Salesforce administrator jobs you want in the future.

You might even learn some Salesforce developer skills and pick up new tools along the way.

You'll learn all new things about the Salesforce platform

You'll learn Salesforce has solutions for problems that you never knew existed. Integrations? You'll know them like the back of your hand.

You will build a strong network

You're joining a startup. It's a fast growing company. Even if the startup doesn't achieve the success the leadership team is envisioning, you will build a strong network of people that will only grow over time.

Before you know it, people who leave the startup will likely consider you when their new company is hiring for Salesforce administrators.

You will have significant autonomy

Over time, you will become the go-to person for all Salesforce asks. It's possible that you could go from Salesforce administrator to Salesforce architect with enough time.

You will be up close to critical business processes

You will have the opportunity to learn how a business makes money. If you're ever planning to start your own business, you can observe what to do (and what not to do) in your future entrepreneurial ventures.

Your interviewers were up-front about their working style

You might not agree with it, but I have to respect that they were not shy to talk about their working style .

The cons of taking the Salesforce administrator job

You may work long hours as a Salesforce administrator

The interviewers stressed they "work 10+ hour days."

For me, it's okay if it happens sometimes, but I would not like it if that's their way of working all the time. You will have a lot of responsibilities. It's likely your other team members and stakeholders will have lots of responsibilities as well.

For a Salesforce administrator at a fast growing company, it's going to be more than general Salesforce administrator work. It'll likely include learning how the company does sales, marketing, and support. What are your recommendations on how to integrate all of the company's systems with Salesforce?

You'll be invited to join a bunch of meetings that might have nothing to do with your immediate role as a Salesforce administrator. Your job title might say Salesforce administrator or Salesforce developer, but in reality, it'll evolve day-to-day.

Your interviewers for the Salesforce admin role assumed certain behaviors about you

They assumed what your working style was. They didn't know if it was true or not. For example, they said, "I think you'd be willing to put in the work on nights & weekends to deliver." What if you're like the mailman? You consistently deliver, but only on weekdays?

Salesforce administrators and Salesforce developers are not monoliths. Everyone has their own working preferences.

You would be on your own

My interpretation of your message makes me believe you wouldn't always have someone to ask questions about your Salesforce application needs. You'd be on your own. Figuring out why your Flow won't work can easily contribute to those long working hours.

You will have significant autonomy in the Salesforce administrator role

Some Salesforce Developer and Salesforce Administrator jobs have every work item meticulously planned. That's likely the case at larger companies.

Some Salesforce Developer and Salesforce Administrator jobs have no work item planned. Every day is a fight for survival. That's how it's like in startup land. Sometimes, the lack of structure can become a mental prison.

It'll be on you to determine what will drive the most value to the business. It can be very stressful if you haven't been in situations where you have to make daily decisions like this.

You can control the narrative

You said one of the projects they want to finish by the end of the year is a project to remove all duplicate leads.

A quick way to guarantee you get a job offer as a Salesforce administrator

Do you want to know a way that pretty much guarantees you get a job offer?

Well, remember that your interviewer mentioned that he has a goal to complete large scale lead deduplication by the end of the year?

Create a plan for removing all duplicate leads in Salesforce and present it to the hiring manager. It doesn't have to be too long. Keep it to a page.

"As a Salesforce administrator at the company, I plan to execute X in 30 days. Then, by day 60, I'd have A, B, and C done. Then, in 90 days, we'd have this done."

Of course, you're not going to know the exact business applications their Salesforce instance integrates with, and you don't know what kind of de-duplication efforts exist today. But that's not the point.

By coming up with a plan, you de-commoditize yourself from the rest of the applicants.

You're no longer viewed only as a Salesforce administrator. Imagine if you put yourself your stakeholders' shoes and come up with example business requirements. And by showing the hiring manager your proposal to clean up leads, you ingratiate yourself with him. They'll have a higher likelihood of giving you a business problem and letting you run the project. That means you'll come up with the solution and risks and a timeline that makes sense for you.

Remember this: deadlines are negotiable

Pro-tip: Suppose you discover that their existing timeline has no basis in reality. You can tell your stakeholders that the deadline is not realistic. Then, re-negotiate a timeline that makes sense.

You can also tell your stakeholders that, due to your team's constraints, you can deliver X and Y, but not Z, by the end of the year.

Some constraints include total people on the team, technical skill set, and team priorities.

Identify & remove your mental blocks

Sometimes, we put up these mental blocks from doing things in our best interest. Whether it is not speaking up or not advocating for ourselves, these mental blocks are harmful to our personal and professional lives.

How standing up for yourself makes people respect you MORE

Too often, I see Salesforce administrators and developers alike give into stakeholders' unrealistic demands. Instead, we should devise a viable alternative that we can commit to doing. Then, we should then communicate how we intend to deliver it.

Counterintuitively, our stakeholders respect us MORE because we have a point of view on how to do something correctly in Salesforce. You're not just a Salesforce administrator. You're the resident Salesforce expert.

Don't be scared to push back on business requirements that don't make sense

I also see Salesforce professionals get scared to push back on requests that don't make sense. They don't want to "rock the boat" or not seem like they're "a team player." I'd challenge that line of thinking.

Challenging stakeholder requests is being a great team player. How so? Because your end goal is to build something that will help them in their day-to-day.

You're not there to waste time working on something that doesn't make sense to build.

My quick litmus test for joining a startup

Can I see myself working well with my manager?

Is my manager going to be there for me when I need them? For example: if there's an escalation, can they take on that drama so I can focus on delivering the work? Are they not going to drive me crazy in the long run?

Can I see myself learning and growing from my manager? Are they going to be able to teach me valuable lessons aside from just the Salesforce platform?

Do they have examples of high integrity? If not, they'll screw you.

Will the company do well in the next five years?

When it comes to joining startups, we know that most don't pan out. They never find a product-market fit or run out of money.

That's why it's essential to do your research. Look up the company's investors. Have they invested in companies that successfully exited (IPO, acquisition)? Ask your interviewers and recruiters for information about the company's financials. If they're cagey about discussing financials when you're in the final stages of negotiations, I would be curious why they're hiding it from you.

Work like a lion

Quick story time.

I would put in those 70-80 hour weeks at my second job and always be stressed. I was severely underpaid, working for an unhealthy and unsustainable company.

I'd have skin rashes from stress. I ate Sabra hummus and hard-boiled eggs and drank Coke to fuel me through those late-night meetings with my team in India. After that, I'd get back to my coding sessions.

Hummus, hard-boiled eggs, and Coke. This is what powers your Salesforce instance.

And yet, I'm grateful for the experience. Why? It taught me a valuable lesson: work hard and smart. What does that mean?

Now, I'm not working crazy hours at my day job. It's a fast-growing startup with many stakeholders who needed their work yesterday.

What did I change between my second job and now? Then, I worked like a chicken without a head. I'd say yes to everything, and I was busy working, but it didn't feel like moving the needle.

Now, I try to work like a lion. I only choose a handful of essential things for the business. Then, I stay laser-focused on delivering that work. When our team produces, we can quantify the value of what we've done.

Believe it or not, there's downtime at the company. When that happens, I rest and recharge for some time. Then, I find the next thing to tackle to help take the business to the next level.

I suggest working like a lion. It's been a much better working experience for myself, my manager, and my team.

The tides do shift, slowly

You can acknowledge that the startup's culture is unsustainable and work to change the tide by being part of a cohort of hires that prioritizes long-term company success over short-term growth goals.

What do I mean by that? I'll give you an example.

Startups are chaotic on the inside

Last year, my friend interviewed with a startup growing VERY FAST.

They had just raised a new round of funding. The announcement caused a lot of buzz in the startup world. He decided to interview with them around the summertime.

One of his interviewers was an engineering manager from a completely different department. When it was time for him to ask questions, he didn't hesitate.

The non-technical challenges can be greater than the technical ones

"What's the most difficult technical and non-technical hurdle you're trying to overcome now?"

His question caused us to go 15 minutes over the allotted interview time. Why? The most complex technical challenge paled for her compared to her non-technical hurdle.

Her biggest issue was ensuring her team was well-staffed to handle the incoming work! The collective weight she and her team had to bear was so much that it caused almost all of them to leave.

"One of my engineers only took four days off in 2020. I'm not proud of it."

Only four days off? In 2020?! That's not good.

If you have point of view, share it

By the end of their conversation, the interviewer and my friend felt very comfortable. The interviewer was glad she spoke with my friend. He had no problems creating and enforcing workplace boundaries, and she respected that about him.

My friend was happy to hear that the interviewer's team improved on the vacation front. Her team took the most vacation time in 2021, partly because the engineering manager spoke up about the impending attrition.

As a company-wide response, they started a new tradition: giving employees the entire week off around the Christmas holidays.

Change can happen. It starts with speaking up.

Bumble recently announced that all employees will have a paid, fully offline one-week vacation in June.

I'll say another thing: unlimited PTO is a scam if you don't use it. I currently have "unlimited PTO," and I give myself at least five weeks off a year.

Want to become a Salesforce Developer?

If you are a Salesforce Administrator and you want to make the jump to development, click here to read about what it's like being a Salesforce developer in today's Salesforce ecosystem.

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