SAP: Roadmap For Successful Career

23rd Oct 2019
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You’ve tried hard and ought to be glad for what you’ve achieved. At this point, you’ve begun checking out the job market and you are attempting to choose how to manage your freshly minted degree. You’ve heard a little about SAP but you’re not quite sure what it is, but you have heard that SAP consultants sleep in beds of money fall unheeded from their pockets as they walk down the street. You want to be an SAP consultant.

How to proceed?

My first suggestion for you isn’t to pick your future profession dependent on the present salary prediction. When you get to your prime salary years, the market interest could change the image significantly.

The Importance of Passion

Whatever you choose to do, you should be energetic about it. So as to receive enormous benefits, you will need to work extended periods of time and dedicate yourself to the study of your craft. If you’re only in it for the money, those long hours and hard work will be gruelling misery.

The Importance of Experience

No one is going to hire you straight out of school to be a highly paid SAP consultant and no getting your SAP certification at this stage isn’t going to help. Highly-paid SAP consultants are reasonably compensated because they have the experience that the customer needs to be successful. Yes, I know you are a genius, but corporations are all about minimizing risk and going with the most probable path for success.

If your freshly minted degree is a Master’s Degree (MBA, Master of Information Technology, etc), you have a better chance at getting hired by a company who will be willing to train you in SAP. Most of the big consulting firms hire recent MBA graduates or, to a lesser extent, even recent graduates with Bachelor’s degrees.

Starting at the Bottom

No one is particularly enthused about your entrance into the market place. I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but trumpets are not going to go off every time you enter a room. You are now officially qualified to apply for an entry-level job, just like everyone else.

More than likely, if you are reading this, you are from this unfortunate rank of folks. So what to do? Should you get an SAP certification? For most folks, the answer is: probably not. You already have paper credentials, your Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. Adding more paper credentials is not going to impress anyone. Fix yourself a resume, tailor it to whatever job opening interests you and apply. Then do it again. Then do it again. Rinse and repeat until you get a job, preferably at a company that is running SAP.

Your First Job

This is going to be your first job. It’s probably not going to have “anything” to do with SAP. If you’re a programmer, you’re going to do programming (probably in C or JAVA). If you’re a system administrator, you’re going to administrate systems (either operating system or database administration). If you studied business, you’re going to be making coffee at Starbucks (just kidding), hopefully, you’ll be doing whatever entry-level folks do in the domain you studied. Financial folks will probably end up creating a million spreadsheets. HR folks will probably end up doing the keypunch to hire and fire folks. Materials Management folks will be working in a warehouse somewhere trying to make sure the inventory counts are right.

None of it will be particularly fun. None of it will be glamorous. If you’re smart, you’ll be working harder at it than anyone else in your department. You’ll try to figure out *why* things work the way they do and how they can be done better. You’ll start to notice flaws in the way things are done and volunteer to fix those flaws… on your own time… for free. (or if you’re lucky, you’ll get assigned to do it during business hours as your job, but don’t count on that at first).

The Importance of Going the Extra Mile

Every day during your first five years, you should be asking for more responsibility, and you should deliver results. If the company runs SAP, eventually you’ll get transferred to work on the SAP system, first as a user, then, if you impress folks with your passion and hard work, you’ll get transferred into support. Typically, this takes between three to five years, but fate can lead you there sooner or it might take longer (maybe even leaving one job for another).

THIS is the optimal time to get SAP certified. More than likely your employer will pay for the classes (at least that’s how it tends to happen in the US). If not, then maybe you pay for it and go to classes at night. Either way, with 3 to 5 years of work experience (a.k.a. domain experience) or an SAP certification, you are now eligible to start at the bottom rung of the SAP consulting ladder.

Obviously many folks choose not to go the consultant route. I can post another article on the pros and cons of consulting vs. working for a customer as SAP Support, but assuming you are dead set on being a Highly Paid SAP Consultant, this is where you’d start applying to consulting companies. More than likely, you won’t get hired, because while you have domain experience and a paper certificate, you don’t have a significant amount of SAP hands-on experience.

The Sweet Spot

Most folks will continue to work at their company in SAP support for another 3 to 5 years before most consulting firms will consider them. Reality Check #3: The sweet spot for most junior SAP consultants is 8 years of domain experience with 3 to 5 years of hands-on SAP experience. SAP certification is nice to have, but not required. Doing the math: most folks graduate college with a bachelor’s degree at about 22 or 23 years old. The average age of a junior SAP consultant? You guessed it! 30 years old!!

So… not to beat a dead horse, but if you are 22 years old and fresh out of college (or 24ish and fresh from an MBA), your competition for entry-level SAP Consulting jobs is going to be 30 years old, have 8 years of domain experience with 3 to 5 years of hands-on SAP experience, and probably have SAP certification. If you spend a bucket-load of money getting SAP-certified, no matter what the sales guy at the certification place tells you, you are NOT going to beat out the 30-year-old person with 8 years of practical experience and 3 to 5 years of hands-on SAP experience. Not… going…. to… happen.

Consulting Career Path

Reality check #4: Junior SAP consultants don’t make the big bucks. In fact, if you check the salary surveys, in most countries OTHER than the US, junior SAP consultants make LESS than their counterparts that work directly for a customer supporting a system. If anyone is interested, I have a hypothesis as to why this is (has to do with supply and demand and risk and some differences between the US market vs. the rest of the world, but that’s for some other time).

Assuming you’ve made it this far, as a Junior consultant you’re going to work yourself to the bone. Fifty hours a week is a light week. Add travel time on top. I hope you’re not trying to maintain a relationship with anyone back home, because it’s probably not going to happen. The divorce rate among travelling consultants is sky high. Consulting is a very cutthroat business and most consulting firms have a “up or out” mentality which means that you succeed or you are fired. Burnout rates are high.

Finally, Senior Status

Assuming you can stomach 3 to 5 years of being a junior consultant, you will finally be considered a senior consultant. If you are working in the United States, you will finally start making $100,000 or more USD. Whew. Wait… wait.. what? $100k? What happened to sleeping in beds of cash? Where are the coins that drip from my pocket unheeded because I’m so rich I don’t care?

Yup. Guess what. You’re NOT a surgeon. You’re NOT a hedge fund manager. You’re NOT a CEO. You’re an SAP consultant. The consulting company you work for makes pretty decent money, but you’re not going to get the money they bill the customer. You’re going to get whatever they want to pay you. It’s true that *highly* skilled consultants can make more (I made well over twice that in my best year), but the *average* senior consultant in the United States is going to make about $100k. Senior consultants in other countries generally make less, approximately scaled to fit cost of living differences. (Check Dice/Monster/other-source-of-your-choice salary surveys if you don’t believe me.)