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What is the Biggest Mistake SAP Job Seekers Make? (#2)

To say the SAP job market is competitive right now would be an understatement, so it’s time to revisit the subject I posted on late last year: mistakes SAP job seekers make and how to avoid them. The first mistake? “Chasing dollars, not skills.” The latest mistake? Trying to make more than one SAP job change at a time. To understand how this works, I’ll draw on emails I receive from frustrated SAP job seekers who are trying to improve their strategy.

Whenever you’re on the job market, it makes sense to go after your dreamiest job first. But if that doesn’t work out, you’re stuck with plan B. That’s usually when the emails start flying as people vent in my inbox. Often, the problem isn’t skills but strategy and/or expectations.

  The next biggest SAP job mistake? Trying to make more than one job change at a time.

Let’s take a look at how this works. In reality, when people try to move to a new position, they overlook that their dreamy new job role is actually several job moves away. Here’s some examples a job change in SAP:

  • moving from a hands-on SAP person to a hands-on team lead
  • moving from technical to functional (in the same area within SAP)
  • moving from an experienced end user to a consultant role
  • moving from a super user to part of the implementation team
  • moving from a team lead to a project management role
  • moving from one functional area of SAP to another
  • moving from a Basis role to an Enterprise Architect role
  • moving from a DBA role to an SAP Basis role
  • moving from “legacy” ABAP to ABAP OO/Web Dypnro ABAP
  • moving from ABAP to SAP Web/Java development
  • moving from SAP version 4.x functional to ERP 6.0 functional
  • moving from SAP R/3 technical to NetWeaver 7.x technical

- and yes, significantly increasing your salary (or rate) also counts as a job change.

Generally, to increase your salary, you have to agree to do largely the same thing you have previously been doing. That’s really the essence of “free agency” – cashing in on existing skills. To get a big boost in salary while also getting a boost in skills exposure is not easy to pull off. That’s why most job changes involve choosing between boosting skills and cashing in.

All of the above are significant job changes. You can accomplish one of these per job search, but it’s hard to do more than one. People get into trouble when they try to combine more than one job change into a single career move. I see examples of this on a daily basis.

Example 1: moving from having no SAP experience to being an SAP consultant is actually three job moves in one:

  • moving into an SAP user role (1 job move)
  • getting SAP configuration experience (another job move)
  • becoming a full fledged SAP consultant (another job move)

Example 2: moving from a non-SAP Java programmer to a technical SAP consultant is two job moves:

  • moving from non-SAP Java to SAP Java (one job change)
  • moving from SAP technical programming to technical consultant (one job change)

Sometimes you can pull this off in one move, but often, acquiring the consulting skills is a separate undertaking once you establish your Java skills in an SAP environment.

Example 3: moving from a salesperson to an SAP CRM specialist is at least two job moves:

  • from salesperson to CRM specialist (one job move)
  • from CRM specialist to SAP CRM specialist (one job move)
  • from SAP CRM specialist to SAP CRM consultant (at least one job move)

In some cases, the first two of these can be combined (meaning you move into the CRM software side and the SAP CRM side in one move). But then there are more moves to make.

The three most common SAP job moves that people underestimate:

1. The move from hands-on SAP user to part of the SAP implementation team MUST happen before you can make your hay as a consultant. On the functional side of SAP, full life cycle experience on the implementation, including product configuration skills, is necessary prior to becoming a consultant. In most cases, multiple years of such experience is needed. On the technical side of SAP, performing mission critical projects on live implementations is the key.

2. Once you have acquired significant SAP implementation experience, you’re not yet a consultant. Becoming a full-fledged consultant requires another set of skills centered around a range of “soft” SAP consulting skills, as well as experience on multiple SAP implementations. Increasingly, industry expertise and business process know-how is becoming an essential part of that SAP consulting skills package. Acquiring general consulting skills is a big part of the equation, and many job seekers seem to want to bundle this into another career move into SAP, or a new part of SAP, not realizing that you can’t overcome your consulting inexperience unless you have a very rare and sought after skill already. The consulting transition is almost always a separate transition once you have established your hands-on SAP project skills. (If you’re really interested in the SAP consulting piece of this equation, you may want to be tracking my new podcast series, The ERP Lounge: Misadventures and Opportunities in SAP Consulting. We’ll delve into the realities (and skills) of SAP consulting in each episode.)

3. SAP version experience matters. On the technical side, it’s about NetWeaver-related project skills, on the functional side, whether you are 4.x or 6.0 is a big deal in many cases. Of course, if you are a 4.6c person applying for a job in a 4.6c environment, this is not a problem. But if you’re looking at a different version environment, it does matter. Version experience can be a huge source of frustration, even for experienced SAP professionals. In some cases, the functionality differences between 4.6 and ERP 6.0 are not that great – it depends on your specialization. The unfortunate reality is that version exposure is about customer perception, and the vast majority of SAP customers want to hire folks who have previous working experience in the version number they are running on. Even if you could hit the ground running immediately or with just a few days of retooling on the new version, your resume will end up underneath those who already have the version experience the hiring manager is seeking. This is not necessarily a hiring tactic I agree with, in some cases, it results in the hiring of inferior talent, but it’s a reality that should be understood.

Let’s look at a couple more real-life examples: I recently heard from a .Net programmer who wanted to become an SAP functional consultant but was having trouble making it happen. There are several job changes wrapped up in this transition. One of the reasons I emphasize breaking down the job changes is that you are better off breaking into SAP (or moving into new areas of SAP) if you can sell the company on your existing skills. The facts are that an SAP consulting firm looking to hire an SAP Financials consultant doesn’t care much about .Net experience. An SAP customer that has a .Net development environment *does* care. So I advised this person to use their .Net skills as an entry point into SAP, applying to an SAP user site that could use a strong .Net developer. Once inside an SAP environment, over time, a move to a functional SAP role is much more feasible.

I see this come up a lot with ABAP programmers who want to be functional SAP consultants. Not long ago, I heard from an ABAP person who wanted to be an SAP Financials consultant. However, some digging revealed that this person was actually an ABAP-HR expert with a pretty deep knowledge of HR business processes. Unless this individual absolutely can’t stand working in HR, they have a much better chance of crossing over into functional work by staying on the HR side where they have skills that are useful. There are several job changes here: first, from ABAP-HR to functional HR, hopefully within the same organization (your chances of making that first skills push are often better in the same company where you have paid dues).

This is where the technical HR abilities come in handy, making this person useful as a functional expert who can work very effectively with HR technical teams. The next change this person needs to make: from functional HR employee to functional HR consultant (I’d probably make the move to consultant first, before shifting to financials, though it depends on where the opportunities present themselves). During this period, every effort would be made to get hands-on experience involving the integration points between the HR and FI modules. From that point, the transition into Financials from HR (HCM) might be a smooth, gradual one.

I have never seen anyone talk about the misconceptions of making multiple SAP job changes at once, so I hope this was useful. This piece was not intended to discourage anyone who is trying to make aggressive moves in the market. By all means, chase that dream job. But if the approach you are taking stalls out, then more likely than not, you are trying to make too many job changes at once. In the process, you may also be falling into the trap of asking for new skills as opposed to selling employers on the value of your existing skills. When you make job changes gradually, your existing skills have much more relevance.

By the way, for those who are reading this on an existing RSS feed, I now have a “super feed” on Feedburner that puts all of my SAP blog and podcast feeds on one stream. You may want to subscribe to that also, or instead.

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