Q

I have no experience but want to get into SAP work

I am in the process of switching careers. I was working on the options exchange and now I am thinking of learning SAP. There are courses that will be taught near my house. Is this the right time for this move? If I get an SAP certification, will this put me in a position to compete with people who have experience? From what I understand my best bet is full time employment.

You're talking about a major career change here! My take on major career shifts is that they should involve both passion and pragmatism. You want to move into areas that are both engaging and marketable. Frankly, if I were you, I would think hard about the SAP consulting market before you leap. In comparison to the market that SAP is a part of, there may be some "recession-proof" industries that are creating more opportunities than the IT sector. But for the sake of this answer, let's assume your heart is set on SAP. Here's what you're up against: The IT/e-business market sector that SAP is a leader in has been taking a pounding in the market for a pretty long time now (by some counts, ever since Y2K). Fortunately for SAP, its customer base has remained loyal. SAP has been able to weather the storms by selling upgrades and enhancements to that customer base. But the SAP consulting market is tight - it's been a long time since I've seen a position that did not require three to five years of SAP experience. Fortunately, SAP is transitioning its product from a "back office" ERP product to a "customer-driven" e-business product, and that means new skills are going to be needed. In many cases, you'll still face competition from seasoned SAP consultants who are also making the shift from "old" SAP to "new" SAP, but at least in these new product areas, the bar is definitely much lower simply because the products are so new.

The big choice for you is to figure out which side of SAP you want to focus on, functional or technical. In general, you want to choose an area that plays to your existing strengths, in order to ease the transition. Based on your current background, you might want to try to obtain functional SAP experience in the financial services industry. Although financial services is not SAP's strongest vertical market, SAP does have some customers in this area, and if you could get yourself hired by such a company, you'd have your best shot of breaking into SAP. Certification is not going to do a lot for you here, in fact, I would recommend holding off on certification until you know exactly which area of SAP you want to focus on. You're correct that perm work is your best bet, so if you can land a perm job with a financial services company running on SAP - perhaps in some kind of business analyst capacity - then this might put you in a position to "work your way in from the inside." It's not a foolproof strategy, but it has worked for thousands of SAP professionals over the years. It makes sense that a permanent employer would be more likely to help you get onto an SAP project than just about anyone else. This "work your way in" approach requires patience and luck, but it is far better than investing in training and certification only to learn that you have little chance against experienced SAP professionals.

This was first published in July 2002

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