For two full weeks before his MBA admissions interview at Harvard Business School, Alex Kleiner would mull over a list of potential questions every night before going to bed. He drove up to Boston on a Sunday from his parents home in Connecticut the night before his scheduled session with an HBS admissions official.
On the Monday morning just after the Thanksgiving Day holiday, Kleiner slipped on a dark navy suit, a blue shirt, conservative tie and black shoes. “Nothing too flashy,” he recalls. And then he reported to a small room at Dillon House where two women sat opposite him. One asked the questions, and one feverishly scribbled notes.
THE QUESTION THAT CAUGHT HIM OFF GUARD
Over the next 30 minutes, he received only one question for which he wasn’t completely ready for: “What was your proudest moment in college?”
“It caught me off guard because all the questions I had received until then I had prepared for,” recalls Kleiner. (See The Ten Most Unpredictable Questions HBS Asks In An Admissions Interview).
After all, it had been nearly four years since Kleiner graduated from Yale University with his undergraduate degree in history. Since then, he had worked for two years as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch in New York and for two more years in private equity at Vector Capital in San Francisco.
‘THE INTERVIEW WENT BY IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE’
He managed to tell the HBS admissions staffers how, as president and captain of the university’s club ice hockey team, he helped to organize a match against Johns Hopkins University to commemorate the first collegiate ice hockey game ever played.
“It went by in the blink of an eye,” recalls Kleiner. “I walked out thinking it had only begun a couple of seconds earlier. But I felt I had done a good job getting my points across. It was actually pretty comforting. Both people were kind and receptive and engaged in our conversation. The second person didn’t speak but she would nod and make facial expressions to let me know she was listening to my answers.”
Soon enough, Kleiner would be offered a seat in Harvard’s Class of 2014. Now, as editor-in-chief of The Harbus, the MBA student newspaper, the 28-year-old has found himself leading a team of students who have just published the latest “Unofficial Harvard Business School Interview Guide.”
THE INTERVIEW GUIDE IS THE LARGEST AND MOST EXPANSIVE EVER PUBLISHED
The newest edition of the guide has been substantively revised and updated—and at 68 pages long (up from just 40 pages last year) is the largest ever published by The Harbus. The question that surprised Kleiner—along with advice on how to approach an answer—is among 96 questions revealed in the guide (see The Ten Most Unpredictable Questions HBS Asks Applicants During Interviews). All of those questions come from current students who successfully navigated the HBS admissions process. “We try in our analysis to give insight to what the admissions committee is after for each question,” adds Kleiner.
With Kleiner and co-editor Daniel Selikowitz leading the effort, some ten students worked to put the guide together. Each Harbus staffer is given a section to work on. They’re asked to email their 90 or so section mates to gain access to more questions and advice. “We get a wide array of input,” says Kleiner. “The feedback is reflective of an entire class profile, not just a few students.”
In addition to the questions, which range from the most obvious (Why do you want an MBA?) to the highly unpredictable (Explain something to me as if I were an eight-year-old), the $65 guide contains a new section offering the best general admissions advice from successful HBS applicants. (The money made from the guide goes to support the foundation that publishes The Harbus newspaper). Kleiner and his MBA colleagues, for example, tossed in a section on timing, urging applicants to give themselves at least two months to study for the GMAT and three months to complete the HBS application alone.