How NOT To Blow Your HBS Interview

Dillon House is where Harvard Business School makes all of its admission decisions.

Dillon House is where Harvard Business School makes all of its admission decisions.

Roughly 800 round one applicants to Harvard Business School will discover by noon today (Oct. 9) whether they have been invited to an admissions interview by the school. Another 150 round one candidates will get invites a week later, according to Dee Leopold, managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at HBS.

“Please don’t speculate about the difference between receiving the interview invitation onOctober 8 vs. the 15th,” Leopold wrote in a blog post. “It’s not about you. It’s about us and how we set internal deadlines for applications to be read.”

She noted that on Oct. 15th, fewer than 200 applicants also will be pushed into consideration for round 2. The remaining candidates–several thousands–will be released and officially dinged. Leopold said none of the early invites tomorrow will go to 2+2 applicants who applied direct from their undergraduate schools to HBS. The 2+2 candidates will be notified in the Oct. 15th wave.

So with HBS interviews right around the corner, we thought it would be a good time to again check in with Sandy Kreisberg, aka founder and a prominent reader of tea leaves at Harvard Business School, and ask him what candidates can expect when they sit face-to-face with an admissions staffer for their interview. After all, he prepped 130 applicants for their HBS interviews in the last admissions cycle (for pricing and process, go here). His advice is pretty sound for just about any top business school, even though most of his comments are specific to HBS.

Sandy, as someone who did mock interviews with 130 Harvard Business School applicants out of the 1,900 or so interviewed last year, is anything new. 

Not in the basics.  The purpose of the HBS interview is still to filter out people–and not to select people.

I bet you Dee wouldn’t agree with you there. How do you know that? 

I talk to lots of people who have been interviewed and then get official feedback from HBS, which is something they offer in various formats for applicants who have been dinged after interview (but not to applicants who have not been interviewed).  By far, the biggest reason given for the ding is an interview screw up.  Here is a typical example, Dee said  that I should try to “interview in more real-time, not try and come across too polished or canned…. Here’s a quote she read me from my interview report,  ‘seemed like he was worried about getting all of his points across in 30 minutes’”.

So what is the take away from that? 

The biggest mistake people make in preparing for the HBS interview is worrying about trick questions. In fact, the Poets&Quants’ story The Most Unpredictable Questions HBS Asks is something of a disservice because those “oddball” questions get people preparing clever answers and searching for more oddball questions.

Hey, I love that story and those questions are real. So which oddball questions are you talking about?

Here are some of them:

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

What do you want to be remembered as?

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

How do you make big decisions?

How would your parents describe you when you were twelve?

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

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

And now, John, by reprinting them we have put the elephant in the room and people reading this will do just that. Think about oddball questions and clever answers.  That was cruel fun, but my advice to applicants facing interviews is NOT to do that.

Hell, those are great questions and great conversations starters at a party. So anyway what people should do? 

They should have comfortable answers to basic questions like, “Walk me through your resume?”

“What is it like working at your job?”

“Why did you go to college X?”

“What are your goals?”

“Why do you want an MBA?”

“Why HBS?”

Those are not sexy questions but they come up with great frequency and they often come up early, when the interviewer is still judging you. The oddball questions often come up in the second half of the 30-minute interivew and by that time, in the interviewer’s mind, you are either OK or not. Although you can certainly shoot yourself in the foot in the last 15 minutes, you cannot save yourself.

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