The Round One deadline was just a couple of weeks ago. Now you have your very first pile of applications to dig through. What has that been like for you, someone who only graduated three years ago? And I would suspect the round one batch of candidates is among the best because they believe that by applying in round one they have an advantage.
Let’s set the record straight. You have no advantage by applying in round one. Round one and round two give you the exact same advantage. I have been sitting in that chair reading applications and have just been totally inspired in ways small and large. The stories they tell and the things their recommenders are saying is an inspiration. It’s going to be hard to put together a great class, not because there are not enough great people but because there are so many great people in the applicant pool. It’s about how you get the right mix of those candidates in the room. One of the things that I certainly do is try in our mind’s eye look ahead to imagine how this person would be in the classroom. What kinds of things would they say if they raise their hand, what counterpoints would they bring up in the middle of a case discussion. And then, what kind of person would they be in our community on campus. Would they be the kind of person who will help versus take. I also try to project forward to what kind of alumnus or alumna would they be. Would they be good representatives of the school, would they be good stewards of what HBS is and what it is not.
If you had to guess how many applications you have already read, what would the number be?
I’ve read over a hundred applications. We obviously knew when the deadline was so I cleared most of my calendar. It’s not too long before we start sending out interview invitations in a couple of weeks. It will be mid-October. Around here now it gets pretty quiet. The doors are always open in our offices except when they are reading applications. They hunker down and just stay focused. There are a lot of doors closed now.
All of the applications are being read by at least two people and because of travel I have a much lighter load. So far I’ve been to South America, China, Europe, all over the U.S. Those trips are typically events in the evenings and then during the day either meeting with companies that may be interested in sending students our way or meeting with alums and trying to understand what is happening in industry and where should we be looking for the best leaders. I just got back from Europe last week and I go to Mexico in two weeks. And I think they are easing me into the travel schedule. My reading is not as heavy as it is on some of the other team members. And it will be heavy on the other end.
Sarah Lucas, our evaluation director who does all of our training, puts together our strategy on how we attack the work as a team. (Lucas is also a Harvard MBA and Baker Scholar as well as a former McKinsey consultant with 17 years of experience on the admissions team at HBS). She helps figure out who reads what across the whole team. I also will be doing interviewing applicants here and in some of the other locations as well.
What have you discovered or learned from the conversations you’ve had on your road trips so far?
This is one of the things I hoped for in the job but it’s just so refreshing to be out there, talking to people and remembering five or six years ago what it was like to be in their shoes. They have such great stories and backgrounds, and most of them can see the value of HBS. Some of them are just curious and a friend invited them to the event and those are some of the most fun conversations because they learn a little bit about the general management program, or the focus we have on leadership, or the case method, or entrepreneurship, and then they realize, oh, I don’t have to be someone who is doing finance or consulting. They realize they could have a fabulous experience and come out a leader on the other end.
For us, it’s so nice to be out there understanding what people are expecting of business school and what they are hoping to get out of the experience. HBS is a school that stays incredibly relevent just through the new courses that are offerred every year and through the cases that are written. I have been working with all of our research centers around the world on these trips and we have incredibly bright researchers working in country and faculty come and partner with them and they are writing cases about companies all over the world. That is a way the school stays so relevant to business leaders. For the admissions team, it’s hearing the voice of prospective students. What are they expecting and hoping for out of a business school experience.
In recent years, the essay requirement has become more free form at Harvard Business School. For the past three years, there has only been one essay with no word limit on it. What is the value you see in that approach?
For us—and I can tell you after having read a lot of applications—I think it’s one of the places where the applicant gets to show us much more of who they are than they can in other parts of the application. So they have made choices that are on their resumes, from the schools they went to for their undergraduate degree to their professional choices. In the essay there is no prescription for what we are looking for. It’s truly an opportunity for them to choose what they want to tell us and an opportunity for us to get to know them. And again, it helps us get a sense for what an applicant would be like in the classroom, or in a club, or leading an initiative on campus. So people have taken it in a lot of different directions and we like that.
So you believe you are getting useful information that would otherwise not be in the application?
Yes. And when I talk to people that’s the advice I try to give. It’s in the prompt. We can see your resume and your letters, tell us something else you would like us to know. If they just rehash what we already have, if they turn their resume into prose form, it doesn’t help us that much because we know how to read resumes. Tell us something we don’t know.
Do you think there are curable errors in tone, attitude or content that people make in applying to Harvard Business School?
We talked about one and that is probably the one that comes closest to mind. In the essay, you have choice to decide where you are going to go. And truly there is no prescription on how to take that essay. But if you just take the bullets from your resume and turn them into sentences it doesn’t help us. So that is one thing I would say. Tell us something new. Tell us something we didn’t get. It can be about an experience at work, at home, or in some other capacity. It could be something you are passionate about. You can take it in a number of different directions. The applicant strategy should be to help us understand something new or different about you.