This post has been updated and expanded from my previous post on this topic.
HBS ADCOM HQ
In my experience, applicants who succeed at HBS MBA interviews go to their interview with a sense of confidence based on having done careful preparation. My clients who have failed the interview stage have often done so because of related reasons: lack of confidence and/or preparation. (There are times when the post-interview reason for getting dinged is never clear. The reality of having too many well qualified applicants means that many who would certainly make the post-interview cut don't, simply due to lack of available seats). While these issues could be the same for any interview, the reality is that HBS admissions interviews are simply more thorough than that of most other schools. Failure to take this interview sufficiently seriously is a recipe for disaster.
In addition to my own knowledge, I have reviewed reports of Harvard Business School interviews found at accepted.com and clearadmit.com. These reports reveal that there are five key things to consider when preparing for HBS interviews:
1. You need to know your application very completely as you will be asked by adcom about its content. Review your entire application (not just resume and essays, but everything including the transcript) very carefully and consider what your interviewer might ask you to explain more thoroughly. Remember: Anything is fair game. Assume that the weakest parts of your application will be topics in the interview. Assume the worst-case scenario and be very prepared to address their concerns. Given the annual failure rate at HBS, if you have any academic weaknesses (low GPA, a relatively weak TOEFL, insufficient proof of a quantitative background), be ready to address those issues. Be prepared to tell new stories and alternative versions of the stories you told in your essays.
If you think that either your English ability and/or interview skills are somewhat weak, be prepared to do extensive practice both with other people and alone. The self-study component can be particularly effective if you are trying to cover a huge range of questions and also master telling your best stories.
A point I will be making to own clients who have been invited for the HBS interview is that proper preparation for this interview really requires that you look for all the weak points in your application: Rip yourself apart in order to try and determine what you need to be especially ready to address. Getting a fresh perspective by reviewing your own application is certainly helpful. In addition, you should consider having one or more other people who can help you prepare for this and who will review your entire file. If you use any paid services, make sure that the mock interviewer (admissions consultant, admissions counselor, interview coach) will be reading your application first and developing a list of questions based on that review and with an understanding of what HBS asks, otherwise they are not really helping you prepare for an HBS interview. When I do mock interviews for interview-only clients, I always ask to read their applications if they are not doing a blind interview. For schools like HBS and MIT, which are never blind, reading the whole application (especially the essays) is critical for simulating the real thing.
2. The questions you get will be specific to you. Most questions will not be odd, but they may be unexpected. On the other hand, a number of reports indicate that the majority of questions are actually common ones. See my previous post on interviewing. Be able to articulate clearly what you want to learn at HBS and what you can contribute. While it is important to be able to discuss leadership, don't assume the interview will be entirely focused on it. The interviewer will come in knowing what they want to ask you. My colleague Steve Green has collected and organized some of the commonly asked questions:
RESUME, CURRENT POSITION
- Why did you choose to major in X at your undergrad university?
- Describe your career progression, and talk about the most important things you learned about yourself along the way?
- Why did you choose to join this company?
- What do you think about their training program?
- Who do you admire in this industry?
- What's the company's position compared to its competitors?
- Where is the industry heading?
- What was different about your previous job compared to this one?
- What was the most surprising aspect about this company when you first joined?
- What has been your greatest challenge since joining?
- Tell me about your typical day?
- Explain your job/industry/job function like I was a 14-year-old.
- What worries you about the company?
- What's its long-term strategy?
- How has this job impacted your career goals?
- How do you find the time to do all you do?
REASONS FOR MBA, HBS
- Why do you want an MBA?
- Why HBS?
- What can you contribute to HBS case method discussion?
- What will you do if you don't get into business school?
- How do you want to impact HBS?
- Tell me about a project that you’ve worked recently where you exhibited leadership.
- Who is a leader that you admire and why?
- Name a business leader you admire (non-government).
VALUES & PERSONALITY
- What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?
- What drives/motivates you?
- If you could have lunch with anyone in the world who would it be?
- Who would you want to sit next to in your first year at HBS?
- What would be your dream job?
- How would the people who know you best describe you?
- What are people surprised to learn about you?
- How do you fit with different cultures?
- What is the most recent book that you have read?
- What’s a question that you thought I was going to ask you but didn’t?
- Is there anything else that you haven't mentioned in your application that you would like to share at this time?
3. Assume there will be at least one question for which you might not be ready for. Don't panic. Take a deep breath. Answer the question and do not become flustered. Be ready to answer questions about a hypothetical case study, conflict with colleagues, and the latest book you read as these have all been reported frequently.
4. Adcom interviewers are friendly, but to the point. They don't do stress interviewing exactly, but they will question you intensely. They will be taking notes. Anything you say can be subject to inquiry, so speak concisely, answer questions precisely, and try to avoid voluntarily bringing up any topics that you really don't want to talk about. Assume the you will be asking follow-up questions, expect to be able to analyze/explain in a great deal of depth. Your interviewer will know exactly what he/she wants to ask you because the purpose of the interview is (1) to see if you look as good in reality as you did in paper and (2) to address any concerns that they have about your suitability for HBS.
5. Reported interview length for interviews is 30 minutes.
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Questions? Write comments, but do not send me emails asking me to advise you on your application strategy unless you are interested in my consulting services. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see my post on "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant."
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