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Why do SAP Hiring Managers Overlook Deep SAP Experience?

I received this excellent question from a senior SAP consultant who had been passed over for some projects in favor of junior-level SAP resources. This was a frustrating experience for someone who has "paid their dues" in the market and wants to feel like this was time well spent.

The timing of this question was good because we just posted the transcript of the "State of the SAP Market" podcast interview with Brian Trout. In the second section of that interview Brian and I get into a good back-and-forth on this topic.

  Brian shared an example of how the new releases in SAP are affecting SAP hiring decisions. Here is a quote from that section of the podcast, with Brian saying:

"The days of the SAP consultant saying, ‘Well I’ve got eight years of experience or ten years of experience or more, and that’s good enough to keep me on the leading edge of the market,’ are over. I can speak to that in many instances. It is more about having the recent experience than it is having the depth of experience. I’ll pull an example out of the portals arena, with HCM."

Brian continued: "Consider areas such as ESS, MSS, and E-Recruitment. The new E-recruitment 6.0 offers a series of new capabilities. I have seen multiple instances where HR developers with older E-Recruit 3.0 experience have been passed by even though their HR application depth was considerable. They had seven, eight years or more, and they were passed over in lieu of a resource that had half the experience, but more recent SAP experience. So these are things we all need to be thinking about, no matter what your area of expertise in the SAP arena is - Portal development, functional work, Basis, etc."

Brian makes a very good summary of the biases that SAP hiring managers tend to have towards those who have hands-on experience in the latest SAP versions and releases. As more and more companies move into ERP 6.0, this is becoming more and more of an issue. So, there are situations you can run into where a junior-level consultant with ERP 6.0 project experience might be chosen over a more experienced SAP professional who does not yet have 6.0 experience.

Of course, rate is sometimes a reason for why companies would choose a junior-level consultant over a senior one. For this blog entry, I am not really considering the rate issue and assuming that the problem here is one of skills evaluation.

There’s no question that SAP hiring managers prefer to hire consultants who have the most recent releases under their belt. The more interesting question is: how fair is this?
An even more compelling question, to me, is: are you making a smarter hire by going after someone with the latest SAP version experience and less depth in SAP, or is that a dumb hire?

I’m a little torn to give a definitive answer. The problem is that many companies are not willing or able to provide the training to bring someone up to speed on a new release. They want to hire consultants who can hit the ground running. In recent years, it seems that training even for "perm hires" is less of an option at most companies. Again, they are looking for "been there, done that" folks who have already done the exact piece of SAP they are looking to do.

It also depends on the area of SAP you are hiring in. Brian’s E-recruitment example is one situation where there really is new functionality that is not included in previous releases. In other situations, there isn’t that much of a difference between previous releases and new ones. It would be ideal if hiring managers realized this, but many times there is someone in the hiring process that doesn’t. To make it easy, they say to themselves, "If they don’t have ERP 6.0 on the resume, don’t interview them."

So what is the best way to handle this situation as a consultant? The first answer is not to waste a moment getting upset about the so-called "rules of the hiring game." The winners in the SAP market are those who master the existing rules. In this case, I would say that the key is to be totally on top of the newest functionality in your area of specialization. More importantly, you want to be able to speak to the differences between older releases of SAP (especially 4.6C, 4.7, and 5.0) and the latest release (currently 6.0).

Obviously, it’s not easy to get the exposure to ERP 6.0. So the next step, if you don’t have the exposure, is to really do your homework. Figure out exactly how many true changes in functionality exist in your area of specialization. If you really want to impress folks, also figure out which parts of the functionality you are expert in, if any, have been service-enabled for Enterprise SOA. The more you understand the area you are in and how it is changing, the more effectively you can address this issue during the job application and interview process.

This may sound simple, but I know plenty of consultants who have not done this kind of homework yet. The process of identify your skills gaps and filling them is always the most important step you can take in the SAP world. It’s a long term commitment that is needed here, not a one time training class.

In the end, hiring managers do value those with deep SAP experience. It’s simply a matter of making sure that your deeper experience ties in with the latest functionality. That way you will look appealing both in your currency and your skills depth.

I’m going to close this blog entry with another excerpt from the same podcast, with Brian Trout’s take on how SAP professionals can maximize their rate by doing this kind of homework:

"If you want to stay leading edge, you want to be in the high end of the rate scale that’s out there," said Brian. "As an independent, you must stay current with the release logic. Most of the consultants I deal with that I would consider to be the most savvy take that into the equation every time they evaluate a new customer opportunity. It’s tempting to just look at the potential earnings that are available in a six or nine month contract, but if it’s on an older release of the technology, the savvy consultant understands that the longer they invest in the older technology, the further behind they ultimately can become.

It’s not that easy to stay current. You have customers that will say that they’re piloting new releases and many times don’t end up implementing them, and you as a consultant make decisions based on that at times. It’s not the easiest thing to manage, but it is very, very important. What I would say to listeners out there who are independent consultants is when you’re interviewing for a position, take this into account.

For example, say the client needs an FI resource, one that has very strong external accounting process knowledge, AR/AP/GL, etc. They also expect the client to know statutory reporting requirements at certain global locations, maybe a tax background is needed - that’s just an example of a requirement. But here’s the catch: they want that resource to understand and know the new GL functionality that’s available in ECC 6.0. At this stage in the market, that part of the requirement might be more of a "nice to have" than an absolute.

So the consultant might not have to have those skills, but it’s highly preferred. What I would say to even senior consultants who want to get those types of projects is that you need to study the release notes and know as much as you can about what SAP is offering in the new releases, and make sure you can speak to those in an interview process."

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