Stanford GSB | Mr. Latino Healthcare
GRE 310, GPA 3.4
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Military MedTech
GRE 310, GPA 3.48
Wharton | Mr. Aspiring Leader
GMAT 750, GPA 3.38
Cornell Johnson | Mr. Advisory Consultant
GRE 330, GPA 2.25
Kellogg | Mr. Equity To IB
GMAT 730, GPA 3.6
INSEAD | Mr. Marketing Master
GRE 316, GPA 3.8
Darden | Ms. Marketing Analyst
GMAT 710, GPA 3.75
Darden | Mr. Corporate Dev
GMAT Waived, GPA 3.8
Cornell Johnson | Mr. SAP SD Analyst
GMAT 660, GPA 3.60
Kellogg | Ms. Public School Teacher
GRE 325, GPA 3.93
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Army Officer
GRE 325, GPA 3.9
INSEAD | Mr. Future In FANG
GMAT 650, GPA 3.5
Harvard | Mr. Hedge Fund
GMAT 740, GPA 3.8
Stanford GSB | Mr. Deferred MBA
GMAT 760, GPA 3.82
Stanford GSB | Mr. Robotics
GMAT 730, GPA 2.9
Stanford GSB | Ms. Artistic Engineer
GMAT 730, GPA 9.49/10
Yale | Mr. Army Pilot
GMAT 650, GPA 2.90
Kellogg | Mr. Double Whammy
GMAT 730, GPA 7.1/10
INSEAD | Mr. Tesla Manager
GMAT 720, GPA 3.7
Darden | Mr. Tech To MBB
GMAT 710, GPA 2.4
INSEAD | Ms. Investment Officer
GMAT Not taken, GPA 16/20 (French scale)
McCombs School of Business | Mr. Startup Of You
GMAT 770, GPA 2.4
Kellogg | Mr. Hopeful Admit
GMAT Waived, GPA 4.0
UCLA Anderson | Mr. International PM
GMAT 730, GPA 2.3
Harvard | Mr. Policy Development
GMAT 740, GPA Top 30%
Ross | Mr. Brazilian Sales Guy
GRE 326, GPA 77/100 (USA Avg. 3.0)
INSEAD | Mr. INSEAD Hopeful
GMAT -, GPA 2.9

Toughest Questions HBS Asks Applicants

In a typical year, slightly more than 2,000 highly driven people are interviewed for admission to the prestigious MBA program at Harvard Business School. They’re subjected to a 30-minute grilling by an admissions official to see if they are Harvard material.

Other than some Q&As that are held via Skype or a few in some far-flung cities, the vast majority of the interviews are on the Harvard Business School campus. In earlier years, they were held in small rooms in Dillon House, where the admissions staff makes its home. These days the interviews are scheduled in the project rooms on the second floor of Spangler Hall.

HBS admission interviews are now held in the project rooms on the second floor of Spangler Hall

HBS admission interviews are now held in the project rooms on the second floor of Spangler Hall

The questions in these sessions usually come fast and furious, with little comment from the person asking them. It’s as if the admissions officer doesn’t want to waste any of the 30 minutes with an applicant and wants to get in as many questions as possible.

The queries cover everything from an MBA candidate’s undergraduate experience to an applicant’s leadership ability. Many of them are routine: Why do you want an MBA degree? Why do you want to come to Harvard to get it? Walk me through your resume? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How did you choose your undergraduate major and why?

Almost always, however, there are a few unpredictable zingers, the kinds of questions that can take a person by surprise. These are questions that can easily throw an applicant completely off his or her game. They are designed to narrow down the more than 2,000 interviewees, chosen from 9,315 overall applicants, to about 1,100 who were accepted for one of the 941 seats in Harvard’s Class of 2015.

What are the ten most unpredictable questions?

The following queries, along with advice on how to approach the answers, are from current HBS students who have successfully gained admission into the school. They’re among 96 questions gathered by the staff of The Harbus, the school’s MBA student newspaper, for its recently updated “Unofficial Harvard Business School Interview Guide.” The Winter 2014 edition includes brand new questions that Class of 2016 applicants received in Round 1.

The most intriguing questions below are reprinted with permission from The Harbus.

Explain to me something you’re working on as if I were an eight-year-old?

This question gauges your ability to distill the essence of your job into very simply language. Think of how you would explain accretion/dilution to your grandmother at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Take the question quite literally, but don’t talk down to the interviewer. The ability to communicate complex information to laymen who may not share your grasp of the subject material happens to be a very important business skill. Clever metaphors can add color or flair (as in Sherman McCoy’s explanation to his daughter of what selling bonds entails in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities).

Describe something that you should start doing, do more of, and do less of?

This question is driving at your ability to step outside of yourself and perform an honest appraisal. Can you see and act on your areas for improvement? Self-awareness and the ability to make sound judgments are important here. HBS is looking for someone who knows they don’t have it all figured out yet and is reflective about what they can strive towards.

What’s the one thing you’ll never be as good at as others?

If you respond ‘nothing’ to this, it indicates a lack of self-awareness. If your response is ‘modesty,’ you’d better hope your interviewer has a good sense of humor. There are so many honest, personalized answers to this question that it should not be difficult to come up with an example. Be honest: don’t try to hedge it or spin it. Just own it.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.