The Un-Interview: Harvard’s Dee Leopold With Sandy Kreisberg

Harvard Business School's Baker Library at night

Harvard Business School’s Baker Library at night

Sandy: Gee, all the schools just happened to converge on these two questions, in their own way. Don’t get me wrong, it makes life easier for applicants and recommendation writers? Any chance there could be a similar single essay prompt any time soon? With of course, some other essay about why this school, blah, blah?

Dee: The reason I would find that interesting is that I’d be amused to see if consultants like yourself would be advising different responses for different schools. Thus, defeating the optics of synergy, no?  

Sandy: I would certainly advise different answers for HBS and Stanford, especially if the question were along the lines of “What matters most to you and why?” For Stanford, I would advise what I currently do, find five to ten revealing but no-brag moments and string them together and explore them under some general rubric of personal growth and development–with a do-gooder back beat. That might work at HBS too, but I might tilt those moments, with some understatement, to the usual HBS checklist of working with different people, leadership, globalization, innovation, teamwork, and diversity.

Sandy: How did the unlimited word limit idea come about for the essays over the past three years.

Dee: Well, I was roundly bashed by my team for being so adamant about removing word limits. Every year we’d have this debate. I won that round but there are lots of times that I don’t.


Sandy: Well, having no word limits is appreciated by applicants I believe,

but don’t over 90 percent of essays fall into a range of 600 to 1200 words?


Dee: I don’t count.

Sandy: If I could ask another question that comes up a good deal, what is the purpose and use of the post-interview 24-hour reflection?  Is that for internal use or does it impact admissions?


Dee: Haven’t you heard me say enough that it’s a gift to every interviewee to be able to have the last word?  

Sandy: Can I be honest? I talk to many applicants who have received that gift. They have just finished a very trying interview process and they often have to rush back to work, in distant places. It does not seem like a gift to them.

And this may be pushing my luck a bit here, but saying that the post-interview reflection gives applicants  “the last word,” well isn’t the last word in this process either “Admit” or “Deny.”

Dee: An admit always has the last word: Deciding whether or not to come to HBS.   

Sandy: Touché. But  . . .

Dee: And, I hope that the care and thought we put into designing an admissions process leaves them with a positive impression of HBS.

Also, I read them all. I’ve seen opinions on class visits, travel-to-interview dramas, wish-I-had-been-asked-this reflections and a couple of very funny stories. It’s my opportunity to “meet” all the interviewees.

Sandy: If we could conclude with some focus on this year’s “Introduce Yourself” essay. What types of information do you hope to get from this essay that you have not gotten from essays in the past?


Dee: Hopefully a more direct channeling of a candidate’s “voice” since the prompt is to literally introduce yourself—something we tend to think of as being spoken as opposed to being written.

I think that making the link between this essay and the spoken word is helpful.   We will never be able to interview 10,000 candidates, but I think this essay prompt moves at least a step toward “meeting” them.

Sandy: I get that but what was the purpose of sending applicants to your case method video as part of answering the essay? It seems like apples and videos of apples?

Dee: If we could require one more element to the application, it might be confirmation that candidates have viewed this Inside the Case Method video.      I worry that there may be candidates who are attracted to HBS but haven’t spent much time thinking about our learning model. The case method is very different from a traditional academic experience. No one sits and listens passively to a lecture. This video offers a glimpse into an actual case method class, and I love hearing the faculty and students share their perspectives.

Sandy: Thanks Dee. I hope we keep up this back-and-forth and that it has been valuable to our readers.


The World’s Most Powerful MBA Gatekeeper: Harvard’s Dee Leopold

A Revealing Interview With Harvard Business School’s Dee Leopold


The Rebel Savant Of MBA Admissions Consulting

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.