HBS Invites Out Oct. 1, Sandy’s Golden Advice

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

John: I imagine that there would be plenty of follow-up questions. What kind should can applicant expect?

Sandy: There are plenty. I would say that everyone should be prepared for these follow-ups:

  • For each school and job  and big deal on your resume, be prepared to explain why you went there,  what you did, what you learned, what you are proud of, what you would do differently, why you took that job (went to that school), why you left, etc. If you could change one thing about it, etc. what would it be.                           
  • Go through your resume and for every job and transition in your life be prepared to explain concisely why you did it, what it was like, what you learned, and how you would do it differently.
  • Be able to talk about every job in 40 seconds. Don’t feel the need for completeness.  If they are interested, they will ask a follow-up question. A very frequent question is “Tell me about McKinsey (Goldman, your start-up, your NGO) etc.
  • You should be able to do that in 40 seconds without getting lost.
  • MOREOVER, You should be able to WALK THRU YOUR RESUME, and get thru it, in about 60-80 seconds (a long time under these circumstances).
  • They will often interrupt and you never get to finish. That is fine, let the interview go where it goes.
  • The very first question, sometimes just asked as if not a question, and often asked as you walking to the interview room, is about the class visit.  “Have you been to a class, what did you think?”
  • They want you to say, although not in these words, ‘Holy, holy smokes, the class was a mind blow. I was really impressed with the energy and with how the case study helped students bring to bear their different experiences and backgrounds in the class discussion.’ They sometimes add, “what would you have added to that discussion?”

Can you provide some color from applicants who have interviewed last year?

Sure, here are some interview report excerpts written by last year’s 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?

Applicant Two: Tech & Healthcare

1. Did you go to a class? What classes did you go to? What were the cases?

2. Why did you pick your major?

3. Why did you go into tech?

4. How did you go from your internship to your first job?

5. Tell me about the X project (on resume).

6. Did X have any competitors?

7. Did you get any negative feedback during your time at job 1?

8. What does company 2 do?

9. How big is your company? Did it grow or stay steady after you joined?

10. Who are company 2’s competitors?

11. What can you contribute to class discussions?

12. What would you do for your HBS internships?

13. Anything we didn’t cover?

Applicant Three: Finance & Non-Profit

1. The observer hasn’t read your application – Can you tell her about yourself?

2. Let’s start from the top current role) – How do you manage working in such a beauracractic organization?

3. What are the pluses and minuses of working there?

4. What do you like most? Least?

5. Who is the best leader you ever worked for?

6. Who is the worst? Why?

7. If you had to work for [the worst] again, what would you do differently in terms of managing him?

8. Seems like you are working in so many different countries and regions and projects – How do you manage that?

9. You came your [to present job] from investment banking? How come?

10. Tell me about a deal at the investment banking firm you worked at? What role did you play?

11. What advice would you give to someone leaving investment banking to join an NGO?

12. OK, so we only have time for one more question: what big problem do you want to solve?

John: Sandy, that’s going to be really helpful to a lot of candidates. I think those questions are also very predictable and in a way reassuring. But is it really fair to say the interview is meant to weed out people?

Sandy: I talk to lots of people who have been interviewed and then get official feedback from HBS, which is something they offer in various formats for applicants who have been dinged after interview (but not to applicants who have not been interviewed).  By far, the biggest reason given for the ding is an interview screw up.  Here is a typical example, Dee said  that I should try to “interview in more real-time, not try and come across too polished or canned…. Here’s a quote she read me from my interview report,  ‘seemed like he was worried about getting all of his points across in 30 minutes’”.

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.