HBS MBA Admissions & Interview Guide

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It’s winter, and New England is anticipating the beautiful snowfalls that are sure to arrive within the coming weeks. Although winter is one of Boston’s most festive and spirited times of year, it’s also an intense and pivotal season for those hoping to score a coveted MBA interview invitation for a spot in Harvard Business School’s class of 2018. And now that it’s nearly January, time is really of the essence.

No need to panic just yet, would-be students; The Harbus, Harvard Business School’s student-run news organization, is here to help. We interviewed HBS’s current first year students – the members of the class of 2017 – to find out what the MBA interview is actually like. They generously shared detailed accounts and valuable insights of their – obviously successful – MBA interview experiences. We put this thorough and structured advice together in our updated Harbus MBA Admissions & Interview Guide which has over 150 actual questions that current HBS students were asked in their admissions interviews, accompanied by expanded analysis and commentary on how to approach the questions, and the broader application and interview process.

You’ll also find examples of accepted students’ ‘post-interview reflections’ inside, providing bigger insight into what actually goes on during what might be considered the most important interview of your life. You don’t want to miss out on this authentic feedback from real HBS students.

HBS’s round two application deadline is just around the corner on January 6, with interview invitation notifications coming on March 30. The round three deadline is April 4. 

Here are five examples, with Harbus student analysis, of actual questions asked in real Harvard Business School application interviews.

The below are just a few examples of what you’ll find in our comprehensive guide, the Harbus MBA Admissions & Interview Guide today! If you're still applying, for round three or next year, there is also the Harbus MBA Essay Guide.

Walk me through your MBA résumé.

Make your MBA résumé a narrative rather than merely relating a series of unconnected events. Focus on upward progression. If there’s a gap in your MBA résumé – perhaps from a period of unemployment – don’t shy away from that but also don’t dwell on it. Mention it, own it, and move on. Turn it into a period of personal development by sharing what you did to keep busy. Also be sure to cap your time. Keep your ‘walk’ to five minutes, and don’t spend all your time in one area versus another. For example, don’t go on and on about your college experience to the detriment of your more relevant work experience.

What is one thing I’d never have guessed about you, even after reading your application?

Here is an opportunity to go beyond your achievements – or at least your business-related achievements – and tell your interviewers about something that really makes you tick. Try to think of some missing piece of you that, for whatever reason, you didn’t write about in your application. Think about what would make you an interesting or valuable section mate to have at HBS. If you can relate your answer back to your application, that’s great, but don’t worry if you have a separate interest, an unusual hobby, an exciting travel story, a peculiar talent, or a childhood accomplishment that’s unrelated. Do not use an example from your application materials! Show layers to your character.

What is the most interesting conversation you have had this week?

Keep this professional, worldly and, most likely, news related. This is actually kind of a softball question if you consider all the conversations you have each week. Before you head to your MBA interview, just jot some recent conversations down as examples of what you spend your time thinking about. Also use this as an opportunity to showcase your preparation, especially your morning news routine. Along similar lines, give a look through your last week’s schedule to remind yourself things that have happened recently to you.

How do you make big decisions?

This question addresses two unknowns for the interviewer. First, how do you think? And second, do you exercise rigor and structure in the process? This is another perfect question for examples. Tell a story, but make sure the actual decision has a logical, step-by-step process behind it. Show your personality in the answer too. If you are the write-the-pros-and-cons into a spreadsheet type, show that. If you reach out to your family or loved ones, it’s perfectly reasonable (and right!) to bring those elements of your style into the fold. Finally, in addition to the analytical stage of your decision-making, don’t be afraid to talk about your gut. Most big decisions are ones that reasonable people will disagree on; what’s left is your intuition, instinct, and heart – don’t be afraid to talk about this.

Describe an ethical gray area you had to navigate.

In the required curriculum, students take a class called ‘Leadership and Corporate Accountability’ also known as ethics. Students are asked to take a three-pronged approach to decisions, considering the ethical, economic, and moral lenses (there’s a pretty neat Venn diagram that goes along with that, though that’s beside the point). Ultimately, it is being able to navigate ethical grey areas that make leaders. The hardest, most complicated, problems and questions often result in the best leadership development. Don’t try to whitewash the situation; acknowledge how hard the choice was and walk the interviewer through the process you went through to come to your final outcome. If there is time, explain what you would have done differently.

Written by The Harbus

Harvard Business School's student-run newspaper. 

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