Sandy’s Candid Advice For That HBS Interview

“Introduce yourself to your classmates in 30 seconds.”

“Introduce yourself to God in 60 seconds.”

Ladies and Gentlemen  . . .  it’s Harvard Business School Interview Time.

With HBS Round 1 interview invites [first batch of two for round one applicants] out today (Oct. 5),  we talk to HBSGuru Sandy Kreisberg yet again about how not to blow your HBS interview. SANDY KREISBERG about How Not To Blow Your HBS Interview.

Chad Losee, managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School, tells Poets&Quants that two-thirds of the round one invites went out today, with the remaining third to be go out on Thursday, Oct. 5, along with dings and waitlisted candidates. For many candidates, noon today was a jittery time. The way the HBS system queues the emails, sometimes they don’t all come out right at noon on the dot. Some applicants received their invites after 1 p.m. today.

JB: Sandy, we’re highlighting your two super-duper and perennially popular PQ articles about this process, last year’s

How To Nail Your HBS Interview

and the Ur-wisdom on this topic, the 2016

How NOT To Blow Your HBS Interview

We suggest that our readers dive into those, which offer advice, HBS frequently asked questions in general (“walk me through your resume”) and  by career (“explain Private Equity to the guy sitting next to you from West Point . . .”) and suggested answers.

Those articles also list the most famous screwball questions (“Introduce yourself to God . . .” etc) even though we know your advice is NOT to worry about screwballs but focus your preparation about explaining all the transitions in your resume, why you went to your college, why you chose your first job, why you want an MBA degree.

Get Sandy Kriesberg's advice to make handicapping your odds of getting in possible

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

SK: Yup. Also, don’t be scripted.

JB: Sure, sure, no scripted answers, yes, you make a huge a point about that in the classic articles below,
and our really smart and balanced readers will pay attention to that, but what about the rest of us?  We want  to know how exactly do you introduce yourself to God?

SK: First of all, I’m not sure this question has ever been asked, it just appears in lists of FAQ HBS questions. Further, I doubt it will be asked moving forward because it comes too close to touching some PC buttons, e.g. asking this question to someone very devout who is not supposed to mention the name of God, let alone talk to God.  I believe that is the case in several orthodox branches of several religions.

JB: Sure, but  how about answering the question.

SK: Hello God, this is Sandy. I’m assuming you already know about my resume and transcripts and bank accounts, so you want me to tell you, “what else you think you should know,”  very similar to the folks at HBS, who only think they are God . . . .

JB: Whoa!!! that’s a great crack but do you think that is the start of a good answer?

SK: It’s a terrible answer, I had never really thought about it, and it proves why you need to be prepared but not scripted. It’s an answer that actually could do harm if the interviewers did not have a sense of humor, or just thought you were out of line. It’s a good reason to be prepared. Even me, who, ahem, is pretty good at this, was not ready for that question and I just defaulted to my comfort zone, which is humor, while most people will default to thinking out loud, which can lead to cascading digressions, and often end in nonsense. Sometimes, in fact most times, the adcoms will take pity and interrupt and pivot to another question . . .but sometimes they just sit back and say, “Well, la de dah, this guy has jumped out a plane without a parachute and let’s just see where this goes.”

JB: OK, that was some valuable advice of the type you expand on in our two earlier features but
let’s just bring those up to date. Has anything changed since the past year, a year in which I believe you have done more than 150 mock interviews for HBS and heard back about what was actually asked?

SK: The short answer is no, nothing has really changed. They are still asking resume-based questions for the most part with some current events based on your industry, all that is covered in super detail below.  The caveat is Trump, who was president during interviews last year in Rounds 2 and 3, but had not yet become a part of almost every conversation.

JB: Do you think there will be Trump questions? As a Wharton undergrad, I would think HBS people don’t have to be as reverential as the interviewers at Wharton this year.

SK: Maybe, but let me say right away, the rule for you, the kid being interviewed, is not to bring him up, as a joke, as a serious talking point, or as someone you assume they also think is a terrible leader, an impulsive man-boy, a painful joke, and a danger.

It is just bad judgment to make that assumption, even though it is probably true, especially for the adcom, who for the most part are liberal, blue state, MBA-moms.  They will blame you for a lack of judgment, even though they agree with you.  Just leave the dude out of the conversation on your part.

You should probably be prepared for questions about how the economy is impacting your business. Or more likely, “name  three things in the coming year  you think will be key drivers for PE, IB, consulting, etc.”– whatever you are in. As part of that answer, you could mention Trump’s tax plan, but, phew, even that could get you on thin ice. Just stay away from the guy if you can.

JB: OK, no Trump, good advice. Here’s a tough one for you. Do you think it worthwhile to get a mock interview?

SK: F-YES I think it is a good idea. As we note, the HBS interview is this weird point in the application process. It is a place, and probably the ONLY place, where X number of kids can change their outcome, for the worse. As I make clear in the two articles, the purpose of the interview is to flunk people. They interview about 1900 people and admit roughly 1,130 which settles into a class of 945 or so after kids select Stanford or other schools, defer, or just don’t show up.

This is a bit complicated by the 2+2 cohort which is embedded in that, I think, but for our purposes it means that your odds of being admitted after you interview is between 50% and 60%. Just do the math. That means about 760 people who interview don’t get in, and of those 760 people, duh, 95% can speak English, so that is not the issue they were dinged. In some cases the interview is fine and the kid was rejected because there was someone like him in the same industry who just was better for any number of reasons, including better jobs, a better undergraduate college, a stronger transcript or GMAT score, or some special X quality. In many cases, those 760 people are people who are just like you and me, except their interview was scripted, careless, odd, digressive, nervous, timid, lots of ways to kill a cat, folks.

Those qualities could have been mediated through practice, and by that I mean, speaking out to another person not just imagining what a good answer would be or even making notes. It really helps to TALK IT OUT. A mock interview can help with that.

JB: Just for the record Sandy, do you do mock HBS interviews?

SK: Aw shucks, John, I gotta admit that I do, but speaking as a pundit here and not shilling my own business, so do many others.  My advice to kids who have been invited, is to do a mock interview, with friends, family, or consultants.

Going to HBS can be a life-changing experience, don’t blow it just because you could not introducue yourself to God.

DON’T MISS: PODCAST INTERVIEW: HOW TO HANDLE HBS’ POST-INTERVIEW REFLECTION

  • hbsguru

    well, Long Term goals, and why do you need an MBA?
    is teaching at service academy LT goal, if so, shouldn’t you get PhD etc. OR am I missing something.
    Are you career military?

  • AU

    Sandy,

    What’s your opinion on the directtion the interview/questions will go for someone who is active military (7 years) and getting the MBA en route to teaching econ/finance at a service academy?

  • In our opinion, unlike a job interview, where the interviewer is trying to understand whether the interviewee has transferable skills that allow him to be able to float between companies that, even though of the same industry, certainly have different cultures, in the case of an MBA interview, the interviewee is not seeking a defined position but rather an association with people who have the same academic and professional future purpose.

    Therefore, what should be in the interviewee’s mind is that he should be able to communicate, through the interviewer, his / her set of ideas and goals in a clear and sensible way, as if he were in a group dynamic with alumni, teachers and candidates for the school he wants to be accepted. The more true the candidate’s intention, grounded in his professional history, the easier and direct the communication will be. There is, in our view, no secret of differentiation that should be “trained” for HBS. What Harvard focuses on is what the candidate thinks and how he would act on ethical dilemmas or hypothetical situations instead of focusing on what the candidate has achieved.

  • hbsguru

    Yes. Those are just natural questions, and with the exceptions excepted, also the questions first-time applicants should expect.
    What does not usually come up are questions about “Why are you reapplying?” “How specifically do you think your application and story is stronger this year?” Altho they will ask you, as they will most other people, “What are you doing now, tell me about job, etc?”

  • Reapper

    Sandy,

    Should re-applicants expect questions about their previous application and why career goals have changed, or examples and anecdotes that were used in the previous application or previous recommendations?

  • Jay

    Sandy – great news. Got an interview invite today. Anxious couple days. On to the next step!

  • hbsguru

    For HBS purposes:1. International student, 2. Asian. 3. Male (guessing f. name).

  • Akash Kapoor

    If you are south asian but Canadian nationality (born in Asia) where does that place you?

  • hbsguru

    Just guessing, but yes I think there will be more London invites.
    How many of your 15 pals are the sort who would be near sure shots for invites, e.g. work for gold-plated feeder companies in PE, Consulting, etc. and have real high GPA and GMATs?
    Not all of those kids get interviewed, but most do!!! If 15 of those types are in London, I got a feeling some will get invites tmrw.
    I also dont think “current living address when applied” is a super impt category for HBS adcom vs. gender, industry, nationality, race, etc. Those are things they eventually release class breakdowns about, I’ve never seen HBS say,
    “The Class of 2019 also has 4 percent of students who, gee, happened to be living in London at the time they applied.”

  • HBSHopeful

    Reckon there’ll be any more or do you think that’s all the London invites done and I’m screwed? Is it normal to send all invites for a particular location out in one go?

  • hbsguru

    London invites: If by this you mean has anyone located in London received an HBS invite, on the theory that your 15 London friends have not, and therefore London invites will go out tomorrow?
    Dunno, I got clients in London who got invites, and they have also signed up for London interview slots.
    And heard back about that, too.
    Sorry, but in this annoying process, any real news is worthwhile. Trust me, people in London have gotten invites

  • HBSHopeful

    Next P&Q post or on here??

  • HBSHopeful

    Anyone London applicants heard back yet? No one has heard back from the ~15 London applicants I know (including me)

  • hbsguru

    Real good question. Not sure, altho I would not believe anything they say about logistics or process, given the fibs they already have committed. BTW, last year they sent out R1 interview invites over 3 days!
    The official reason they give for spreading out invites is that it relieves stress on the interview sign-up process–when you jump in for an interview slot.
    Je giggle, so that means that this year one-third of kids will have sloppy seconds on getting interview slots because, well, they cannot create robust sign-up sheets. AMAZING.

    Anyway, not a fruitful line of inquiry, you just a pawn in the game, and no one remembers any of this once they get in.

  • hbsguru

    let’s try to cut this line of inquiry off, I see where it is going. The only interviewer in general that is really an outlier is Charles Allison, who does NYC, does Campus interviews and does SKYPE.
    Folks like Charles and he is very engaging BUT you will be getting a different genre of questions, and if you are not prepared, you can get shocked, awed, and stupid.
    Below is an actual Charles question. ___________________________________________

    Tell me 5 Key characteristics of a leader.
    –Now rate your managers from job 1 and job 2 on these dimensions.
    –Now rate a current senior manager that you have worked extensively with at current job

    –Now rate yourself.

    _________________________________________
    Fear not, I do not believe he will be doing interviews in

    San P. 😉

  • Jay

    What’s the rationale for sending interview invites out on two separate days? Given there are only 3 days between invites, why not send all invites out on that second day? Is there truth to their explanation of logistical challenges?

  • Anonymus Latin

    Hi Sandy,

    Any insights on possible interviewers in San Pablo??

  • FuturePM92

    Thanks Sandy, super helpful

  • hbsguru

    rotating bunch of regulars, it’s a good gig, as you might expect fr. adcom POV. Sarah Lucas, Miller, Fernandez –you cannot control it too much and people leave adcom and join all the time, as some of the above may have.
    see next post for a London Interview report –couple of years ago, so site and personnel may change, guy was a consultant.
    _______________________________________

  • FuturePM92

    Sandy, do you know who usually interviews in London?

    And as a consultant with previous experience in entrepreneurship and AI strategy work, what kind of questions could I expect?

  • hbsguru

    hmmm, for the most part no, they all try to keep it to the HBS norm of “no-drama, no ‘your moma'” and the fact that are usually two people in the room (the interviewer and the observer) has had a normalizing effect, since there are witnesses, and more imptly, the interview cohort get to see other interviewers in action, and the role of interviewer is not to show off.

    There is also not much you can do about it, even if you know that A B and C are tuffer because it is hard to arrange who is going to interview you. Altho if you want to get interviewed by Sarah Lucas, who usually does Abu Dhabi, and that is worth a trip to Abu Dhabi, well, go ahead. Sarah is totally normative and straight-shooter interviewer.

    Also you have a higher chance of getting certain interviewers in certain cities, e.g. New York, Charles Allison (see separate post, he is the one wild card in HBS admissions and the only non-adcom member in general to do interviews. )

    Charles also does SKYPE interviews.

    Someone who is not a hard interviewer but who can be a very focused and driving one is Dee Leopold herself ( full disclosure, John and Sandy HEART Dee), who often
    really asks shrewd and incisive questions about your industry.

    Viz (taken from a real Dee interview)

    She asked me to describe the IB recruiting process and why I chose my firm.

    She asked me how each major IB firm differed. Where did I think they are going.

    She asked me to give advice to someone just joining my firm.

    She asked me to give advice to CEO of my firm.

    She said that my resume was very heavy in finance — had I explored other things. Am I tempted to do so.

  • I have a question: Are some of HBS interviewers tougher than others?

  • Gummy

    You’re probably right. Its been a couple of hours post noon anyway!

  • hbsguru

    WELL, with HBS you can never tell but my guess is, yes.

  • hbsguru

    NOW THAT INVITES ARE OUT FOR DAY ONE, IF THERE ARE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT THE ACTUAL INTERVIEW PROCESS –HAPPY TO ANSWER THEM.

  • hbsguru

    😉

  • Gummy

    Do you reckon all invites for today have now been sent out?

  • Claptone

    1:06pm

  • hbsguru

    OK, invites are out to some people, as per ONE HOUR and several minutes after noon.

  • hbsguru

    Someone at HBS adcom not getting A grades for this process in the first place, and someone else not getting A grades for, ahem, explaining what is happening in second place. Editing a blog post instead of writing a separate update, and saying sorry, is real 6th grade behavior.
    Not exactly the leadership they profess to teach.

  • C

    And now via email vs. the online portal

  • C

    I think it’s delayed – the blog post is updated to “approximately noon”

  • hbsguru

    well, if anyone got an invite, could you check in.
    thanks —

  • NervousApplicant

    Have all invites made it out? Debating whether or not to keep refreshing my email.

  • hbsguru

    FROM THE HBS BLOG (WELL, BETTER LATE THAN NEVER):

    R1 Interview Invitations

    Quick note: As promised, interview invitations will start going out today.
    Approximately 2/3 of the Round 1 interview invitations will go out at
    noon Eastern time today, via the online application portal. The
    remaining 1/3 will go out on Thursday, October 5, along with the
    “further consideration” or “early release” decisions. So if you don’t
    hear anything today, please stick with us until Thursday!

  • hbsguru

    btw. last year Round 1 interview invites went out at noon.
    don’t sue me if they change that, but it’s a good bet.
    SK

  • hbsguru

    What do you want your classmates to know about Iran?

  • amir g

    What do they ask you if you are from one of those very unusual countries such as Iran or something?

  • NateFromHBS

    More great advice on the HBS interview, and how to nail that one in particular, from Ivy Admissions Group: https://www.ivyadmissionsgroup.com/blog/2017/9/22/how-to-ace-the-hbs-interview

  • hbsguru

    Also happy to answer any HBS interview questions here. Sandy