Toughest Questions HBS Asks Applicants

What are the two best pieces of advice you have been given, and why?

The interviewer wants to see how other people have impacted you and why they’ve made that impact. You’d be wise to take something from your two different lives – business life and personal life, or business life and academic life, or leadership and extracurricular. It would be narrow-minded just to focus on professional advice. Instead, focus on growth, regardless of where it may come. How have you used that advice? What’s the impact? Remember that this is also about listening and an ability to learn.

What do you want to be remembered as?

This question boils down to what kind of legacy you want to leave on this world. Don’t get trapped into saying something you think your interviewer wants to hear. Be honest, genuine, and passionate about what you truly believe. Your interviewer isn’t there to judge your career goals, aspirations, criteria for success, etc. Only you can do that. But, you need to show that you can communicate these goals clearly.

What is your definition of a leader? How do you fit that definition?

While there are many different ways to define leadership, the purpose here is to test your ability to first articulate some of the more important dimensions, and then draw appropriate connections between your definition and your own characteristics and actions. In other words, and importantly, do you see yourself as a leader? If not, it may be difficult for others to see you as such. It’s no surprise that ‘leader’ is peppered throughout the HBS website and is included in the HBS mission statement.

How do you make big decisions?

This question addresses two unknowns for the interviewer. First, how do you think? And second, do you exercise rigor and structure in the process? This is another perfect question for examples. Tell a story, but make sure the actual decision has a logical, step-by-step process behind it. Show your personality in the answer, too. If you are the write-the-pros-and-cons into a spreadsheet type, show that. If you reach out to your family or loved ones, it’s perfectly reasonable to bring those elements of your style into the fold. Finally, in addition to the analytical stage of your decisionmaking, don’t be afraid to talk about your gut. Most big decisions are ones that reasonable people will disagree on; what’s left is your intuition, instinct, and heart – don’t be afraid to talk about this.

How would your parents describe you when you were twelve?

A variation on the traditional ‘how would your friends describe you?’ question, this is really about your childhood and less about maintaining some impeccable façade in the eyes of the interviewer.

A good answer to this question demonstrates self-awareness and constructive reflection. While you could talk briefly about how your parents might say that you’ve changed since you were twelve, the focus of your answer should be on the age put forth in the question. It’s worth mentioning that the best answers to this type of self-reflective question will acknowledge at least one deficiency and the resulting opportunity to improve, and how it may have contributed to your success in adolescence and adulthood. Nobody is perfect, and certainly not at the precocious age of twelve.

What is one thing I’d never have guessed about you, even after reading your application?

Here is an opportunity to go beyond your achievements – or at least your business-related achievements – and tell your interviewers about something that really makes you tick. Try to think of some missing piece of you that, for whatever reason, you didn’t write about in your application. Think about what would make you an interesting or valuable sectionmate to have at HBS. If you can relate your answer back to your application, that’s great, but don’t worry if you have a separate interest, an unusual hobby, an exciting travel story, a peculiar talent, or a childhood accomplishment that’s not connected to your resume. Do not use an example from your application materials! Show that you’re a well-rounded human being who does things in your spare time besides spreadsheets.

What is the one thing you would like me to remember about you?

A lot of times, this question will even be phrased as ‘You only have 30 seconds left. Is there anything else we should know about you?’ Convey excitement about HBS. At the end of your interview, you should reaffirm that you really want to be here without a doubt. Think of this as your tagline. Sum up who you are and why you should be in the next HBS class.


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