How NOT To Blow Your HBS Interview


Yup. That is what HBS admissions interviewers sort of look like!

It’s high anxiety time again for Round 3 applicants to Harvard Business School. The school will begin to notify applicants today (April 17) whether they will be invited for an interview with a member of the HBS admissions team. The invitations and the dings from Harvard Business School are expected to go out at noon EST.

“All Round 3 candidates will be hearing something from us on Thursday,” says Harvard Business School Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Dee Leopold in a blog post. “Interviewees will receive detailed instructions via email. Interviews will be conducted here on campus on April 28 and May 2. Skype interviews will be available for international candidates and college students with academic conflicts.”

If you’re lucky enough to get an invite, what can you expect from the HBS interview questions? Poets&Quants again turned to Sandy Kreisberg, the founder of, to update our earlier stories that helped applicants prep for their big day of reckoning. Perhaps more than anyone outside Harvard Business School’s admissions office, Kreisberg really has this down pat. He did more than 120 mock interviews with first and second round and 2+2 summer candidates, both using the new HBS one-question, no-limit format application. Last year, Kreisberg did over 100 mock interviews out of the total of the roughly 1,800 that Harvard conducts in a typical year.

“That is an impressive sample base, if I must say so myself,” quips Kreisberg. “Colossal decisions are made about national security, national economic policy and your own personal health based on sample sizes way less statistically reliable than that.”

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of

Our interview:

Sandy, is there anything different in interviewing Round 3 at HBS versus Round 1 or 2?

Not really, but they sometimes ask, “How come you are applying Round 3?” That is actually hard to answer, but a good way to start, as any seasoned bureaucrat will tell you, is “There are several reasons . . . ” That gives them comfort that you are a smooth liar, well able to navigate the tough questions you will face when,  as a future CEO, your company spills oil off Martha’s Vineyard or negligently poisons crayons given to toddlers in developing countries.

In this case, which is less challenging than the above, a real workable answer is, “I was debating between this year and next year, and X, Y and Z, which happened near the end of Round 2,  pushed me to Round 3.”

You can actually say the above,  INCLUDING articulating  “X, Y and Z” as letters, they are not really listening, they just want to see if you can format a response correctly.  I am almost being serious.

If you are an international student, it will help to mention that you have alredy made visa and travel arrangements for coming to U.S. in September, or note that you do not anticipate problems.  Also, if it comes up, and it mostly DOES NOT, be prepared to say that you are aware that Round 3 admits often have a harder time finding living quarters and you got that covered.  (Ahem, You will be living with your billionaire 3rd-cousin in a penthouse overlooking the Boston Garden and taking Uber to school every day, a great company by the way, and show them your Uber app on your cellphone.  Just Kidding).

Sandy, as you know, this year’s HBS application was different again. It is shorter and contains only hat one mystifying essay, which gives applicants unlimited words to talk about anything they think is not captured in the normal application. Does that impact the HBS interview?

Based on the mock interviews I have done with applicants who used this format, my answer is pretty simple. 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 one option essay on the application is a pretty significant change. Why wouldn’t the school change its approach on the interviews?

Maybe they are just comfortable with these types of questions, versus the “behavioral” questions now 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, by that I mean 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!”

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