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I have problems landing jobs. Am I charging too much?

I have been a SAP consultant for the past 5 years. The last 2 years was in the US and I am still in the US. The...

area of expertise is basically in the HR/Payroll modules. I have been told to leave because my company had been finding it difficult to get a project because of the economic situation. It has been almost two months and I am still finding it hard to find a job. I am not sure if I am quoting a high rate or there are too many of us out there. What is happening and when do you thing SAP market is going to pick up. Is there any hope for me or should I just go start a restaurant?


Let's divide your question into two parts: One is the future of HR/Payroll specifically, and one is the overall SAP market and where it's headed. First, the overall market: It's actually quite easy to follow SAP's fortunes each day. Since SAP's bread and butter is Fortune 100 clients, we don't even need to watch SAP's stock price - all we need to look at are the economic indicators that track capital spending. When the markets are up, SAP is looking up. When the market is down, SAP is down. Here's the reason for that: SAP has an entrenched client base that seems to be sticking with SAP. Most are happy, some are complaining, but nobody is ripping the stuff out. Therefore, with SAP's market-leading client base intact, its fate is closely linked with overall capital spending. Bottom line: You need a plan that will let you hold out for a good chunk of time. If I were you, I would have a two-track plan: Continue applying for jobs within the SAP field, but begin to form your "backup plan." Your backup plan should be dependent on different industries or market segments. That backup plan might mean taking your payroll/HR skills and seeing how they could be used in a different capacity, perhaps with much smaller companies who rely on different software products. In general, the growth in the last couple years has with small and medium-sized companies - not SAP's strong suit, but it could be yours with some retooling.

As for your HR-payroll skills, payroll has been a relatively hot area within SAP that's now slowing down a bit. Payroll had a good run, because during the height of the SAP frenzy, many companies simply held off on installing HR. As the HR module became stronger, more companies made the move to implement, giving the SAP-HR market legs while the rest of the SAP market slowed. And there are some complexities in HR on both the functional and technical side that make the HR module more likely to require outside consultants than a "vanilla" FI implementation would. Still, I think we are seeing the HR-payroll area come down to earth now. To me, the key to being a successful SAP consultant is making sure that your core skills don't become "commoditized." A commoditized skill is a skill so general, and so widely available, that it becomes something companies can easily take care of themselves in house or hire "on the cheap." As a rule, the most commoditized areas within SAP are those that pertain to "back office functionality." Let's face it, if companies are going to spend money on IT at all right now, there's going to spend it on mission-critical areas like security, or return-on-investment favorites like the web-enabling of supply chain functions.

The good news for you: There are other areas within HR that seem a bit more cutting edge. Once you start talking about Web-enabling HR functions through SAP's ESS functionality, companies get excited due to the potential for greater efficiency and cost reduction. Other hot areas within HR involve advanced functionality like workforce management, applicant tracking, compensation management, and career succession planning. These jobs may be rare now, but with HR experience you're in a better position than most to pounce when such opportunities do present themselves. Try to get exposure to the latest and greatest version of SAP-HR. Ideally, this would involve the "Enterprise" edition of SAP, which is supposed to be shipping this month. Exposure to the "mySAP" version of HR would also be excellent. As for the difficulty finding good positions right now, don't take it personally. Virtually all SAP consultants are in the same boat. It is usually not a matter of simply lowering your rates, although you should be quoting the lowest rate you can live with. Keep your mind open to perm jobs as well. Basically, take any HR position, perm OR contract, that will expand your skills beyond payroll.

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This was last published in October 2002

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