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What are the Keys to Hiring a Good SAP Consultant?

We’re going to flip the SAP career blog around a bit today, and ask what hiring managers are looking for in an SAP professional. Admittedly, this is a broad question, and in fact, the skills required vary greatly depending on functional-versus-technical and many other considerations. But let’s take a step back and ask ourselves how hiring managers evaluate SAP consultants.

This question was sent to me by a recruiter who was looking for full-time SAP talent for a Tier One SAP consulting firm, so let’s tackle this question from that vantage point.

  Let’s imagine that we are a hiring manager for a Tier One firm. How do we screen the thousands of possible SAP resumes we can find on job boards or perhaps in our overstuffed email inbox?

We do this by a series of screens. Once a candidate passes the first screen, they move on to the next.

1. Currency of SAP skills — Are their SAP skills current? Has the consultant been working in SAP for the last year or have they moved on to other IT areas? Do they have hands-on skills in the latest SAP releases?

"Currency of SAP skills" is a pretty controversial criteria amongst SAP consultants, and here’s why: if you have ten years of SAP Financials experience, is it fair to be excluded from a hiring search just because you haven’t yet worked on the new General Ledger in 6.0?

The SAP consultant in question would say, "it’s absolutely not fair." In many cases, I would tend to agree with them. I think the obsession with current release technology can wind up excluding very talented individuals who have a much deeper business process background than the consultants who end up landing the jobs.

But with hiring, you have to accept and master the rules of the game, and the current rule is that hiring managers are not willing to spend resources to retrain SAP talent in most cases. There are exceptions, but not many. So, for the purposes of our example here, the first resume evaluation pass is: "do they have the current SAP skills my client needs?"

2. Depth of SAP skills — How deep is the SAP skill set? Does this person’s experience go back at least three years in SAP, preferably five or more? And are they primarily focused on the area that I am hiring in, or are they scattered across many areas of SAP?

Now that we’ve done the first screen, depth of SAP experience comes into play. It’s not just depth of SAP experience though, it’s also the nature of that experience. The SAP resumes that are more focused are the best ones. For example, my recent podcast with Suresh Sreenivasaiah was a profile of someone who has been focused on SAP Retail consulting since 1998. This depth of consistent experience over multiple projects is very valuable.

3. Salary Expectations, Communication Skills, Consulting Background — Now we’re moving into some gray area where we see that different firms have different points of emphasis. Some of this information might be evaluated over a phone interview, and some firms will prioritize the points differently.

But there’s no question that firms are looking for consultants who are not mercenary over rates but who are looking at a "total opportunity." Tier One firms want folks who are as comfortable in the board room as the lunch room, who can talk with managers and executives as well as users, and don’t have to be peeled off their computer screens at the end of the day.

"Previous consulting experience" is another one that can discourage SAP professionals: "How do I get consulting experience if I don’t have it already?" However, with Tier One hiring managers, they want to see that you’ve already worn a consulting hat and gotten familiar with project methodologies on multiple sites.

Having said that, it’s still possible to break into consulting with SAP experience only on one project. It’s not easy thing to do, but if you have experience in the latest versions of SAP and you’re on a project that yielded great bottom line results, you might be able to pull off the jump to salaried consulting at a Tier One. But it’s more common to get taken on by a second tier consulting firm first.

4. Industry Background, Blue Chip References, Business Process Know-How — In some cases, these criteria would appear above the third screening. Depends on the situation. But there’s no question that having relevant industry experience and business process know-how really helps your cause in an SAP hiring situation these days. The more you can speak to the problems a particular type of client is facing, the more marketable you are.

Sometimes this means having exposure to SAP’s industry solutions. Other times it just means having some career focus. Let’s face it, implementing SAP for the U.S. Army is a little different than implementing SAP for Walt Disney or MIT. Having some industry focus really comes into play now with SAP’s eSOA-driven emphasis on becoming the "business process platform" of the future.

As for "blue chip references," you can never get enough of those. It’s amazing how different a resume looks when you have projects that have brand name recognition. It may not be fair, but it’s a factor, and if you have such references, there’s no reason not to play them up.

5. Certifications — In many cases, certifications don’t come into play. I put them on the last of this list to emphasize once again that aspiring consultants put too much weight on SAP certifications over project credentials. Before you blow cash on SAP certification, just make sure you are clear that you are only solving the fifth level of screening.

Having said that, I do find that certification can be a "tie-breaker" between two equally qualified candidates, and I could see our imaginary Tier One hiring manager emphasizing certification more than we typically see, if only because it might save some money investing in certification from the get-go. There’s no question that the big consultancies like to say that all their consultants are certified, so it can be useful to have that certification going in.

This blog entry is a pretty gross oversimplification of the SAP hiring process. For example, I didn’t even touch on "willingness to travel" and other consulting lifestyle considerations. Often there are several separate screens just on the "current skills" section. But what I hope I have accomplished is to give some level of insight into the screening phases that hiring managers employ to narrow the pool. The better we understand the hiring game, the better our chances in the SAP marketplace.

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