Cleavage & Hairy Legs a No-No at Harvard

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by John A. Byrne on

Harvard Business School applicants are getting some quirky counsel on how to avoid the kind of faux pas that would destroy their chances of ever gaining admittance to the West Point of Capitalism. The advice, straight from Harvard MBA candidates, covers everything from how much deodorant to apply on the day of your admissions interview to how much kneecap should be revealed when you cross your legs.

The guidance is getting dished in the new 2011 Unofficial Harvard Business School Interview Guide published earlier this month by the B-school’s student newspaper, The Harbus. As its authors put it, “our guide bestows first-hand insight, advice and analysis from current HBS students…the analysis we provide comes not from ‘recent applicants’ but from those who got in, enrolled, and are now immersed in HBS culture.”


Think of this as a modern, MBA version of Emily Post’s Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage. It’s a 40-page PDF filled with often obvious, though pragmatic, guidance to avoid an HBS-crushing blunder. One example: “Ladies, practice sitting so that no one can see up your skirt.” It’s the kind of direction a young woman would have heard from her Aunt Betty when she was 13 years of age. If she didn’t get it then, chances are that Dillon House, where HBS’ admissions staff toils, has already made a mistake in inviting her to an interview.

Catherine Leary Tomezsko, general manager of The Harbus, concedes that some of these recommendations may well be “glaringly obvious,” but the idea is not to take anything for granted. “We want to make sure that everybody who buys the guide has a chance (to get into Harvard),” she says. The newspaper first began publishing the $35 guide only last year and has had “enormously positive feedback” from users. The Harbus plans to launch a separate website,, to sell the guide in early March, adds Tomezsko. The proceeds are distributed to educational non-profits in the Boston area. Along with the advice on etiquette, there’s a list of 50 questions that Harvard has recently asked applicants and analysis on how to best prepare and answer them (Click here for a sample).

In any given year, HBS interviews some 1,800 applicants and is now in the midst of second-round interviews. On some level, the advice reflects the near all-consuming obsession most applicants experience when they attempt to get into one of the world’s leading business schools.

Sandy Kreisberg, an MBA admissions consultant known as HBS Guru, thinks a good deal of suggestions, particularly as they regard appearance, seems extreme. “Dress and perfume have not sabotaged any interview that I am aware of, although I am sure there are exceptions,” he says.  “I think the real advice about dress is, ‘Don’t make a statement.’ Just wear something that is comfortable and respects the situation, and does not draw attention to itself. The most common way that HBS interviews turn damaging is that you talk too much and get lost.” (See “Sandy’s List of Dos & Don’ts for HBS Interviews” for his more irreverent counsel.)

Never mind. At the very least, many of these guidelines are good for a laugh, no matter how painfully apparent they may be.


Perhaps the most surprisingly obvious of all the suggestions in the guide concerns hygiene. “Take a shower the morning of your interview,” the editors of the guide advise. “Second, use deodorant liberally; you may be nervous, and a second (or third) application can never hurt. Pack it in your bag and consider reapplying once you arrive. (Seriously.) Third, do not, under any circumstances, wear perfume or cologne. You never know who might be allergic and you run the risk of leaving a pungent trail in your wake.”


“Ladies,” recommend the Harbus editors, “skirts should hit at the top of your knee. If thigh is showing, go back to square one and try again. Anything longer than the bottom of your knee looks matronly…Also, if you have a gap between buttons of your shirt, you have two options: buy a safety pin or wear a camisole. It is unadvisable to flash your interviewer. (This includes any variation on cleavage; just don’t do it.”)

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Air Time - Comments
  • MBA_Aspirant

    Well, someone seems to have too much time on their hands. Next thing we know, it will be “If you are shorter than 5’7″, we suggest you wear high heels. We recommend any of the Fall 2011 styles from Salvatore Ferragamo.”
    What’s really scary is – if the interviewers are busy checking my eyebrows and flyaway ear hair, are they listening to what I’m saying?

  • Do HBS women aspirants really do a ‘Basic Instinct’ act before the admission staff? Surprising!

  • jack

    this sounds more of a like fashion contest than picking future leaders. I understand the cleavage and cologne but, they seem to take this to whole new level; shave or we will shave you off the list.

  • Arthur Dullsworthy

    There is some diversity of opinion in the matter of cleavage.

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