woman workingLearning SAP is unquestionably a smart professional choice. There are a plethora of SAP jobs, and SAP salaries are competitive. Once you've learned the basics of SAP and you're ready to enter the workforce, where do you start?

First and foremost, you have to land an SAP job. While any job hunt can be tedious and time-consuming, it will definitely pay off as a career in SAP can be stable and fruitful. 

Once you've landed your first role as an SAP consultant, there are 3 important things to keep in mind:
 

1. SAP Consultants Are Not Always Experts

If that was the case, I would not call myself a consultant! The word consultant does not mean expert. In Latin, consultant means to discuss. Therefore, a consultant is a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area.

Prior to my first day on a client site, I was nervous about the expectations my client and Project Manager would have about me. I hoped they did not expect me to have all the answers to their problems. I reassured myself that my new project manager and client were well informed about my experience and hoped that they would onboard me sufficiently.

Now, I actually feel that the amount of experience you have is less important than your ability to use resources (people, information) to solve problems and drive change. The ability to listen to client needs and issues, discuss options, and provide suggestions is what makes a successful consultant; not your ability to rattle off SAP transaction codes and technical jargon.

The most frequent advice I was given as a new consultant was to listen 90% of the time during your first week on a client site. An experienced consultant might feel compelled to interject insight and expertise during a meeting or email exchange to prove themselves. Instead, I found that spending the majority of your first few days understanding the clients' environment, issues, and culture is most important. It takes a lot of the pressure off during your first week if you act more like a sponge and less like a user manual. You can also avoid restating solutions and ideas that have already been addressed and spend your time coming up with more sound solutions.

 

2. SAP Consultants Must Be Confident, Independent and Self-Motivated

By nature, consultant work requires you to have a certain level of confidence in your abilities. My manager was not available to meet with me on my first day at my current client project. I entered a somewhat intimidating situation where I had to navigate the client site and meet team members without the comfort of having someone from my firm help me get acquainted.

The relationships you build with client counterparts also require you to be independent. You must maintain a sense of distance and be somewhat self-sufficient in achieving project goals. While building personal relationships is part of the job, holding your composure and performing your job with a strong level of integrity and professionalism is essential.

Relationships with clients should be distinctly different from relationships with colleagues at your firm. That also applies to the type of relationship you have with consultants from other firms on your client site. Recognize that there is a difference between being friendly and engaging in gossip.

In addition, a career in consulting also requires you to take control of your career. This idea of owning your career is what I believe attracts so many people to consulting. After gaining experience and building your network, you can essentially choose what project work you want, who you enjoy working with, and ultimately where your career goes.

In my experience on the 'industry side', I found that there was a more structured approach to my learning and development. This could in part be attributed to the fact that my previous experience consisted of several internships and a development program. Nonetheless, consultants, in general, are expected to be more proactive in broadening and deepening their experience by choosing projects and learning courses that help them achieve their goals.

On top of owning your career, consultants must balance clients work with firm activities. How do you stand out during performance discussions in a sea of highly motivated and strong consultants? Get involved in firm activities that interest you! Anything from groups like WIN, SAP COE, and community service activities. Since my husband is a Marine, I was interested in sending support to deployed troops for the holidays. I engaged two offices in a care package drive to our adopted platoon in Afghanistan. It's been a rewarding experience and helped me build my network in the firm!

For these reasons, I believe consultants should be independent, self-motivated individuals. It's no coincidence that consultants are typically 'Type A' people!

 

3. Successful SAP Consultants Know How to Sell Themselves

Consultants are in the business of providing a service, and to get staffed on a project, you have to prove to managers (as well as clients) that you have the right skills for that project.

I had a rough time getting staffed right away. It was partly because of my location in San Diego, the furthest and seemingly most inconvenient southwest corner of the country (there are surprisingly not many direct flights out of San Diego).  The other piece was the projects I was interviewed for were so specific and managers were looking for highly specialized FICO resources. Some clients wanted someone with exactly 5-7 years’ experience or experience with a particular country. I quickly learned that I had to identify myself more specifically than as an SAP FICO consultant with some global experience. Managers wanted the specifics about functional specifications I’d written and configuration experience.

I learned that by getting more specific and honest about my skills on my firm's internal staffing network, I could attract the right projects. Being too generic does little good for staffing managers in understanding your capabilities, just like marketing a product to a broad audience isn’t a great approach. Just as a marketer identifies and targets their market segment, learn to identify yourself by your specific skill set and be detailed about your experience. I became more three-dimensional to a staffing manager. It was apparent what level of experience I had with Product Costing, Cost Center Accounting, GL Accounts, etc. Fewer calls came in for interviews, but the managers that did call knew specifics about me and saw a real fit. 
 

Here’s the Problem:

The focus for a new consultant should primarily be to get staffed (your utilization rate is looming over your head as a key performance indicator) while exploring several industries/projects/even modules in your first few years in order to find your niche. That’s much easier said than done for most. No matter how well you sell your skills, the truth is, the perfect project is probably not patiently waiting for your availability to align. Many colleagues of mine say they gave up on finding a project that really aligned with their goals and interests, and ‘settled’ for something that would help their utilization rate. That being said, as a new consultant, you have little influence in the type of projects you get staffed on. However, after building your network, you can have more flexibility in choosing project work.
 

Is This a Good or Bad Thing?

Sure, your utilization rate is high and you’re building an internal and external network, but people complain about getting ‘stuck on’ projects that don’t help them achieve their goals. Maybe they’re stuck because they have a rare and valuable specialization or the client doesn’t want to spend the time and money to onboard another resource.  They’re concerned that they’re not able to explore other areas of their module or functional area because they are so deeply focused.
 

Be Thankful, Clear and Proactive

If you’re working on a project that isn’t ideal because it doesn’t help you achieve your goals, my advice is to be thankful, be clear, and be proactive. First, recognize that you have a project and regardless of how much the work doesn’t fit into your expectations, you’re still getting something out of the experience. If not, there are always opportunities to get more involved. Maybe you can mentor a junior person, take on a firm initiative on the side, or move within the client to a different project. Second, be clear with your counselor and project manager about your long and short term goals, your expectations, and your interests. Find a tactful and pleasant way to share that you’re looking for another type of experience (and remember point number one- be thankful!). I’d like to think most people want to help you achieve your goals. While clients are the primary focus, retaining talent and helping people grow is a huge component of providing great client service. If you have a substantial reason for wanting a change and have reasonable expectations, project managers will likely be understanding and help connect you with the right people. Finally, be proactive about researching and networking for other project opportunities. If you want to explore another module or industry, take a few courses and talk with experts in that area. Everybody knows somebody at your firm that needs a resource, and one of those people is looking for someone like you!

 

Parting Words

Be honest and detailed about your experience: What level of knowledge do you have about a module, process, technology solution? Give specific examples of FDS’s, config, coding you’ve done. If you’re looking to explore another area (be reasonable here!), be clear about it, but accept that it will be a journey and not instantaneous.

Once you get staffed, don’t worry about being ‘stuck’ on a project. Get everything out of the experience that you can. If you’re open and clear with your project manager and counselor about the type of experience you want from the beginning, it will be no surprise if you roll off to another project.


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Tanya is an SAP FICO Consultant with Deloitte. Her experience on global SAP deployments as a Product Costing and Controlling lead has taken her to Europe and around the United States. Tanya is a published author and has recently released The Essential SAP Career Guide.
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