This question was sent to me by an individual who has been searching unsuccessfully for SAP consulting roles for close to a year’s time. This is a frustrating situation, and it doesn’t just happen to those who have no SAP experience. I heard from someone else in this situation recently who actually had a number of years of experience in SAP Financials working in an "end-user" capacity, and they were also having trouble finding a consulting gig. So what do you do about it?
The fact is that the SAP market is not easy to move around in until you become a full-fledged SAP consultant. And that involves more than just acquiring hands-on SAP skills. It’s also more than just collecting SAP certifications or training.
For example, some people want to use the word "contractor" to describe someone who is more of a "hired gun," a strictly technical person, and they save the use of the word "consultant" for someone who has surrounded their technical skills with the "soft skills" of a full-fledged consultant. But I find those ways of describing the differences to be confusing.
Some people try to start off their SAP consulting careers by searching for independent SAP contractor roles. But if you don’t get any leads diving directly into independent consulting, you should switch the focus of your search and look for salaried, full time consulting roles.
Why? Because it’s very uncommon to make a move directly from working for an SAP end-user to moving into SAP independent contracting. The reason? You acquire consulting skills over multiple projects, and right now, companies are sophisticated enough in their assessment of SAP professionals to expect that any "independents" they hire have already worked directly for a consulting firm. At the least, they want to contract with someone who has worked on multiple projects, preferably in their industry.
There used to be more exceptions to this, but unless you are in a super hot emerging area of SAP, you can’t easily jump directly from "end user employee" to "independent contractor." But what if you take my advice, and you still have difficulty with the move from end-user employee to full time, salaried consultant?
One important step is to do a rigorous skills inventory. On the functional side of SAP, it’s still essential to have extensive configuration skills if you want to be hired as a consultant. Not all end-user employees are given the chance to obtain configuration skills. Sometimes, those opportunities are reserved for outside consultants.
One reason why companies shield their employees from getting involved on the configuration side is that they don’t want to make it too easy for their people to get consulting jobs themselves. I don’t agree with this tactic personally; I think it’s important for SAP customers to have some folks on their in-house team who know something about configuring the product. Otherwise, they will be forever dependent on outside experts to run their systems. But the fact remains: not all SAP users are able to get the experience they need on the configuration side.
So, the configuration skills piece is a good gut check. If you don’t have strong configuration skills, you need to get them somehow. Assuming you are currently working for a company running on SAP, a good first move is often to have a talk with your internal team manager and see what options there might be for you to get more configuration skills during the next upgrade cycle. Since you’ve proven yourself internally, you might have the best chance to get exposure there.
If you can’t pick up on configuration skills from the inside, you’re in a challenging spot, because consulting firms generally won’t hire and train you in this area. Your best option in this case is to get a similar job at another end-user, but to do your best to make sure that this company makes a habit of including their in-house team in the configuration process.
Perhaps in your case, you do have configuration skills but you’re still having trouble landing a consulting position. Again, your best option is to find a similar role at another company, and perhaps get yourself involved in an ERP 6.0 upgrade cycle. I can hear the objection - this seems like a sideways move. So, how is such a career move helpful? It’s helpful because most managers feel that you don’t just move from being an SAP expert to a consultant overnight.
"SAP consultant" implies a distinct skill set beyond just the SAP expertise. How we define an SAP consultant is changing in the era of the "Business Process Expert," and I won’t get into all those changes here, that’s a whole different article. But there are two things we can count on that define a good SAP consultant. One piece of the skill set involved savvy working with clients and end users and understanding business processes. Sure, you can develop those skills on your own project, but most managers would like to see you do a stint at a consultancy in order to get more formal training in these areas.
The next aspect of the consultant skill set is the one we are concerned with here: you are not truly considered an "SAP consultant" until you have worked on multiple implementations for multiple companies. The consensus is that you have to work in multiple SAP settings to get enough of a feel for project variations that will allow you to truly add value as a consultant. Most managers feel that just being exposed to one environment, even over many years, is not enough to truly establish your SAP expertise.
Now, this may or may not be a valid point of view. I have known some outstanding SAP professionals over the years who spent their entire careers in one SAP environment. Some SAP customers stay on the cutting edge, and take you through several upgrade cycles, and you can probably learn just as much from that kind of SAP career as any. But what we have to keep in mind about SAP hiring practices is that they are not always perfectly fair.
We have to master the rules of the hiring game and use them to our best advantage. That’s why, in the case of your question, if you are truly stuck getting a consulting position, and if you already have configuration skills, then it may make the most sense to move to another end-user role at another company. As you acquire SAP skills in several environments, your appeal to consulting firms will rise, and you may find yourself with more opportunities.
Obviously, this is not the fastest route, but sometimes you have to take a few pit stops to reach your destination. The main thing is to avoid getting stuck sending out resumes and hearing no response. As a rule, if you can find a way to push your SAP skills forward, and get exposure to the latest releases as you go, you should find success in the market. Make sure that you get that full life cycle implementation experience, including configuration skills. Even as the SAP skill set evolves, those two aspects are still crucial to success as a functional SAP consultant.