HBS Students Dish On The Interview

If you’re a male applicant to the Harvard Business School and about to be interviewed by admissions, you should wear a well-fitting black, grey or navy blue suit with a non-distracting shirt and tie. Deodorant is a must but cologne is a no-no.

If you’re a woman, the length of your skirt should be at least at the knee. Your suit color and style should be simple and classic, with closed toed pumps with a heel height of between one and three inches. The flashy baubles are best left at home along with any strong fragrance.

You should make sure you’ve eaten a “substantial breakfast” and arrive at Dillon House, where the admissions staff is located on campus, at least 20 minutes early.


That’s the advice from the just-published “Unofficial Harvard Business School Interview Guide,” put together annually by the staff of The Harbus, the school’s MBA student newspaper. The 43-page guide is based on “first-hand insight, advice and analysis” from current HBS students as well as “real interview questions from real interviews of real students,” according to Editors Bart Clareman and Kate Lewis as well as Publisher Alex Pak.

“We worked hard to get the first-hand advice not only from past interviewees but from students who successfully navigated in the process and enrolled at HBS,” says Co-Editor Clareman.  ”Applicants know that HBS puts a lot of importance on the interview, and we believe this source is the most accurate and the most helpful for prospective students who want to know what to expect on the big day.”

The editors organize the questions they received from a survey of the first-year class upon their arrival on campus into six main categories: experience, leadership, career, current events, curriculum, and situational.  The experience, leadership, and career buckets prompt interviewees to tell “their story” by reflecting on past challenges and achievements. The questions on current global events or the HBS curriculum allow admissions to assess an applicant’s perspective. The situational bucket helps candidates prepare for the occasional “off-the-wall” ask that requires on-the-spot resourcefulness.


In any case, this year’s edition of the Harbus guide includes 20 pages of interview questions, 79 questions in all, each with a couple of paragraphs of advice analysis. There’s a step-by-step walkthrough to help applicants prep for the interview, along with suggested weekday and weekend add-ons for your trip to Harvard, and advice on how to compose a follow-up thank you note (crafting a handwritten note, the students say, “can help you stand out in the eyes of the interviewer.”

Given some of the oddball questions you might get, the guide is definitely worth the $50—which goes to support the non-profit student newspaper. It can be downloaded as a PDF file here. At the very least, it will give you the basics, however obvious, and prepare you for the off-the-wall question that may very well come your way. And while the questions are from actual Harvard admission interviews, they’re pretty much what you could expect at any top business school. So even if you’re bound for Stanford, Wharton, Chicago or Kellogg, you’ll find plenty of value in Harvard’s interview guide.

Examples of some of those curve ball questions:

  • Standard Oil

    Just bought one last night

  • Nick

    Anyone else looking at buying this guide?

  • hsbguru


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    Sandy was great help in prepping me for my interview at HBS. I decided to use Sandy’s services after a ding (w/ interview) from Sloan … and knew that I didn’t want to make the same mistakes. Sandy and I discussed what I did wrong in my Sloan interview, and then he coached me through common questions in the HBS interview.

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    Sandy pretty much tore me a new ***hole during the first ten minutes of our mock interview. And not just on the content, but on the delivery. Initially, I’d ramble with my answers. But Sandy doesn’t mess around. “Skip anything extraneous to the answer. Just answer
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    I’m the gal from [ASIA] who rambled a lot during our mock interview ;-p
    I wanted to share this great news with you. As you might have already assumed from the title, yes, I got in!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was two in the morning here . . .and I was up till then, waiting for the result nervously. And…you can imagine my joy and excitement to get the admission note!

    Thank you so much for your support during the interview preparation. You did help me a lot and gave me a lot of great tips even after we finished our mock interview. Now I can really meet you in Boston ‘-p


    $300 and 90 minutes of interview prep with Sandy made the difference between an acceptance letter and a ding at HBS. Prospective applicants will not find a consultant with more insight into the admissions process, nor one with the interview coaching skills that Sandy commands. (I commented during my session that he should be a press secretary; turns out he was the Director of Communications at Sloan.) Admissions interviews only vaguely resemble typical job interviews, and Sandy prepped me for questions that I received but would have never considered pertinent. Prior to my session with Sandy, I had read stacks of MBA admissions books and read interview guides. Good enough? Hardly. Don’t try to skimp or take chances on some Johnny-come-lately imitator.


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    With tonnes of help from three of my best friends who are at HBS already, I felt that I had received all the prep I needed in order to ace my application and interview. But to be on the “safe side”, I decided $300 was a small price to pay for fresh eyes and a fresh grilling – and I’m glad I did. You helped me frame my answers in ways that impressed even me! And your help and mock questions made me super relaxed during my interview – I didn’t get a single question I was not prepared for!

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    As predicted in your email below, I have been admitted to HBS!!

    Thank you very much for your help. The advice you provided definitely gave me the edge I needed to be more confident and sharp during the interview.

    I will be recommending your service to a lot of my friends!

    [the two emails below are typical post-interview back-and-forth between me and the above candiddate]

    From: Sanford Kreisberg [ mailto:hbsguru@gmail.com]

    Subject: Re: HBS Interview Debrief
    haha, sounds real good, dude, you cert passed the interview and may have added some cred to your story.
    Sounds good in the most impt ways–sure, you can always replay the thing 20 times, and come up w. better answers but that is not what it is about–it is about not screwing up and you did not.
    this was good.

    At 09:45 PM 11/19/2009, you wrote:
    I think I did well. I didn’t stumble on anything and got my main points across. She was able to ask me all the questions she had prepared without rushing, which is always a good thing.
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    INT: “Is there anything else you wish I would’ve asked?”.
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    Thank you for your help with interview prep. Your feedback and prep strategies were incredible and it was great chatting with you as well.
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    If you are interviewing with HBS, you should definitely consider getting Sandy to coach you.

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    I felt that I received the best interview preparation from Sandy, and I highly recommend him.

    HBS class of 2012″