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SAP Career Classics from JonERP.com

In years past, Jon Reed wrote a number of classic articles on how to navigate your SAP career - everything from how to write a good SAP resume to how to ace an SAP interview, from how to break into the field to how to succeed as an independent SAP consultant.

Many of these articles have vanished from the Internet, but at JonERP.com, we're bringing the best ones back! Each one will have a new introduction from Jon, and eventually, we'll bring the most popular ones completely up to date. We hope you enjoy these reclaimed "SAP Career Classics" - only available at JonERP.com.

The Art of the SAP Interview Print E-mail
Article Index
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The Art of the SAP Interview:
Revisiting an SAP Career Classic

Jon Reed's new introduction, 2008: In the mid-‘90s, one of the first pieces I wrote about SAP was a much-read article called "The Art of SAP Interviewing." Eventually Michael Doane and I incorporated this into our SAP Consultant Handbook. In this article you're about to read, I have brought together some of the best aspects of the original book version and the original web version.

I plan on updating this piece further, but in its current state, it should be of some real value. One thing to keep in mind is that we wrote this article primarily with full-time SAP positions in mind. Many of the same principles can be applied to interviewing for temporary “contract” positions, but in the case of contracts, you don’t have to worry as much about making the case for your long-term career path with a company. 

In the days preceding an interview, tie up all loose logistical ends. Call and reconfirm interview times. Make sure you have an up-to- date schedule of all the people you will see. Seek to remember job titles and responsibilities. If the woman who is to interview you has a name like Akhnakatovna Bjeserminq, strive to pronounce it correctly. Nothing is more awkward than finding yourself in a surprise meeting with the president of the company when you were not prepared for her/him. Verify flight arrangements if necessary, plan your travel time up until the point you will walk in the company's door, making sure that there will be no tight points where a slight delay in your flight or drive could set your interview off with a late arrival.
 

Once the logistics are set, gather and review the information you have obtained on the company. Hopefully by now, through your phone interviews, you have gained some knowledge about this company's particular SAP project and what your role there might be. If you do not have enough background, get onto the Internet and dig for more. Keep notes. Remember that the HR people in most firms have to repeat the base info about their companies on a regular basis.  “Our firm was founded in 1712 by pygmy Puritans from the Isle of Wight. Today we employ 14,400 people in 16 countries and have been listed on NASDAQ since the year Aunt Cheechee took over as CEO.”  It is refreshing for HR people when prospective candidates already know all this. 

Italicized advice: the more you know about your prospective employer, the better impression you will make.  

You will almost always need to bring a list of references, usually three. It is better to mix these references, such as one supervisor, one co-worker, and one personal reference. Reference expectations vary from company to company, so check on this ahead of time. Find out if the company expects you to fill out the application ahead of time, and verify all of the materials that they want you to bring. The company may also request verification of income. If they do, make sure you also indicate any bonuses or hidden benefits that affect your salary.

Make sure you take the time to pick up or dry clean the right clothes. Picking up those little interview aids like breath mints doesn't hurt either. Have a few fresh copies of your resume ready to bring to the interview that day. 

On the day/night before your interview, it is best to set aside an hour or more to make a written plan for the next day. There is no substitute for this quiet time with pen/laptop computer in hand. It is best to do this late afternoon, early evening, in case you have any last minute questions as a result of this final preparation. Have an evening number handy, in case you have any questions the night before or some emergency has come up.

Make a list of the various experiences and capabilities you have which will be an asset to them if you are hired. Review your possible responses to difficult interview questions. Some of the more difficult questions include:
 
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why do you want to leave your current position?
  • How do your spouse and children feel about this career move? (especially important if this job involves relocation or extensive travel)
  • What do you know about our company?
  • What are your short term and long term goals? 

Obviously, you have given a lot of thought to each of these questions and so you feel prepared to discuss them in an interview. Thought is not sufficient preparation. Interview yourself aloud, and answer these questions, aloud. How do you sound? Was it a six-uhs-per-sentence response? If so, work it out until you have reduced it to a one or fewer uh-per-sentence answer.
 

Now that you are ready to focus, clarify your main objective, which is to obtain an offer from this company by making as good an impression as possible. Whether or not you end up wanting to work with this firm, you still want to obtain a promising offer. Perhaps the other job you have lined up will fall through, or this company may come up with a compensation package you cannot refuse. So keep your goal in focus: go for that offer. Write up or review what you know about their particular SAP needs. 

The Day of the Interview 

The in-person interview invokes your basic abilities to communicate and present yourself. At this point, you have probably had a technical phone interview and the company is prepared to hire you, assuming all goes well. Since you have already prepared and probably have a handle on dressing yourself properly, we'll go through these in-person tips quickly, just hitting the most important ones, in chronological order: 
  • Take your time in the morning, so that you don't forget all of the things you will need that day, such as references, resumes, directions to the company site, etc. 
  • Leave for the interview EARLY. Allow plenty of time for any delays. (One of the authors, unspecified here, always gets lost at least once on the way to a new office. He learned long ago to leave really early for important interviews.) 
  • If time permits, get to a restroom when you arrive. Check your face and clothing to be sure that you have not had your appearance altered in commute and that you do not have that deer caught in the headlights glaze in your eyes. 

You are prepared. Groomed, schooled, rehearsed, breath-minted, and hyped. If you are kept waiting beyond the scheduled interview time, have something to read with you. There is nothing more annoying to a receptionist than some poor soul sitting there in a pool of sweat, biting the last fingernail because Mr. Coolidge is making him wait. Keeping a candidate on ice is even a tactic of some firms, while the receptionist is making notes on the candidate’s agitated behavior. 
 

We were just kidding about that last part. The receptionists seldom take notes.
 

In the Cockpit:  The Personal/Professional Interview


The Tip-Off
 

The time has come and your interrogator arrives. It is time for the handshake and need we remind you not to use either your commando death grip or your dishrag flop? OK, we will not even mention the importance of eye contact. Hey, even Pauly Shore understands the importance of eye contact.  

And now is the time to have mastered the respiratory-vocal combination. People have a tendency to talk too fast during interviews. Take your time, speak clearly, do not forget to breathe. 

Sit where you are told to sit. Do not play the geometry game and insist on standing. If coffee is offered and you want coffee, say so, and add (before being asked) how you take it. Do not insist on a caffe latte or a mocha unless you are interviewing with Starbucks.  Black, with cream or sugar, or both.  

After the small talk and the serving of coffee in a styrofoam cup, the main event begins. Either the interviewer will begin with a tour of the firm in question or with questions about you and your background. Take it in whichever order it comes. If the subject is the firm, concentrate on that subject first. Your time to shine will come. 

Most of the difficult questions, such as "What do you know about our company,” or "Why should we hire you," are easily addressed with proper preparation. If you get the five year plan question, always be a bit vague. NEVER say you want to be a manager. You may inspire some job insecurity in the manager who is interviewing you. Typically, the hardest questions to answer are those that invite a negative answer, such as strength and weaknesses, or "How do you like working with your current supervisor?" 

The general rule is to turn these questions into positives without completely glossing them over. For example, one safe weakness would be your tendency to get wrapped up in a project and work too hard, not leaving time for family and rest. To an employer, this could very well be seen in a positive light, and yet it still shows an honest self-awareness. Obviously, you may face questions about salary, so prepare yourself for this but do not leap into discussions of pay. 

The best time to talk about money is AFTER the company wants you. Make them want you before getting into such subjects.

Since a premature discussion of salary puts the chances of your getting an offer in jeopardy, and since your goal is to get an offer out of this company, you want to redirect these questions. Even if your primary concern is money, if this is raised during the interview do your best to reframe the discussion by making it clear that your primary goal is a good professional opportunity. Be prepared to say that a fair increase will be fine with you, but that you make your job decisions based on an overall view of the company and the opportunity, and not salary. This is music to a hiring official's ears.

Once again, the BEST time to handle a salary negotiation is after the company has made it clear that they want you, and you are confident that they know what your skills will be worth to them.
 

Your focus during the bulk of the interview will be to keep emphasizing and expanding on what your business, consulting, and SAP skills could bring to this company. Personalize your approach to match this company's needs, and be as specific as possible about the delivery times of your previous implementations, problems and glitches you have resolved, etc. 

At some point in the interview, beginning or middle or end, be sure to ask key questions about the firm. At base is, why would you want to work there? What does the firm have to offer you? If you are interviewing for an implementation position as part of an implementing firm and have concerns about this company's long-term commitment to SAP, ask. If a consulting firm is courting you, it would be wise to ask about current engagements, target markets, marketing efforts, and the like. If you are talking to someone in a smaller consulting firm, be sure to ask whether or not you would be expected to accept consulting assignments (as opposed to being part of that firm’s implementing team).  

Let’s face it. In nine out of ten such interviews, both parties are doing their best to show a friendly and positive face. Both of you want to like each other, to find a common fit. Otherwise, the interview is simply lost time. Do not fall into the slumber that such an atmosphere can induce. You are being investigated and you should also be investigating the firm in question. 

The best way to impress is by researching each company you interview with. Try to get a feel for their particular SAP needs and make it clear just how you will be able to fill them. Keep in mind that your SAP job involves both technical and communication skills, and both will be evaluated during your interview. Especially if you are interviewing to be a consultant, your communication skills and ability to solve the human workflow problems that SAP implementations create are important.  

For those of you who are H-1's looking for U.S. positions, remember to communicate clearly and with the best English you've got. As previously stated, people talk too fast during interviews. Most SAP positions involve client relations; your abilities to communicate clearly are vital to your chances. 

It would be over the top to have a laundry list of questions just for the interview, but in asking such questions, you fulfill two purposes with one tactic: 
  • You learn about the company that is seeking to hire you.
  • You demonstrate that you are not to be had for money alone.  
The opportunity to ask questions is too often overlooked. The best questions to ask are ones that implicitly show your knowledge of SAP and this company's particular challenges, such as: "Who is responsible for training and supervising the ABAP programming team," etc. 

Once you have exhausted your questions and the interviewer is finishing interrogating you, the crossroads appear. Often, the interviewer will propose a break, during which thought is given to the offer that might be tendered. With or without a time break, you have to know what is coming next.

 

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