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February 03, 2021

HBS MBA Admissions Interviews: Preparation

 In this third of three posts I provide advice for HBS Admissions Interviews.  This third post focuses on preparation. The first post discusses logistics and contentThe second post focuses on strategy. These posts post have been completely revised from my prior posts and reflect the reports I have received from clients over the past several cycles since those for the Class of 2018 (Fall 2016 entry). It also reflects the changed way I advise and prep clients for HBS.

At the time of the blog post (February 2021), sixty-seven of my interview-only and comprehensive service clients have been admitted to HBS since the entering class of 2008 (I had prior clients admitted between 2001 and 2007 before establishing my own service). My clients' results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application consulting on HBS, I regularly help some candidates with HBS interview preparation only. My clients admitted to HBS come from all over the world with high concentrations in India, Japan, and the US.


In this post I apply what was discussed about HBS MBA admissions interviews in the prior two posts rather practically.  The objective of this post is to help you with both self prep and to serve as an overall guide to preparing for an HBS interviews.



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.  Of course, 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 more intensive than that of most other schools. Failure to take this interview sufficiently seriously is a recipe for disaster.


TAKE PREPARATION FOR HBS VERY SERIOUSLY! Any experienced admissions consultant will tell you that the HBS interview is one that really does require preparation even for those who previously aced alumni interviews.  My colleagues and I have often become depressed about cases where we had great applicants who did not take the HBS really seriously.  By the same token, our clients who really prep for this really do have a much higher rate of admission.  I have had clients who might do 5-20 hours of self-preparation for every hour of time spent with a consultant.  One of my clients admitted to HBS did 2 hours of prep with myself and another counselor and an additional 100 hours on his own. He already had been admitted to Kellogg and Booth, but knew HBS would be different.  It is certainly not uncommon for clients to do 40-50 hours of self prep and additional 1-5 or more hours of prep with consultants.  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 prep component can be particularly effective if you are trying to cover a huge range of questions and also master telling your best stories. Since your interview will be conducted on Zoom, I suggest you practice using that format.  Whether that practice is by yourself, with friends or family, or with a consultant, become comfortable doing interviews on Zoom.  For more about the technical aspects of online interviews, see here.



You need to know your application very completely as you will be asked by the HBS Interviewer 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.  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.  I especially recommend that you consider how every point on your resume might become a potential topic. A point I continually make 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.  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.




I believe in the value of active interview preparation. That is to say, instead of focusing only what questions you might get asked, focus on what you want to say about yourself. A basic any school approach to this would be to connect key words and stories that you hope to use. Given that you can't know exactly what you will be asked, you can at least have prepared for discussing key things that you want to get across to the interviewer. By being a bit more scripted, you can reduce your visible nervousness and overexcitement and give a more controlled response. The following is an "any school" chart:


Active Interview Preparation Chart

Keyword: A selling point or even a weaknessStoriesQuestions It Might Answer
  1. Development of 6-sigma strategic framework for XXX, inc.
  2. Discovery of accounting errors during first year of work.
  3. Senior thesis on the S&L Crisis
  1. Name three words that describe you (This would be one)
  2. What are your strengths?  Why? (This would be one.)
  3. How do you solve complex problems?
  4. How could you contribute to your classmates?
  5. What skill are you most proud of?




(You can cut and paste this into MS Word or Google docs)
In addition to outlining key words and stories as discuss in my general post on interview strategy, you actually more directly connect this to the specific four criteria (See my essay analysis post) that HBS values in order to see how well you are covering each of the criteria in your interview preparation. The chart below will help you map out your own HBS interview strategy.


HBS Active Interview Preparation Chart

Keywords: A selling point or even a weaknessStoriesDiversityA Habit of LeadershipAnalytical Aptitude and AppetiteEngaged Community CitizenshipQuestions It Might Answer
Development of 6-sigma strategic framework for XXX, inc.  Analytical 

-Tell me about a recent project you worked on

-What are you good at?

CooperativeOvercame team conflict when developing 6-sigma strategic framework for XXX, inc. -Demonstrates
consensus based leadership
-Can lead others
  -What are good at?
-Tell me about a project that you’ve worked recently where you exhibited leadership.

-What was like developing a 6-sigma framework for your team?


(You can cut and paste this into Google Docs or Microsoft Word and alter it to include more rows.)


To use the above chart: Try to develop 10 or so keywords and stories that relate to HBS's four criteria for admission. Don't forget to include weaknesses when you do so.  Your objective is be ready to tell your best stories as effectively as possible. Use the above chart to help determine which key words and stories will convey the most about you.  Remember that you want to use stories that are different from the ones you used in your essays. You might be asked about something in your application, which you should be prepared to discuss, but also assume you will need to provide new stories as well.






I. The questions you get will be specific to you and can be anticipated to a large extent.
As discussed in my prior posts in this series,  the interviewer will come in knowing what they want to ask you.  If you take the interview I described in my first post (or look at full interview reports), it becomes relatively easy to project yourself into the same patterns of questions you find.  Doing so will allow you to practice more efficiently


II. Assume there will be at least one question for which you might not be ready for, but don't panic. Take a deep breath. Answer the question and do not become flustered. You need to always have a strategy for handling such questions. The first thing to do is take a second to think about the question. If you really need to, even say something like "Um, that is an interesting question and either just pause for a second to think or if necessary ask a clarifying question.   Next, keep in mind that the purpose of your answer is not to have the correct information but to provide an intelligent response.  Especially at schools like HBS,  where case study in class requires the ability to give an opinion based on little information, your ability to provide an intelligent and confident response is more important than whether your response is perfect, correct, factual, etc.



III. HBS interviewers ask follow-up questions. They don't do stress interviewing at HBS 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. During your practice sessions, figure out what kind of responses generate what kind of follow-up questions, so you can better anticipate what might come up in the actual interview.


IV. Time management is important. Reported interview length for all interviews is 30 minutes. HBS is totally consistent about this.  So part of effective preparation on your part, means really considering time management and not wasting time in the interview by providing answers that are too long. You want to make your answers are sufficiently deep enough but don't take too much time.  You need to brief when just providing fact-based answers and deeper when explaining something or telling a story.


V. Have Mock Interviews that reflect both the range of questions and various kinds of interviewers you might encounter.   If I do multiple mock sessions with the same client, I will use different interviewer personalities.The friendly interviewer will let you hang yourself, the aggressive interviewer will challenge you, the neutral interviewer will give you very little feedback so you have to take charge, and  the rude interviewer will interrupt you and appear condescending. At HBS,  your interviewer will be someone you perceive as either friendly or neutral or a mix of the two.   Whether you are being made to feel good about the interview or not by the interviewer,  your  mission is still to convince this interviewer that you are right for their school.  While you may have some idea of the personality of your interviewer before you interview, chances are you will not. It is therefore particularly important to prepare for  both friendly and neutral interviewers.


Best of luck with your HBS interview! If you want to do interview prep with me, please see here.

HBS MBA Admissions Interviews: Strategy

 This is the second of three posts I provide advice for HBS Admissions Interviews.  This second post focuses on strategy. The first post discusses logistics and content. The third post focuses on preparation These posts post have been completely revised from my prior posts and reflect the reports I have received from clients over the past several cycles since those for the Class of 2018 (Fall 2016 entry). It also reflects the changed way I advise and prep clients for HBS.


At the time of the blog post (February 2021), sixty-seven of my interview-only and comprehensive service clients have been admitted to HBS since the entering class of 2008 (I had prior clients admitted between 2001 and 2007 before establishing my own service). My clients' results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application consulting on HBS, I regularly help some candidates with HBS interview preparation only. My clients admitted to HBS come from all over the world with high concentrations in India, Japan, and the US.


This blog post is focused on strategy. What I mean strategy is that focuses on understanding the game your are playing and how to play it well. We will begin with the basics and then go into more complex considerations.



I. MBA Admissions is a zero-sum game. The MBA admissions process is a competition for organizational entrance. Ultimately you are allowed to enter or are rejected. Interviews play a critical role in organizational entrance selection for jobs, internships, and, in the case, of some educational programs, admissions. They are simply one factor in the process. What we know about HBS interviews though is that applicants go into an interview with about a 50% chance of admission, which certainly better than the base 11-12%  base rate of admission. Those are great odds. The interview is just one factor and a great interview does not necessarily result in admission. For more about rejection, see here. That said, you want to play this game as effectively as possible, so doing the best you can on the interview is critical because you have great odds of winning this game.


II. Interviews as gatekeeping. 

One may make the initial assumption that the role of an admissions interviewer is to be a gatekeeper. And this is certainly true, whether the interviewer is an admissions officer like at HBS, a student (like at Wharton, Booth or Kellogg), or alumni (like at  Columbia Business School, INSEAD, and London Business School). In all cases, the interviewers are trying to determine against set criteria (an evaluation form) whether the applicant fits the program.


III. HBS MBA Admissions Board Stated Criteria:

HBS has three stated criteria for who they looking for: Habit of Leadership, Analytical Aptitude and Appetite, and Engaged Community Citizenship. In addition, I think they are looking for Diversity, that is what distinguishes only highly candidate from another and makes someone really stand out. I discuss these four criteria at length in my HBS application analysis post.  I highly recommend reading that analysis if you have not because it will help you understand that you need to demonstrate these criteria during your interview. You demonstrate these criteria not only through what you say, but how you say it. In other words, you show Analytical Aptitude not just by discussing something you did but actively demonstrating your analytical abilities during the interview. You show Leadership, not just by discussing your past actions but come across as convincing.  You show Engaged Community Citizenship through not only telling a story about it but providing answers that show you are aware and concerned about others (You don't overstate your own role but show both your impact and how it fits into an overall organizational/group/team setting).  You show Diversity but having novel opinions and revealing your personality.





I. Can You Cope with the Case Method?

The following is directly influenced by reviewing many client interview reports, learning about HBS in general, and the history of HBS as discussed in The Golden Passport, Duff McDonald's comprehensive and controversial history of HBS.

I think the HBS admissions interview is directly connected to what is certainly at the core of an HBS education, the case method.  According to the The Golden Passport (chapter 6), it was under HBS Dean Wallace Brett Donham (1919-1942) that the case method became the "School's signature pedagogical tool"  and the impact of that is still felt today.  While FIELD was introduced a few years ago, the case method is very much at the core of what HBS does. The case method requires that each student have ability to make meaningful contributions related to the discussion of a particular case. Given that participation is mandatory and a core component of a student's evaluation and that lack of participation can be the basis for failing at HBS, the ability to perform well in class is critical.  The MBA Admissions Board fails if they admit someone who does not have the ability to survive in class.  In 2007 during my first visit at HBS, I had lunch a former client and two of his friends. Later that summer my former client informed me that one of those guys I met had been kicked out of the school due to lack of effective participation. He was not the only one that year.  There are always few who don't make it in every first year class.  Since this amounts to only a small number of people each year, the Admissions Board is doing its job to eliminate the following:

  1. People who lack sufficient verbal skills to function at HBS. Beyond people with weak verbal skills,  HBS interviewers need to eliminate those who cannot effectively make quick analytical statements. The applicant maybe a great engineer/finance quant/thinker but if they can't perform well on the spot, they will not fit at HBS.
  2. People who lack sufficient knowledge or ability to apply their knowledge to meaningfully contribute in class.
  3. People who lack sufficient confidence to communicate in class.

I mention these three lacks because I think these are the criteria albeit stated negatively that are at the heart of what the MBA Admissions Board is assessing during the interview process. Therefore to win at the HBS interview you need to do the following:

  1. Demonstrate strong verbal skills: For those whose native language is not English, this is why intensive self-practice is so necessary. But even for native English speakers, I recommend extensive self-prep. That might be 20-100 hours of self-practice going through as many possible topics as possible and most of this should be spoken practice. See the third post for details of that practice. I often find that non-native speakers take interview preparation more seriously than native speakers of English because they  don't really understand how challenging it can be to do in this kind of interview environment. Some people, regardless of English level, need to focus on improving mental and rhetorical flexibility to provide sufficiently effective answers, which is something that interview training can help with.
  2. Demonstrate professional expertise: Whatever you have said about your work in your application, you need the ability to discuss in detail.  You need to be able to communicate clearly and succinctly and in as jargon-free a way as possible to highlight your ability to communicate with a non-expert. Ideally you should be able to provide deep insights into your work, your employer(s), and your industry.
  3. Demonstrate confidence: Always remember that with MBA interviews in particular, the answers are rarely purely factual but involve telling stories and hence the most important thing is to appear confident regardless of whether you think your answer is good, mediocre, or complete bullshit.  Actually the ability to bullshit through questions one does not completely understand  and/or have a perfect answer to is a core kind of competence. Instead of worrying about the accuracy or quality of the overall answer you might simply focus on delivery.  And even if you think you are saying complete bullshit be confident about it. If you provide a confident and yet not totally accurate answer, you can always clarify it in the post-interview reflection. Remember you are being judged both on your answers and the impression you make, so even if your answer is not great, a strong positive impression can still result in a win.


II. Do you have an interesting perspective?

My own forth admissions criteria for HBS, Diversity relates to this issue.  What distinguishes a merely acceptable candidate is that a great one will add a unique perspective.  I see this happen especially with clients who get to HBS you are really imperfect. They might have come from a second or third tier school, have only mediocre grades and/or GMAT or GRE test scores, come from a less famous company, or have a messy professional background, yet they bring something unique. The uniqueness is first realized by admissions in the application and then demonstrated in the interview. I make the operating assumption that everyone who makes it the interview stage is at least potentially unique and interesting.  My job as an interview coach is to make sure they bring that out when they practice.  If you unique expertise or experience make sure you can communicate that during the interview. Hopefully you will be asked about it but if not work it in. If it has already been accounted for in the application, figure out new ways of communicating in the interview. Be passionate about what you care about and make sure that you communicate that to the interviewer.


III. Are you mentality prepared?

There really is nothing to fear because HBS Interviewers are predictable and professional. HBS admissions officers stick to their role and don't focus on themselves. They are trained for their role, which is not necessarily what happens at all other schools.  In the case of HBS, an MBA admissions interview is customized for each interviewee by the interviewer after closely reviewing the interviewee’s application (resume, application form, essays, and recommendations). It is a closely timed exchange that lasts for 30 minutes. The questions come fast and the interviewer can ask follow-up questions about the interviewees’ answers intensively. HBS interviewers are professional and interviewees typically report that they are either neutral or friendly. HBS interviewers stick to their organizationally defined role and while questions are always personalized for the applicant, the topics and types of questions that are likely to be discussed are predictable, though the range of questions and the intensity of follow-up questions can vary greatly. You are playing a fair game: 

  1. You are being judged by someone who comes in assuming your potential for admission. They have no hidden agenda, unlike, for example, a job interviewer who already has selected an internal candidate for the job but most interview outside candidates because of HR policies.
  2. You will not be subject  to verbal abuse, hostility, or other negative unprofessional behaviors that occur frequently in job interviews (and less frequently in MBA admissions interviews with alumni). For over five years, I have asked my clients about their past interview experiences and many have had horrible experiences with interviewers who were rude, unprofessional, or otherwise really awful to deal with. Such experiences can leave a person with a negative attitude about interviewers, but you will not encounter this with an HBS interviewer.   (Unfortunately I cannot say the same thing about Columbia Business School or Chicago Booth alumni interviews because I frequently get very negative reports on alumni from those two schools. But that is what happens when you don't really train interviewers or closely monitor them.)
  3. You can anticipate but what you will be asked. While you cannot know the exact terrain that will be covered in your interview (the specific questions), you do know what the overall map (What is likely to be covered).  I have discussed this in detail in the first post.


Don't psych yourself out! It is particularly important that you don't worry too much about your perception of the interviewer's attitude as this can be a particularly good way to become nervous.  I have had too many reports of clients doing this with HBS.  Your interviewer maybe less friendly or more friendly, maybe more aggressive or less aggressive, but whatever their attitude focus on your answers.  Feel free to panic and cry after you have exited the interview, but avoid doing so during it. If you give an imperfect answer, move on and don't become fixated.


It is great when interviewers can make you feel comfortable, but not all do that.  It is important to understand that some interviewers maintain a neutral or unsupportive stance because they think they are being fair. In HBS interview reports, most of the interviewers are friendly/neutral. For example Sarah Lucas and Adam Chase seem engaging and easy to talk with based on what I understand from client reports.  On the hand, Eileen Chang, who typically handles East and Southeast Asia, can come across as neutral to some people.  Whoever you interview with at HBS should not matter because you should focus on your performance, not the interviewer's reaction.   Since you cannot know what is going on inside an interviewer's head, don't try to think about it.  Especially if the interviewer looks tired or does not provide much facial or body language, there is no value in focusing your attention on them. Focus on what they ask you and your response. This is not a time to worry about making friends. It is not a date, it is an evaluation of your performance, so focus only that.  Some interviewers may think they are being neutral even when an interviewee may feel like the interviewer is actually being unfriendly. For example, I might feel as though someone is being mean or unfriendly regardless of whether the other person is actually intending to be that way. The point is to be effective as you can in the interview without worrying too much about what might be happening inside someone else’s head.  Also be aware of what might trigger you to feel uncomfortable. For example, if I know that unsmiling people make me upset, I can when encountering such a person, take a step back, and think, “Adam, this guy is making me uncomfortable, why?  Oh, he is unsmiling.  He must hate me. No, Adam, you don’t need to make that assumption. That is just your feeling, but unhelpful for what you want to get out of this conversation. Assume he is just the kind of person who does not smile much.” This is easy for me to write, harder to put into actual practice, but worth the effort if you can.


Finally, as mentioned before, confidence matters. Some people are just naturally confident or are really good at faking it, others are not.  Some may just have minor problems with sounding confident, others simply become nervous, and others have extreme anxiety which undermines performance.  If you feel that this a problem for you or you have been feedback about this, you need to address this issue.  For those who feel that their confidence issues cannot be overcome by practice, which is what I discuss in the third post, I'd like to tell you about how I worked with a client who suffered from extreme interview anxiety. This is shortened version of  part of my INSEAD Masters thesis, Taking Interviewing Seriously: A Clinical Protocol for MBA Application Interview Coaching.  Feel to ignore what follows, if you don't think it applies to you. Just go right to the third post!





John, a European male in his late twenties, received an invite from HBS, so he had extensive time to prepare, as he received his invitation on October 7, 2015 and he did not interview until mid-November.  After doing some initial self-prep (something I strongly advocate and provide materials for), John and I had our first practice on October 25.


What occurred in that first session was not what I had expected. Instead of becoming more comfortable with his responses through self-practice, he was extremely unprepared and began struggling for answers.  The struggle was reflected in both his speech and facial expressions. He broke down in the first session, which simply involved going over his answers to typical questions in an open style (not a mock interview). It was as if an answer was not perfect, he fell completely apart. While my Interview Experience survey had indicated that John’s behavior was highly dependent upon how the interviewer acted, John had immense anxiety about his performance, which was not what his prior interview experience had indicated, because he had done well on job interviews. I had anticipated that he would need practice but realized something much more serious was going on.


The first step when the coaching process breaks down, as it did with John, is for the coach to realize that whatever the expected plan for the session was, a new task needs to become the focus. The coach should move the client into the reflective space in order to deal with issue(s) that will impede further progress. In John’s case, the need was obvious, as his behavior was dangerously off-task. Directly acknowledging the issue was my first step. The next was to make John feel safe. Since asking questions that were freezing him up was not working, I asked him directly what was bothering him. He expressed a sense of being underprepared and that he felt at a loss for answers. His willingness to reflect on the situation was critical for creating a space for us to continue working. During the rest of the session, we discussed what would make him feel prepared. I got the impression that for him being prepared meant being perfect.  John seemed so rigid and wanted to have THE RIGHT ANSWER. Such answers simply don’t exist. There are many possible right answers or at least answers that are right enough. I thought that anytime his answer was not smooth he too often shut down and became flustered. His desire to be right and in control prevented him from just trying to answer a question.


Breakdowns continued to occur both during sessions with me and with one of my colleagues who reported on November 7th that “he seems like a nice guy and his experience is very interesting, but that was literally one of the worst interview sessions I've had in recent memory.” Getting confirmation on a client’s behavior from a colleague helped me have confidence that my concerns were real and that John’s problem was quite serious.


I decided to continue using a relaxed approach focused on getting John to give a complete series of answers and restarting at any point where he broke down. Such breakdowns became occasions for helping him construct better answers.  The point to me was to convert his rigidity into flexibility but to do it gradually enough that he would not become discouraged. We had three subsequent sessions. Normally, one of my standard practices for HBS involves being a very neutral interviewer because this seems to be the worst case interviewer experience for those who have HBS interviews. (And from what my client respondents told me, no one likes neutral interviewers, whether for a job interview or an admissions interview.) However I did not do this with John as it would have enhanced his anxiety. John needed reassurance so that he could focus on performing. Instead of a mock session, we briefly discussed how to handle such a neutral interviewer. Prior to attending INSEAD, I might very well have been that neutral interviewer, but doubling down on someone’s anxiety is clearly creating harm. Instead I tried to create a safe space for John to practice a full range of questions in order for him to feel comfortable with his answers. Fortunately he reported that his actual HBS interviewers (there were two of them with one acting primarily as an observer) were friendly, which is the style I used for our mock sessions. He reported that, “I left the interview with a very good feeling. I didn't get stuck on any question and I just went with the flow.” He was admitted to HBS. Rather than working against his rigidity, accepting it and then building from it, as well as creating a place where he would feel safe seem to have been the key factors that enabled effective coaching.

Best of luck with your HBS interview! If you want to do interview prep with me, please see here.

HBS MBA Admissions Interviews: Logistics and Content

 This is the first of three posts I provide advice for HBS Admissions Interviews.  This post discusses logistics and content. The second post focuses on strategy. The third post focuses on preparation. These posts post have been completely revised from my prior posts and reflect the reports I have received from clients over the past several cycles since those for the Class of 2018 (Fall 2016 entry). It also reflects the changed way I advise and prep clients for HBS.


At the time of the blog post (February 2021), sixty-seven of my interview-only and comprehensive service clients have been admitted to HBS since the entering class of 2008 (I had prior clients admitted between 2001 and 2007 before establishing my own service). My clients' results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application consulting on HBS, I regularly help some candidates with HBS interview preparation only. My clients admitted to HBS come from all over the world with high concentrations in India, Japan, and the US.


This post just describes the HBS interview with some brief analysis. In the second post, I will get really abstract, analytical, psychological, and otherwise deep. In the third post, I will be very practical, which is good since that post is on self-preparation.  If you are familiar with the logistics and contents of HBS interviews, you can skim/ignore this one. It is here mostly for those who need to some grounding in the basics before jumping into my usual guru-level goodness.  Through I think it is a good idea to  review my advice on the post-interview reflection at the end of this post even if you are not interested in what follows.



The interviewers are members of the MBA Admissions Board.  Some have been around forever (or something like that), others arrived yesterday but whatever the case, these people stick to their interview protocols and do a better job than any other school at being fair and giving each person who is interviewed a fair hearing.  Honestly, I think they are the best MBA admissions interviewers on the planet.


Scheduling your interview: HBS oversees interview slots often fill quickly so if you are invited, please select your preferred slot as quickly as possible. If you prefer to have as much prep time as possible, I suggest you schedule as quickly as you can.  As all interviews are currently Zoom interviews, whatever you may have heard about certain officers covering particular geographies does not seem to have been applied consistently in Round 1 for the HBS Class of 2023.  Specifically the admissions officer, Sarah Lucas, who typically travels to India did not interview all of the Indian candidates and Eileen Chang, who typically travels to East Asia did not interview all Chinese, Japanese, and Korean candidates.  Therefore,  you should not assume you will have any particular interviewer and will not know who it is until the session starts. The good news is that there is little difference between the way each interviewer conducts interviews. That said,  if you are Indian and get Sarah or are East Asian and get Eileen, your interviewer will have greater area knowledge but this is something you will not know until the interview starts.


All interviews last 30 minutes and rarely exceed that time.


All interviews are currently being conducted online via Zoom.  Make sure your Zoom setup is good to go.  See here for my advice about.



The HBS interview content is quite distinct from what you would find in a typical MBA interview at schools like Booth, Columbia, INSEAD, Kellogg and Tuck. It is even more different than the behavioral interviews conducted by MIT and Stanford. The HBS difference is that each applicant will be asked questions specific to them. Prior to the Class of 2018 (2016 entry), while HBS interviews were always personalized, the reports I received from clients contained more generic questions. These days the questions each applicant gets is more tailored.


A few things to keep in mind:

  1. You have to be prepared for answering questions about anything you have done that is accounted for in the application. You can expect a few questions related to your academic and personal background so you have to be prepared to handle a full range of questions but don't be surprised if you only get a few or even no questions in this area.
  2. You will need to be able to switch between micro/personal level and big picture questions as this can happen often. If you are a non-native English speaker, chances are even greater that you will be in an interview where the number of questions asked is extremely high (maybe not so much of a deep dive at all) because the admissions interviewer is testing your English ability: In particular, your fluency. They want to make sure you can handle the HBS classroom.  Still, HBS is famous for going in relatively deep with follow-up questions, so you have to be prepared for that as well.
  3. You need the ability to both explain and evaluate. By explain, I mean you should be able to provide both  (1) detailed and succinct answers and (2) anecdotal examples (tell stories) to address a great range of questions.  By evaluate, I mean you should be able to interpret and give an opinion when asked for one.
  4. Don't be surprised if much of your essay contents are not discussed in the interview but rather only few points might be referred to. After all, they want to learn things about you they can't find in the essay, so don't think it will your script. Your resume is more likely to be worth your intensive review.


While I can't provide a real interview report,  I have described  what to expect in an interview. I would also say that the reports I have seen on online are usually too brief and don't generally reflect the actual interview because to do so would be too revealing. It would very risky for an applicant to put up a real report on an HBS interview because the questions are too applicant specific.


How it will start:

-The interviewer will briefly explain how the interview is structured.

-The interviewer will likely begin asking you questions either about something in your background or by asking you about your recent work. Examples:

"Tell me about X college experience"


"Tell me about how (your current work, current project, Project X mentioned in application) is going.


-If the interviewer starts with educational or other personal background questions, they are likely to do for a few minutes before switching to asking about professional experience related questions.  Expect 1-3 personal questions before the switchover to professional questions.

-If the interviewer starts with professional related questions, which are often updates at work, they are likely to focus on professional questions for most of the interview and you can expect only a few personal related questions at the end.


The primary focus of HBS interviews is on the applicant's professional experience.   While other subjects are discussed, based on reports I have seen, the vast majority of questions in  all recent interviews was related to professional experience. You still have to prep for the full range of questions, but a great deal of attention should focus on your work experience, your industry, and your company. They want to see your ability to discuss and explain your industry and company beyond your own role. This is an interview that is used to determine your fitness to be an effective participant in the class and hence the focus is content related to how you could contribute your experience in class discussions.

You need to be able to do the following for all of your employers:

1. Explain and evaluate the nature of the business.

2. Explain and evaluate the industry overall and the competition.

3. Explain key concepts related to your industry and role/function.

4. Explain and evaluate your role in each function you held in the company.


In other words, you should be able to explain and evaluate the above in a way that would parallel how you might use your knowledge in class at HBS. 

Below is an example set of questions reflecting the above.  We will assume that the applicant has worked at two companies.

"What is the project that you are most recently involved in?" 1-2 followup questions

"Tell me more about your involvement in... another project/organizing recruiting/ supervising a team/ other examples that focus on the applicant's role. 1-2 follow-up questions.

"How did Covid impact your company and your work personally?" ( I assumed this question would be asked in Round 1 interviews  and I used in some of my prep sessions. It was asked in some of the reports I have seen).

"What is the best part of your job?" 1-2 followup questions

"What have learned about your company as the result of your time there?" 1-2 followup questions

"Who are your company’s competitors?" 1-3 follow-up questions

"Why did you leave your prior employer to join this company?" 1-2 follow -up questions

"When you are at prior employer, tell me more about your involvement in... another project/organizing recruiting/ supervising a team/ other examples that focus on the applicant's role. 1-2 follow-up questions.

"How would you describe the difference in the work environment between these two companies?" 1-2 follow-up questions

"Can you explain more about X (X is something complex that is at the core the applicant's work)?"  1-5 follow-up questions


What else will be asked:

-Your goals are likely to be asked about but don't be surprised if you are not asked about why MBA or why HBS. You might be but there is a good chance, you will not be asked that.  So you have to prep for it.

"Where do you want to work post-MBA?" "Why?"

But be prepared for "Why HBS?" or "Why do you need an MBA" (these are both topics you can always bring up if asked if there is anything you want to discuss, see below)


-If no personal questions have been asked, you might get something related to your hobbies, interests, or background:

"Why do enjoy doing X?"

"Tell me about your involvement in X activity/group/organization/sport/team."

"What do you in your free time?"


-Typical MBA  interviews questions that are commonly asked but don't be surprised if you get none of these:

"What are you good at?" (What are you strengths?) or "What is one thing you are good at?"

"What aren't you good at?" (What are your weaknesses?) or "What is something you want to get better at doing?"

"What is something surprises people about you?"


-At the end of the interview, be prepared to be asked if there is anything else you want to discuss or questions you wish the interviewer had asked you. Have possible topics ready for this. Good topics for this:

  1. Something you really wanted to discuss but did not a chance to.
  2. Why HBS if this was not asked.
  3. Discussion about extracurricular activities that highlight something that shows  leadership potential, teamwork skills, intellectual abilities, readiness for HBS, or something else you think HBS really needs to know about you. For example, gaining a new skill or making a big impact in a volunteer activity.


Please keep in mind that my discussion above reflects what MBA applicants get asked but for 2+2 applicants the contents will be different because there will be less focus on work experience. I don't work with many applicants for the 2+2 program so I don't have enough reports to write this myself. For a description of a 2+2 interview, see here.


After the interviewer, you will have 24 hours to write a post-interview reflection. This is your chance to clarify anything you feel you did not address sufficiently or address topics you wish you could have covered.   I advise my clients on this document, so the first thing they do after their interview is write up a full report on the interview so they know what they discussed and so that we can determine what should go into the post-interview reflection. I suggest you do the same even if it is just for yourself.  A good post-interview reflection will do all or some of the following:

  1. Address any concerns you have over what you said or failed to say in the interview. (OPTIONAL)
  2. Elaborate on issues that you want to highlight that was not sufficiently focused in the interview or application. (OPTIONAL)
  3. Discuss something you especially want to highlight to the rest of the HBS Admissions Board even though it was discussed in the interview.  Just keep in mind that they not asking for you to summarize the interview.  (OPTIONAL)
  4. Provide a brief assessment for how you think the interview went.
  5. Thank the Admissions Board and your interviewer in particular.


Essay length for this varies, but I would say 200-500 words is common.


Best of luck with your HBS interview! If you want to do interview prep with me, please see here.


February 02, 2021

Booth Interview Video Question Analysis for the MBA Class of 2023 Round 2

 For my overall suggestions on Chicago Booth MBA  interviews, please see here.


For the current admissions cycle, Booth started asking for one minute video for those who receive interviews:


"Please submit a video response to one of the following two prompts:

  • Tell us about something new you learned recently that shifted your worldview. How did it influence your behavior and/or actions?
  • What is something you wish people knew about you, but you’re not sure that they do?

Please note the following:

  • The length of the video submission should be no more than 60 seconds.
  • You will not be evaluated on the styling and editing of the recording, only the content of your submission.
  • Feel free to record the video with a cellphone, computer, or other video recording device."


Overall suggestions:

In general, I recommend discussing  something new that is not at all or is only minimally discussed in your application. Given that Booth has already asked a lot about you in the main essays, you should certainly give an answer that is consistent with what is found there.  However this is an opportunity to give them new perspectives and/or elaborate on  a theme found only briefly in your essays. If you choose to write about something that has already been covered, really consider whether what you are adding is really strong enough to make a difference.


Given the length is just 60 seconds, obviously you cannot write script in huge detail, rather think of these as one-point or two-point answers. Somewhere between 90-120 words is the likely length of a script that can be communicated effectively in one minute.


While video is not directly connected to the interview as the interviewer will not have access to them, do keep in mind that they will be analyzed in relationship to your application and the interview report


Technical considerations: The most important thing is that they can hear you and see you clearly. Don't worry about editing this or making it fancy. Focus on your content and performance, not on technical issues. Don't go for some outdoor location if you can't get good sound quality. Don't focus on any props or provide visuals just on you and your message.


Question Analysis

  • Tell us about something new you learned recently that shifted your worldview. How did it influence your behavior and/or actions?

The point here is to focus on something you learned altered your perspective. A worldview is a rather wide perspective, so the learning should be significant and not minor.

1. Focus on a specific thing you learned. Make sure that this was a new learning.  A new learning is just that, something that you would have not known previously.


2. Make sure this happened recently. Recently is vague but I think the last 1-2 years would be a good timeframe.


3.  The topic possibilities here are really unlimited as this could be everything from a lesson learned through failure or success, a leadership story, a teamwork story,  an intellectual journey, an interpersonal dynamics (EQ) situation,  a story of your motivation towards something personal/academic/professional, etc.


4.  Make sure it is very clear that the following underlying pattern is present in your response:




→= leads to

N→S →I


  • What is something you wish people knew about you, but you’re not sure that they do?

I would say the biggest limiting condition to what topic should be covered is that it must be relevant to Booth’s admission decision. As such you should be able to show how the thing you wish to people knew about you effectively answers one or more of the following:  Why would someone want to be friends with you?  Why would they want to work with you in and out of class?  How will add value to them? What does this does this surprising thing reveal about your intelligence/personality/leadership/teamwork/abilities?  The point here is to focus on something that is not obvious about you but is more than a meaningless curiosity. For example, my thumbs are  double jointed and while this can be briefly amusing when demonstrated, it is not really the kind of thing that would be worth consideration here.  You want to show something about yourself that gives Booth another reason to admit you.


Recommended Process for making your video

Here is what I typically do with my clients:

  1. They formulate ideas for their script.
  2. We either discuss them or just exchange ideas about what topic to focus on.
  3. They write their script.
  4. I review the script.  If it looks good,  I might give editing feedback if needed. If the script is not good, we discuss it.
  5. Once the script is done, they make a video.
  6. I review the video and give feedback. This might also involve editing the script.
  7. They revise the video and show it to me again. They alter this as many times as necessary before submitting it.

January 21, 2021

Getting Technically Ready for Online Admissions Interviews

One of the frustrations I regularly experience with clients and potential clients is their lack of technical readiness for having Zoom (or Skype or Google or FaceTime) sessions with me.  This especially freaks me out when we are doing mock interviews for MBA and other programs.  There are just some basic technical things I expect and that are critical to effective training sessions and actual interviews:


Be on a good internet connection. While some poor connection situations are unavoidable (power outages, location in a low bandwidth environment), most are not.  Make sure you will be interviewing in whatever optimal location you have for a high bandwidth connection.  If necessary and financially viable, if your home connection sucks get your hands a mobile connection with higher bandwidth.


Use a computer, tablet, or other device that Zoom (or other platform) ready.  This means making sure you have device that can handle the platform you are on consistently and effectively.  Beyond doing updates, check your device and the platform you will be on in advance.  Have a friend do a test with you.


Getting visual: Make sure your camera is working, your setting is acceptable, and your lighting is good.  This means checking these things in advance. Cameras are usually not the problem (unless, of course, you have failed to authorize the application to access the camera).  Lighting is important. I am not an expert on this. Google it. Tons of stuff will help you figure it out.   It is fine to use a virtual background as long as your device and bandwidth can handle it.  I am not an interior director but do try to create some sort of home office, office,  conference room type setting. Find a friend (s) to give you feedback on your setup.


CAN YOU HEAR ME? Be audio ready.  I have saved the most important for last. Actually sometimes bandwidth issues will make video difficult but audio is critical. Check your set-up carefully.  Some computers have great audio input (mic) and output, others don't.  Whatever the situation make sure you have an audio situation that is optimal. No echoes, no muffled speaking, no mikes that are moving around and not picking your voice in a consistent way. Just make sure you sound clear and consistently. Again, have a friend(s) help you out.


Finally, I would have thought that the above post would be unnecessary to write but after the last year where almost everyone has been using Zoom, I  find myself still surprised about how many people (typically 20-30 years younger than me) haven't sorted out the above issues. Given that all interviews for the foreseeable future will be online, it is critical to be technically ready for them.

Good luck!


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