How NOT To Blow Your Harvard Interview

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.

  • 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.

  • asiansensation

    im a minority who applied to those to schools with 3.7 from top college at 760 gmat and ib job. didn’t get an interview at hbs… also asian american so i don’t get minority points. there are too many of us who are more qualified than underreppred minorities and white women.

  • AXK

    I completely disagree with this statement. I really do not appreciate the approach of ‘minding your own business’. For one thing, what America does affects the entire world, so even if you are not an American, you have vested interests in the outcome of the elections. For another, there’s nothing wrong with having political debates, even if it does not directly affect one’s life. If we were to talk about nothing outside our narrow scope of immediate interest, we should also not talk about philosophy, ancient history etc.

  • Miami Phil

    You must be reading bet. lines. The OP just said he admired Romney. I don’t think he made any political statement. Seems like a nice guy who maybe wants to work at Bain. You guys need to take a chill pill and lay off the poor guy. Just seems like an earnest fellow.

  • Harsh

    @5265752c0671c5f3566466b698ce6dfc:disqus Although you did not say anything outrageous and just wished people well, I think it’s best you don’t insert yourself in the election and process of other countries. How would it be if some Australian randomly commented about Indian politics? I work in the US and my boss is a Ron Paul supporter and most of my colleagues are divided between Obama and Romney. I’m also an Indian and I just keep my opinions to myself. You should not be posting such things on MBA message boards. Also a word of advice – just because you work in finance or banking don’t assume that everyone will support a particular candidate. In my experience here, I have been often been shocked by who supports whom. Best to keep quiet and do your work.

  • Press 2 for Tolerence

    @ Megxi : Don’t mind that guy. He is ignorant and insensitive. Your English is fine and not everyone is like that. Communication is about getting your point of view across in an effective manner. Don’t worry about the semantics.

  • A Very Proud Indian

    Well said! Atal ji will take Romney to the cleaners. Romney came from good fortune and his father – George Romney – was a big businessman and governor. And yet Mitt shamelessly claims that “he alone built it”. These guys have no appreciation for how hard it is for people who are not born with a sliver spoon. I’m not complaining – I come from a very middle class Indian family and my parents sacrificed much to give me a good education. I will never forget my roots or where I come from. Shame that people like Aravind are mesmerized by massive wealth and success and even go to the extent of humiliating his own country in a public forum. Good on you miksworth for standing up!

  • niksworth

    Mitt Romney, really? Didn’t he get like clobbered in the second debate? I have seen my fair share of great speakers. Mitt Romney ain’t one of them. And all this HBS alum worship – you conveniently forget George W. Bush – What a great, articulate and inspiring speaker!

    On the subject of articulation of Indian politicians – Heard of a guy called Atal Bihari Vajpayee? Last Prime Minister of India, no less. He wrote his own poetry too. He would have made all the Romneys of the world eat dust.

  • RD

    Maybe Sandy is right about the majority having gone out already. I saw on one of the bschool discussion boards today that there were 480 spots for interviews in Boston and all but three were full.

  • owell

    I appreciate all of these posts about football and being a ‘guy,’…..BUT I AM A GIRL!! … I hesitated to write my post as is because it comes off as cocky but it’s really my personality. I have experienced many times in life so far not getting what I want (hard work and qualifications a given)…but I’ve come out better each time (other great cos, higher salary, more senior exposure). So, I truly believe tenacity and confidence can propel people forward even when Plan A, B, and C don’t work out. (ps…I went to a respected undergrad, have a high gmat, worked at other bluechip companies)

  • That corroborates Sandy’s numbers. Those are the only facts we have regarding any patterns.

  • Press this

    *then… Learn your language before you start speaking against a non native speaker…

  • jacksie

    Actually, the exact figures for 2011 round 1 interview invites per notification day can be found on Dee Leopold’s admissions blog.

    The pattern of interview invitation volume in Round 1 was:
    Week 1 (first wave of invitations): 750 invitations sentWeek 2 (second wave): 80 invitations sentWeek 3 (third/final wave): 25 invitations sent
    Obviously, we can only speculate what the breakdown is this year given invites are only being sent out on two dates as opposed to three…

  • haapi

    Sure Aravind— except you neglected to mention how much Romney lies. Or is that minor detail not considered in your hero worship? Incidentally, the 2nd debate was full of Romney hemming and mumbling.

  • Megxi

    @d1768e670e1be17e446d26367f7b382b:disqus Why you have to be so rude? Even someone knowledgeable and elderly as Sandy is patiently answering my question. I am trying hard to improve my English skills but it is not easy like for a native speaker.

  • Megxi

    Thanks Sandy!

  • InterviewMe

    With all the affirmative action coverage in the news lately, wondering if anyone has stats/thoughts on what percentage of minorities with par or better stats might get interviews? Or what percentage they make up of total app pool? Accepted minority stats are obviously published, but wondering what percentage of the overall minority app pool they typically constitute. They don’t necessarily ‘get accepted’ post-interview, but possibly have a higher chance of interview/waitlist??
    Asking as a minority Round 1 app to HBS/GSB. Round 2, TBD.

  • hsbguru

    Sorry if I gave that impression, you do not need to speak English flawlessly, you need to speak English well enough so that you can present a “case” when cold called during class and be clearly understood. That is what they look for in terms of English skills, can this person manage in “case method” instruction environment where class participation is 50 percent of grade.

  • Dreamer

    A school never makes a man. i am sure you will have been great even if you had gone to the worst college in the world. Might take more time but you would have gotten there.

  • Press 1 for English

    So we can understand what the #$$% you are saying in class when we discuss cases. If you are asking this question than most likely you did not get an invite to interview or you are not qualified to attend Harvard.

  • Megxi

    @hsbguru:disqus Seems like the interview is biased against Chinese applicants whose first language is not english. Why is speaking English flawlessly for 30 mins a requirement for admission?

  • Sim

    ha ha! Enjoyed reading your post. Actually I think Warren Moon is the greatest undrafted QB to ever play the game! He is IN the hall of fame!

  • Owell’s fan

    That’s why I have always advocated that B-schools have an NFL like draft. Guys like you are sure shot first rounders. Blue chip players. A Franchise QB. Key attributes include: humility and self-awareness. You’re like Troy Polamalu – that sleek powerful athlete who can put a big big hit. Did you know that future hall of fame QB Kurt Warner was un-drafted?

  • Come back to Earth

    Or Jeff Skilling or GW Bush (also HBS grads)….I think this fan-boy hero worship is a bit unhealthy. Wise up bro. Your post reminds me of how my niece gets at a Justin Bieber concert.

  • owell

    didnt get an interview yet. less disappointed than i thought i would be, considering im only applying to hbs and stanford. but whatevs, now im just going to focus on getting promoted to VP this year. VP at a top IB at 26…i think ill be ok in life w/o hbs and gsb. their loss b/c im sure i would have been one of those alums in headlines. but i loved my undergrad, will donate more there. can’t wait for my salary increase!

  • Aravind Prasad

    Guys..if you want to learn how to interview at HBS, just look at the brilliant manner in which Romney debates. He is brilliant. He pivots when he has to. He hits all his points. He does not even mumble a single word. That is the quintessential HBS candidate and he is probably the greatest alum out of HBS and almost every high achiever wants to get into private equity and do what he did. I’m an Indian and I have been so impressed with Mr. Romney. I just wish we had someone as smart and articulate as him. We have P Chidambaram who is a HBS grad (class of 68) in our political system, but he does not have that confidence and insatiable Yankee can-do spirit — he is just another corrupt Indian politician. All this has only made me feel that HBS is a truly awesome and special place. I don’t have the stats or the pedigree to get in, but I would like to wish everyone the best for the HBS interviews. Maybe someday you will also have an impact like Romney or John Paulson or Bloomberg (all great HBS alums).

  • It wasn’t an attack Sandy.

  • hsbguru

    I don’t think your cube mate getting an invite today impacts your odds any more than if he did not, altho it is an interesting theory. Not sure I have data on this, or more likely, not sure I have data organized that well.

  • HBS Wannabe

    Sandy, have you ever heard of cases where colleagues receive their invitations to interview on separate dates? Or is it more likely the AdCom member assigned to an industry/company would group their interview invites together (so if one hasn’t received it today, it’s curtains for him)?

  • hsbguru

    hmmmmm, this isn’t rocket science, and I don’t pretend it is, I was giving some wide percent (65 to 80) of an edcuated guess based on my own data, 3rd party blogs (gmatclub) and reliable anecdotes. If you want to speculate about theoretical ways that methodology could be imperfect, well, sure. but my guess is close enough for government work, as they say, and helpful, altho a bit painful, for those still waiting. Your theory, that kids selected for first wave tend to seek help more . . . .dunno, that is really speculative and remote, IMHO. Also, one real source of my guess is my own client slate of HBS applicants, a lot, and how many got invites in wave 1 vs. 2, which was tilted towards wave 1. There is no ‘help’ bias in that, they all tell me when they get invites.

  • JT

    hsbguru, your logic isn’t perfect either… MBA Over 30 is saying there could be an omitted variable bias to your sample. ie types of applications that are selected for the first wave of interviews tend to seek interview help more than the group of applicants selected for the second round.

  • hsbguru

    ??? I was just explaining why I believe that last year, 65-80 pct of invites went out during the first week vs. the 2nd week–the quality of my clients vs. X really does not matter, and actually my client base is pretty much x-section of applicant pool, except that I dissuade real hopeless cases fr. signing up.

  • Thanks Sandy. Wouldn’t you say, though, that your clients are disproportionately in the upper echelon of people who apply to HBS? Or do you feel that they are a fairly dead on cross section of the diversity of candidates who apply. I’d be interested in knowing whether the average person (by “average”, I simply mean, not in your client pool) has less of a chance or more of a chance (statistically; none of us REALLY know) than the mean of your clients.

  • hsbguru

    My own extensive data base of mock interview clients and requests, following blogs last year, debriefing clients and their friends.

  • Thanks SV. Nada for me today. It’ll be a tense 3 weeks for me as Wharton, Booth and HBS will all complete their interview invites during that time period.

  • SV

    @ MBA Over 20: How did you do, mate? Were you able to land an interview? I have enjoyed your contributions to P&Q. My best wishes to your continued success.

  • That’s some eye-opening data Sandy. What is the source of it?

  • Everyone who’s getting a 12/17 invite has. The invites went out 3 hours ago in one batch.

  • sr8lean

    Came out at 12:02 pm EST.

  • Andy

    Has anyone heard yet?

  • hsbguru

    To answer Question One about this process: Last year, for Round One, about 65-80 percent of invites went out on the first day, and the rest a week later. So, if they follow the same protocol, and no way of knowing if they will, if you did not get an invite today, your odds of getting one next week are, well, you can do the math . . .not good but not impossible.