This is a very hard question to answer, in part because money is relative. If you have plenty of cash stashed away, then you can never go wrong with an investment in SAP certification. But, few of us fit into that category. That means we need a clearer understanding of how SAP certification fits into our career strategy. SAP certification is full of controversy because of the contrast between the importance of certification versus hands-on SAP skills. In this blog entry, I’ll summarize some of my views on SAP certification and hopefully we can get some comments going on this topic also.
Certification was also a hot topic at Sapphire again this year, in part because of the desire on the part of the SAP community to understand SAP’s new three-tiered certification strategy. Some people like to frame the SAP certification issue in terms of whether SAP certification is a rip-off, and I have done that before myself. But I think the best way to look at SAP certification is to ask if it’s overrated or not. And the answer to that question is, "it depends." In terms of a "quick fix" to immediately break into SAP or change your SAP career fortunes, I think SAP certification is overrated. But in terms of a savvy way to enhance your marketability in a long-term sense, I think SAP certification may even be underrated.
Let me review a few of the key points I have said about SAP certification over the years.
Here are some highlights from the first comment I made to Demir’s entry about certification on SearchSAP.com:
"I read this certification article and comments with great interest. I have served as the resident SAP career expert on SearchSAP.com since 2002, and I’ve been answering questions about the marketability of SAP certification since 1995.I continue to field continual questions on the value of training and certification both on SearchSAP.com and on my own web site, JonERP.com.
Obviously from this blog, this topic remains a heated point of debate, as it should be. SAP training and certification is a significant investment for an individual SAP professional, and to this day, I feel that too many people dive headlong into that investment without weighing their options carefully. (Of course, some people are fortunate enough to get their training and/or certification paid for by their employers, in which case, it is more of a no-brainer to go ahead and do it).
There is obviously no one right answer to the question of the value of SAP certification. You can find examples of those who have had success with SAP certification and at the same time, you can find plenty of examples of those who invested in SAP certification and ultimately could not land an SAP job based on that certification. I’ve heard from those folks and they are not a happy group.
It’s helpful to understand how SAP certification fits into the supply and demand of the marketplace. Back in the 1990s, it was possible to land an SAP job with "certification only" because there weren’t enough experienced consultants, and "Big Six firms" on large project sites were able to field teams with plenty of junior-level consultants who did not have any hands-on SAP experience other than their classroom certifications.
The power of certification in the SAP market has changed largely because most of these "entry level" consulting positions on client sites are gone forever. Most SAP customers are sophisticated enough to expect more seasoned SAP pros with actual SAP project experience. And there are fewer "big bang" type implementations where companies just open the floodgates and hire hundreds of consultants regardless of experience level. As a result, even though the SAP consulting market is very healthy, the power of SAP certification to land that all-important first project has diminished over the years, and I don’t expect that power to return.
Before we go further with my comments, it’s helpful to understand that SAP has also been adding to its certification levels. The classic level of SAP certification is now called the "Associate" level. SAP is now rolling out the "Professional" level certification in many areas. This is a more rigorous certification program and as such, may eventually carry more weight in the marketplace, we will have to see. There is a third level of certification on the way also, called the "Master" level. It is rumored that this level will likely involve some measurement of project experience. If this comes to pass, I would not be surprised if this higher level of certification carries much more weight.
Certification is interesting from the vantage point of hype. Sometimes I have found that SAP hypes its own certification, but often, I find that it’s the job seekers themselves who latch onto certification and hype it for themselves. Demir is absolutely right in his post: many aspiring SAP professionals view certification as the easy (if expensive) way to open a door into the SAP field that is not always easy to open.
It’s hard to argue that SAP certification is an absolute waste of money and time. It all depends on how much money and time you have. But when we consider the value of certification, I think the biggest determining factor is: how many SAP jobs require certification? The answer is: only a small percentage. Project references are so much more important, as others commenting on this blog entry have noted. And even those jobs that require SAP certification also tend to require a number of years in the SAP field as well.
Here are a few comments I made on a previous SearchSAP.com post on certification: "I will tell you that I rarely encourage SAP certification for those who are tight on costs. I feel that in many ways, a better use of time is to focus on marketing your existing skills to customers running on SAP and break into SAP from the inside. Remember that SAP consulting is really not a certification-driven market the way that some other software and hardware markets are.
Project experience is the key, and investing time in books and research into companies running SAP in your field could be a better option. I’m not saying don’t get certified in SAP, just be realistic that it may not be the key to landing an SAP position. I think knowing how to make your current skills appealing to SAP customers and their IT departments may be more important.
One good exercise is to review current SAP jobs on sites like SearchSAP.com and see what kinds of skills are required. See how often certification is listed as required or preferred, and what other skills are needed. This will not only give you a better idea of what skills are truly hot, it will also help you to see how important certification really is (or isn’t). I think you’ll be surprised at how few SAP jobs actually require certification in order to apply.
The key to breaking into SAP remains hard work, good overall technical and business skills, and savvy self-marketing. Certification can help too, but the other areas I just listed are more important in most cases."
It’s not that SAP certification is a bad investment, it’s just that too many people, especially "freshers," still look at SAP certification as a "career cure all." In the sense of a quick-fix solution, I see SAP certification as overrated. As a long term investment in the context of career best practices, SAP certification may be underrated. I do find that consultants who invest a portion of their earnings in self-education are always the ones to excel in the long run.
But certification is only one form of self-education - there are now so many of those to consider in the SAP field: all kinds of trade shows, hundreds of affordable books, online training courses, and even interactive forums like this one and those that SAP itself runs, such as the SAP Developer Network and the SAP BPX Community. You might get a lot further networking with SAP customers at Sapphire than investing in a piece of paper and framing it on your wall. The SAP market is vast, but it’s still about relationships.
In life, we often have maddening cases of situations where the "rich get richer," and the same is sometimes true of SAP certification. By that I mean that I find that SAP certification has been more powerfully used in recent years by experienced consultants than "freshers." For experienced SAP consultants, certifications can reinforce your project experience, and I have seen certifications serve as a tie-breaker in hiring situations where two SAP consultants were equally qualified from a project experience standpoint.
I’ve also seen SAP veterans use certification as a way to transition into new technologies while remaining billable. Perhaps you could say that SAP certification is the icing on the cake of quality SAP project experience. Without the cake, the icing slides through your hands.
In closing, I’d like to tip my hat to Demir for raising this topic. I find that so-called "freshers" are too often tempted by the promise of SAP certification and not given ample warning that they will likely face challenges breaking into SAP with or without a certification on their resume. The SAP market can be frustrating that way: on the one hand, some consultants are thriving, others are on the outside looking in. The good news is that sites like this offer a great value in assessing your skills and coming up with a strategy for breaking into SAP and succeeding once you get there."
So that was my first post to Demir’s blog entry. It’s a pretty good summary of my position on the subject.
It will be very interesting to see if SAP is able to finalize its "Certified Master" certification level. Since the master-level certification is rumored to include a component of recognized field service, if it caught on, it could be a means of finally incorporating the classroom know-how of the certification tests with the bona fides of hands-on SAP implementation experience.
There’s no way to summarize a topic as complex as certification in one blog entry. I look forward to hearing your comments and I’ll respond to them once they appear.