The 30-minute interview by a Harvard Business School admissions staffer has to be one of the most anxiety-producing moments in a person’s professional. After all, if you’ve gotten to this stage of the application process, HBS interviews roughly twice the number of people it will eventually admit to its prestigious MBA program.
Those odds also mean, of course, that half the people who get to this point in the application process will ultimately be rejected. So having come this far, it’s a no-brainer to do everything you can to prep for those 30 precious minutes. That is why we’re sharing three actual Harvard Business School interview transcripts from this year’s round one candidates who have just went through the process.
We’ve also checked in with Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com, who does more mock interviews with HBS applicants than any other MBA admissions consultant in the world. All told, he has brought thousands of candidates through the grueling process over the years, annually putting hundreds of HBS applicants through the paces.
John A. Byrne: Sandy, is anything new this year with the HBS interview? I know you’ve received hundreds of post-interview reports from your regular and mock-interview clients about the real thing.
Sandy Kreisberg: John, the HBS interview remains unchanged for the most part. It is still mostly resume based with some wildcards and the best preparation advice I can offer is KNOW YOUR RESUME. Yes, there are oddball questions, but it is rare for an interview to be mostly oddball. Your success in “passing” the interview will be based on your ability to answer simple questions about your resume.
Byrne: When you say “pass the interview” what do you mean?
Kreisberg: As often noted by me, the HBS interview is designed to FLUNK people, not to locate super-stars. They flunk people who cannot speak English (that is pretty rare, although iffy English can accelerate other weaknesses) and people who sound, in their words, “scripted.”
Byrne: What does scripted mean?
Kreisberg: One, just scripted. Two, digressive and annoying with patches of scripted blather amid the foam, and/or three, they don’t like you for reasons they cannot articulate, but they know it when they see it.
Byrne: That’s not all that comforting to an applicant. What does ‘they know it when they see it’ mean?
Kreisberg: For each major category of applicant — bankers and PE kids, consultants, software techies, engineers and non-profit types — there is an HBS type and a non-HBS type. So if you are a PE guy, and go in there with barrels blazing and a lot of jargon describing deals, etc. just come off as braggy and limited, well, that is the non-HBS type of PE person.
Byrne: OK, so we got our hands on three transcripts of recent HBS interviews. What do you make of them?
Kreisberg: These transcripts were slightly modified for teaching purposes but they will give readers a feel for what the ebb-and-flow of a typical interview is, and what the resume and non-resume questions are.
Byrne: And if you have questions about how to answer any of the questions below, you can ask Sandy in the comment section of the story. If you want to share fragments or experiences of your own HBS interviews to help other candidates, you also can add them in the comment section below.
Interview Report One:
By The Book
Kreisberg: This is about as typical an HBS interview s there is and the type you should be prepared for. It goes through your resume on a job-by-job basis. The interviewer asks for your long- and short-term goals and asks some strength and weakness questions as well.
I just finished my interview. Thanks again for the prep work. There wasn’t time for me to ask any questions at the end.
–What made you go into you career field?
–What made you choose where you went to college/what led you to your college?
–What do you do in your current job?
–What is a good piece of advice you have been given by a superior at work?
–How do you put that advice into practice?
–What is one of you current weaknesses?
–What do you see yourself doing long-term post-mba?
–What do you see yourself doing in the short-term post mba?
–What is a company/product you admire?
–What type of industry/industries interest you?
–What are some of companies in that field and what are they working on?
–How do you think that company’s technology could be applied to a challenge facing the world?
(Two more interview reports follow)