Advice for Recent College Graduates (aka “Freshers”)
Dear recent college graduate,
First, congratulations! You’ve worked hard and should be proud of what you’ve accomplished. By now you’ve started looking around the job market and you are trying to decide what to do with 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 cash and coins fall unheeded from their pockets as they walk down the street. You want to be an SAP consultant!
How to proceed?
First, stop and take a deep breath. Shake your head a little and do a reality check. Yes, experienced SAP consultants do make more than the average person on the street, but so do doctors and lawyers and bankers, etc. My first piece of advice for you is not to pick your future career based on today’s salary predictions. By the time you get to your prime salary years, supply and demand could change the picture dramatically.
The Importance of Passion
Whatever you decide to do, you need to be passionate about it. In order to reap big rewards, you are going to have to work long hours 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 grueling misery. (Even if you do love it, burnout is a very common reason for folks to leave the SAP field.)
If you don’t put in the long hours and dedication, you can still work in the SAP field, but you’re not going to make the big bucks. Just as in the field of medicine, there are many doctors who only work part time these days. Sure, they make enough to get by, but they’re not pulling in the $1 million/year USD that the hard core specialists make. The same is true in the SAP field (except for the $1 million/year USD part, no one makes that in the SAP field). Also, for every doctor, there are probably 10 nurses, nurse practitioners, and/or doctor/nurse aides. You can still have a good middle class career in SAP without necessarily being a doctor. SAP end users have fine careers.
The Importance of Experience
Ok, reality check #2. 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 Bachellor’s degrees *if you graduated from a top school*. If you graduated from a top school, you’re probably already aware of that fact. You’ve probably attended several recruiting events at your school and are pretty familiar with being courted. Good for you. You can stop reading now.
Starting at the Bottom
If you didn’t graduate from a *top* school (with above average scores, I might add), then it’s time for reality check #3. 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) and 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’re 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. 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 traveling 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?
Reality check #5: 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.)
The Good Life
The good news is that if you’ve played this by the numbers, you’re probably about 35 when you hit your peak. And $100k/year can certainly provide you with a comfortable, if not extravagant, living. You’re probably single or divorced, though, and that can suck at 35. Travelling is probably more of a hassle than a thrill at this point, but it’s a living. Also, I think we can say with reasonable certainty that if you don’t care where you work geographically, with the skills you have at this point, you’ll never have to worry about finding a job. If a project goes belly up, then you’ll probably be able to find another one (probably hundreds if not thousands of miles away) pretty quickly. If you want to stay in one place, it’ll be harder, but your job search should be shorter than someone without SAP skills.
If you want to settle down at this point, you can roll the dice and try to find the customer who’s business is good and is stable and who needs you. You’ll probably take a pay cut, but you’ll at least be able to see your kids every night (if they’re still speaking to you).
Will I Make It?
Final reality check: If you started this process just because all you wanted was a good salary and financial security, you never made it this far. You burned out long ago. In all likelihood, you ran into competition that was more passionate (and thus willing to work harder) than you and you didn’t make the cut. Sorry about that. I hope you found something else that stoked your fires. If not, you probably got stuck as a low level clock watcher, just praying for 5 o’clock to roll around. It happens. I’ve run into far more clock watchers over the course of my career than decent consultants. When I’ve asked the clock watchers how they ended up where they are, most reply that it just kind of happened. They got a job, any job, just to get a paycheck. They couldn’t care less about whatever it is they do day to day. They live for the nights and weekends.
It may sound dorky, but I still love what I do. When I work with a customer to develop the optimal backup/recovery strategy, even though I’ve developed dozens of them, I still get a thrill. Whenever I stand in front of a room of folks new to SAP and teach them the basics of the architecture, I *love* it. My face lights up. My voice becomes animated. Afterwards, folks tell me that they get a kick, just seeing how excited I get about SAP architecture. I get immense satisfaction when I can explain the pitfalls ahead clearly enough that the customer agrees to a plan that will avoid them. I feel deep personal regret if I fail to persuade them in time.
Whatever you decide to do, dear college graduate, I hope it is something about which you have passion and I hope that 20 years from now, you would be happy to do what you do even if they didn’t pay you, because you love it that much.
Best regards and best of luck,
Thanks for this well-written, thoughtful "SAP Careers 101". I see that the post has over 400 views yet no comments. From my perspective as a more experienced SAP consultant, your reality checks are spot on. There are two things I would emphasize: 1) Business knowledge: get as much as possible knowing business function/processes + SAP >> SAP functional skill and 2) Continue to learn, get training, branch out -- 'Stay thirsty, my friend".
Again, well done.
Thank you, Kevin! I feel very long winded right now because you've distilled two of the most important points quite neatly.
The first point is one that freshers don't want to hear, but is so true. Customers want people who can remove pain and it takes general real world hands on experience to be able to provide solutions to customers. The ability to translate solutions into SAP comes a distant second behind being able to provide alternatives with solid experience to help guide decision making.
Your second point is my favorite, though. For me, a career in SAP should be a passion, a goal in an of itself. I see so many questions posted that imply that a career in SAP is just a means to getting a high paid job. The sad truth is that, without passion, that pursuit becomes a death march. If the joy is in the journey, the money takes care of itself.
Thanks again for your comment and your insights!
Very good article Thomas as I get 1-2 "freshers" a week reach out to me trying to understand how to break into the SAP market and going forward I will definitely include a link to this article so they can get a sense of the hard work that lies ahead. I think that to many want to jump straight to the 100K consulting job you mentioned and willing to do some unethical means to get there. It was one of the reason I wrote the following two blogs.
Seven Tips to ensure you hire the Right Consultant
Seven Tips to ensure you hire the Right ConsultantSigns you Should Not Trust your SAP Consultant
In full disclosure I jumped straight from a 10 year career in the grocery business to a SAP consulting career but that was 14 years ago, HCM/Payroll was just starting to gain traction in the US, Certification was more respected and the most important I was lucky.
SAP can be a great career but you have to put in the hard work and at the same time respect the work-life balance as the travel and pressures of the job can impact your family. Here were a few tips I wrote on the how to be successful
Valuable Lessons to Make the Most of your SAP Career
A ten year career in the grocery business puts you on a different playing field than many of the recent college graduate (freshers) we see today who assume that an SAP certification is all it takes to achieve fame and fortune. I applaud your dedication to your craft and your willingness to give back to the community. I think your Valuable Lessons blog post should be required reading for freshers prior to posting!
Thanks for the comment!
Just happened to stumble across this today. Good article Tom.
I think a key distinction between a junior and senior level consultant and the type of knowledge a true functional consultant brings to the client is this.
A true senior functional consultant doesn't need SAP to continue consulting in their chosen area.
I.e. while the SAP knowledge is very important, a senior consultant should still be able to make a living consulting on business processes and improvements.
In your case, I would imagine you can still design an optimal backup/recovery strategy for customers even if they were running another software. It might be a bit harder to do, you might need a person to help you with the specific system/software, but the process and concepts are the same. You could probably still make a living consulting in that area.
Best practices don't change in sales, materials management, inventory control, finance, cash management, capital asset control. They don't really change when it comes to my area of QM. Quality control has basic concepts and techniques. These don't change. SAP is just a tool for helping companies adhere to these best practices.
Knowing how to swing a hammer doesn't make the carpenter. Knowing SAP software doesn't necessarily make you a true business/functional consultant.
Very well said and I can't agree more. I may need to quote you on this in the future! 🙂
Also, I want to thank you for commenting. This was my first blog post and your comment caused me to take another look at it. Wow, did it need some formatting help! Should be a little better now. I'm just glad you took the time to burrow through the wall of text it was before! -td
Cool! this is exactly what I needed right now. Mr. Dulaney, it sure cleared out many confusions I have been having as a SAP entrant. Your definition of age groups and number of years of experience required down the SAP path for a Junior SAP consultant and over to a senior SAP consultant with monetary brackets is good guidance and gives a clear path.
I'm 25 - a business graduate in human resources, trained in SAP HCM module with a years experience in HRM (non-sap).I've done the keypunch to hire and fire folks. I didn't know where to head next or what to expect after training. Definitely not making coffee at Starbucks but, now I know the key is to gain experience and more and more of it.
I'm passionate about my career in SAP and I'm glad I read your article today. I will refer to your guidance in future.
Thank you. 🙂
I'm so happy you found this blog useful! From reading your response, I think you might also be interested in FAQ: Middle and Late SAP Career Paths as you'll get even more signposts to anticipate on your journey forward. Keep learning (check out Jarret Pazahanick's blogs and the HCM Community if you're not already following them) and your passion will be your guide along the path. Thanks again for the kinds words! -td
Well, I am following these consistently. Moreover, for freshers like me, I found additional links from you, Mr. Jarret Pazahanick and Mr. Ravi Sankar Venna very very helpful. These are must-reads and SAP entrants/trainees definitely should go through these from time to time.
1.Learning SAP when you don't have a SAP job already -Thomas Dulaney
2.How to Approach and Pass a SAP Certification - Ravi Sankar Venna
3.Valuable Lessons to make the most of your SAP Career - Jarret Pazahanick
Thanks again Mr. Dulaney! -mk
Thanks Maha! I'm glad you found the blogs helpful. I agree with you on Ravi and Jarret's posts as well. I keep those links close and recommend them often! Thanks again. -td
Good one. Though i have spent almost two years in SAP ABAP(support),yet it seems like the start of another struggle period only. I recently shifted from IT industry to a manufacturing industry and I believe it will add some values to my passion for career in SAP ABAP, because I finally got the opportunity to develop a lot of things on my own & apply my logic rather than just doing some random modification work. Thanks for such an inspiring blog. At first it may seem little harsh for freshers, but people who have undergone the reality of this blog can understand the worth of it. Looking forward to some more blogs that can show us a clear and real picture...
Thanks again 🙂
Thank you for your encouragement, Alka. I do have a few other blogs that might interest you at http://scn.sap.com/people/thomas.dulaney/content. I hope they prove useful as well! Thanks for contributing! -td
As a post-graduate student stil relatively new to SAP and its capababilities, I found this blog both beneficial and insightful and is one that I will share with my fellow students. Thank you
Thank you Alison! Happy to be of service! -td
Check out this honest article Getting into SAP - From the perspective of a prospective consultant as well as SAP Consulting Fraud - Disturbing Example
Make no mistake the SAP ecosystem although large can be very small when it comes to word getting around and if you are unethical you will not do well in your career.
Enlightening and informative piece, Thomas! A good counterweight to some of what I'd been hearing and writing about recently from the recruiter/employer side...
I'm glad you found it useful! That's why I write 'em! Thanks for the feedback! -td
I appreciate the thoughts on this. Coming from a recent grad that has been in SAP for about 4 years now, I am quite familiar with the struggle presented to a younger professional trying to make a mark in this field of IT. There are so many brilliant SAP developers it can seem daunting to try to begin a career in SAP out of college. At the same time the world of SAP itself is exciting and filled with almost limitless learning opportunities. It provides recent grads a modern platform to overcome unique challenges, to research solutions and utilize new innovations in order to meet the needs of the business they are working for. SAP provides a unique evolving environment that consistently keeps, as Kevin Grove mentioned, a “thirsty” mind watered just enough to want to learn more and become better.
I couldn't agree with you more. And thanks for mentioning Kevin's excellent blog, Employment in the Agile Business, it's a must read! I keep a list of such blogs at SAP Career Blog Links. I hope you find them equally helpful!! -td
I think anyone considering any SAP Certification should read this recent article by an individual who has 6 certification as it does an excellent job of level setting expectations.
Top 10 Myths about SAP Certification
I like the clock watchers section.
Brilliant article altogether.
Thank you Thomas!
Thank you for your kind words and the rating! It is very encouraging to hear when others enjoy (or even when they don't) my work. It inspires me to work harder! Thank you!
I like the way you have put across views. This has given me inspiration to work llittle more harder to get into position i dream of. Thanks Thomas.
Thank you, Pavan, I am happy to have been of service! -td
Really good article with great insights!
You have answered so many questions which have been running from past 3 years in my mind especially after having cleared quite a few SAP certifications!
I entered into SAP consulting fresh out of college (not a top one 🙂 ) - since the concept of consulting seemed exciting and felt it was a good match to my skill levels.
My fav topics were OS, DB and networking - and in my current job as Basis consultant I am happy to be using all the 3!
You are right on with your comments about Passion - it does take one places when nothing else can!
I did recommend all my peers to go through your article! 😀 Thanks again
Hello Thomas ....
great article ... lots of inspiration knowledge are there in your article and blog thanks for posting these type of blog ..
Thank you Divya, Akhilesh, and Ian, for your kind words. It is so helpful to receive feedback, good or bad. It let's me know that folks are reading my stuff! Thanks for reading and thanks for the feedback!
Hello Thomas Dulaney
I am a Certified Consultant Associate in SAP - ABAP from SAP Education.
I have also completed a Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Science and Software in INDIA
I have just moved to USA completing my SAP Certification in India .. I don't have any US work experience .. Which sort of position i can look for ?
What would be your Carrier Advice for me ??
Please start a new discussion in the forum so that your question will get the attention it deserves from the whole community. I will certainly find and answer it in more depth, but the short answer is that there is definitely work in the US as long as you have the proper VISA but that your lack of hands on experience may make getting your first job a challenge.
Thanks Thomas Dulaney
I have started a New discussion , looking forward to your in depth answer ..
Thanks Tom for this artile
I read your article and really liked it, kind of a roadmap.(with a treasure at the end of it :-))
Loved the part about loving what you were doing even after 20 years.
i had joined SAP fresh out of college. i think the best kind of mentors that i have got so far have been those who have left their cynicism at the door and felt a certain ownership about what they were doing and were incredibly fascinated with the "nonsense" i would speak in the early parts of my career.
Thanks and cheers,
I read ths article.. its very knowledgeable.. for freshers..
Thanx for support by posting this blog..
Nice article Thomas..Gr8 insight
Sorry if am asking for more...Could you, if possible ,write an article for college graduates who are looking to become a SAP Technical Consultant (Developer)??
I have read the above article. Please can someone give me some direction. I was lucky to be placed from MBA school with a consulting firm where I did Information collection (Business blueprint) some testing ie overall 1 year exposure to FICO module. However I am unable to pursue SAP as I do not have 1 full implementation experience.
I was wondering if should look at Testing jobs or some lower level SAP support. My question is what are my options with 1 year experience?
All advice appreciated.
Hello everyone, I have just graduated from University for 1 year.
Recently I have an offer to become SAP associate Authorization Consultant at a very big multinational firm. With high chances of receiving SAP trainings, foreign languages courses, English communication environment, foreign business trips, sustainable career,.... With career path I may go to BASIS after 3-5 years.
However, I like to join functional but the boss at that firm said no way, cos I have no experience at functional except a basic SAP funtional course at college and few month internship at a consulting IT firm.
Should I take the job to join SAP industry, cos chances like that do not always exist and actually I got the job because of large expanded requirement of that firm, and usually they just hire people with at leat 3+ years exp.
Please, can anyone clarify the detail career job of Authorization. Is it hot, complicated, high paid,.... and future of it.
Are there any chances I can move to functional after years working ?
Thank you 😀
Awasome blog man really want to salute for this........................hats on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂 😎 🙂
Thks for this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
While going through articles in SCN ,I came across this blog.As I started reading this i couldn't resist my self and read almost every link you mentioned in the blog and I end up with reading nearly 10-12 blogs on a stretch.
The way you described each and every prospect is really appreciable.
Thanks & Regards
Thanks well written and useful for Fresh Graduates seeking career in SAP
Starting my SAP journey
You have been a great source of knowledge about SAP as a career. Please go through the blog and i'd really appreciate your input/advise regarding the same.
Thanks and Regards
Thank you so much for this informative blog. But yet, I have some more doubts in SAP.
I am B tech graduated in Computer Science from last year (2016 pass out). Currently i am
working in a startup company started by my friends just 5 months ago. I am handling the android
java programming. Although I have some improvements in programming than earlier, I can’t
handle programming (Java). So, I thought of quitting from programming and finding something
rather than the programming.
I had heard about SAP and its various modules. I made a short inquiry about SAP and got some
knowledge. Also, i had heard that its without programming except ABAP module. But still I am in
confusion about taking of module. I don’t know which module suits me. I don’t know, whether i get
job after doing a SAP course in a certain module without any experience. I have only my B tech
degree in my hand. With that, will it be good for doing a SAP course? I want guidance for making
my future better. Kindly help me.
Thanks and Regards,
Hi Danish KV,
If you come across my reply .Right now you can work with SAP HANA,There is a bright Future as well you might have noted it.But could you guide me the steps which you have took after quitting programming job.I am a passed out graduate who is working in SAP BASIS.
Wow!. That was an outstanding blog for the freshers like me.When I am reading the blog I came to know that you love teaching and sharing Knowledge about SAP BASIS.Could you connect with me ,I am clueless absolutely what will be exactly because I was a fresh graduate with some papers.I woudl like to have some time to discuss with you personally.
Thank You!! For a lovley blog ,(#Reality checked.)