How NOT To Blow Your HBS Interview

 
Chad Losee, Harvard Business School’s new admissions chief, today (Oct. 4) sent out his first batch of invites for admission interviews for round one MBA applicants. The vast majority of invitations were dispatched today, but roughly 25% of the remaining estimated 1,000 invites in round one will go out on Oct. 6 and Oct. 12.

Interviews by the school’s admissions staffers would then occur between Oct. 23 and Nov. 18. In addition to on-campus interviews, HBS said it also would conduct interviews this year in Shanghai, Tokyo, Dubai, Mumbai, São Paulo, New York City, Palo Alto, London, and Paris.

IF YOU’RE INVITED TO AN HBS INTERVIEW, HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT

Poets&Quants’ again turned to prominent MBA admissions consultant Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com, for some timely advice and counsel for those lucky enough to interview. Kreisberg did well over 100 mock interviews with HBS candidates last year 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 more than 100 mock interviews for HBS applicants during this admissions season, what is really new here?

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 the list of questions some of my clients were asked.

Applicant One: IB & PE

1. You have a very traditional background–what do you hope to discover at HBS?
2. What is the stereotype about investment bankers you found to be true? What is one you found to be not true?
3. Who was the best leader at firm one? Why?
4. How is the culture different between IB and PE?
5. Do you need different skills to really stand out? What are they?
6. What was the recruiting process like?
7. How did you find your PE firm?
8. Why that firm?
9. Walk me through a typical day at your PE firm?
10. What other career could you see yourself being interested in, outside of finance?
11. What are two different firms you would like to work for after you graduate from HBS?
13. How did you like college?
14. What would you have changed about your experience?
15. What was your favorite course?
16. If you could talk to the president of your college, and give him advice about how to improve the experience, what would it be?

  • hbsguru

    This is not an issue, believe me.
    1. in real time, questions are asked in millions of different ways, with variants and kids give different answers, without using same words.
    2. there are 22 or so adcom teams, beyond that, and they often vary questions , in fact always do.
    3. dunno, lots of poor people when asked, “tell me about yourself” are going to start telling adcom about what they are doing now, whether prepped by me or not. In some way, shape or form.
    4. People I prepare do not memorize my answers, they also practice walking thru their resume (a common question) or introducing themselves to classmates (a common question w. a slightly different approach, since classmates do not have resume etc. ) and some of them will use intro yourself to classmates as answer to Tell me about yourself.
    Friend, there is a YUGE difference between scripted and prepared. Most unprepared answers which default to cliches are the ones that sound scripted, as often noted, scripted does not mean per se memorized, it means not answering question with originality and personal detail, that is something you can practice to avoid.

  • Curious

    Sandy, your site is quite popular with every MBA aspirant. Now given your insight, I am sure I would be preparing for the interviews accordingly.

    But there is one thing that comes to my mind:

    If adcoms also surf this site anonymously, they would know how candidates are going to answer. So wouldn’t even some casual answers sound scripted? For example, you tell us to answer “I would like to tell you about what I am doing now” to the question “Where should we begin?”

    So, if as an adcom, I come across 10-15 candidates who give the exact same answer to the question asked, then would it not be a weird thing or something bad?

    Then to what extent can we not be scripted? Honestly, preparation entails an element of something scripted, whether we like it or not.

  • hbsguru

    by the way, I do give mock HBS interviews as a self-standing consulting product.
    It is described on my website and happy to help. I do LOTS of them and really know the score 😉
    sk