How NOT To Blow Your Harvard Interview

by John A. Byrne on

Harvard Business School will begin to tell first round applicants today (Oct. 17) if they’ve passed the first admissions hurdle and will be invited for an interview. The first batch of notifications will go out at noon EST, with a second batch coming on Oct. 24.

“Only those two dates,” says HBS Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Dee Leopold in a blog post. “Nothing in between. No secret patterns as to which go out on the 17th vs. the 24th Detailed instructions will be in the invitation email.”

This will be the first time that interviewed applicants are required to write a “reflection” to be sent to Harvard within 24 hours of the interview session (see Behind Harvard’s Big Admission Changes).

In light of the change, Poets&Quants again turned to Sandy Kreisberg, the founder of, to update our story, “How NOT To Blow Your HBS Interview.” Perhaps more than anyone outside Harvard Business School’s admissions office, Kreisberg really has this down pat. He has done hundreds of mock interviews with HBS applicants over the past 20 years, and Kreisberg also has counseled several of Harvard’s 2+2 applicants who have worked with this new format and done the reflective essay.

Sandy, as you know, the HBS application is different this year. It is shorter and there is much less room for candidates to talk about their goals. Is that going to impact the HBS interview?

I’ve actually debriefed a good number of 2+2 candidates from the early summer round who used the new app (I had also given them mock interviews) and my takeaway is that the HBS interview will continue to be “same as it ever was.”  By that I mean, it will not probe things you wrote in your application, but instead ask straightforward questions like

  • Walk me through your resume?
  • Why did you attend your undergraduate school, and what was one regret about how you managed your undergrad education?
  • What advice would you give to 1. President of your college? 2. Your prior bosses? 3. Your current boss?
  • Pretend I didn’t read your app and tell me about yourself.
  • Who is someone you’ve worked with that wasn’t a direct manager that had a significant impact on you?
  • What is a question you expected me to ask?
  • What is a company inside your industry and outside your industry you admire, and why, also a CEO?
  • What is a common misperception people have when they first meet you?

Harvard’s new application reflects the most significant change in admissions to the business school since 2002 when it required interviews for all admitted candidates. Why wouldn’t the school do a change up on the interviews?

Well, I was about to say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but the essays last year were not broke, and they did “fix” them-and made them worse by many views (see The Early Verdict On HBS’ New App). Maybe they are just comfortable with these types of questions, versus the “behavioral” questions now sometimes asked by Stanford and Wharton and MIT.

For instance, “Tell me about a time you convinced a group about your idea?,” which is not a typical HBS question–although don’t sue me if it comes up. The purpose of the HBS interview is to weed people out, people who 1) Cannot speak English, or at least people who cannot speak English for the 30 minutes of the interview, and 2) People who are unlucky and get lost in the weeds giving one or two answers where they start out talking about topic A, and then segue to topic B and C, and then give a qualification to topic C which requires going down alley E, which is a dead-end with a big sign at the end reading: ‘YOU HAVE JUST BLOWN YOUR HBS INTERVIEW. GOOD-BYE!’

How else can a person blow an HBS interview?

Well, on occasion, Dee Leopold will give feedback to applicants who are rejected and her most common explanation for a ding is something along the lines of “you sounded scripted . . .you sounded like you were attempting to get all your points across rather than just answering the question in front of you.”  She might be saying the same thing I said about going down topics A, B, C and D instead of just cleanly answering the simple question being posed.

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  • RR

    It’s that attitude that has kept you out…well done to Dee and her team for keeping a jerk like you out of Harvard. Read some history…read a few books outside of your gmat prep and how to get into top mba programs books. Talk to some people outside of your circle..learn about their struggles…Character is not just a by-product of scores or gpa. As a fellow Asian I’m appalled at your attitude. It’s people like you that reinforce the stereotype that asian kids are one-dimensional and lack compassion / empathy / world-view.

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