THE CANDIDATE WHOSE FAVORITE CLASS WAS ‘TOUCHY FEELY.’
“Tell me about your favorite class,” I always ask, and the answers never vary much. At HBS the students mostly talk about the various finance courses in the elective curriculum. At Stanford, there is one well-known finance professor who everybody worships, and his name comes up over and over again. There has been one glaring exception to this rule: one man told me his favorite class was called “touchy feely,” all about interpersonal relating and the soft skills. I was impressed by his answer and curious about the class but even as I asked him about it I knew he would be unlikely to fit in at my heavy-finance private equity employer. I also always ask what the candidate’s favorite book is, and mentally take off points if the answer is a business book. This is a place to demonstrate that you are a well-rounded person with various interests, though a meaningful number of people don’t manage to do that.
Over the years I’ve had a great many unimpressive interviews, and only a few stand out vividly in my mind. Usually these were the people who went on to do well in our process. I’ve hired from both HBS and Stanford over the years, and I can’t draw a single obvious conclusion about quality, smarts, or overall success orientation. Because at both schools I see such a small, specific group of students I imagine that the differences I see are like the point of a triangle. I imagine that deeper into the student body the differences are more pronounced, and furthermore my impression is that extrapolate from the nuanced distinctions that I sense. People are endlessly fascinating to me, and I feel lucky to have made my career in a field where I spend most of time getting to know them.
For years, “anonymous” has recruited MBA students from Harvard and Stanford for a brand-name firm that many candidates would do nearly anything to work for.