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"Wow, thanks Jon. I get many emails and calls asking how to break into the SAP game. You've made some of my job easier by at least putting in to perspective the position of training and certification. I do look forward to that future article of breaking in to the SAP game but until then, thanks for this one, a truly great read." Kevin Wilson - ERPGenie.COM Founder
Avoiding the SAP Certification Rip-Off
|A Better Approach to Skills Acquisition|
|SAP certification is not all it's cracked up to be. And for some aspiring consultants, it's a flat-out rip-off. I don't place the blame on SAP though. SAP does a pretty good job of maintaining a level of prestige associated with its certifications, and if you go on SAP's web site, you won't find any promises that investing in SAP certification will get you a high-paying job in the SAP field.|
On the other hand, while I am very skeptical about SAP certification, I also recommend that all serious SAP consultants devote some of their earnings towards additional training and certification. So how can I possibly reconcile these two perspectives? Hopefully I can do that by the end of this article. If not, I'm sure I'll be getting emails from ERPGenie.COM regulars.
In my last column, I talked about the importance of chasing skills over dollars. This piece builds on that one with a closer look at skills acquisition. I've structured this column around SAP certification because that seems to be the default option most aspiring SAP professionals fall back on whenever they decide to acquire new skills. Once we have a better understanding of the benefits (and limitations) of SAP training, we can develop a better approach to SAP skills acquisition.
The myth of "quick buck SAP certification" has its roots in the mid-90s and the heyday of SAP R/3. During the initial R/3 boom, it was indeed possible to land a high-paying SAP consulting gig if you were SAP certified. Even if you had no SAP project experience, you could get your foot in the door if you were SAP certified. But the "certification only" party ended pretty quickly. It didn't take long for hiring managers to wise up and start asking for some project skills to back up the paper credentials.
Fast forward ten years, and I still see questions from IT professionals who assume that they can land a project in SAP if they go out and get an SAP certification. But that is not the case. Breaking into SAP, however, is a subject for another column. The key point here is that the power of SAP certification has diminished, and it has been a *very* long time since I have personally seen someone with no previous SAP experience land a good position on the basis of certification alone.
So, let's accept the premise that SAP certification is not enough, in and of itself, to land your first position in SAP. But what if you're already working in SAP, but you're looking to use certification to move into a new area with better rates and bigger challenges? That's what we'll focus on for the rest of this column.
One thing we should get clear on: getting certified is never a bad idea. But if you invest in your own training and certification, you're talking about a fairly significant financial investment. If you are over-estimating the power of certification going in, you're going to walk away feeling ripped off. I frequently hear from consultants who rolled their pennies up in order to get a new certification, and now they are disappointed that this new certification is not leading to new opportunities.
Part of the problem here is that everyone's financial situation is different. If you can easily afford certification, then it is never a bad idea. For this column, I'm assuming that most readers have competing financial priorities and don't take the cost of getting training and certified lightly. Of course, some SAP professionals are lucky enough to have employers who willingly and regularly put them through additional training. For now, we'll just envy such individuals and set them aside. Their biggest problem is choosing which course to take. While that's not always an easy choice to make, that particular dilemma will not cause the rest of us to shed any tears.
What we have left, then, are budget-conscious SAP professionals who are looking for an edge in a competitive market. They are committed to skills enhancement and want to know how training fits in. It fits in like this: training is always a "nice to have," but it's only the deciding factor in a hiring decision when all other factors are equal. If you go through the open SAP positions on SAPGenie and other job boards, you will find very few SAP jobs that require certification. You may find another ten or twenty percent that mention certification as a preference, but not as a requirement.
You can bet that if a company is hiring an EBP consultant, and one of the applicants has six months of EBP and an EBP certification, and one of them has two years of hands-on EBP experience, the two year EBP consultant is going to get the job 99 times out of 100. On the other hand, if you have two EBP consultants who each have two years of EBP experience, and one of them is certified and one of them is not, it is possible that the certification will serve as the "tiebreaker" between two equally qualified consultants. I've seen that happen from time to time, but I've found that the tiebreaker is usually something related to the hands-on skills, like industry-specific experience, or perhaps quality of project references. Communication skills and other "intangibles" are also more likely to serve as tiebreakers than certification.
So what can training and certification actually do for you? Before I answer that question, let me address one more terminology issue: in this article, when I use the term “certification,” I am assuming that the individual in question is planning to attend a course at the SAP academy and then take a certification test when they are done. I am aware that there are third party companies that offer forms of SAP training (though not certification). I consider those forms of secondary training, by and large, a waste of time and money. When and if hiring managers start taking such programs seriously, I'll change my mind. But for now, I believe that consultants are better served obtaining certification from SAP directly.
You can certainly learn from all kinds of training, but I believe consultants should just go to the source. Certification from SAP itself is the prize here, as well as the networking that occurs during the course itself. SAP customers, on the other hand, can be well served by getting non-SAP training. SAPtips, for example, offers on-site training to implementation teams that is customized for that project, and that can be very valuable to a team, much more so than sending one team member off to the "academy." But for individual consultants, in my opinion, if you can get to an SAP academy, that's what you should do.
So if training and certification rarely gives you a big edge in a hiring situation, when can it help? It can help when you are working to enhance your skills within the context of a long term project. For example: consider the case of an MM/PP consultant or employee who has always wanted to break into APO but never had the chance. So, they go out and obtain an APO-related certification on their own time, on their own dime. As it turns out, this kind of pro-active investment makes a very positive impression on employers, and it also gives the consultant an expanded knowledge base in an area that "extends" from their core skills.
So, in this case, we have an MM/PP consultant, working on a long-term MM/PP project, and they have taken the trouble to obtain an APO certification. Lo and behold, a few months down the road, that particular company decides to do a pilot Demand Planning project. They decide to hire some additional APO consultants, but they want to round out the project team. Who gets invited to participate? The MM/PP consultant who has taken the trouble to obtain APO certification and know-how. Would they have been pulled onto that APO project anyway? Perhaps. But did the APO training give them an edge and call attention to their skills and initiative? Definitely. Have I seen this kind of scenario play out many times? Absolutely. But are there any guarantees that when you invest in training, this will happen to you? Absolutely not. Especially not on a timeframe that is convenient to you.
An example: I know an SEM consultant who has a deep FI/CO background. This person tried to break into BW and SEM for more than two years before he finally made it. He was one of the first consultants to get SEM certified - no dice. Only SEM consultants lucky enough to have hands-on project experience were getting offers. When he realized how tightly SEM was linked to BW, he went out and got BW certified also. Still no luck. And keep in mind, this guy had deep project experience in CO-PA (Profitability Analysis), which, on paper, made him the perfect candidate for an SEM transition. Did he deserve such an opportunity? You bet he did. And he was certainly more than capable of making a great contribution in an SEM role.
The fact that he made a pro-active move and was still locked out of the market struck me as unfair, and still does. The way that hiring managers demand *exact* matches between their paper requirement and the resume of the consultant drives me nuts, especially when senior consultants like this guy - experts who have really paid their dues - get overlooked. Sometimes this guy got passed over for positions in SEM in favor of SEM consultants with a year of SEM project experience but *no other previous experience* in SAP. The rules of the SAP hiring game suck sometimes; there's no nicer way to put it. But you can make yourself crazy thinking about it.
Wasting time cultivating bitterness over the rules of the game makes no sense - it makes a lot more sense to master the rules and put them to work for you. That's exactly what this guy did, and eventually, his ties to a Big Four consulting firm, combined with his industry knowledge and value to a certain project got him into the SEM game - very much in the same way I described for that APO consultant above. Training and certification did play a role, though it was in a much larger context of his commitment to self-education for its own sake.
And that's really what it comes down to in the end. If you have a passion for SAP, and a desire to better yourself by learning the latest and greatest SAP functionality, and if you pursue training in areas that build logically from your core skills, then training and certification is going to be very effective for you. It may not pass the "immediate gratification" test, but when you look back several years from now on the courses you have taken and the ways you've put that knowledge to work on projects, you will see a benefit.
The catch is that such a lifestyle is a discipline. It means spending your hard-won savings and project downtime on classroom learning when you'd rather be sucking down drinks with paper umbrellas in them. I suppose it's possible to have a good career as an SAP consultant and still get your toes in the sand from time to time, but in all honesty, the most successful SAP consultants I know are not living leisure-oriented lifestyles. The SAP career path is very rewarding, but to take the importance of skills acquisition lightly is to risk extended bench time in a market that doesn't always let you back in.
I have more to say on SAP skills development, and I'll share more success stories and tips on developing your own skills methodology in future SAPGenie columns. To close this one out, I'd just like to put a word out to all the SAP consultants out there who have been forced to retool their skills and find a new way forward. I know how hard that can be; I have a lot of respect for those of you who have changed course midstream and found a way to stay in the game. And as for certification-bashing, I hope I've found a way to explain the importance of certification but also show that it comes with no guarantees.
It's hard to hear from people who feel they wasted their money on certification, so maybe this column will help a few folks realize what they are getting into before they lay their money down. In closing, I would point out that SAP itself devotes a significant chunk of its revenues to Research and Development, as much as twenty percent last time I heard. Does it not make sense that SAP consultants would need to do the same thing? Those who invest in self-education rarely look back with regret, but just as some of SAP's pet research projects failed, not every new training is going to reap dividends. Certification as a short-term career fix is a big gamble, but as part of a long-term commitment to excel, it's about the safest bet you could make.
|Jon has been publishing SAP career analysis for the last eight years. He is the author of the popular SAP Consultant Handbook, and he serves as the "Ask the Expert" on SAP careers for searchSAP. Jon is also the author of the "SAP eCareer Transitions Journal," a weekly email Journal for SAP professionals who are moving into new areas of the mySAP product line. Throughout the industry's ebbs and flows, thousands of SAP professionals have tracked the market through Jon's commentary and personal consultations. Jon is also the Managing editor of SAPTips, an exclusive SAP publication. Jon can be reached at Jon.Reed@SAPtips.com.|
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