The HBS Interview – What to Expect & How to Prepare
If you are part of the fortunate group who received an HBS interview invitation this week, congratulations! While there are no firm statistics, we estimate that about 20% of applicants make it to the HBS interview stage and, from here, your chances of admission are roughly 50%. That’s good news and bad, of course. Clearly the adcom really liked your application…but you’re not in the door yet.
What stands between you and that coveted acceptance is, of course, the HBS interview (and the required reflection essay that follows). So, what should you expect and how do you prepare? Those are the topics we’re covering today.
The HBS Interview – What to Expect
Let’s start with the basics. The HBS interview is conducted by members of the admissions board, not current students or alums like some other top MBA programs. It will be 30 minutes in duration, and, in recent rounds, they’ve offered both virtual and in person options with no bias for either format. Interviewers will have read your application in its entirety and prepared a substantial list of targeted questions in advance.
While there are exceptions, HBS tends to avoid the more ‘standard’ MBA interview questions like ‘walk me through your resume’, ‘why MBA’, and ‘tell me about a time when [X happened]’. In other words, instead of letting you pull a well-rehearsed and self-selected answer from your arsenal, they identify areas from your application to probe.
That said, they are not looking to stump you just to see you squirm, promise! The intent is to determine whether you can think on your feet and communicate clearly under pressure. These are essential skills for success as a business leader as well as in HBS’ case method classroom.
The HBS Interview – How to Prepare
If you can’t predict the questions you’ll be asked in your HBS interview, how do you prepare? There are certainly things you can and should do. In our experience, the questions tend to fall into general categories, and we recommend letting those categories guide your approach to preparation.
Not only is HBS interested in what you’ve done, they want to hear why you’ve done it. What motivated you to choose your university and your major? Why did you leave a prior job?
To prepare, think through each significant choice you’ve made in your life and what drove you to make that decision. For instance, was there a formative experience that piqued your interest in the subject you chose to study in school? Did a particular class turn you on to the industry you targeted for your first job out of college? The most authentic and impactful answers to motivation questions are rooted in an ‘aha’ moment that you can identify as a pivot point.
That said, while the ‘why’ is arguably most important, make sure you know the ‘what’ cold too. Read back through your resume, application form, and essays, jogging your memory about the facts of each experience down to the nitty-gritty details.
Company / Industry Questions
Another subset of questions is focused on the company or industry in which you work or want to work in the future. With these, the adcom wants to see that you grasp the dynamics of your company/industry beyond the specific silo where you spend your day-to-day. Who are your company’s main competitors? What are your [current or target] industry’s largest growth opportunities?
Particularly if your job doesn’t require taking the 10,000 ft view, do your research! Read articles about your current and target post-MBA industries. Pull up your company’s latest financial filings and read the footnotes about its business segments, financial trends, risks, and opportunities. Think about how your team and its mission fit within the overall company’s plans. Read up on your competitors too and consider what they do differently, worse, or better than your firm.
Relatedly and importantly, as you prepare and in the actual interview itself, don’t shy away from having a perspective. If you think about it, students having a viewpoint and respectfully defending it is exactly what makes the HBS classroom engaging. The adcom wants to see that you would be an active contributor in this regard. So, as you’re considering things like the strategic and competitive dynamics of your current or future industry, for example, think about what you would say if asked “What do you think is the solution to [XYZ problem we’ve been discussing]?”
Your HBS interviewer may also ask you to self-reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, although it’s likely they won’t ask this as straightforwardly as ‘tell me your greatest strength and weakness’. Instead, they may ask ‘what made you successful on [a specific project]’? Or ‘what attributes do you think led to your promotion ahead of your peers?’.
The answers can hinge on some of the same things as your standard strengths/weaknesses answer, but without allowing you to rely on the canned answer you’ve practiced over and over.
Final Words of Advice for Your HBS Interview
And that leads us to our overarching advice. When it comes to preparing for your HBS interview, practicing your answers to the most common MBA interview questions over and over again simply won’t get you very far. Even if you are able to leverage one of these prepared responses, an over-rehearsed answer risks sounding robotic and, dare we say it, uninteresting. That’s not going to wow the adcom.
The best way to practice is to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Ask three trusted friends or coworkers (who are ideally familiar with the HBS interview format) to practice with you. Have them read your application, scan ClearAdmit interview reports for questions HBS has asked in the past and come up with their own unique list. Respond to them live and ask them to jot down the main points they gleaned from your answers. Were they what you meant to communicate? Did you come across as engaged and engaging? Awesome! Now, practice with the next person who may ask an entirely different array of questions. You get where we’re going with this…
As we said at the beginning, congrats on getting to this stage! You should be proud and know that HBS likes what they’ve seen from you. Now earn that spot in their class, you’ve got this.
We have HBS experts on our team. If you would like help preparing for your HBS interview, don’t hesitate to reach out. You may also be interested in reading the following: