Navigating a mid-career change

IT professionals should stay ahead of the career planning curve and decide for themselves if a major career switch is in line with their long-term goals.

commentary Are you thinking of a mid-career switch to SAP consulting? If you are, you are not the only one.

In the last two months, a number of readers have written in to enquire about a career in SAP implementation and consulting. Most, currently in a totally different field of work, such as finance and accounting, asked about compensation and the long-term career prospects.

Should they expect a paycut? If yes, how much, and how long will it take for their earnings to reach the level of their previous career?

These are valid and important questions, particularly for mid-career executives who are doing well in their current jobs.

I don't know what the biggest motivating factor is for these ZDNet Asia readers--it may be the desire to pick up new skills and experiences, or simply the lure of a lucrative SAP consulting career (SAP consultants are reportedly paid higher than the average IT professional).

But a major career switch is a decision that one must think long and hard before making it. One ZDNet Asia reader had second thoughts after leaving his telecom sales job for a junior SAP CRM functional consultant post, and wondered if the paycut was worth it.

Roger Olofsson, associate director of executive recruitment agency Robert Walters, recommends a big domain switch "only if the candidate has a big interest and is willing to accept the downsides--in terms of financial and experience--of making that switch for the short term".

That said, switching to a different domain is not always a bad idea. After all, headhunters say the IT job market, like any market, is about demand and supply. Salary levels for SAP functional consultants, for example, can fluctuate significantly according to the supply and demand at different points in time.

IT professionals should also keep tabs on industry developments and spot market shifts that could potentially kickstart new job opportunities.

According to Olofsson, being interested in what you do is important, but so is recognizing that switching to a field that is an up-and-coming domain can also offer a better future. The networking field is one good example. He says that networking professionals, who were experienced in IBM technologies, made the right decision to move to the Cisco platform a few years ago.

Here are more career tips for IT professionals:

  • Contract work may not be a bad idea, especially for those interested in implementation work. Olofsson says that contract work offers the opportunity to regularly move on to a new implementation project, which ensures one keeps accumulating the all-important implementation experience.
  • Those keen on a permanent position and like development work are better off working with a service provider, because of the varied project assignments and one gets to see different environments. Working in an end user environment isn't a bad idea, but the organization's technology needs should be large enough to guarantee enough supply of new projects, says Olofsson.
  • Don't be too eager to move up the corporate ladder and out of hands-on technology jobs. It pays to accumulate a wealth of technology experience. Apparently, there is a dearth of experienced Microsoft solution architects, and Olofsson has had difficulty finding the right people to fill these positions. He says those who started with Windows 10 years ago are now IT managers, but they lack the hands-on experience. "Those who started three or four years ago are not experienced enough. So we have a gap. There are not enough people who started 10 years ago and stayed in the space," he says.

A career change can be scary but not necessarily a bad idea. IT professionals will find that it pays to keep a close watch of industry trends and to pursue a career that interests and excites them.

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