How To Ace Your HBS Admissions Interview

Harvard Business School’s fellowship spending grew by $2 million in 2017, to $36 million total

The last batch of interview invites left the Harvard Business School campus last week. That means that a slew of hopeful candidates were “released” and another group now have to overcome a final hurdle–the interview with an HBS admissions official–before getting an admit.

As usual, we turn to Sandy Kreisberg, the HBSGURU and the world’s leading HBS interview expert, to explain.

PQ: Sandy, what can we expect this time around? 

SK: Meet the new boss (Chad Losee) same as the old boss (Dee Leopold). It almost certainly means that the HBS’ interview process and their typical interview questions have not changed, as they did not in Round 1 or 2, even though Chad Losee is the new head of the adcom since March 2016 (see An Interview With Chad Losee, Harvard’s New MBA Gatekeeper). In fact, I have not checked but it seems they have a template over there about interview invites and they just plugged in the new dates.

PQ: OK, spell out the basics.

SK:  First of all, not add to anyone’s anxiety, but if history is any guide, even though they say they are sending out invites on two dates, most of the invites, say about 85 percent, will go out on the first date, January 25th.

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PQ: How come?

SK: Dunno, but it could be that they are keeping the door open for last minute private desk banging by powerful alums and donors.  For instance, if favorite applicant of Big Donor does not get an invite on January 25th, Big Donor can huff and puff during the next week and try to blow the house down.

PQ: No? Come on Sandy, this is HBS.

SK: OK, they do this on two dates because they just can’t press Send quickly enough on their laptops.

PQ: OK, give us the basics of the HBS interview, I know this is in the videos, but just spell them out.

SK: The interview is pretty much 30 minutes, it is resume based, see some typical questions below. There are usually two adcom officials in the room, one the questioner and one the so-called observer. You should try to address your answers to both.

I believe the invites say the dress is “business formal” and that means a suit for men and something serious and and “suity” for women.  A great rule is do not try to score points with your dress.  Do not wear suspenders, do not wear those two tone shirts, do not wear cufflinks or a $20,000 dollar watch.

PQ: How does this compare to a Stanford interview or a Tuck interview, for that matter?

SK: The Stanford interview is with alums, for the most part, and does not really count, unless you do something radical, which no ones does. Stanford famously did not give interviews for a long time. Then there was pressure from applicants who wanted an interview.  There was also pressure from Stanford alums who wanted to get involved in the interview process. The Stanford leadership,  faced with yapping applicants on the one hand and needy and under-employed alums on the other, figured out one of the great solutions in b-school administrative history. They just put those two groups together and solved their problem.

The applicants were happy, they got to yack, the alums were happy, they got to play good cop. The adminstration was happy, they got a list of really interested puppy alums (or pups in spirit) who might someday be converted into big dog donor alums.

The Stanford interview questions are also different, e.g. “tell me about a time you worked with difficult people, tell about a time you changed a project . . . .” etc.  but let’s get back to HBS.

PQ: OK, what are the HBS interview numbers?

SK: These are highly educated guesses and  let’s just deal with the class of 2016 because some “official” numbers are easily available on HBS websites.

Total Apps: 9543

Enrollment: 930

Yield: 89% (those are all official HBS numbers)

Hence: total number of admits =1045 .

I believe in order to get to those 1045 admits, they interviewed ~1900 people.

Hence (again), those 1900 interviewed folk resulted in

        1045 admits

         855 dings      

Meaning, 55% of all those interviewed were admitted and 45 percent were dinged. Well, some kids who “pass” the interview do not get in for other reasons, e.g. their bucket is too full, for instance you were competing in a bucket with  too many white, male consultants, etc.

These estimates do not fully account for 2+2 kids who are part of the enrolled numbers but

come from different years, but they come out in the wash, so to speak.

PQ: OK, has anything changed in the types of questions asked or what makes a good answer, over time?

SK: Not really, that is discussed in detail in the videos.  What you need to know is that the interview is resume based, below are some typical questions, but in the real interview, you almost never get to complete an answer because  they will interrupt you, in a normal way,  and ask another question that follows up on what you say.

For instance,

Interviewer: Tell me about this project at work.

You: That was an attempt to help our client get into a new line of work and  . . .

Interviewer: How often does that happen?

You: Well, not much, in this case . . .

Interviewer: Why not, that seems like a natural add-on consulting product?

You: Well, given our client base it would  . . .

Interviewer: Who are clients that would be most open to that?

You: Clients in high-tech and biotech.

Inteviewer: Name some biotech companies you like.

With that in mind, here are some typical HBS interview questions, which as the above shows, would just be a starting point for a lot of quick back-and-forth exchanges.

How did you pick your undergraduate college?

Why did you major in _____ ?

Explain your senior thesis ?

What would you have done differently at college if you did it over?

Why was the X club  so important to you?

Why did you take your first job?

Tell me about a favorite project there?

Who is the best leader you ever worked for?

What was the best thing he ever said to you?

What is the biggest challenge for you at your job?

What you would change about your company?

Describe something you have fixed or want to at work.

Compare your current company to your first job out of school.

As to project ___ on your resume, what role did you play?

How did you do that?

Where do you want to be in 5, 10 and 15 years?

And yes, there are the famous oddball questions, these are discussed in the videos, and also see this: Ten Unpredictable Questions Harvard Asks MBA Applicants.

PQ: Sandy, what is the best way to prepare for an HBS interview?

SK: Well, I do lots of mock HBS interviews and that will help. If you have a friend or mentor at work who can give you a mock interview, that can be helpful.  It does help to talk out answers to standard questions in advance, even if they never come up.

P&Q: Thanks Sandy. Have fun with those mock interviews.



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