Dinged By HBS? Find Out Why

You made it past the first hurdle and gained an interview with a Harvard Business School admissions officer. Tomorrow (Dec. 12) at exactly noon EST, you’ll find out whether you passed the interview test. Or whether you will be among the 40% to 50% of the interviewed round one candidates who will be dinged or moved to the dreaded wait list which still preserves some hope of an admit.

If you get rejected today, at least you can say you weren’t among the nearly 3,000 applicants in round one who didn’t even get an interview. And as good as most of those dinged candidates were, if there’s any solace in receiving bad news now it’s that you just missed getting in by the skin of your teeth.

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

If you’re like most dinged candidates, you are probably perplexed by the turn down. Often times, prospective students who have great stats and careers are turned down for subtle and not easily understood reasons. Last year, for example, several dinged candidates boasted GMAT scores as high as 780 or GPAs as high as 4.0 from the very best Ivy League schools. They worked for Fortune 100 companies and major global consulting firms, investment banks, and startups. We’re talking Goldman Sachs, Google, Procter & Gamble, and McKinsey, Bain or BCG.

So, as we have in the past, we’ve asked Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com, a leading MBA admissions consultant and an astute reader of all HBS tea leaves, to take a look at the profiles of “released” applicants and explain why they didn’t make the first cut.

If you would like Sandy to explain your HBS ding, just post below in the comment section your profile, your GPA, GMAT, company information, and any other facts you think made your application different. The more detail you provide, including what you wrote in your essay to HBS, the easier it will be for Sandy to determine why HBS turned you down.

To give you an idea of how this plays out, here is our of round one ding report from October’s round of turndowns: Rejected By Harvard Business School? You’ve Got To Be Kidding!  

  • Grammar

    I’m sure he at least knows the difference between “your” and “you’re” fool…

  • no clue

    I probably jumped the gun some after reading your other advice to other candidates and apologize for that. I believe the same as you do, nonetheless, they have great stats and check all the boxes that schools love. I don’t know the exact answer what Harvard wants in students because we are all completely different on paper then what i’ve read through here. I believe the same as you that if they can get their foot in the door, the only thing holding a candidate back is the interview. Too scripted is bad, over prepared is bad, not prepared is bad… the lesson here is to be yourself (but also practice some) and if they like you then you check the box off for the interview.

  • hbsguru

    yeah, well thanks, but if you read the comments, interview FU is always in the picture, and probed for. Fact is, lots of time interview was OK and the applicant just did not make out his bucket for various reasons, which is something else I try to suggest, if possible. Obviously, figuring out what happened post interview is peeling the onion a bit both for adcom itself and those trying to understand how adcom thinks. My guess is, for total class, all 3 rounds, about 1900 peeps get interviewed, 1100 get admitted and that simmers down to ~945 kids who show up. Of the 800 dings in that demo, I’d say maybe 300 were interview blow outs and the rest were dinged on a set of things, including others in their bucket and maybe some interview hangover.

  • no clue

    Really… being white male doesn’t help “but some get in”…. Get our of here with that mess…. and your a guru for Harvard? I’ve read a lot of your advice and challenge you on the advice you give. It’s obvious what happened to these candidates. They each have phenomenal stats that will get them to the interview table to possibly any school they apply to. So what went wrong if they didn’t get in after doing an interview? It’s easy, they blew the interview. What they were showing was the soft-skill side to them that on paper couldn’t help. The best advice they need is to practice interviewing and keep practicing.

  • hbsguru

    I dont think it was your resume, altho sure show normal advancement next year. You can maybe improve on recs, and you will need to update. Just keep doing excellent work and, ahem, get a mock interview 😉

  • NextYearThen

    Thanks so much Sandy for the comments!! For the reapplication next year, of course i will try make a progression at work, promotion & more responsibilities etc.; meanwhile, do you think more extra curricular involvements will help change the game too? What else do you think i should try improve on?

  • hbsguru

    Yikes. HBS usually {HEART} Hollywood and it seems like you were really deeply engaged in studio finance, strategy, etc.
    The issue with the interview is not so much the content (yours sound absolutely normal on that count) but whether they perceived your responses as conversational and informative or “scripted” a word that has a range of meanings to them including content and form and way it sounds.
    Just guessing, but that may have been the issue, it often is in post-interview ding, since you kinda pass thru a fitler to even get the interview.

  • NextYearThen

    Hi Sandy,

    Much appreciate your thoughts –

    Dinged after interviewed. Asian male, international applicant, 28, now works in LA, entertainment media industry.

    GPA 3.84, accounting undergrad major, from top 25 US school.
    GMAT 770 (Q51/V42)

    2.5 Yrs at PwC Risk Assurance, LA office, clients mainly were Hollywood studios. A year of global engagement in New Zealand.

    ~2 Yrs at a Hollywood Major studio, corporate finance, planning, and strategy, with lots of cross-divisional involvements working with global partners in Asia. Great exposure to work with top executives and be involved in major decision-making.

    Post MBA goal to return to Hollywood and do business development, forging global partnerships with media companies in Asia.

    Recs are by two direct supervisors, including one C-level executive (HBS alumni)

    Extracurricular includes consulting project for World Bank Group, founding a network org in LA to connect ppl w/ international backgrounds who works in Hollywood, and a committee member of an environment-focused NPO.

    Essay was about how I got to current state, why/how i made major decisions in life, what i want to do in future.

    Interview overall went well, rooms for improvement tho. Talked about my college exp., extra curricular, current news within entertainment industry, my thoughts on my recommender’s leadership style, my involvements at current work, and anything else i wanted to touch on (i talked about my interest outside of work).


  • hbsguru

    btw, if kids who were admitted today posted their stats as well, it would be very helpful to all.

  • AHD285

    We send a lot of people to HBS (at least 4 last year), but not quite as many grads on staff as say Wharton. And that’s good to know about the end of the interview. It was more of a failure that led to a big success through persistence, but it was really the only canned-ish answer I had. Thanks for the feedback. Other interviews are over, but will take it to heart if I need to apply in round two.

  • hbsguru

    wow, nothing obvious here esp. if interview went as you expected. Do you know track record of IFC in sending folks TO HBS (versus having lots of grads on staff).

    “Was also asked if there was anything I wish I was asked, and I spoke about how I handle adversity.”
    Well, that might have been a good answer, and that is a hard question. My usual advice, depending on when it is asked and the mood in the room, is to go lighter. Viz. “Yes, I’d love to talk about my tropical fish, or how I’d manage the Sox, etc. At that point, they are usually trying to get you out of the room. Your answer sounded self-serving and canned.
    I don’t mean to hit a guy when he is down, but just saying as general advice.

  • hbsguru

    Sure White male does not help, but some get in and you came fr. media background which is a plus, vs. say IB/PE. Not sure what happened. Folks do get dinged at HBS and admitted to Stan, etc. And Wharton profile seems stong, so keep the faith.

  • disqus_1mIoIBFSzx

    Interview was on campus during interview day.

    Didn’t feel especially canned on my part – I did some prep, and came prepared for 1-2 questions (Why my [non-Ivy] college being the semi-obvious opener), but the conversation quickly evolved into talking through some of my experiences.

    Consultant I worked with felt fairly confident in my ability to communicate / express myself in this setting, fwiw.

    Hate to point to the White Male aspect of my profile (my predecessor in my current role [Female] got into HBS) – any other ideas? Also interviewed @S (+Wharton/Lauder, Kellogg) – though feeling much less confident on S now…

  • AHD285

    Hey Sandy,

    Thanks for taking a look. Pretty surprised as I thought the interview went well.

    Demographic: White male, 27, US

    GPA: 3.71 – Double major in Finance & Accounting, Minor in Econ from Top 50 undergrad business school
    GMAT: 760 – 49Q / 46V / 7 IR / 6 AWA

    Work experience:
    1.5 years at PwC in TS Valuation

    2 years in a middle/front office role at a Hedge Fund that has a ton of HBS people. Had a lot of good examples/resume points of where I had personally added value. Worked a lot on renewable energy/cleantech deals which was my long-term field of interest and what I used to move to my next job

    2 years at IFC working in cleantech investment and policy. Have a lot of good resume and talking points of my experience here.

    Post-MBA goal: to return to IFC as part of the Young Professionals Program and excel in/guide the institution.

    Recommendations: Two direct supervisors who I know gave

    Post-Grad Extracurriculars: President of local Habitat for Humanity young professionals group, on the alumni board of my college (in each city I’ve been in), a lot of other volunteer work, Professional Development coordinator for IFC’s YPN

    Undergrad Extracurriculars: President of campus Habitat chapter, SGA class VP, Business Honors Program, Beta Alpha Psi VP, Service and Philanthropy Coordinators for my fraternity

    Essay was about my leadership experiences with Habitat and projects at IFC and how I want to grow the impact I can make.

    Interview: Why my college? How have I earned the respect of my peers? Do you really think your company makes a difference? What’s a time you had to persuade someone? I thought I had strong answers for all except the last question due to the resume point they asked about. I asked if it would be ok if I gave a better example and they were receptive. Was also asked if there was anything I wish I was asked, and I spoke about how I handle adversity.

  • hbsguru

    Yikes, this sounds like a subtle interview FU, well, from their POV, rest is real strong and strategic.
    How was interview in terms of you being conversational and non-canned in answers?
    Where was it???

  • disqus_1mIoIBFSzx

    Hi Sandy —

    Appreciate any and all thoughts.

    White male, 27

    GPA: 3.84 – Double Major in Finance & Political Economy from Big 10 school
    GMAT: 760 – 50Q / 44V / 7IR / 6 AWA

    2.5 years at Deloitte S&O – worked on M&A + Strategy projects including projects from Monitor Group (Monitor partner wrote rec#1)

    2.5+ years at global book publisher (subsidiary of media & entertainment conglomerate), working under CFO in small Corporate Finance / Strategy role (CFO [HBS alum] wrote rec #2, with small quote from CEO)

    Post-MBA goals focused on content and acquisition strategy for media & entertainment companies (can expand if you’d like)

    Extracurricular involvement included starting 2 clubs in college (both book-related, one a business book club and the other an academic journal of international affairs), with leadership of another one (entrepreneurs group).

    Post-college involvement included participation, then subsequent committee leadership in internal leadership committee for junior consultants (2 years participation), and 1+ years participation
    in a local reading / mentorship program

    Speak / taught myself Portuguese while studying in Brazil in College – still maintain language and connection to country (may go back and accept a role working at our Brazilian division in lieu of MBA)

    Essay was centered around building experiences outside of my comfort zone to develop my
    perspective and personal growth, examples included experiences in Brazil, consulting, and leading an ~$10m acquisition for our company.

    Interview mainly centered around choice of college (my local state school), and the media & entertainment industry.