How NOT To Blow Your HBS Interview

Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School sent good news yesterday (Oct. 6) to as many as 750 round one applicants who were invited to interview with a member of the school’s admissions staff. That first wave of invites for interviews that will be conducted Oct. 26 and Nov. 20 will be followed by additional, smaller waves on Oct. 8th and Oct. 14th.

The latter date also will be the bad news day when HBS issues its first dings of the 2015-2016 admissions season. All first round applicants who have gotten rejections from the school will be notified on that single day next Wednesday. The school said that all undergraduate candidates for its 2+2 program also will be notified of either an interview invitation or a rejection on Oct. 14th.


Poets&Quants’ again turned to prominent MBA admissions consultant Sandy Kreisberg, founder of, for some timely advice and counsel for those lucky enough to interview. Kreisberg did 60 mock interviews with round one HBS candidates so he also has both the background and the experience to know what to expect, what works and what doesn’t. He also shared with us reports filed back to him from clients who were interviewed during round one.

Sandy, you did 60 mock interviews for HBS round one this fall, what is new?

Not much in terms of what really counts. The Golden Rules remain the same.

1. The interview is meant to weed people out, not select people (see story below).

2. The interview is mostly resume based, and focused on your ability to walk through your resume, introduce yourself, and explain key transitions, why you went to School X, why you took Job 1, what you learned there, what your accomplishments were, what you would do differently, why you took Job 2, etc. For each school and job on your resume be prepared to explain what you did, what you learned, what you are proud of, what you would do differently, etc. That is the bulk, and the important bulk of the HBS interview. Although sure, there are millions of variants.

3. Smart people, who can in fact speak English, screw up the HBS interview for two reasons: They talk too much and get lost, and lose track of where they are. Or they try to give exceptional, show-off answers instead of down-to-earth obvious answers.

Can you provide some color from applicants who interviewed in Round 1.

Sure, here are some interview report excerpts written by Round One applicants right after they were interviewed.
These are typical and strongly indicate that in terms of HBS interview process and and concerns, nothing much is “new” from what we have been reporting on for the last several years. To wit, they are looking for your ability to explain things you should be able to explain. They are not looking to trip you up, or ‘pressure test you,’ or
make you cry or laugh. Here’s what my clients told me.


“Just had my HBS interview in CITY with Adcom Lady 1 asking questions and Adcom Lady 2 (observing). Lady 1 had read my whole application but Lady 2 only my resume. The interview was very conversational and relaxed; we also seemed to cover a lot of different questions – either I was concisee in my answers or I just talked too quickly, probably both. Hopefully it went well but difficult to tell. Thanks very much for your help – a lot of the questions asked were covered in our mock interview.”


“I think it went well; was very conversational. Had common ground with both the interviewer and observer which made for some small talk throughout the interview. Two female interviewers on campus. Observer actually asked probably 3 or 4 questions which I wasn’t expecting. Also surprised there were probably 15 or so other people interviewing at the same time. Small talk (I was nervous but got completely passed it after the first question.
Did you go to class?
Have you been here before?
Did you get to do the activities?
Where do you want to start today?”


“Thank you for the mock interview. They touched on most of the questions that we talked about. The interviewer was Adcom Lady 1. There was no observer. She was nice. Right after the interview, I thought it was ON FIRE. I was articulate, energetic, and super confident. Then I started to think back and felt stupid at some points. [Ed note: this dude got in.]
[Here are some questions];

Tell me why and how you got into your university
1st internship: What is the takeaway?
2nd internship: What is the takeaway?
1st internship: What is the negative feedback, constructive criticism?
You said you wanted to do public policy in the future. Why not a joint degree?
What is the thing that you hope is true and not true at HBS?”

  • hbsguru

    Time for HBS prep: if you knew what to do, easily could be done in one day.
    Be able to walk thru resume, introduce yourself to the observer, have some jive about why HBS and what you hope to exp. and learn, be able to explain what you did at each job on resume, why you took job, why left, what was best accomplishment. Lots of HBS questions are here on PQ, see this

  • al

    Sandy- What do you recommend as an adequate time to prepare for HBS interview. Do you think there is danger of over preparing and starting to sound “canned”.

    Also, for essay’s you recommended that it is risky to be funny. What about interviews? Okay to crack some jokes or better to avoid?

    Finally, any insight to the Booth interview. is that one that you view as important or more Stanfordy in weight?

  • hbsguru

    Don’t know, but my guess is that Public Service was in the 15+ year future so B school skills more impt. in run up to that,
    Another good answer would be –I plan to spend lots of elective time 2nd year at Kennedy School (public policy) and hope to create a DIY dual degree. 🙂

  • hbsguru

    50 percent seems mostly correct, could be closer to 60 percent, similar to HBS. At Stanford, which DID NOT HAVE ANY admission INTERVIEWS until relatively recently, the interview is with a random alum, who is mostly untrained and unlike HBS, operates mostly in a vacuum. At HBS interviewers are limited to 20-25 people of adcom who talk to each other, sit in on other people’s interviews as observers, and engage in group discussions.
    At Stanford, interviews go willy-nilly where they may, beyond 3 or 4 generic questions sent by adcom [those change a bit every year] and rest is just blah, blah, who are you, how do you like working at Google, what kind of victim are you, really!!! well, welcome to Stanford.
    Or coffee shop questions like that.
    I’d say number of Stanford interviews ending in romantic encounters is WAY higher than HBS, altho I have no evidence. [If anyone has ended their interview w. Dee with some smooches, don’t let me know and break my heart.]
    MORE to the point, Stanford interviews are mostly a way for Stanford to reach out to alums [not applicants, who have all drunk the Kool-Aid] and get them back in the Kumbaya circle of good feeling and future donations. The alum writes a report and unless it is radical on downside w. evidence [cannot speak English, 3 non-PC answers documented, personal hygiene issues like drooling or talking w. food in mouth] the report is mostly ignored.
    How do I know all this?? mostly talking to 100s of peeps who went thru the process and tracking their outcomes. If that evidence is insufficient well fair enuf but it works. Happy to hear any contra views and what your basis is.
    So how do they interview X people and admit .6X? The same process any school uses with a Stanford accent. DO they make those choices before the interview? Prob. not, would you? No one makes decisions til they have to! Interviewed person could die, not accept interview, crap out, etc.

  • Question

    Hi Sandy, you often mention that the Stanford interview is irrelevant, could you help clarify this? I keep seeing reports like this: that indicate that the GSB acceptance rate for interviewees is ~50%. Does this mean they have twice the intended people interviewed, but already made their decisions prior to the interview? Or are these statistics bogus and the interviewee acceptance rate is much higher?

  • K

    I’m wondering what applicant #3 answered to the question regarding public policy and why he/she wasn’t pursuing a joint degree. It would be interesting to know what the answer was..i’m also considering a public policy career but not all the programs I’m applying to have the joint degree option

  • hbsguru

    If anyone has any HBS interview questions, post below and I will answer.
    There is a lively thread of QandA about HBS interviews in last year’s version of this story.

  • hbsguru

    not sure, i have already speculated that it allows time for folks in the 2nd wave to contact any big shots they know and have them jingle Dee’s chain, but she seemed to negative that in a subsequent blog comment (or maybe I am dreaming).
    Anyway, nothing you can do about it, that is what happens.

  • Failedagain

    Sandy what’s the point of releasing 600 then the next 350 over two days? Seems odd.