When Nabil Mohamed showed up for his admissions interview at the Harvard Business School last year, he was a bundle of nerves. He had arrived on campus the day before after a 20-hour flight from Cairo.
“My heart was beating beyond my throat and into my tongue,” recalls Mohamed, who was then working for Vodaphone Egypt. He thought it important to fly into campus to demonstrate his keen interest in going to the school.
At the interview, he sat opposite two HBS admission officials, one there to ask questions and the other to scribble notes. In little more than 60 seconds, says Mohamed, his jitters were gone. A steady calm had replaced all the anxiety that he had brought into the interview room.
A GOOD IMPRESSION OVERALL BUT ONE ANXIOUS CONCERN
“In one or two of my answers, I circled around the point before getting to it,” concedes Mohamed. “They probed very lightly, asking what did I mean by my answer. It is not one of those interviews that tests your mental toughness. It’s a process of getting to know you in a professional and personal manner. I thought it flowed.”
When he left 30 minutes later, he felt as if he had made a good impression but there was one nagging concern that made him anxious. He didn’t know the answer to a follow-up question that was completely unexpected. After telling his interviewers that he was interested in starting a business in Cairo that would recycle styrofoam, he was asked which company made the product.
Mohamed didn’t have a clue. “I didn’t feel too good about not knowing the answer,” he says. A quick search on Google led him to discover that Dow Chemical is the largest producer of styrofoam in the world. He used that information to frame his post-interview reflection email to HBS, a part of the application process required within 24 hours of his meeting with admissions.
THE NEWLY UPDATED INTERVIEW GUIDE IS NOW AVAILABLE
What he wrote obviously did the trick. Mohamed got into HBS and is about to start his second year of the MBA program as editor-in-chief of The Harbus, the student newspaper. Now he is overseeing the publication of the “Unofficial Harvard Business School Admissions & Interview Guide” for applicants. The newly revised guidebook, with 125 questions along with advice on how to approach each answer, was made available last night (July 8) for $65. (The money made from the guide goes to support the foundation that publishes The Harbus newspaper. You can buy it here.).
The newest edition of the guide has been revised and updated—and at 80 pages long (up from 68 pages last year and just 40 pages the year before) is the largest ever published by The Harbus. All of the questions—from the most obvious like “Why do you want an MBA?” to the rather unpredictable “What will you do if you don’t get into HBS?”—come from students who successfully navigated the HBS admissions process. (See The Ten Toughest Questions HBS Asks Applicants And How To Answer Them).
Besides the questions and commentary, there’s also advice on etiquette and timing. The week before an interview, advises the guide, get “your suit dry-cleaned (and try it on if you haven’t had to wear it in awhile), your shoes polished and your hair cut (if you haven’t already done so!), make any last-minute travel arrangements, and tie up any loose ends at work.” As for timing, the guide counsels newbie applicants to give themselves at least two months to study for the GMAT and three months to complete the HBS application alone. “When current students reflect on the application process, the most common thing we hear is ‘I didn’t leave myself enough time,'” according to the guide. “This should reassure you that it is possible to be accepted even while feeling rushed, but it’s a lot more pleasant if you can space it out. “