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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.

Nailing Your SAP Phone Interview Print E-mail
Nailing Your SAP Phone Interview:
Revisiting an SAP Career Classic

Jon Reed's new introduction, 2008:  In the mid-‘90s, we used to get a lot of questions about handling SAP phone screens. I put together a web guide that went out of print, and then Michael Doane and I published part of it in 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 do plan on updating this piece further, but in its current state, it should still be of real use to you. If anything, SAP phone interviews have become more important since we put this guide out. Companies are doing more and more of their screening over the phone, including the general phone screen and the hardcore technical screen. And the technical phone screen is more of a challenge now that more SAP customers actually understand the software they are screening you on.

The purpose of the SAP phone interview varies according to the type of position you are applying for. If you are being considered for a permanent position, you may go through several phone interviews, hoops you must get through if you hope to obtain an in-person interview. If you are interviewing for a contract assignment, the phone interview may be the only interview you receive. If a consulting firm is considering you for a contract assignment, you may be interviewed by a hiring manager, the president of the consulting firm, and may even meet with the client...all over the phone.

The Interview Chain

 

 

Permanent

Contract

1

Screen Interview

Recruiter

Placement Spec

2

General Interview

General Manager

Project Manager

3

Technical Interview

Module specialist

Module specialist

4

Formal Interview

General Manager

Seldom occurs

5,6,7...

(Confirming Interviews)

Partners, colleagues

Seldom occurs

 

Reference Checks

Variable

Too seldom occurs

 

You may be working through a recruiter, or applying for positions directly, but the same general principles apply in either situation. Your recruiter can be helpful to you by letting you know their client will be calling you, and giving you a feel for the company and their hiring process. Either way, your first goal is to understand this company's approach: how many phone interviews take place, which ones will be technical in nature, and who will be calling?

Surprises are best avoided. Sometimes you will answer a ringing telephone and, with no warning, find yourself talking to a potential client.  You are in the middle of a project, and suddenly you are on the spot. Depending on the confidentiality of your work setting, you may not even be able to talk at work. Unless you are confident you will not be interrupted and you have a good idea of the type of position you are being interviewed for, it is usually better to set up another time to talk. Once your phone interview is set up, you can call your recruiter and otherwise prepare for the next hurdle in the hiring process: the phone screen.

The General Screen

If you are applying for a permanent position, and you know that your goal is an in-person interview further down the line, it is good to keep in mind the golden rule: do not talk money over the phone. During this first phone call, you will probably be interviewed by a general hiring manager. Technical questions will not be too rigorous just yet. The goal at this point is for the company to get a general idea of your skills and goals. During the first interview, it is useful to be prepared for technical questions, but the key to the first phone interview is to have an engaging, comfortable discussion with the hiring official. The most important thing during this exploratory conversation is to stay loose and relaxed. Remember not to ramble during your responses, and save your questions until the latter part of this interview.

Quite often, client myopia is the toughest of your obstacles. Because of the depth and width of SAP R/3, there is a lot of specialization and too many clients tend to focus on experience in a single module (or sub-module) to the exclusion of all else.

You may find it necessary to educate the client during the course of your interview. Sometimes, the person interviewing you at this point knows little or nothing about SAP and is merely "filling a slot" on the request of someone else. If you are able to re-frame off-the-mark questions in a polite way, you may score more points than otherwise.

One great advantage of the phone interview is that you do not have to worry about the visual aspects of your appearance. As long as you don't talk too fast, you can stay focused on the essence of the conversation. This is especially useful during the next phase of the typical phone interview, the technical screen.

The Technical Screen

During your technical interview, you should have at your fingertips detailed information about your technical skills and accomplishments. These could include project outlines, performance reviews, and a general summary of your technical skills that you yourself have put together. No one can tell if you are glancing at your paperwork, at least not at this point in the digital revolution. It can give you a real sense of security to know that if you get the jitters during your technical interview, help is just one glance away.

Passing the technical screen means fulfilling the expectations of your client, not showing off what you know. This is why it is so critical to know what the client wants. We know a senior Basis consultant who has light exposure to Correction and Transport from a year previous, but for the most part has supervised others who were working in this area. A potential client had a strong need for Correction and Transport skills. If our man had known what the client really needed, he could have brushed up on these skills, hit the books, and come off sounding knowledgeable. This did not occur and the client opted for a junior-level person who happened to have more recent experience in this area. Both consultant and client, in this case, lost out.

Typically, once the technical screen has been passed, the company will want to bring you in for an in-person meeting. However, things are a bit different if you are doing the entire process over the phone.

If the decision to hire is based solely on phone conversations, the next phase is going to be rate or salary negotiation. Remember that if you can meet in-person with your client before you talk money, it will usually work out better. In either case, remember what we have advised before: keep the focus on impressing the client. Once your client is chafing at the bit to hire you, and ideally has made you an offer, then you can talk about per diems, flying home on weekends, or whatever else you feel is necessary in order to accept the position.

But even if you call the shots in the SAP market, you should do everything you can to avoid coming off like a mercenary. You might want to give out your last rate or salary and suggest that you are open to a fair increase from your most recent salary. Do NOT say things like 'whatever the market will bear' even if that is your innermost attitude.

The following principles of SAP phone interviews warrant your review:

Set the right image. Because you are not meeting in person, the interviewer can only judge you based on your voice. Don't have anything in your mouth, don't smoke, and remember that background noise can carry quite well over the phone. (If you are at home and your dog starts barking, just tell the interviewer it is your client. Something to defuse the situation.)

The only appropriate thing to do while you are on a phone interview is to review your notes at your desk. Do not try to catch up on the dishes. It's been tried before, and is never effective. Save experiments in multi-tasking for phone conversations with relatives. Speak clearly, and slightly more slowly than usual. Remember that without visual cues, the only enthusiasm a client can pick up is your voice. 

Prepare well. Use the phone interview to your advantage. Have facts like your work history and technical skills in front of you, so you do not find yourself scrolling around through your memory.  If you have questions for the client, have those written down as well.

Avoid salary talk. Postpone all talk of money, benefits, vacation, or anything that would seem selfish and self-interested UNTIL you have some type of offer letter in hand. A recruiter can be very useful getting this information handled and relayed to the client, but if you are on your own, wait and negotiate when an offer has been made. Your SAP skills put you in the driver's seat, but during your interviews emphasize what you have to offer, not what you want to gain.

Maintain a positive tone, particularly when you are asked your reasons for leaving a current or previous job. Keep the focus in terms of where you want to go with your career, not what you dislike about where you are. Remember that while your reason for leaving should be positive, it should also be persuasive. Companies want to know you are ready to move on.

We very recently came upon a candidate with a sterling silver resume, a solid combo of business background, consulting bones, and SAP steel. Further, he had years upon years of international experience and our client was in need of just this profile.

Unfortunately, he peppered his phone interview with phrases like, "I've been trying to get us moving in an international direction, but these cretins I'm working with don't get it."

Der schredder, la shreddair, el shreddo, it's all the same to us.

Request a personal interview. Sometimes, nothing is more effective than simply letting a company know you are interested in them and ready to go. At the end of the conversation, you may want to ask for an in-person meeting, an opportunity to meet face-to-face. In the heat of the moment, if you have set a good tone, your interviewer may simply say yes, sparing you from a cold evaluation session later in the day as the interviewer tries to remember why he/she liked you while the boss scrutinizes your resume.

 

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