What is the best SAP module for me?

This happens to be one of the most difficult question to answer. Most posters supply little, if any, background information. Additionally, there are several different interpretations of this question. I will try to cover several of the variations and give you some things to consider for each.

In which module will it be easiest for me to get a job with a Bachelor's degree and no experience? (or with a Bachelor's degree and certification)

It appears that Basis (SAP System Administration) and SAP ABAP Programming are the two specialties which are most frequently entered immediately upon graduating with a Bachelor's degree. This makes sense if you think about it though. These two disciplines require the least amount of "business" knowledge. Folks who major in Computer Science or something related will have a base skill set which can be easily adapted to Basis and/or programming in ABAP.

I will say, though, that for those that did NOT major in Computer science, a few years of work experience in non-SAP system administration (operating system or database) and/or programming is enough to convince many employers to take a chance on you in the SAP realm. This transition (from non-SAP system admin and/or programming to SAP system administration and/or programming) is much more likely to happen if your first job is at a company who is already running SAP. It is *much* harder for someone to get a job doing SAP Basis with no experience (regardless of certification status) if they're coming in from the outside. The typical scenario is that you've proven yourself to be a hard and conscientious worker doing, for example, c programming when a position opens up in the SAP ABAP group. Since your manager and the SAP manager know and trust each other, your manager's recommendation is pretty much all it takes to make the switch.

In which Business module will it be easiest for me to get a job in which I would do SAP functional configuration with a Bachelor's degree and no experience? (or with a Bachelor's degree and SAP certification)

This is a considerably harder question to answer. The short answer is "none of them". Businesses are significantly more cautious when hiring folks to perform SAP business configuration. Again, this makes sense. SAP configuration controls how a business functions. Businesses do not want to entrust their company to someone with no practical experience. (Would you want to be the first patient of a heart surgeon freshly out of med school or would you want to wait until that heart surgeon had studied for many years under a significantly more senior heart surgeon (this is why newly minted doctors spend so much time as Residents).

The confusion here is that many students or recent graduates think of SAP configuration as a suitable "entry level" job. This is typically not the case. Similar to a novice heart surgeon, most functional consultants spend a few years in the business world as business analyst prior to learning SAP configuration.

The exception to that path is the other confusing factor. Consulting companies often recruit TOP graduates of business undergraduate and MBA programs to learn SAP configuration and do SAP consulting immediately following graduation, before they've gained any real hands-on business experience. The key to the previous sentence are the words "TOP graduates". If you didn't get an offer from one of the big firms PRIOR to graduation, then you are significantly less likely to get a job with them after you graduate.

It should be noted, that those folks who are recruited straight from school to enter consulting generally don't get a choice in their career specialization. The consulting firms recruit based on grades and personality and then move new recruits around to the various practices within the consulting company as needed. That means that even though you may have attended a university that did a great job of training you on SAP, if the consulting company needs folks in their Oracle practice, you go to their Oracle practice. Bye bye SAP career! If the firm needs folks in their generic java programming custom development practice, off you go to do java stuff. See ya SAP! Yes the consulting companies do recruit experienced folks directly into their SAP practice when needed, but for recent college graduates, it's pretty much random as far as you are concerned. It is possible to end up with a SAP career if you take that route, but it is far from guaranteed.

Which specialty will hold it's value and ensure that I will always be employed at an above average salary?

This is extremely difficult to predict. (I would say impossible, but I don't want to waste time nitpicking what is and isn't distantly, remotely possible.) The market for SAP specialties ("functional consulting specialties: Financials, Human Resources, Materials Management, Sales and Distribution, Customer Relationship Management, etc; and technical consulting specialties: Basis, ABAP, java, Process Integration, Business Warehouse, HANA, etc) varies significantly by region and over time. Things that may be in huge demand today might experience a huge glut a year from now as recent graduates flood in to take advantage of the perceived opportunities. SAP releases new functionality which alters the demand. New companies decide to implement SAP or existing customers abandon SAP for a different solution (infrequent, but it happens). All of these things make it difficult to predict year over year and from place to place which specialty will command a premium and for how long.

It is safe to say, however, that with SAP's current marketshare and predicted future marketshare, that you should be able to be successful in just about any specialty if (and read the next part carefully)... if you have above average talent in your specialty, if you are more passionate about your field than average, if you stay active and engaged in the SAP community and if you are willing to travel to/relocate/commute to whatever location has the greatest need whenever you are ready to look for a new position.

All four of those factors (and probably more) are important in ensuring a long career in SAP. There are tons of folks entering the SAP field every day. You have to constantly sharpen your skills and practice your specialty if you want to keep your talents sharp and above average. You must love what you do or else you won't be able to spend the time/effort necessary to keep your skills sharp. You must stay active in the SAP community (through SCN or your local SAP user group) so that potential employers will know you by reputation and be predisposed to hire you when you are looking for a new position. You must be willing to go to where the work is happening. This one might be somewhat controversial, but there is always the chance that no matter how good your are, when you are ready to look for a new position (whether because you are an implementation consultant and the implementation has ended or because you've worked at one customer for a long time and your upward progress is blocked for any number of reasons) there may be no open positions in your immediate geographical area.

What is the "HOT" field in which I can get a job right away at a HUGE salary just because the needs are so great that even a turnip can get hired?

This is actually just a special case of the previous question, but typically asked by a recent college graduate with stars in his/her eyes. It is important to keep on top of skill trends as your career progresses. At the beginning of your career, however, what is HOT makes very little difference. Let's try a little thought experiment, shall we?

Pretend you are the CEO of a small ($300 Million USD revenue/year) company. You've seen all the presentations regarding HANA and you are impressed. You've got massive data on your current SAP ECC system and a particular need for real time analysis that can be make or break for your company in the near future. You've analyzed the opportunity, determined a budget and decided to take the plunge. Now all you need is someone who can make your dream a reality. You publish a job opening on the largest job portal in your country. You are IMMEDIATELY flooded with 100 relevant replies (and 300 irrelevant ones... *sigh*)

In general, the applicants break down like this:

  • 90 applicants just graduated college and have never held a job.
  • Of those "fresher" applicants, 80% (72 applicants) are certified on HANA. (18 without but had coursework related to Big Data)
  • 4 of the recent college graduates did a thesis on Big Data prior to graduation (these 4 are part of the above 90, 2 with cert, 2 without)
  • 10 applicants have some form of previous SAP experience.
  • 8 of those applicants have between 2 and 5 years of SAP experience, most of that experience is with BW.
  • 2 of the applicants have significant related SAP experience and have a proven track record of 4 or more full lifecycle BW implementations.
  • Half of the experienced folks have HANA certification and half do not.
  • One or two of the experienced folks have participated in some limited way in a trial proof of concept HANA implementation.
  • No one (experienced or not) has implemented HANA full lifecycle in any significant way.

Assuming that everyone is exactly as they present themselves on their applications (no fake experience) and assuming that all appear equally eager and personable and likely to fit well within your organization... rank the applicants from most likely to interview to least likely.

Go ahead...

I'll wait....

Just kidding....Here's my list, yours may differ:

  • 2 applicants with significant related SAP experience (regardless of HANA cert)
  • 2 mid level applicants with proof of concept experience (regardless of HANA cert)
  • 3 mid level applicants with HANA certification
  • 3 mid level applicants without HANA certification
  • 4 recent college graduates with course work or thesis projects related to Big Data (regardless of HANA cert)
  • 2 recent college graduates who are related to current employee or have interned at the company (regardless of HANA cert)
  • EVERYONE above this line gets contacted and gets an interview if they're interested
  • Everyone below the line gets a nice letter that says "Thanks for applying! We'll keep your application on file in case anything else comes up."
  • 69 recent college graduates with HANA certification
  • 15 recent college graduates without HANA certification
  • Honestly though, if the first four interviews go well, I might not even get to the mid levels who have no hands-on experience. In reality, you have to sort through folks who ... hmm... exaggerate, let's say, their experience as well as the folks who are really not looking for a new job but want to use your offer to wrangle a raise from their current boss or who decide that the organization is not a fit for their lifestyle or whatever. The only reason any recent college graduates made the list at all is because there are relatively few HANA folks out there. If I was planning to interview for an SAP Basis position, no one without at least 2 years hands on experience would get a call, for obvious reasons. (and I would have had 300 applicants, 100 of which had hands on experience).

    My point here is that "HOT" only matters to mid-level or senior folks. "HOT" makes absolutely no difference to recent college graduates (especially "Functional"/business folks; technical folks occasionally manage to get hired for the latest "HOT" technical skill, but not as often as recent college graduates think). Recent college graduates need to concentrate on classic entry level jobs which, in general, do not involve SAP configuration. While it does happen occasionally (more often due to non-skill related reasons;:met the right person at the right time, related to the right person, interned at the company, etc) I view stories of recent college graduates landing jobs with high salaries doing the newest, hottest thing as somewhat cruel urban legends. The valedictorian of M. I. T. computer science program (or similar), obviously would be an exception to this rule, but if you are the MIT CompSci valedictorian, you're probably not reading this blog for career management advice, you're weighing which 6 figure offer is most appealing to you.

    I have several years of business experience and I know that SAP configuration jobs pay more than end user jobs and that the two are somehow related, but I don't know enough to even know how to get started on an SAP career. I need someone to translate my experience into the most appropriate SAP specialty so I can start to research the specialty and (hopefully) eventually get SAP certification.

    While we often see posters that are ready to jump into the deep end and quit their job to get SAP certification before they even understand the breadth of functionality in an SAP module. I can't recommend against this approach strongly enough. It is very expensive and very unlikely to be successful in the long run.

    I strongly recommend that folks who are approaching SAP for the first time invest a minimal amount of money in a good SAP overview book and do the necessary research to match their own experience and interests to SAP functionality.

    If you have alternative interpretations of the basic question you'd like me to address, please put them in the comments and I'll update the blog. If the blogs listed here are of interest to you, you may find more blogs that interest you at SAP Career Blog Links.

    Author:Tom at Red Commerce