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How do you Jump Start an SAP Consulting Job Search?

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.

  In order to get to the bottom of this question, we need to define some terms. First, let’s make a key distinction between "salaried consultant" and "independent contractor." I find that people either use the terms "contractor" and "consultant" interchangeably, or go to great pains to define the difference skillwise.

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.

For this answer, to keep things simple, I’ll use the term "consultant" in regards to salaried consulting only, and the term "contractor" to refer to independent contracting, in cases where you are "on your own" and not a salaried employee of an SAP consulting firm.

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.

17 Responses to “How do you Jump Start an SAP Consulting Job Search?”

  • Anonymous responded:
    January 25th, 2008 at 3:53 pm...

    I recently got involved in SAP, I have 2 masters ‚Ä́ Management, Economics and some basic SAP skills, and I am about to take the SAP Terp 10 certification. I want to break into the SAP job market and concentrate more on their business models, like Finance, Production Planning etc. What is you advice on how to go about this.

  • Jon Reed responded:
    January 25th, 2008 at 7:22 pm...

    I would basically follow the advice in this particular article, in terms of prioritizing the different openings you can get access to. Try for consulting first, but be prepared to start with an SAP end customer role. What you want to do is to find a role with a company running on SAP that will expose you to some of these functional areas.

    If you can find a company running on ERP 5.0 or ERP 6.0, you should have a shot at getting some of the more advanced modeling experience. Or, perhaps you can get on board an upgrade that will take you into these new environments.

    The latest releases of SAP will definitely exposure you to more business model work. Having said that, I like the Finance concentration in SAP better than the Production Planning side, only because the PP module has not achieved the same level of market acceptance as the FI side.

    - Jon Reed -

  • Anonymous responded:
    February 18th, 2008 at 4:07 am...

    Great article Jon,

    My advice to want-to-be SAP consultants is similar. Find a company on the verge of an SAP upgrade, get onto the project by positioning yourself as a business process expert and a team player.

    Most companies today are so short-handed they cannot afford to put their best employees on an SAP upgrade or implementation. This is an opportunity for a new hire, but one with expert experience in accounting, finance, logistices, supply chain, or human resources to wedge their way onto an SAP project.

    Once on the project, you can then learn by OJT mainly, or with instructor-led courses, or certain on-line courses how to setup SAP.

    While this probably works best for business users, I think a technical person could take a similar approach. The idea being that you can bridge the gap between the very experienced company man/women who is viewed as a critical cog in the corporate wheel, and taking and implementing their ideas in the SAP implementation.

  • Jon Reed responded:
    February 18th, 2008 at 5:14 pm...

    Thanks for the great comment, it’s good to hear another perspective on how to break into SAP, as many folks on the cusp of the market are looking for ideas on this. Too often, they fall back on certification as the answer, and that’s not the major thing you need.

    I agree that these tactics can work for both functional and technical folks. On the technical side, you can do a lot of yourself by bridging your technical know-how into SAP. For example, on the SAP Developer Network, you can find and learn from discussion threads on many different technical topics. For example, a .NET programmer could learn about .NET SAP environments, or a data warehousing expert could learn more about SAP BI, etc.

    There’s always a way into SAP if you have the savvy and can build a bridge from your current skills. Thanks again for the comment.

    - Jon Reed -

  • Anonymous responded:
    March 11th, 2008 at 12:09 pm...

    Hi,

    I have just come across your website and I am interested in knowing more about making a transition as a DBA to a Functional SAP consultant.I have worked as a consultant. However, I wondered whether you could advise me on how as an Oracle DBA I can use my existing skills and move towards SAP consultancy.

    In one of your answer question emails your “recommended approach for moving ahead in SAP is to look first at your core skills, and then match up your skills with the hottest area of SAP that directly relates to your core skill set”. I have worked as a DBA in the Health Industry and previously in the telecommunications field. I would not say that either of these are where my core skills are. From my research on the different modules of SAP I am interested in retail, partly because I can mostly relate to that module as a consumer when I purchase products via the web. HR appears to be another module that I might be able to ‘relate to’. However any suggestions that you can make would be appreciated.

    Thanks

  • Jon Reed responded:
    March 12th, 2008 at 1:50 am...

    I wish all my site visitors trying to break into SAP would read your comment, because you have really taken the time to think about how to get into SAP and have taken some of my advice on the topic to heart.

    In particular, you are thinking hard about how to map your existing skills into SAP. I would tend to disagree with you about one thing though: I do believe that your Oracle DBA skills are your core skills and your best way to break into SAP. Although you can “relate” to HR and Retail, it’s more important to have the actual industry experience.

    Obviously, your end goal is to become a functional consultant. What I recommend in these situations is to realize that many times, your “dream job” is not just one job away, but at least a couple. I think in your case, your next job will need to be to leverage your Oracle DBA skills and get a job working in an SAP environment as a DBA.

    From there, you will gain real life SAP experience, and many SAP installs need such a DBA, so it’s about as good a way in as you are going to find. Once you start getting some SAP technical skills, you can start working your way towards the functional side and positioning yourself more in functional SAP. But you have a much better chance of doing that from the inside.

    Here are some more links that will help you fine tune your strategy:

    check out my latest blog posts on breaking into SAP:

    http://www.jonerp.com/component/option,com_jd-wp/Itemid,20/cat,9/

    also check out “guided tour” of how to get your SAP career questions answered:

    http://www.trailfire.com/jonreed/marks/184239

    make sure to check out my “best of the web” links also, especially the SearchSAP.com stuff, where I have answered a lot of questions on breaking into SAP, and the ERPGenie.com pieces:

    http://www.jonerp.com/content/view/25/35/

    read all the ERP Genie pieces,

    http://www.erpgenie.com/scoop/index.htm

    especially the one on breaking into SAP, that will really help you.

    Good luck!

    - Jon Reed -

  • GK responded:
    March 27th, 2008 at 9:43 pm...

    Hello Jon,

    I’m glad I came across your site. I’ve been considering joining the SAP revolution for several months now. My background is in the supply-chain, logistics, and warehousing areas. I have absolutely no IT or ERP background.

    I initially wanted to get some SAP training (possibly in MM or APO) and increase my chances of landing a better job (as an an end user) since most large companies use SAP or some ERP. I have recently come across a training center that provides skills to becoming a functional consultant (doing implentation). Since I have no IT history, is my 12 year career in supply-chain and logistics going to be a positive factor with hiring managers?

    I realize most consulting positions could be outside one’s home city so being away from my family for extended periods would be difficult. What costs do most consulting firms cover for people they place outside their home-city?

    My second question is related to what module to study as a functional consultant - does APO (with DP & SNP) have a market or would MM with WM be the logical choice? After training I’d like for my experience to play a role in my resume so choosing the right module (one with potential) is crucial. I could go for training in another module if I’m successful with the first.

    Your input would be appreciated for me at this important career-changing stage.

    Thanks.

  • Jon Reed responded:
    March 28th, 2008 at 1:09 pm...

    Hello. Some of your questions have been covered in previous posts I have written, so make sure to keep reading from the links above in the comments.

    1. Yes, a functional background is an asset to an SAP career. You can succeed in SAP without a deep IT skill set. If this part about SAP isn’t clear to you, you definitely want to listen to more podcasts on my site and study up, as the functional versus technical SAP distinction is important to grasp as you try to move into this field.

    2. Most consulting firms will cover all your basic travel expenses, but you will have to travel Mon-Fri in most cases. I wouldn’t, however, worry about that yet as it’s very unlikely you can get hired by an SAP consulting firm until you have more hands-on experience working for an end-user, as I have noted above.

    3. I like MM with WM more than APO, for the simple reason that there seems to be a lot more work in the MM/WM market these days. I know some APO consultants, but right now, it seems to be an “experts only” market, not easy to break into. APO is a powerful product but it’s also complex, and companies seem more focused on core ERP functionality right now during this “SAP upgrade wave.”

    hope this info helps…

    - Jon Reed -

  • Anonymous responded:
    April 3rd, 2008 at 10:27 am...

    Hi Jon reed ,
    No words to explain your effort spending on responding each of us career doubt. It was marvel been with your community.
    I’am looking a break to SAP.. Hope soon I would be a SAP professional ..
    Once again thanks for all your good works.

  • Jon Reed responded:
    April 4th, 2008 at 6:56 pm...

    Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad the site has been such a great resource for so many already. It’s really the fulfillment of my dream to contribute something with real value to the SAP community.

    The best is yet to come, there are many plans for this site still in the works!

    New content is being posted all the time. If you haven’t seen it yet, you may enjoy the resume and interview guides I just added: http://www.jonerp.com/content/blogcategory/0/45/

    Some classics we have recovered and brought back to life!

    - Jon Reed -

  • GK responded:
    April 13th, 2008 at 12:04 am...

    Jon,
    I am now leaning toward becoming a user rather than a functional consultant. This way I can draw on my 12-year experience in supply chain and hope to work for a firm already using SAP.
    Do you think using an online training website - such as michaelmanagement.com = would be enough to get a fundamental knowledge of a module that can benefit a user? I’m looking to take an online course in MM and WM instead of instructor-led training centers, many of which train you to become consultants.

    Additionally, if I train in MM & WM, and I’m required to use another module as part of my work, how easy or difficult is it to learn those modules? Are books useful fo these? Also please advise whether you think starting out as a user, one can contemplate becoming a consultant after a few years?

    I look forward to your advice.

    Thanks

  • Anonymous responded:
    April 14th, 2008 at 1:10 am...

    Hello Jon

    Thanks for the great article. I am currently in a SAP support role in the Financials/Controlling module in a large manufacturing firm. I was considering going into SAP consulting recently (I was offered a consulting job).

    However, my impression from that job interview gives me the idea of SAP consultant as a “hired gun” as it seems that they are pure configurators than really interested in clients’ business processes.

    Given the shift towards BPX, would it be better to stay in an end user environment , learning business processes and working closely with business process owners rather than to get a consultant job as a “configurator”.

    In addition, how important are full implementation cycles in consulting as I see many pre-requisites to be hired as SAP consultants require you to go through implementation cycle?

  • Jon Reed responded:
    April 14th, 2008 at 1:31 pm...

    Good questions. I’ll answer GK’s questions first.

    1. Can online training (like the kind Michael Management offers) help a user get up to speed?

    Definitely. I think online SAP training can be a real asset to an SAP user. SAP users may not want to invest in the large expense of travelling to an SAP academy. Online training is an excellent option in this case. And yes, you can continue to “add” additional modules to your core knowledge base over time. I suppose there is an advantage in getting a lot of your training from the same place in this case, as you can consult with that online provider about the additional courses you might want to add.

    2. Can you learn a lot from SAP books also? Yes, definitely. The only thing to be careful about is to make sure the books are up to date. One of the most popular SAP financials books is based on a very old SAP environment. Books might even be a good compliment to an online training option. And remember, you can also get more serious about your hands-on learning by getting your own SAP system access if you really want a sandbox to play in. This might be too much for some users to invest in, but then again, you could really make a strong impression on your employers if you were willing to go that extra mile to educate yourself.

    The one difference, of course, between books and online courses is that on the online course side, you can expect to get more customer service and more advice on which products are the right ones for your skills needs.

    Michael Management, as one example, has a contact page, http://www.michaelmanagement.com/contact.asp?aid=1007 and also a discussion forum, http://www.michaelmanagement.com/forum/?aid=1007 where I’m sure you can get some good perspectives on which options are best for you.

    As always, there are different ways to approach this issue. The key is to make a commitment to self-education, and if you make that choice, there are a number of good options to consider that will make you more effective in your daily work.

  • Jon Reed responded:
    April 15th, 2008 at 10:02 pm...

    In regards to the question about whether you should stay in your company because it is more “business process centric” versus taking a configuration job, this is a terrific question.

    There are not many companies who have truly embraced that business process driven approach, if you are working for a market leading company doing SAP along those lines, you may indeed want to consider staying on.

    However, remember that if you ever hope to become a consultant, eventually you will need to get a series of consulting gigs under your belt. It is harder and harder to jump from end user work into consulting, there is an increasing sense that “consulting” in and of itself is a skill set that you can’t learn on an end-user site. I don’t necessarily think this is always true, but perception does equal reality in this case.

    So, getting consulting skills is a good idea (if you want to have a career as an SAP consultant eventually) and I wouldn’t take such an offer lightly.

    As for the configuration question, as much as the functional role is changing, configuration is still at the heart of the skill set for now and for years to come I would think. It’s important for tomorrow’s SAP market to understand eSOA, it’s important for today’s market to know configuration if you are a functional person. So, the chance to beef up on your config experience is still a very good thing.

    Now, the full life cycle thing is another question. Full life cycle skills are important to get from time to time, but hardcore configuration skills on multiple clients is still the key to developing a marketable niche. If those clients are blue chip referenceable customers, so much the better.

    I realize some of this advice borders on contradictory, but that’s the challenge in the SAP market right now - get the skills that are needed today while staying marketable for tomorrow. We’ll keep returning to these themes until we work out these contradictions!!! - Jon Reed -

  • Anonymus responded:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 5:42 pm...

    Hi Jon,

    I have couple of years experience as an SAP Security consultant but have worked only on one project. How do you suggest I go about my job search to become an SAP Consultant?

  • Jon Reed responded:
    July 28th, 2008 at 2:38 am...

    You’re someone who has a decent amount of experience, but unless it’s Security in 6.0/NetWeaver 7.0 or 7.1, or BW Security perhaps, you probably don’t have enough skills to become a consultant yet.

    The next step for someone in your case is very practical: spend some time on job boards. Consider submitting your resume for a few positions. This will start to give you a sense of your market value. You may even want to do a Google Search for “SAP recruiter” and see if there is an SAP recruiter that will advise you on your chances in exchange for them helping to place you. The more you offer them special access to representing you, the more you will get out of them.

    Once you get a better sense of the responsiveness to your resume, you’ll have a much clearer sense of how marketable you are. That will be crucial in determining your next steps. For example, if you can get a junior level consulting job, then you’re all set. If not, you may need to take a similar job for another company and build on that experience first. See how it goes and then form your strategy as you proceed with feedback incorporated.

    - Jon Reed -

  • shash responded:
    April 5th, 2009 at 4:05 am...

    Hi jon,
    I have been reading your comments for the last few days, first came across them on erpgenie.com, I am wondering if a guy like me who does not have any sap experience, nor any related background as I have worked as a mechanic till date will be able to get into sap, I wont mind a negative answer on this, but if I can how would I figure out what area of sap I should target, because after reading your comments I think that’s where the journey for a person like me would start & I am finding it extremely difficult to figure out a) Is sap the right thing for me. b)if it is what in sap can make me fell comfortable if I was to pursue it for the rest of my life & make a living out of it
    Thanks in advance

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