The HBS Interview – Two Real Life Experiences

If you applied to HBS in Round 1 this year, October 6th is a big day – HBS interview announcement day. We sincerely hope that you received the news you were dreaming about. If you did, be sure to schedule your HBS interview as soon as possible as spot can fill up quickly. And congratulations!

If you weren’t granted an HBS interview, you may have been notified that your application will be under ‘further consideration’. This means that the adcom will reconsider your application alongside those it receives in Round 2, and you may be invited to interview in early February.  This also deserves a hearty congratulations!

If neither of the above apply to you, you may have been given an ‘early release’, HBS’ euphemism for a ding. It’s stings, there’s no getting around it. But know that being granted an interview is extremely competitive – only around 20% of those that applied fall into this bucket. Take a moment to wallow but then look to the future; it’s likely that you’re still waiting to hear from a number of awesome programs.

If you received an HBS interview invite or are just curious what the experience is actually like, you’re in luck! We got the scoop from two former clients who travelled to campus for their HBS interview (and were ultimately accepted). Note that HBS is still offering a Zoom option this year, but they are also returning to in-person interviews on campus and in select cities worldwide. Zoom is fine if an in-person interview isn’t feasible for you, but, in our experience, nothing beats a true face-to-face connection. 

HBS Interview Experience #1 – Rachel

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 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 as 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 them
  • The 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 written
  • Describe 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 (e.g., he was asked how he thought his goals could possibly be attainable – they told him his goals seemed unreasonable, etc.). Everyone else with whom Rachel spoke had a friendly interviewer.

HBS Interview Experience #2 – Former Client, In His Own Words

I showed up a few hours early, signed in, and grabbed a coffee and breakfast (which I was too nervous to eat). I went through my whole application online and my resume on my laptop as I had heard that anything is fair game at HBS vs. just the resume as with some other schools. Once I felt confident, I went to the pre-interview room and immediately started talking to my fellow interviewees, which really helped me relax and get a better feel for my fit for the school. Then, 15 minutes before our interview time slot, a Taylor Swift song came on, which was the signal for a smaller group of us to head upstairs to the interview rooms. Once up there, I immediately made myself a cup of chamomile tea. I was the only one. Then, we all started chatting again until we each got called in for our interviews.

I had two people present in my interview. The first one introduced herself as the actual interviewer and explained that the other person was a representative from the career office who was there to observe, take notes and opine on my candidacy, but was not going to ask any questions. Still, I made sure to address them both when answering.

Before the interview started, my interviewer said that she wanted this to be a discussion rather than a formal interview. She said that she found my essay very inspiring and thanked me for sharing my story. She asked me to expand on my essay and reinforce how I was able to turn my life around and what I learned from my experiences. She then asked me to clarify my academic background as I have an unconventional path to graduation.

After my personal and educational background, we moved over to my resume and she asked me to expand on a deal I had listed, including my leadership role and how I sourced the deal. Then she asked me about the performance of my group, how we did last year, and what we were focused on this year. This would likely stump most banking associates, but it was fair game for me because I had written on my resume that I was involved with business planning for my group.

Then we moved on to my extracurriculars. There was an awkward moment where she thought I had contradicted my application, but I was able to quickly provide context and we moved on. She asked, “why an MBA, and why now”, and then “what are you still working on” (i.e., your weaknesses).

Then, she ended with “is there anything else we didn’t touch on?” Rather than use this prompt to ask a question, I used this to tell her “why HBS”, since that did not come up in the application or interview, but I thought I had a few unique reasons to justify my fit and I wanted to show how much time and research I had dedicated to learning everything about the program.

When we were done, the representative from the career center walked me out. I took this time to talk to him about the case we had discussed in my lecture visit and mention that the company discussed was one of my dream employers. I also knew that the founders of that company were HBS alumni from my own research, so I made sure to mention that. I am sure it did not tip the scales, but I wanted to get in everything I could.

We hope you found those real life HBS interview experiences helpful! If you will be interviewing and feel a mock interview would help you prepare, please don’t hesitate to reach out. And good luck!

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