Big Decision Day At Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School interviews

Harvard Business School.

Anxious fingers will peck away at their mobile phones and laptop keyboards as the clock turns ever closer to noon EST today (Feb. 1). That is when thousands of MBA applicants to Harvard Business School will pull up their application status page on the school’s website to discover whether they have been invited to an admissions interview or simply rejected for admission.

For Round 2 candidates at Harvard Business School, the largest single application round for this fall’s entering cohort, there are only two possibilities: an invite to interview or what HBS euphemistically called an “early release,” admissions talk for a ding. Most candidates will fall into this latter category given Harvard’s acceptance rate of about 12.5% (see Acceptance Rates At The Top 50 U.S. MBA Programs).

How does HBS define an early release? “Unfortunately, this means we’re not able to move you forward in the application process,” explained Jana Kierstead, executive director of the MBA and Doctoral programs at HBS in a blog post. “Our hope is that by letting you know as early as possible, you can proceed with other plans.”


Applicants invited to interview will see additional information regarding the interview process when they open their application status page on HBS’ website. “You’ll then be able to sign up for an interview on February 2,” adds Kierstead. “We are offering both in-person and Zoom interviews.”

While an invite is certainly positive news, it’s no guarantee of admission. Roughly half of the MBA applicants who interview are ultimately dinged.  At HBS, interviews are 30 minutes long and are conducted by an MBA admissions board member who has reviewed a candidate’s application. Each interview is tailored to the candidate and is designed for Harvard to learn more about applicants in the context of a conversation. Candidates will be required to submit a written reflection after their interview.

If you’re lucky enough to gain an invite, what should you expect? While Harvard Business School offers a series of video tips for applicants, it is silent on offering any advice for the interview. We turned to Sandy Kreisberg, founder of for 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 an invite and who doesn’t–as well as who ultimately gets admitted after an interview and who gets turned down.


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

Project Manager

How has Covid impacted your job and industry?
Are people working at home?
Are you working at home?
How was that?
What technologies are you using to keep up to date with remote fellow workers?
Do you find some people adjust better to remote work?
OK, let’s get off of Covid
What was the most exciting project you worked on this year?
What role did you play?
How did you ramp up?
What would you do differently, looking back on this project?
How do you handle pushback?
Have you ever been criticized unfairly in your opinion?
What did you say?
What would you say the most valuable feedback you ever received was?
What were the circumstances?
What kind of leader do you aspire to be?
What is going to be hard at HBS besides managing your time?
What is going to be less difficult?
How do you think you will be different after your two years at HBS?
We receive applications from many highly qualified applicants in your industry–why should we admit you?

An investment banker who gained an R1 interview:

How has COVID impacted your business (lots of follow-up about my 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 a ‘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?
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, is there anything new here? 

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.

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