MBA applicants are abuzz: Harvard Business School releases its round 1 interview invites on Monday, October 1, with the second wave going out on Thursday, Oct. 4. After more than a decade working in admissions (my experience includes top programs such as INSEAD and HBS), I can affirm that no one gets an invitation to interview that doesn’t have a really solid chance of being admitted. Still, the reality at ultra-competitive HBS is that you can have a flawless interview and still not land a place in its incoming class. That’s why leveraging its “Post-Interview Reflection” to your advantage is imperative.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the key differentiators that make the HBS interview unique, along with six specific tips for making the best possible impression in your 30-minutes to shine (Ace the HBS Interview: An Insider’s Advice). The interview is your opportunity to let your personality and charisma shine through – traits which are difficult if not impossible to correctly discern from an application form or essay. It is also the opportunity for the committee to see how you handle pressure, and being put on the spot, which is something that will happen in case discussions in the HBS classroom.
But your work isn’t over when you walk out the door. Among the many elements that make the HBS interview distinctive is its post-interview reflection, which you have just 24 hours to submit to the committee after your interview. At first blush, this might feel like a timed test version of the HBS essay (‘what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?’). Instead, think of it as a final opportunity to set yourself apart as the thoughtful, incisive human that you are. HBS, in effect, is giving you the chance to have the last word before making a final decision. This is a rare gift and you’ll want to set yourself up for success to make the most of it.
First, do not approach this as another formal essay, which is the first official caution noted on the HBS website about the Post-Interview Reflection. Don’t even think about writing it until you’ve distanced yourself from the interview experience by at least a few hours. For one, it’s positively essential that your response not be pre-prepared (your savvy admissions committee members can usually sniff this out immediately, which will be a red flag.) The purpose of this exercise is to see how candidates think on their feet. Most of all, the interview will go so quickly, you may be surprised how much ground you won’t cover that you would have expected to discuss.
You’ll want to craft your reflection within the context of the actual conversation. Demonstrating your depth of insight, and ability to cross-correlate, is vital. Consider carefully: What else did you want to say? What would you like to develop, or correct? Keep in mind that HBS is looking for authenticity and sincere introspection.
Think of this exercise as a post-meeting memo thanking key participants for their input and reiterating the key selling points you want them to remember.
Top Tips for Writing Your Post-Interview Reflection:
Take notes about your conversation.
It’s best to find a quiet place to take notes immediately following the interview. Consider:
- What your interviewer asked you
- What you said
- What you didn’t get to say but wished you had
- Answers you gave you are unhappy with
- Did you hit all your key selling points?
Next, do some further introspection.
These steps you can do a little later as you will likely need a mental break. Think of:
- The key selling points that you may not have fully covered or could expand on more
- Two key selling points that will be important factors in your admission
- What makes you unique and how you can apply that uniqueness to benefit HBS
Craft your reflection, keeping your thoughts to roughly three-quarters to one page in length.
A potential flow might look like this:
- First paragraph: Thank the interviewer(s) and recap, at a high level, what you enjoyed about your dialogue. (You need to show you did not write this reflection before the interview and mentioning specific interview talking points will help establish that.)
- Second paragraph: Go deeper on topics delved into during the interview, taking the opportunity to add texture and dimension to what was discussed. This is an important way of showing them the depth of intellectual curiosity you have. (This is also your opportunity to course-correct if you felt you could’ve taken an answer in a better direction.)
- Closing paragraph: Pull back to offer a 30,000-foot reflection on what the entire process has meant to you, sharing any deep insights you’ve had as a result, and what lies ahead for you. (Remember to keep the memo positive and concise.)
As your interviewers reflect on their experience with you during the brief (believe me, it goes by quickly) 30-minutes you have together, your Post-Interview Reflection will leave the interviewer (or interviewers) with a core impression of who you are. Delivering one that’s both thoughtful and self-aware can tip the balance in your favor at decision-time.
Karla Cohen is an expert coach at admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Associate Director at Harvard Business School. Fortuna is composed of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 12 of the top 15 business schools.