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The Harvard Business School Admissions Interview: Details to know!

By Puja Daga (last updated: December 13, 2019)

One of the elements that gets you into the Harvard Business School MBA class is cracking the interview process right. The HBS interview consists of two stages: a 30-minute interview and a post-interview reflection essay. This article will help you understand the nature of the interview, and both parts of the interview process.

The HBS Interview Specifics

Structure and context:

Getting an invite for an HBS interview in itself is an exceptional achievement. If you have received an invite, 50-60% chances are that you may get selected. Regardless of the invite, the admissions team will be in regular touch with you for further steps. 

To get ready for the interview, you need to understand the context – starting from the interview structure.

  • The interview will be a strict 30-minute, rapid-fire format.
  • You will be interviewed by members of the MBA Admissions Board.
  • You may have a two-on-one formal interview, where one admissions officer is actively interviewing while the other is observing.
  • The interviewer is already familiar with your resume and has studied your entire application in depth.
  • The dress code for the interview is business formal.
  • Once the interview has been completed, an email will be sent by the admissions office explaining further details.

HBS Interview location and dates

As far as interview invitations, HBS communicates his or her invite to the applicant within a month to 6 weeks time from the deadline date of the written application. Once communicated, the date of the interview varies by city, as the admissions committee team travels to places such as Burlingame, London, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Paris, Dubai, Shanghai or Tokyo. The dates to these cities are not published publicly or determined in advance. So if the applicant is unable to travel to these locations, a Skype interview can be scheduled.

Stage 1: The 30-minute HBS Interview 

Just to be clear, one can’t predict any specific questions that might come up during the interview. But you can expect that the kind of interview questions you get at HBS will be according to your profile and the conversation that unfolds during the interview.

Below are sets of potential questions that you may be asked during the interview. Preparing for these questions will give a solid foundation for your real interview.

Background information: on professional, personal and reasons to do an MBA

  • Introducing yourself.
  • Why did you choose to join a Tech Based firm (Depends on your resume)?
  • What are the best and worst things about your current job?
  • What has been the most challenging aspects of your current job?
  • What’s the company’s position compared to its competitors? How can your company improve this?
  • If you could change anything about your current company, what would it be?
  • How has your leadership evolved with your career progression?
  • Who do you admire in your current industry (companies and leaders)?
  • Where is the industry heading?
  • Where do you want to do your summer internship? How will you market yourself to these companies?
  • What do you like to do outside of work?
  • What challenges do you anticipate facing in reaching your career goals? How will you overcome them?
  • Why do you want an MBA?
  • When did you decide to get an MBA?
  • What kind of people do you look forward to meeting at HBS?
  • What do you think will be most challenging for you at HBS?
  • How can you contribute to case method discussions?
  • What will you do if you don’t get into any business school this year?
  • What makes you unique?

On leadership and teamwork:

  • Tell me about a recent example where you demonstrated leadership.
  • Who is a leader that you admire and why?
  • Tell me about a time you dealt with conflict in the workplace.
  • Tell me about a time you had to convince a superior to follow your recommendation.

Major strengths and weaknesses:

  • How would your colleagues describe you?
  • What would your boss say is a strength and a weakness?
  • Do you need different skills to really stand out? What are they?
  • Give me an example of a project you’ve had a difficult time with. What did you learn from it?

Other Questions:

  • How did you find the application process?
  • Is there something about you that has not been addressed in your application?
  • What is a common misperception people have about you?
  • What would your five closest friends say about you? Why?
  • What words would people use to describe you?
  • Given what you know now, if you could go back to university and pick your subjects, would you change your choices?
  • If you could talk to the president of your college, and give him advice about how to improve the experience, what would it be?
  • What would be your dream job?
  • How have you developed your international experience?
  • What do you do for fun?

Oddball questions:

These are the type of questions one cannot predict. But below are some “sample of questions” asked recently in interviews,

  • If you had 10 minutes with any of these presidents (President Obama, Hillary Clinton, President of your university or company] what would you say to them?
  • If you have to recommend a book to Vladimir Putin which book it will be and why?
  • What is your favorite iPhone application?
  • What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you in public?
  • What will you regret not doing at HBS?
  • Introduce yourself to God.
  • If you could have lunch with any business leader, who would it be and why?
  • If you could have lunch with any political leader, who would it be and why?

Answers to these questions are not easy. And there is no straightforward response. A key to go about answering these questions is by linking it to real world examples that the interviewer can feel connected to.

Your opportunity to ask questions:

At the end of the interview, the interviewer sometimes gives you an opportunity to ask questions. This is opportunity is not given to all applicants. To utilize this to your advantage, you should come prepared with a brief set of questions focusing on your priorities and knowledge you have for the school. To utilize this to your advantage, you should come prepared with a brief set of questions focusing on your priorities and knowledge you have for the school. 

Asking questions to alumni

If an alumnus is conducting your interview, then one can ask questions such as:

  •  How have you most benefited from attending this school?
  • What was your favourite class? Who were your favourite professors?
  •  What’s a typical day like at HBS?

From these questions, you may gain a positive perception on the academic experience and potentially pick up some inside information about the school. 

Asking questions to admissions officials

From board members and officials, one can ask questions, like:

  • In your opinion, what really sets this school apart? Could you please share your thoughts and experiences with the school? 

Officials know this is an important inquiry, especially if you’re choosing between multiple schools. To win points, you can say, for example “I have heard that Professor X has received a Nobel Prize” or “the school has made some new changes in their curriculum”.

  • Can you talk a little about the student job search?

When you are ready to pay $100,000 plus for an MBA, you are entitled to ask about the “Career Prospects” you will have in HBS. So to impress your interviewer you can add the example of “I have heard great things about the alumni network” and so on and highlight that you are willing to be proactive.

Stage 2: The HBS Post-Interview Reflection

Having completed the interview, the final part of the interview process is to write a reflection essay. It should be written briefly and submitted within 24 hours of the interview.

The essay should ideally highlight some points which you would like to reinforce from the interview or otherwise. In case you have forgotten to mention any important attribute or accomplishment, this essay is the chance to convey it to the board. Away from a piece loaded with jargons, this essay should be as realistic as possible, reflecting on who you really are and what unique values you will offer to the school, if selected.

Conclusion

The two-part interview process is an attempt by the school to get to know its prospective student’s goals, aspirations and what they will offer to the cohort. While the set of questions mentioned in this article is just an indication, the takeaway point here is to be natural, realistic and well-prepared for the interview.

Preparing for Top MBA Program Admissions Interviews

By Puja Daga (last updated: December 11, 2019)

The Landscape of Business School Interviews 

In recent years, business schools have introduced new interview formats to assess business school applications. Getting familiarized with the different styles of admissions interviews is an important step for any candidate applying to leading business schools.

If you have recently received an interview invite, then it is a strong signal that the school sees you as a potential fit for their program. You might also have a high chance of getting in and it is a good time to start preparations. You may be confident about acing the interview, but remember you have a short window of time to impress the interviewer. So, you need to focus on the essentials like trying to get to the point quickly and preparing yourself to various MBA interview styles.

We have seen that admissions interview methods vary greatly based on the institution and preparing for different kinds of interview formats is vital. The following sections show a few examples of different interview styles followed at some of the most elite business schools.

Interview Formats of Top MBA Programs 

In a Harvard Business School (HBS) interview, you just have 30 minutes to make a good impression. You may have a two-on-one formal interview, where one admissions officer is actively interviewing while the other is observing. The interviewer is already familiar with your resume and has studied your application in depth – so the interviewer might ask questions focusing on “why” – for instance, why you choose economics as your majors? Why did you work/want to work with consulting firm? Your response to such questions should illustrate on your motives, values, role you have applied in your team.

Although, HBS tends to concentrate less on ‘behavioral question’, but there are chances that the interviewer may ask questions to know your motivations, decision making process and experiences. During the interview, HBS is interested in knowing your rationale for making the choices and moves. To evaluate a candidate further, HBS requires you to submit a post-interview reflection within 24 hours.

On the other hand, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) places emphasis on ‘behavioral questions’, so one has to be very clear and specific while explaining. Why you studied a specific course, what was the idea behind working on a particular issue, or the impact it had on others, are the kind of questions it prefers to ask. It is generally an hour-long blind interview with an alumnus and the interviewer has only seen your resume.

So be ready to walk them through your background and your motivation to pursue an MBA. Highlighting skills such as creative instincts, leadership potential, personal qualities and performance-oriented tasks help you increase your admission chances.

At the MIT Sloan School of Management, just like an HBS interview, the interviewer has studied your application in depth but conducts ‘behavioral based interview questions’. The concept behind this format is that the MIT Sloan believes that the past behavior is a reliable indicator of the future response in a similar situation. So while preparing for the interview, a focus on the life based events, relating to work experience or leadership examples helps. Explaining such experiences in a generic fashion doesn’t help, giving details yet keeping it concise is the key. Before the interview, MIT Sloan requests its applicants to complete a brief essay. 

Apart from these, there are other schools like Wharton and Michigan Ross which uses ‘team-based interview’ format for its MBA admissions. For instance, they assign a real-world business scenario to a group of candidates and asks them to work together. This kind of dynamic task helps interviewers to observe candidate’s behavior and how they operate in an unknown condition. For Wharton and Michigan Ross, community building is an important value, by employing ‘team-based interview’ they unearth candidate’s values on team building. Further to team-based interview, Michigan Ross also conducts a traditional interview while at Wharton a ten-minute one-on-one debrief with an admissions representative is followed.

Recently, in addition to traditional invite interview, schools like Kellogg, Yale, INSEAD and London Business School have introduced a video essay as an important part of the application. They expect candidates to answer questions spontaneously with very little preparation time. This newer trend sometimes adds pressure on the applicant, limiting the time to answer with confidence and clarity.

At the other end of this new trend, London Business School conducts five-minute impromptu presentations. This might seem unwarranted, but these exercises have a real-life application and gives you an opportunity to influence the admissions decision by sharing details about your life story.

Quick Tips for MBA Interviews

In short, to ace your business school interview:

  • keep some concrete examples ready, 
  • master the interview style and 
  • make an impact by researching important aspects about the school. 

This will help you to feel prepared, confident and the interviewer will find you more compelling and appealing. Even if there are different mechanisms for evaluating prospective students, at the end of the day, the interviewer wants to “know you” and “why you’d be a good fit” for the institutions. Being authentic, real and goal-oriented is what pays off.

Mastering Every Admissions Interview Question

By Kyle Watkins (last updated: October 15, 2019)

When I set out to write this post, my intention was to compile a list of common interview questions that spanned the spectrum of what applicants might be asked. But after gathering a handful of what I thought were good questions, it occurred to me that I never had to answer any of the ones I had compiled during my own admissions interview at HBS. Instead, I was asked 30-minutes worth of nearly impossible to predict questions — which, granted, is what HBS tells applicants they will try to do. Just as a recent Poets&Quants article (The Questions Behind MBA Interview Questions) explains, MBA interviews aren’t about questions at all.  They’re about connecting with your interviewers.

My interview began when the admissions committee member asked how my leadership role as a resident assistant compared to other leadership experiences I’d had. At one point she just said, “Recommend something to me.” I’m not sure any list of MBA interview questions, no matter how long, would have reasonably catalyzed me to prepare for such prompts. However, there is a method that will get you ready for questions like those — or whatever the admissions committee throws your way.

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GMAT Preparation Advice From A 760 Test Taker

By Vincent Ho-Tin-Noe (last updated: October 10, 2019)

In a recent conversation, I asked a colleague at BCG to tell me about her experience preparing for the GMAT. Since she ultimately scored an impressive 760 (99 percentile), I suggested that she share her experience with MBA Admissions Advisors readers, which she gladly agreed to.

Can you tell us a few words about yourself?

I graduated in May 2013 with a Masters of Applied Science and a Bachelor of Engineering from Polytechnique Montreal (Quebec). Since then, I have worked for 1 year in management consulting. I took the GMAT in order to apply for a top MBA program and I intend to enroll in September 2015.

What was your score on the different sections?

Verbal: 42 / 96%
Quant: 50 / 89%
Total: 760 / 99%
AWA: 5.5 / 80%
IR: 6 / 67%

 How long did you prepare for the GMAT? How intense was your preparation (weekly hours)?

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The MIT Sloan Fellows, Stanford MSx, and LBS Sloan Masters: one-year alternatives to regular MBA programs

By Vincent Ho-Tin-Noe (last updated: October 15, 2019)

The Sloan Programs, exciting MBA alternatives for experienced leaders

Over the last few applications cycles, we have received an ever increasing number of inquiries regarding three 1-year MBA programs aimed at senior managers:

  1. The MIT Sloan Fellows program (probably the most popular amongst our clients)
  2. The Stanford MSx program
  3. The London Business School Sloan Masters program

In this post, we will review what makes these programs particularly attractive to some of the most experienced MBA applicants. We will also highlight the key facts that candidates should consider before starting the application process. Continue reading

The London Business School Application Process

By Vincent Ho-Tin-Noe (last updated: October 10, 2019)

In a recent post (Why Earn Your MBA At London Business School), we reviewed what makes LBS a great MBA program. In today’s article, we are going to analyze the school’s application process, provide you with a few tips to maximize your chances, and point you to valuable resources that you should consult before writing your essays.

The application process at London Business School is very similar to that of other leading business schools. If you want to know how to stand out as an MBA candidate, do read Oliver Ashby’s blog: . It is a great resource for any LBS applicant, and could prove very useful when applying to other programs as well.
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