Analyzing the Applications: the HBS Post-Interview Reflection

By Kyle Watkins (last updated: December 17, 2013)

The HBS post-interview reflection is certainly one of the more unique application elements among MBA programs. Since HBS has decided to continue requiring the post-interview reflection from candidates 24 hours after their interview, it’s worth spending some time now considering how to approach this piece of the admissions process.

First, it’s worth noting that the post-interview reflection won’t make or break the application for many candidates. It gives HBS one more data point, but overall it is only a small piece of the equation. Your resume, essays, GMAT, GPA, recommendations, and interview (not to mention the school’s effort to admit a diverse and balanced class) will play a role in whether you are admitted. Unlike the hiring process at a job where the interview is often make-or-break, the admissions process for MBA programs is much more holistic.

With that said, the post-interview reflection provides plenty of opportunities to hurt or help your application, and in a hyper-competitive admissions environment, it’s important to never miss an opportunity to put points on the board.

Most applicants probably won’t do much, if any, prep work for HBS’s post-interview reflection. Fortunately, this is the one part of the application process where not preparing much can actually help you. After all, the exercise is — as HBS makes perfectly clear — meant to be a true reflection. It is not another essay. It is not something that should be prepared prior to your interview. However, there’s one small piece of preparation I’d recommend to every candidate.

Before you head off to your interview, write down these words: “My interview did not go as poorly as I think it did.” It sounds silly, I know. But ask almost any current or former HBS student how they thought their interview went, and they will likely tell you that they thought they bombed it. I certainly recall feeling like I bungled mine. But, as I wrote earlier on this blog, “My perspective on my performance now is much different than it was 24 hours after my initial interview…Be wary of how your perspective on your performance can be seriously skewed walking out of the interview.”

For that reason, I think candidates are much better served waiting until the next day after their interview to begin writing their post-interview reflection. Take some notes right as you are walking out of your interview so you can remember the things you and the admissions committee member discussed, but then sleep on it. Even that few hours of distance can help you gain some perspective. It’s a piece of advice that has likely served many of us well when we’ve drafted an angry email at work, only to hold it in our drafts folder overnight before hitting send. By the time we wake up the next morning, we realize how disconnected we were from the bigger picture and delete it without sending.

I’m not saying every candidate will be devastated or angry after his or her interview, but time helps us gain perspective. And ultimately this is one of the qualities HBS will be looking for in your application. Much as you’ll be expected to understand the key takeaways from an HBS case study discussions in the classroom, the HBS admissions committee wants to see that you’ve understood the key takeaways from your interview experience.

One way to help do this successfully is to talk to a friend or a family member about how the interview went. Re-live the experience a bit, and talk through your feelings about your performance. Saying it aloud will help you gain the necessary perspective.

When you finally sit down to draft your reflection, it’s critical to do two things:

First, make sure you focus on your strengths. Often candidates make the mistake in essays of spending too much time preemptively rebutting what they see as their own weaknesses. In doing so, they forget to make the argument for why an MBA program should actually admit them. Ultimately, all candidates have faults. There will be at least one question every candidate blows in each interview. But don’t focus your time on those negatives. Focus your energy instead on your best selling points — the things that set you apart as a candidate.

Second, make sure you make the reflection relevant to the discussion you and your admissions committee member had. This will help demonstrate to the admissions committee that you didn’t pre-draft the reflection (which, while small, is important). Additionally, it will demonstrate you paid attention to the interview and are capable of summarizing the important points, as any business person would be responsible for doing after a meeting. For example, I’ve described in the past my own interview experience. At one point, the admissions committee member asked me to “recommend something, anything” to her. I told her about a documentary I had seen recently called One Peace at a Time. It would have been appropriate for me to send her a quick link to the film’s website as part of my post-interview reflection. In fact, perhaps it would have been quite helpful, as I later found out that the admissions committee member went and watched the documentary based on my recommendation. Tidbits like that will help make sure your post-interview reflection is relevant and helpful for the admissions committee member that interviewed you.

While it’s important to have a few specific details like that included, in general you should keep the points high-level and relatively brief. Your reflection doesn’t have a formal word count, but HBS will be looking for candidates to demonstrate good judgment and strong communication skills. If you can’t convey the key ideas in a few short paragraphs, then you aren’t doing your best to demonstrate your strength as an MBA candidate. One of my favorite quotes, which I’ve mentioned before on this blog, summarizes the idea nicely: “I apologize for writing such a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

Last, but not least, it’s worth having someone else review your post-interview reflection before you send it in. If you take our advice and sleep on the interview before writing your reflection, this will require pretty quick turnaround. This is of course something we are happy to do at MBA Admissions Advisors, but obviously it’s great if you can find a friend or family member to do it as well. The extra pair of eyes will help catch typos and grammatical errors, yes, but it will also serve as a check on your judgment. It will help make sure you are keeping the interview experience in perspective.

As always, if you have questions about our own experiences, the interview process, or your own application, don’t hesitate to reach out through our free consultation service. We’re happy to serve as a resource.

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