Exit Poll: What is the HBS Interview Really Like?

You can read about each school’s interview process all over the internet, and we can tell you from our experience what it’s like all day long. However, what we’ve found is that applicants really appreciate hearing first-hand from someone who is still sweating from the experience. So, we’ve selected one client for each school who we asked to describe his or her interview experiences in round 1 of this year.
Rachel’s Day at HBS
After working tirelessly on her round 1 application, Rachel was excited to find out that she was invited to interview at HBS this year! She prepped by reading about the HBS interview process and of course we did a mock interview as a trial run for the real thing.
So how did it go for Rachel? On a Sunday morning, wearing business formal (it’s the East Coast after all), Rachel arrived on campus and was pleasantly surprised to find that the building she was interviewing in felt very “homey”. She entered, put her coat and suitcase in the provided closet and kept only her portfolio with a few copies of her resume, a pad and a pen with her.
She then proceeded to the waiting area, grabbed a water and sat down among eight other candidates who were interviewing at the same time. Rachel is very social and outgoing and naturally struck-up conversations with those around her. She said that most people were chatting and meeting one-another. There was only one girl nervously pacing the room and reciting her story to herself to prep. Our advice? Don’t be that person. Take this time to meet the other people who could potentially be in your class. Break the ice for yourself and your sanity through a nice casual conversation. Rachel thought it was a great warm-up!
At her scheduled interview time, each interviewer came into the waiting area and called the candidate to which he or she was assigned (kind of like a doctor’s office…or a spa). After being called by her interviewer, for the first five minutes, Rachel expected someone else to walk in the room. After all, HBS is known for its two-on-one interviews. However, that never happened. It was a one-on-one! Later Rachel found out that almost everyone who interviewed that day had a one-on-one. She was told that the candidates who interviewed the following day, on a Monday, were more likely to have a two-on-one interview. In addition, note that the dean is also an interviewer! If you interview with him this year, Rachel was told that you would be have a two-on-one with the other interviewer primarily taking notes.
Opening the discussion, Rachel’s interviewer invited her to sit down, not across the table but instead in chairs turned towards each other – very casual. She then explained the process and talked about how she had read all of Rachel’s application materials. Like most candidates, Rachel felt great to hear that someone had invested as much in reading her app a she had in preparing it! The interviewer explained that after the interview, she would prepare a report, Rachel would submit her reflection, then the application would be reviewed in its entirety.
Then they moved on to the questions. Rachel estimated that approximately 5% of her interview was spent on a large extracurricular that she had in college, 85% on her career in consumer packaged goods (CPG), and 10% on her goals. Here’s a sampling of the questions they asked:
  • The interviewer noticed that a very large leadership commitment in college was only mentioned in one bullet point, so she asked for more information
  • How did Rachel decide to work for the company she worked for right after college (Rachel very effectively parlayed her college experience into how she chose her career)
  • How did that company meet or not meet Rachel’s expectations and what advice would she give someone looking to work there – the good and the challenges. Note that the interviewer cited a specific story that Rachel had given in her essays, which made Rachel feel good – she had caught the adcom’s attention in the essay!
  • Describe in more detail the challenge cited in Rachel’s latest job. This question referenced the descriptions that Rachel put into the application form itself where she was asked to cite a specific accomplishment and a challenge for each position she listed
  • Explain how Rachel’s company was tackling the latest trends in health and wellness (her company is not known for healthy products)How is Rachel’s company’s relationship with Wal-Mart and how does she navigate meetings with themThe interviewer noted that both of Rachel’s recommenders cited similar pieces of feedback, so she asked Rachel for examples to explain her areas of weakness. Rachel had not seen her recommendations, so initially this was stressful as she hadn’t been aware of what they had writtenDescribe your career interests (note that she was not asked “why MBA” or “why HBS”)Did she want to work for a big or a small company after graduation (Rachel wondered if they had a bias towards big companies, but in our experience they are simply interested in how you’ve thought about this)
So what advice does Rachel have for you? Her number one piece of advice was to schedule your class visit and such for another day. She felt like after the interview all she could think about was the interview itself and writing the post-interview reflection. She was glad that her class visit was the next day because she felt like she could really engage versus just worrying.
She also said to relax. Rumors have it that sometimes HBS has pretty aggressive interviewers. Rachel talked to many people during her two days on campus and only one person had a more “hostile” interview (eg. he was asked how he thought this goals could possibly be attainable – they told him his goals seemed unreasonable etc). Everyone else with whom Rachel spoke had a friendly interviewer.
Hope this helps – best of luck everyone! Contact us if you want help prepping for your interview!

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