How NOT To Bomb Your Harvard MBA Interview

If you were one of the lucky ones today to get an invite to interview with the admissions folks at Harvard Business School, you’ll want to smartly take advantage of that invitation. After all, you’ve gotten this close to an admit, it would be a tragedy to be among the 40% to 50% to only get a rejection.

Those invited to interview will be able to sign-up for an interview slot this Thursday, Feb. 3. All interviews this year will be conducted via Zoom and will take place between mid-February to early-March.

How not to bomb your shot?

We again put a call into Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com and the reader of admissions tea leaves at Harvard Business School, for his best advice. In any given year, Sandy will do mock interviews with as many as 100 or more HBS applicants who have been invited to attend. That gives him an unusual level of intelligence about who gets and invite and who doesn’t–as well as who ultimately gets admitted after an interview and who gets turned down.

Several of his round one clients handed over their detailed questions after being interviewed by HBS, and Sandy shares them here:

The first series is from an investment banker who gained a R1 interview:

How has COVID impacted your business (lots of follow up about impact on deals, clients, co-workers etc)?
Tell me about your favorite deal, your hardest deal, and a deal that got away–and why?
How do you market yourself to investors?
What is your firm’s ‘secret sauce’?
What types of investors are attracted to your firm and why?
What has been the biggest challenge in raising money?
Tell me about a time you influenced somebody else
As you think about the roles you’ve had — deal maker, working with your portfolio companies, team lead, and fundraising –which have been the hardest for you and why?
Would you ever want to run a company full time?
How would your impact be different as an investor vs as a CEO?
How have you learned about HBS?
What do you wish I asked you about?

And from a candidate who works in private equity:

Can you talk about the recent deal on your resume (Lots of follow-up questions)
What do you do in your current role?
I see you have worked in different offices, and on different continents of your Bank, what are some of the cultural and operational differences. Which office did you enjoy most.
How would your supervisor describe you?
What constructive feedback have you received in the past?
What did you learn at JOB 2?
Tell me about your goals? Where do you want to work? What could you see yourself doing if those goals do not materialize?
What will you get from an MBA?
What did you think about doing your exchange semester in D? 1
Can you tell us more about living in A and B?
Can you tell us about Extracurricular A?
Is there anything else you’d like us to know? __________________________________________________

From a military vet applicant:

What made you decide to join the Military?
Tell me about the team you currently work with. Lots of follow up–what is team culture, who is ‘leader,’ how do we make decisions,
Give me two words your teammates would use to describe you?
What is a piece of constructive feedback you’ve received from your teammates?
What were the goals you set for yourself in the military?
When did you decide on pursuing an MBA and why?
What are you interested in doing in industry?
What is a company you would be interested in working with and why?
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru

Sandy, is there anything different about this year’s series of interviews at Harvard?

Not much in terms of what really counts. The Golden Rules remain the same.

1. The interview is meant to weed people out, not select people (see story below).

2. The interview is mostly resume based, and focused on your ability to walk through your resume, introduce yourself, and explain key transitions, why you went to School X, why you took Job 1, what you learned there, what your accomplishments were, what you would do differently, why you took Job 2, etc. For each school and job on your resume be prepared to explain what you did, what you learned, what you are proud of, what you would do differently, etc. That is the bulk, and the important bulk of the HBS interview. Although sure, there are millions of variants.

3. Smart people, who can in fact speak English, screw up the HBS interview for two reasons: They talk too much and get lost, and lose track of where they are. Or they try to give exceptional, show-off answers instead of down-to-earth obvious answers.