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.

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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.


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