Congrats on being invited to interview at the Harvard Business School! By now, you likely know when your interview will take place and hopefully, you are getting excited for it! In my 13 years serving on Harvard Business School’s MBA Admissions Board, I traveled globally to conduct more than 1,000 interviews, and virtually interviewed many candidates.
Before we get started, make sure you have read my article 4 Must-Knows About Your HBS Interview. This will give you a clear idea of what to expect in Harvard’s one-of-a-kind interview. Now, I want to emphasize that there are as many different paths to success (or failure) in the HBS interview as there are applicant-to-interviewer combinations. I had the privilege of both observing and conducting interviews during my tenure at HBS. As the observer, I was equally likely to have asked almost all or almost none of the same questions as the interviewer. Every interviewer truly has a different style, so you need to be prepared for anything. If this sounds like a big task, it is! But with the right steps, you can go into your interview with confidence and poise. Let me break each step down for you.
1. Re-read your entire application.
It may sound like I am stating the obvious, but this is #1 for a reason. Do not just skim your application. Really examine everything you wrote, research or reflect on it, and be prepared to answer just about any question about it. I cannot tell you how many times I interviewed applicants who could not talk beyond the surface of what they put down on paper, whether it was their college thesis they included on their resume (because they wrote it five years ago and couldn’t recall many specifics), the names of companies they wanted to explore in their future career (because they had not done next-level research on what was appealing about these companies beyond the obvious), or the biggest challenge from their previous employer (because it was a tricky situation and they had not thoughtfully reflected on how to delicately share it in person). So beyond re-reading your application, leave yourself time to conduct the follow-up homework so you have the necessary context, details, and insights top of mind.
2. Solicit additional perspectives.
Unlike your written application, where too much feedback can dilute your “voice”, it is a good idea to solicit other’s opinions as you prepare for your HBS interview. Here is a tip I regularly give to anyone interviewing with HBS: Have at least three people read your entire application; then have them write down at least five questions they have after reading it. Their questions could include a follow up to one of your essay examples, a shared hobby they want to hear your perspective on, a clarification of why you left your last job from the employment short answers, or something they expected to learn in your application that you did not discuss. Have them deeply pressure test your application and probe for gaps and holes.
3. Think deeply about leadership.
I would be remiss if I did not suggest you spend some time preparing your view on leadership specifically – it is an explicitly stated criterion for HBS, after all. Start with your application resume and turn it into a leadership resume, focusing on each bullet and how you approached, defined, and evolved your view on leadership over time. Keep in mind that HBS has absolutely no preconceived notion of leadership. The onus is on you to define your authentic leadership style by sharing your personal insight and development. By doing this, you will not only cover leadership, but you will also address teamwork, how you motivate others to succeed, and a whole host of other important soft skills.
4. Practice the interview out loud.
After you have done steps 1-3, take the questions you have gathered and start practicing for the interview – out loud. Do anything you can to simulate the interview itself; for example, talk into a mirror, record and play back your answers via your computer, and conduct mock interviews, ideally with an independent outside expert (we conduct mock Harvard Business School interviews at Gatehouse Admissions and can certainly help). When you do this, pay particular attention to all the non-verbal components. Figure out where the camera is on your computer so you can make occasional eye contact. Make sure your body language is engaging by sitting up straight and leaning slightly forward, so you do not come across as overly casual or detached. Try and minimize nervous habits such as unnecessary filler words or tossing your hair (my personal pet peeve – and yes, every HBS interviewer will have their own). And unless explicitly told otherwise, wear professional attire. Better yet, practice with this attire too – it will help you feel the part.
Your goal: the “sweet spot” of preparedness
I am often asked how many practice-runs my clients should do. And the answer always is – it depends. For some applicants, it may be one or two, and for others, it could be a dozen.
The ultimate sweet spot is to have enough confidence to effectively communicate your story to your interviewer while still sounding natural and unrehearsed. My mantra is to know it, and then forget it. When I say forget it, I mean forget the formulas, frameworks, or exact wording of the bullet points you used to develop your answers and build your case. Talk genuinely and from the heart when you go into your interview, and trust that the interviewer will take care of the rest.
Good luck – you got this!
Brooke Wheelan serves as Special Advisor at Gatehouse Admissions. A former Associate Director of Admissions at Harvard Business School, Brooke served on the HBS MBA Admissions and Interview Board for 13 years. She reviewed more than 10,000 MBA applications and conducted more than 1,000 interviews. Prior to HBS, Brooke was a management consultant at Bain & Company. She holds an MBA from Kellogg.
To learn more about Brooke, Gatehouse Admissions, your candidacy or our HBS Mock Interview options, request a free consultation.