When it comes to admissions at the Harvard Business School, HBSGuru.com founder Sandy Kreisberg is probably the most astute reader of tea leaves. He scrutinizes every word that comes out of the school’s admissions office and especially when those words come from Dee Leopold, managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid.
Leopold’s interview with Poets&Quants, published yesterday (June 17), is no exception. Kreisberg immediately read and digested her comments and was eager to weigh in on their meaning and significance. Here’s our interview with him about our interview with Harvard’s Dee Leopold (including the photo left he very much dislikes).
P&Q: Okay Sandy, let’s cut to the chase. You are all agog about our interview with Dee Leopold. What were the biggest takeaways in your not-so-humble opinion?
Kreisberg: Stop me, where to begin?
1. Omitting the fact that essays create more harm than do you any good.
2. Not dealing with the invisible secret reasons why most people flunk interviews
3. Hinting that HBS welcomes entrepreneurs
4. Not clarifying much about 2+2.
5. And she actually said, IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S US–as the reason why many people get dinged after the interview. Do you believe that? It’s not you?? It’s us. That is what Karen Goldberg said when she broke up with me in 9th grade.
P&Q: OK, let’s deal with those and more, one at a time, but do you want to say something nice first?
Kreisberg: Yes, I love her!!! Just because, well, I do and also because she is so out there and she channels so many different primary processes–half-truths, cryptic truths, delusions and allusions and HBS promo. It’s jazz and rap and the Andrew Sisters all in one.
P&Q: You’re speaking to me, Sandy. I’m musically eclectic. OK, from the top, is there a big misconception in that interview, in your opinion?
Kreisberg: Her insistence that the process is an attempt to create a “salad” (her word) when in truth the process is an attempt to weed out less robust tomatoes. The process is constrained, of course, by the need to fill buckets, in terms of industry, gender, internationals, etc. But we all know that. What we want to hear is how selections are made within those buckets. But she never gets granular about that. It is all about tossing a salad.
P&G: And how are they?
Kreisberg: For the leading 2,700 people of the 9,500 applicants, that would include all 1,800 kids who were interviewed and the next 900 contenders based on resume, stats and recommendations. Here is what happens:
About 900 of 2,700 ding themselves with some combination of lower prestige facts (as judged by HBS) combined with some small weird notes or odd app execution, including often mildly damaging essays. That gets the 2,700 down to 1,800 (all of whom are interviewed). But the hard truth is that essays at HBS can (and often do) do you more harm than good. The first rule for writing a good HBS essay is, DO NO HARM. But you would never learn that from Dee’s interview. She does not address how the admissible pack gets reduced to the interviewed pack at all.
P&Q: What does that mean?
Kreisberg: A little known fact about the HBS essay, and certainly not revealed amid all of Dee’s circular noodling about it (“When I think about what that might feel like from a candidate’s standpoint I imagine there is this, ‘What should I write. What do they want to hear?’ That is obviously not the question I want them to ask. It is what do I want to say versus what do they want to hear. . . .”) is that many essays screw you.