Soar with Simon-Kucher Workshop: How Doctoral Students Can Fast-Track the Transition to Consulting

Simon-Kucher & Partners has been hiring doctoral candidates for 30+ years and the firm has another opportunity for advanced degrees to make the leap to consulting through the firm’s Soar with Simon-Kucher Workshop.

In this episode, we had the pleasure of chatting with Simon-Kucher Senior Director Stephane Ricoult about the workshop. The CliffsNotes version:

  • Soar is an opportunity for doctoral students (i.e., PhD, PharmD, DVM) to learn more about careers in life science consulting and Simon-Kucher.
  • Open to doctoral students able to start full-time in 2024 or 2025.
  • Takes place virtually May 10th & 11th – application deadline is April 2, 2023.

If you are accepted to Soar, you’ll be fast-tracked to a final round interview for a full-time role, which is why we recommend considering an application. But before you apply, make sure your resume and cover letter are top-notch and you are prepped for the case interview.

The application deadline for the Soar with Simon-Kucher Workshop is April 2, 2023. Apply today.

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Transcription: How Doctoral Students Can Fast-Track the Transition to Consulting through Soar with Simon-Kucher

MC: Japheth Mast


Strategy Simplified, I’m excited for this special episode with Stephane Ricoult of Simon-Kucher. Stephane is a senior director with the firm based out of Boston. He’s an experienced adviser to leading pharmaceutical, vaccine, and biotech companies in both the US and Europe across a broad range of therapeutic areas. Stephane completed his PhD in Biological and Biomedical Sciences from Harvard before joining Simon-Kucher. Stephane, welcome to Strategy Simplified!

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


Oh, thanks for having me, Japheth.

MC: Japheth Mast


Absolutely! I am excited to chat and get to know more about the firm. Is there anything else you’d like folks to know about you before we dive into the conversation?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


No, I think it was a good introduction. I started six years ago now in consulting, and I think it’s definitely something that PhDs should consider. I know, when I was looking at jobs during my PhD, it was still an alternative career. But it can be actually really good fit for a lot of PhDs. So definitely something worth exploring.

MC: Japheth Mast


Absolutely. And we’re excited to dive into that more to share what Simon-Kucher is doing to make consulting opportunities more broadly available to PhDs and and other advanced degrees. So before we dive into that specific part of the conversation, for those who don’t know the firm, can you just kick us off with a brief overview of Simon-Kucher?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


Simon-Kucher is the leading growth advisor for companies both globally and across industries. We focus on helping companies boost their revenues and profits better and more sustainably across a number of different divisions. As you mentioned, I’m in the life sciences division, which is primarily what I will be talking about today. But we cover a very broad range, not just life sciences. And we focus on a few different topics to help companies grow primarily around strategy, marketing, pricing, sales, digitalization, and transformation.

This is really, as some people call it, the sunny side of consulting, because we’re not really focused on cost cutting, but really helping these companies grow better. And so I started in the life science division, I think, for others interested in life sciences. It’s unique in that when you join the company with a life science background, you’re joining the life science division to specifically work on life sciences projects. This, for me, was super appealing because I had been in the life sciences space for 10 years. This gave me a chance to continue working in that area.

So that’s a bit of a summary for Simon-Kucher. We are global, with 42 offices across 27 countries, which helps for a lot of our projects that are global in scope. The focus in all those projects is on helping companies grow.

MC: Japheth Mast


Stephane, that’s a great intro to the firm. I’m excited to dive into more specific pieces here, but for the sake of this conversation, let’s take this to advanced degrees. I understand the firm is running a workshop called “Soar with Simon-Kucher.” Can you share what the program is and why the firm launched it? What need did you see in the market for this program?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


It’s the firm’s third year doing this, and initially it was in person in our Boston office. We’ve since changed it to a two day virtual program, which allows us to reach more PhDs instead of focusing only on the local Boston community. This has the affect of allowing people all across the US to access Simon-Kucher.

The reason for launching the program was to give doctoral students across the US a chance to get to know Simon-Kucher, help them prepare for interviews, and also, by participating in the program, they get fast-tracked to an interview for a full-time position. This is primarily focusing on people who would be starting or looking to start a full time position in 2024 or 2025. But the goal is to help them transition towards the full-time application process.

MC: Japheth Mast


It sounds like if I’m a doctoral student looking to transition to consulting, this is the fast-track to a career. Is that fair to say?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


That’s exactly right. And, even if you decide not to participate in the workshop, it doesn’t mean you can’t apply to a full-time position, but it definitely helps get to know us a bit better and for us to get to know you as well.

MC: Japheth Mast


Absolutely. You mentioned PhDs – is this open to backgrounds other than PhDs? PharmDs, MDs, etc.?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


Primarily PhDs, but we are still open to MDs, PharmDs, Doctors in Veterinary Medicine. So I think there are a lot of different options, but it does need to be a field that is related or focused on life sciences, because that is what we’re hiring for.

MC: Japheth Mast


Amazing. So for folks interested in life sciences, it sounds like they should get their application in as soon as possible. I understand the firm has an application deadline right around the corner. Can you share when that deadline is and what the application process looks like?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


Right around the corner is right – the application deadline is on April 2 at 11:59pm Eastern. The first step in the application is submitting your resume and cover letter (cover letter optional). And then after that, you would be invited to a short virtual video interview.

And then the next step after getting through that would be a virtual interview with a real consultant. And hopefully, we can make it so that it is also a PhD student or a doctoral student that’s conducting the interview so that you also get to know us from that from that perspective, as well. So one short 30-minute interview with a consultant and then the next step would then be a final round interview, or a series of three final round interviews in one day, with directors and partners within Simon-Kucher.

MC: Japheth Mast


So the firm’s not messing around. You are taking this this recruiting process very seriously, as it does lead to a final round interview for folks that are accepted.

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


That’s right. We have a limited number of slots so we definitely want strong candidates to apply. Like you said, it’s a fast-track to the full-time application process. So getting through that step to get into Soar would already be most of the way there to the final full step application.

MC: Japheth Mast


Absolutely. So Stephane, in the application, if I’m looking to set myself apart as a strong candidate, as a top performer, do you have one to two tips for the application process? What are a few skills that you’d be looking to be highlighted on the resume and cover letter?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


There a few things and it’s not too different from what we would be looking for in a full-time position. I did mention the cover letter is optional, but it is strongly recommended because it’s very difficult to understand where a candidate is coming from and their thinking by just looking at the resume and trying to read between bullets on a resume.

So I would really encourage everyone to submit a cover letter and make sure that in the cover letter, you highlight your strong interest in the life sciences, and also a genuine interest in consulting. I know some grad programs have consulting clubs, but not all of them. And so it doesn’t need to be that you’re involved in your day to day in a consulting club or case competitions because they are not available to everyone.

But just showing at least a strong interest or showing that you’ve pursued some aspect of consulting in your years as a PhD or doctoral student. And then some of the other pieces we are looking for around communication and problem solving. Anything you can highlight around there would help your case.

MC: Japheth Mast


What are the best ways for someone in academia to gain that consulting experience, or at least, be able to show that strong interest in consulting, specifically for someone who doesn’t have access to a consulting club on campus?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


I think it’s a challenge, but it’s become a lot easier. There are case competitions that are all virtual and are open to students around the US, even around the world for some of them. So there are a lot of virtual opportunities now that didn’t exist previously. It’s also true that there are some volunteer consulting clubs that are available and that are not based at any one school but open to a broader set of people.

But if that’s not an option, there is still education you can do yourself in terms of reading about various consulting topics or trying to reach out to people within consulting companies to show that you’re really dedicated and trying to learn more about this space out.

MC: Japheth Mast


I think it’s so important to highlight that you’re interested in not just the academic side of things, but the business side of things, the consulting side of things. And I’ll just give a shameless plug here for folks who maybe don’t have access to a consulting club or some of the other opportunities. Management Consulted has a one-week virtual consulting project called Strategy Sprint that we run a couple of times a year that’s helpful to build those consulting skills and be able to show that, hey, I’ve done something in this world and I have interest in consulting.

So, after the application, moving forward to the interview process, the ones with the human interviewers. Do you have one to two tips for candidates to help them prepare for those interviews and to really stand out as a rockstar candidate?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


Yeah, absolutely. And these are things that are not specific to Simon-Kucher but apply for any interview that you go into. The first thing would be to learn or read about the company you are applying to. Oftentimes, we get candidates who don’t even know what type of consulting we do, so just spend a bit of time browsing the company’s website. If you have the opportunity to talk to current consultants, that’s super helpful to learn about the type of work that is done in the company you’re applying to. So that’d be the first thing.

The second would be to practice cases. All of these are going to be case interviews. It’s really important that you are comfortable with that process. It’s really unique to consulting and some people get the hang of it very quickly and others, it takes a bit longer. Definitely practice those before starting the process.

The last piece would just be to ask thoughtful questions. I think it’s probably questions with an ‘S’ because, again, we have a lot of candidates go in and they ask their one follow up question they’ve been preparing for weeks. And then they think, okay, I checked it off the list, but I recommend asking follow up questions to show that you’re engaged in the discussion. And it’s not just, I asked one follow up question, good job, and then move on to the next interview. That highlights the communication skills that we’re looking for there. So try to be engaged in the discussion and think about a couple questions that are maybe connected to help with that.

MC: Japheth Mast


So you’re saying I probably can’t show up to the interview and wing it without any prep! (laughs)

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


You might be able to, but it’s a risk you’re taking, right?

MC: Japheth Mast


It is a risk – and it’s not one we’d advise candidates take. The case interview is a is a unique beast, and it requires a good bit of prep.

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MC: Japheth Mast


I want to double click into something you mentioned there about quote unquote, “networking.” Simply talking with people at the firms – you’re speaking our language. We tell candidates all the time when we’re working with them that the best way to get to know a firm is to speak with people there. You can get a sense of the culture. What would you say is the best way for folks to to go through that process? How can they get in touch with with someone at the firm? Is it LinkedIn? The website? How would you recommend folks go about that?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


There are three different things that you could do. One is the old fashioned, or at least a pre-pandemic way, is to just show up at a career fair and talk to representatives that are there. So those still exist. I think a lot of career fairs are coming back and especially if it’s one that’s focused on consulting, you can get a lot of face time with existing consultants from a variety of different companies and within one day, get a sense of how they are all different from one another.

The other piece would be to leverage your LinkedIn network. And it doesn’t have to be a direct contact that you have. But if you’ve gone to either your undergrad or grad school or some secondary connection that you have, just reach out on LinkedIn. I think it’s helpful if you have at least some connection, and that it’s not completely out of the blue, because then you may or may not get an answer, depending on how busy the person is. But you still, I think, through your schools, have a lot of connections that you can leverage for this.

And then the last piece, depending on the size of the company, it could work or maybe not, but just reach out to the recruiting team and say, Hey, would there be an opportunity to just chat with somebody for 30 minutes, and they could also help set up an informal Coffee Chat or something.

MC: Japheth Mast


Great! I don’t want to put you on the spot, but can folks reach out to you?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


Absolutely. But again, if there is more of a connection than an out of the blue request for a chat, but I’m happy to chat and share my experience as well if you reach out.

MC: Japheth Mast


I apologize in advance if you get 100 LinkedIn messages.

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


Not a problem.

MC: Japheth Mast


Stephane, we’ve talked a good bit about the Soar with Simon-Kucher Workshop for advanced degrees. What would you tell to a candidate who’s on the fence about applying? They’re not sure if this is for them or if this is the right time?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


I would strongly encourage them to apply. I think applying often feels like a very one-sided process, that you’re completely at the mercy of your interviewer. But it’s, it’s very much a two-sided discussion, because it’s also for you to understand whether you’re connecting with the person that’s interviewing you, because these are the people that you would be working with. So I think it’s important to go through the interview process, not just so you get the job offer at the end of it, but also to feel comfortable going into this job and that you actually want to work with these people.

So even if you’re not sure, just going through the process can be super helpful to learn more about the company, learn more about the people. And maybe by the end of it, you’ll know that you definitely don’t want this, then please don’t come to the workshop anyways, even if you have the offer, but hopefully after the process, you will be even more excited and want to participate in the workshop.

MC: Japheth Mast


It’s a win win, right? You get to figure out, hey, are these people that I would want to work with? Is this something I’m interested in? If not, you get to self select, and avoid going through the process and the wasted time and effort.

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


Yeah. Even if you have – and I mentioned those follow up questions – but if you’re unsure about consulting or you have specific questions that are causing this uncertainty, then this is also the time to ask. In most of these interviews, there’s time at the end for those questions. So definitely, if there are things on your mind that cause uncertainty, definitely it’s the right time to to address those.

MC: Japheth Mast


Do you have an example of a great follow up question that either you’ve asked or you’ve had asked to you?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


I think a good follow up question would be something that really highlights your interest in the company. So I think a very standard one is about my favorite project, or least favorite project or something that shows both your interest in the work that we do, but also interviewers really like talking about themselves, sometimes. Not all of them, but it’s easier, at least, to just talk about something you’re familiar with.

So I think that’s an easy question that really hits two birds with one stone and also allows the applicant to hear about, again, the type of work that we do. So it’s again, a win win question, because everybody benefits from that question. It really shows a positive light on the person asking the question.

MC: Japheth Mast


That’s awesome. Thanks for answering all my out of left field question Stephane. Folks, you heard it from the man himself. Go get your application in – learn more and and apply. But we’re not done with this conversation. Stephane, I’d love to zoom out just a little bit.

You’re a PhD and you know the value that people with “non-traditional backgrounds” bring to the consulting table? What are the advantages Simon-Kucher sees in diversifying its talent base beyond the standard business or economics backgrounds to academia or medicine?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


I don’t know that it’s really diversifying for us. We were started by three PhDs back in 1985. And I think since then we’ve had consistent interest in hiring advanced degrees, especially in the life science division, because we know how much value they bring to our team.

If we look at our US team in the life sciences, about 25% of our consultants have some advanced degree. So it’s definitely something we look into. Because having that strong background in life sciences is super helpful in addressing many of the problems that our clients come to us about. I think it’s good to understand the business and we do also value people with a business background. On all our teams, we try to have people with diverse backgrounds, some that are stronger in life sciences, some in business, just to have different perspectives on a project. So that’s definitely something we value from PhDs.

In addition to that, having gone through the process myself, there are a lot of skills that are directly transferable from a PhD or other doctoral degree. One would be on communication, around synthesis of data, because you’re just collecting so much information over the course of a PhD, and you just have to synthesize it. Solving problems is another skill. That’s essentially what you’re doing over the multiple years in the lab, or wherever you may be during your PhD. So I think a lot of transferable skills, and it’s also something when PhDs start on our teams, we also expect them to ramp up a bit quicker than somebody coming directly from an undergrad degree. So it works both ways. But it’s also, like I mentioned at the beginning, a very good career option for many PhDs.

MC: Japheth Mast


I love that. There’s so many opportunities, even more opportunities than there were 10 years ago for advanced degrees to move into consulting, I love how, for Simon-Kucher, this is old news. You’ve been doing this for 30 or 40 years.

The final question before we get to some fun, more personal questions. For any listeners, who are looking to break into life sciences or consulting or even a branch outside of life sciences, but they’re not in an advanced degree program and don’t qualify for the Soar workshop – is Simon-Kucher hiring now for full-time roles that they can apply for?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


At the moment, we’re in between cycles for full-time applicants, but I would keep a close eye on the Simon-Kucher careers website. That’s where all new postings will be listed. And those will be both for undergrad and for advanced degree candidates. We have internships for both those career paths, and we also will have full-time positions that will be posted.

Again, if you’re not sure you want to commit to a full-time position and want to spend a couple of months working on projects and seeing what it means to be consultant, then an internship is also something that we offer for both undergrad and advanced degree candidates. For this year, there are a couple undergrad internship positions left, but no more for the PhD grads for most of our offices. So we are nearing the end of that cycle, but as I said, keep an eye on the careers page, because more will be listed on there in the coming months.

MC: Japheth Mast


All right. We’ll have to bookmark the careers page and stay tuned. Stephane, it’s been great chatting about the firm, about pathways for PhDs to break in. I’d love to get to know you a little bit more on a personal level here with a couple of quick questions.

Number one, what’s one book, quote, or piece of wisdom you received that’s made the greatest impact on your life or your career?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


A close mentor from undergrad told me, I think this was during grad school, but he said just keep showing up. And I think that’s been super helpful to keep in mind just in terms of perseverance, many PhDs can probably relate to this, but sometimes it takes a little bit of mental strength to get through those times when none of the experiments are working.

I think that was particularly helpful and that’s when he had told me this but it’s also been helpful in pursuing opportunities that come up. Because unless you’re there and have grasped that any opportunities that arise, you may not get too far. And so I think it’s been a very simple piece of wisdom, but it’s actually helped me go a long way.

MC: Japheth Mast


Just keep showing up – I love that. Next question. One person you’d love to get dinner with and why – dead or alive.

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


Definitely alive and it would be Eliud Kipchoge, the marathoner, who in the last two years, ran under two hours for his marathon. I’m a big distance runner myself, trying to run a half marathon in every state. And it would just be really interesting to hear about how he is able to have the mental strength to overcome those obstacles and keep going mile after mile on every one of his marathons.

Really inspiring to watch him run. I actually had a chance to see him in Boston, during a marathon where I volunteer every year. And yeah, it’s just amazing how fast those elite runners go. So I would definitely want to hear his thoughts and hear how he can keep himself going day after day and mile after mile.

MC: Japheth Mast


Two hours, that’s crazy! How many half marathons have you run? How many states have you hit?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


There are a lot of states in the US, but it’s only 11 so far. I can blame the pandemic in some parts, but there’s still a long way to go.

MC: Japheth Mast


Amazing. Are you signed up for your next one? Do you know where that will be?

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


Next one will be in Cleveland in May.

MC: Japheth Mast


Amazing. Wow.

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


So if you want to talk about Simon-Kucher in Cleveland, I will be there. (laughs)

MC: Japheth Mast


Hit him up. Amazing. Stephane, it’s been a pleasure chatting. We are excited to keep letting folks know about the opportunities at Simon-Kucher and the great work that you all are doing. Thanks for your time today.

Simon-Kucher: Stephane Ricoult


Thanks a lot, Japheth.

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