How Do You Get SAP Experience?

Reader Question:

Some BA jobs require SAP experience, but how do you get it if you don’t have it?

Eric’s Response:

Many BA job posts require applicants to have some kind of experience about specific business software, such as ERPs, CRMs or other specialized software.  Although it can be a questionable requirement for a job post (See Laura’s post on “Why do we see technical skills in business analyst jobs?” and Jonathan Babcock’s post on “Four Key Knowledge Areas for Business Analysts“), it is something that we have to deal with as not everyone really understands the BA role and responsibilities.  In this context, how can a BA get experience in the software when you don’t have it?  Based on my experience, there are 3 ways to get it (other than actually working with the software, of course).

1. Self-Training

Take some time to read on the specific software (of the specific module of the software you’re interested in).  Do some research on the web, look for software editor documentation, check for software users and developers communities, register for webinars on the software.  It will not be something that you will be able to put on your resume, but it will at least provide you some general knowledge and vocabulary that you will be able to use while reviewing your resume or during an interview.

2. Experience with Similar Software and Business Processes

Although you might not have experience with that specific software, you might have relevant experience with other related software, which makes your introduction to the new software much easier.  You might also have knowledge of specific business processes supported by the software without having software-specific knowledge.  Since most similar specialized business software use similar patterns (known as best practices), the knowledge curve to switch from one to the other is quite small when you’re already familiar with the concepts.

3. Emphasize Required Competencies Behind the Software Knowledge

You might not have related experience on similar software or business processes, but you probably have competencies that could be used within a SAP-like context.  Have you worked in projects involving close interactions between systems?  Company-wide processes, crossing multiple departments?  Do you have related experience in the company’s industry?  Answers to these questions should help you to demonstrate that even though you don’t know the software, you know how to handle the specific characteristics of working with a software such as SAP.

Making My Case for “CRM Experience”

As an example, the job post for my current job was asking for experience with a specific CRM software, which I didn’t have at this time.  I managed to get to the interview phase with the hiring manager, where I was able to point out that although I had no experience with the specific software, I have worked on several projects involving customer-related processes and systems in the past, and have also dealt with off-the-shelf integrated software in the past.  This experience makes it easier for me to quickly understand the business context, as well as the users’ and the development team’s needs and how they interact with the software to support their activities.  These competencies are much harder to get than actually knowing how the software works.  Moreover, I have worked in the same industry (telecommunications) for some years, so I already had a good idea about the specifics of the customers, products and processes.

I put the emphasis on these points during the interview, and I finally got the job.  After a quick introduction to the software and some exploration on my own for a week or two, I was up and running, and started working as the lead BA on major projects.

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2 thoughts on “How Do You Get SAP Experience?”

  1. Great tips on working around a lack of specific software knowledge.

    I had a similar situation. During the interview process, my current position’s primary focus was finding a leader in the implementation of an enterprise-wide CMS. While I didn’t have direct experience with the CMS that has been chosen, I had 5+ years of experience in developing a content management system and integrating with others.

    I was able to use the knowledge I have gained from my past experiences and while I wasn’t able to always address the CMS-specific questions, I was able to talk about best practices and learned experiences.

  2. Not that I disagree with the article, but this is a case where requiring a BA to have “technical skills” actually is quite reasonable.

    The thing to remember about an ERP system is that it already has a large number of capabilities built into it. Unless your organization derives a significant competitive advantage from your existing ways of running HR, Finance, etc., or you exist in an industry with unique regulatory requirements, you shouldn’t try and replace the existing functionality with something custom to you. Revisiting all those decisions will dramatically increase the cost of both implementation and maintenance (because you won’t easily be able to accept any new features without customizing them).

    In this situation, a big chunk of your role as a BA is to help the organization change its processes and operations to bring them into line with the application. You really can do that a lot better if you understand the capabilities and limitations it already has.

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