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June 29, 2012

HBS MBA Post Interview Reflection

This is the seventh in series of eight posts. My analysis of the HBS Application for the Class of 2015 (and 2+2 Class of 2017) consists of:
My comprehensive service clients have been admitted to the regular HBS MBA for the Classes of 2014, 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2005 and one 2+2 client admitted to the Class of 2014. My clients' results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application counseling on HBS, I regularly help additional candidates with HBS interview preparation. I have worked with a large number of applicants from Canada, Europe, India, Japan, other parts of Asia, and the United States on HBS application. I think that this range of experience has helped me understand the many possible ways of making an effective application to HBS. In the posts in this series, I provide insights based on that experience.

Post Interview Reflection
Revised: 6/30/2012. After HBS clarified the content of the Interview Reflection. 
Dee Leopold has now stated the following on the HBS Director's Blog:
  • This is the question that all interviewees will be asked: "You've just had your HBS interview. Tell us about it. How well did we get to know you?"
  • There will be no word limit.
  • We think the instruction memo will look something like this: "This is not an essay. Think of this as an email you might write after a meeting. We will be much more generous in our reaction to typos and grammatical errors than we will be with pre-packaged responses. Emails that give any indication that they were produced BEFORE you had the interview will raise a flag for us. We do not expect you to solicit or receive any outside assistance with this exercise."
Not that I am claiming credit, but I brought the issue to the attention of their Communications Department because of what was previously reported about the Post Interview Reflection by Melissa Korn from the Wall Street Journal and John Byrne from Poets & Quants. They both reported that the post interview reflection is 400 words long, but there was nothing previously on the HBS site indicating the length or specific format of this essay. I contacted Melissa Korn directly and she wrote that "Dee Leopold told me of the 400-word limit in an interview." I have not communicated with John Byrne, but these are both highly respected reporters who would not make up something like this up, but clearly the Post Interview Reflection is a work in progress and now HBS is officially providing better details. (July 2, 2012 update: Melissa Korn emailed me that she " followed up with HBS as well and they said they were initially planning on 400 words but changed their minds.")

You will have 24 hours to respond: Following the interview, candidates are required to submit a written reflection using our online application system. This must be submitted within 24 hours following the completion of the interview. Detailed instructions will be provided to those applicants who are invited to the interview process-  Dee Leopold's initial description is worth keeping in mind: 
Have the Last Word
If this is what Ms. Leopold wants, I am all in favor of giving it to her. She is, after all, like that illustrious HBS graduate, George W. Bush, the decider.

Tentative Suggestions for Preparing for the Post Interview Reflection
1.  Make sure your schedule is clear for 24 hours after your HBS interview.  If you are visiting Cambridge and not able to interview in your hometown, you should do as another consultant, Sandy Kreisberg, has suggested and book yourself into a hotel for the night after. Next, make sure you have a reliable internet connection at said hotel. If you are due back at work, be sick. 
2. If you are working with a consultant make sure they know when you are interviewing and will be ready to review your essay. If you are not working with a consultant, at least have someone around who can proofread what you have written before you submit it. 
3. Immediately after your interview, write up your notes on what just happened. In addition to recalling what your interviewer asked you, try to remember what you said. Next try to think about what you wish you had said but were unable to. Finally, without too much crying, vomiting, or otherwise becoming hysterical, consider any answers that you gave that were bad.  Try to spend a maximum of one hour on writing these notes.  If you are getting any sort of assistance on the Post Interview Reflection from a consultant or mentor, send your interview report to them. I will certainly ask my own clients for their interview reports so that I can fully understand the situation from their perspective and help them think about the proper way to respond to the interview.
4. After writing your immediate reaction notes,  go take a 15 minute to 1 hour nap, do yoga, workout, eat lunch, have a beer, or whatever else would get you to relax for a bit. This is to clear your mind and get you from being merely reactive in your thinking to being more creative and calm.  You want to write from a perspective wider than the 30 minutes of the interview. You need distance from it, but since you have very little time, impose a short rest on yourself to try and achieve this. In my experience, it sometimes works. 
5. Here are some ideas designed to get you thinking about what you should write about:
-Assuming you completed the HBS Active Interview Preparation Chart found in my prior post, you can actually use it to analyze your answers in the interview to quickly determine which of your key stories and/or key words about yourself that you either did not cover or only partially covered. This imposes a certain ordered logic, checklist process, on your response that will help to align what you write about with your overall MBA application strategy. Hopefully you will identify 2-4 key topics for you to discuss in your Reflection.
-By reviewing your answers, you will likely immediately identify which ones YOU THINK you did not answer well.  What you have to think about now is whether you are right or are being over-critical.  It can often be helpful to have a consultant or mentor or at least a trusted friend discuss this with you.  Sometimes we think we have given a bad answer and we have not. You don't have so much time to second guess yourself, but you try to do so from at least a position of relative calm. Either alone or with your trusted advisor (I would only pick one advisor in this situation as you really don't have time to take in that many perspectives), really determine whether you need to restate or expand on a topic or topics you handled less effectively than you wanted to.
-Don't use this space to apologize, but to sell yourself in as distinct and memorable a way as possible.  My basic suggestion would be to focus on the 2-4 topics that you think will most improve your likelihood of admission. If you did not answer a question as well as you should, simply indicate that you wish you had the opportunity to discuss topic X more in detail, not how badly you discussed topic X during the interview.  Be aware of your limitations, but go positive in the way you address them.
-Feel free to explain why you want to go to HBS if this topic was not addressed sufficiently in the interview, but don't provide a laundry list of courses or otherwise tell HBS about itself. Instead, explain what you need from HBS and why. If you have completed my GAP, SWOT, AND ROI MATRIX FOR FORMULATING POST-MBA GOALS found in my essay post and are well informed about HBS, this should be a relatively easy task. 
-If you think that you have some particularly valuable contribution to make to HBS, the can be good way of demonstrating what makes you unique. This relates to the importance that HBS puts on diversity (See this earlier post  if you don't know what I am writing about).
-While you can write at unlimited length, my suggestion is to keep it within 200-600 words, but the bigger point to keep in mind is that you don't have to have a highly polished essay which lacks any redundancy and where every word has to count, which is what HBS expects from admissions essays. Ms. Leopold has made her expectations very clear:

What the Reflection would look like for any particular interviewee will vary. Maybe someone will only want to focus on a single topic, but this could be rather narrow. Given that the longest HBS has ever given for an essay is 600 words, sending in something that much over that really seems intuitively wrong to me because HBS adcom certainly values clarity and brevity.  Personally, I think short, clear, and to the point is best because that is what is best with an effective email.

What not to do. Based on what HBS has said I highly recommend not doing any of the following:
-Giving them highly redundant content would be a bad idea. They are not looking for endless examples.
-Giving them a pre-written essay like content, such as a 200 word or longer new accomplishment would be a bad idea.  You may want to mention a topic you did not get a chance to present in the interview, but you should completely explain why you think it is worth mentioning.
-Providing highly detailed stories instead of focusing on clear analytical points backed up with a brief reference to a specific example.

A possible structure based on the topic, You've just had your HBS interview. Tell us about it. How well did we get to know you?, might look as follows:

Paragraph 1: Brief paragraph about how your overall feeling about how the interview went. 
Paragraph 2: Discussion of one key issue where they did not get to know you well enough.  
Paragraph 3: Discussion of another key issue where they did not get to know you well enough.  
Paragraph 4: Discussion of one key issue where they got to know you well, but you wanted to briefly expand a specific answer you provided in the interview.
Paragraph 5: Discussion of key aspect about why you want to go to HBS that you wish you had a chance to discuss.
Paragraph 6: Brief closing paragraph.

Keep in mind that is just one possible way to write the Reflection. Of course, now that I have, don't  just copy it exactly in your own response. I provide it here merely as a possible example. There would be very different and effective ways to put this together.
Well, I suspect that I will have more to write about this topic in the future. I have now fully revised this post once. I will note on the post when and if  I make substantive changes to it in the future. 
In my final post in this series, I discuss the 2+2 Program.

-Adam Markus

I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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