Rejected By HBS? Let Sandy Tell You Why

For thousands of round two applicants to Harvard Business School, today (Feb. 4) is likely to be a bad news day. If previous rates of interview invites and rejections hold true, it’s likely that HBS will “release” as many as 5,000 candidates at noon EST today and dispatch invites to more than 800 candidates.

Last year, applications to Harvard Business School‘s MBA program fell for the second consecutive year by 6.7% to 9,228 applicants in 2018-2019 from 9,886 a year earlier. Over the past two years, Harvard has lost 1,123 applicants, representing a 10.8% slide in applications, from 10,351 in 2017-2018 when applicants topped 6% the 10,000-mark for the first time since 2002. The school accepts about 12% of its applicants and the majority of them apply in round two.

In earlier years, HBS was often the first school to release decisions. But this year, Chicago Booth has already issued all its round two decisions, while many other schools, including Yale SOM, UVA Darden, Michigan Ross, UCLA, and Duke Fuqua, have been sending out interview invites to round two candidates since mid-January.


If you’ve been rejected by HBS and want an immediate analysis of your ding, put the details of your profile in the comment section below and Founder Sandy Kreisberg will provide feedback on why he believes you didn’t make the cut. It could be you just didn’t have the basic numbers for admission or lacked a more prestigious undergraduate institution or employer on your resume. In most cases, candidates get turned down at HBS simply because the admissions team liked other applicants from similar backgrounds more than they liked you.

If you’ve been invited to an admissions interview, Kreisberg has two really valuable things to remember about your interview for Harvard Business School.

“Remember to do no harm and that they are really trying to flunk you,” he says. “Some might think the purpose of the interview is to get you in. That is not the case. The purpose of the interview is to keep you out. They are looking for people who can’t speak English, which is rare, or who can’t speak English under pressure. That happens. And the biggest mistake is people just talk too much and get lost.”

MBA admission consultants estimate that roughly a third of the 9,228 candidates in the 2018-2019 pool had been interviewed in last year’s first round. In a typical year, fewer than two of every ten applicants are interviewed by an HBS admissions staffer. Then, for every ten people HBS interviews, the school will admit six to seven people (see Harvard MBA Dings Go Out Oct. 1: ‘Feel Like I’m Going To Puke’). So if you’re lucky to be among the hundreds picked for an interview in round one and don’t want to be among the four to three that get knocked out, you really need to know what to expect. That’s why we turned again to Sandy Kreisberg who does more mock interviews for HBS candidates every year than any other MBA admissions consultant in the world. Over the years, we’ve done many interviews with him in print and in video. And truth be told, little has changed in what to expect in a Harvard Business School interview.


At HBS, he notes, the early questions are almost always right off your CV. “It’s all resume based,” says Kreisberg, who has started doing mock interviews with candidates yesterday–even before invites went out. “They typically don’t ask oddball questions like who is your favorite business leader, at least not in the beginning. The interview is like a blind date. It all happens in the first 15 minutes.

“The first questions are often about your undergraduate experience: ‘Why did you go to Middlebury? ‘What was your favorite course? If you had your college experience to do over, how would you do it differently?’ A lot of people don’t have a good answer to why they chose a certain college. Don’t say, ‘it was the best place I got into.’

“They want a little bit of BS and a little bit of honesty in your answer. It’s like the HBS experience itself. ‘Why Middlebury? I wanted a small liberal arts college. I visited the place, sat in on a class and was really impressed. I was interested in Yale but Middleburg made my decision very simple. Besides, I have a good friend who went there and he loved it and my guidance counselor suggested it.”


“They’ll ask similar questions for every job you’ve held. So for every job on your resume, you need to explain why you took that job. ‘What was unexpected?’ is one of their favorite questions and a tough one. ‘What was unexpected when you got to Middlebury?’ What’s the answer? ‘Everybody came from Long Island.’

‘What did you like about your first job? What did you dislike?’ People don’t think that way but you need to think about those questions and the answers you might give. They want you to explain your decisions. And it’s a conversation; it’s not a presentation. People often walk in with the mindset that each answer requires an imaginary Powerpoint. You have to be intelligently rehearsed. Don’t script it. Don’t say things that are politically incorrect. By far, the biggest mistake people make is by talking too much and not staying on topic. They expect you to be a little bit nervous but don’t be too nervous. You should be able to relax pretty quickly. 

“If you interview on campus, it’s good to show up early and mingle with the other kids being interviewed because it takes you out of your own head. What you don’t want is to be like Lenin in the boxcar back to Russia where you are isolated and alone. People who interview with an alum at other schools are often preparing for a week and they are not sharing it with anybody and you can just getting into an odd variant of what is normal. You need to normalize yourself by talking to other people before the interview.

“So get out of your own head. I think it’s worth doing a mock interview just to normalize yourself. You can do it with me, hire someone else, or do it with a friend. I think at this point that is money well spent just to protect yourself,” says Kreisberg who charges $900 for a mock interview. “A rehearsal with a friend could be good if he knows what he is talking about. If your friend is a jerk, he could make it worse.” 

For more detailed advice and for transcripts of last year’s HBS interviews, go to these previous sessions with Sandy:

How To Nail Your HBS Interview

How NOT To Blow Your HBS Interview


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