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How Do You Get Back Into SAP After Being Out Of The Field?

This is a great question - especially when we consider how many folks left SAP for greener pastures in that 2000-2002 period when it seemed like SAP was down for the count and best-of-breed players like Siebel and Ariba would rule the day. But times have changed, and SAP now offers both the best rates and the best long-term career growth. So, how do you get back?

  In the case of the reader who asked this question, this person was an ABAP programmer who had a year and half of experience in ABAP five years ago. For starters, we can say that it doesn’t necessarily matter what area of SAP you specialize in - many of the tactics for breaking back into SAP apply across the board. Of course, the amount of experience you had, and when you got it, does come into play, but I will try to answer this as a general question that many readers can utilize.

One thing’s for sure: as SAP migrates to the ERP 6.0 and NetWeaver world, it’s going to be harder and harder to break back into SAP. The skills journey from 4.6 to 6.0 is not as far as the journey was once from R/2 (mainframe) to R/3 (client-server), but it’s still a pretty significant change of technical scenery.

The good news is that we aren’t there yet. Many SAP customers have yet to upgrade to 6.0, or are still in the early phases. So in large part, we are still looking at a market where the 4.x releases were in play for so long, that even five years out of the field wouldn’t necessarily be a huge disadvantage in terms of understanding the technical environment.

Of course, having a grasp of what you are doing is very different than getting a job offer, and that’s where the going gets tougher. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: most SAP hiring managers are not interested in helping someone get "up to speed" - even if they have deep relevant experience. If you haven’t recently worked on the latest versions of SAP, you are at a disadvantage for the best positions.

So what are the "best positions"?

Well, for this exercise, let’s assume that the only consideration driving us is maximizing our rate. If our top priority is getting paid, we can then prioritize the caliber of SAP positions into three distinct categories:

1. Independent SAP consultant (highest pay rate)
2. Salaried SAP consultant (mid-tier pay rate)
3. Salaried SAP employee working for end customer (lowest pay rate)

Of course, these are gross generalizations. There are plenty of exceptions to this, and plenty of SAP positions that do not fit neatly into these categories either.

But for our purposes here, this prioritized list of positions gives us some pretty helpful guidelines that SAP professionals with all types of experience can take into account. And here’s how:

When you’re looking for an SAP position and you want to maximize your rate, you start by applying to independent consulting roles. If you can’t get those, then you look to salaried consulting. If you can’t nab a salaried consulting position, you look to end-user employee positions.

Of course, we can’t always approach our job search this way. For example, many folks would gladly take a lower salary in exchanged for reduced travel and more time for backyard grilling.

But our goal here is simply to identify a job search methodology that a wide range of folks can put into play.

So how do this relate to our ABAP programmer trying to get back into SAP? Well, anyone trying to break into SAP might as well start at the top and see if they can get a high-paying contract role first, assuming a high rate is their top objective. Then, you work your way down.

I strongly suspect that in the case of this ABAP programmer, the best chance to break back in would be to go to work for an SAP end customer. More than likely, that will be the only option for a job back in SAP. And even that job may be hard to land.

The good news is that in this case, our ABAP programmer also picked up on some web-based programming skills in recent years. So, he might be able to find an ABAP/Java hybrid type of position working for an SAP customer that is transitioning into NetWeaver and emphasizing projects such as NetWeaver Portals that tend to involve Java skills.

As always, our goal in obtaining the best SAP position is to seek out the roles that bring all of our relevant skills into play. So in this case, "packaging" the SAP and non-SAP programming skills into one overall web development skill set might work really well - though not all SAP customers are invested heavily in SAP web development yet. But many are at least involved in pilot programs.

And what if you can’t get into the SAP field at all, even if you have previous experience?

Sometimes it’s just too difficult to bet back into SAP right away. The art of the career change is to understand that you can rarely make more than one career move at the same time. In truth, moving back into SAP programming is actually two moves - one to another company, and one to an SAP role. So, if you can’t land the SAP role right away, the fallback is to find a position with a company that is implementing SAP, and work your way into the SAP project from the inside over time.

So in this person’s case, if all else fails, they could land a web programming role in a forward-thinking SAP shop, even if their initial role was not SAP focused. Over time, they could work their way closer to the SAP work.

Yes, it takes time and patience to get into SAP this way, but it does work. That’s why I always say, go for the shortest way first, but if that doesn’t work, just remember there is probably a more gradual way to make the same skills transition.

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