Congratulations! You’re one of the roughly 20% of applicants to Harvard Business School (HBS) each year who have been invited to interview. Of those, about 50% are admitted. HBS interviews are different from those of other schools, so it’s important to prepare for those differences to increase your chances of acceptance.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare for your interview:
Know Your Story
When interviewing with all schools, it’s important to know your MBA application well—your resume, essays, and short answers. But for Harvard Business School, you REALLY have to know your story inside and out. Admissions committee members will spend considerable time prepping for the interview, which involves learning as much as they can about your journey before even meeting you. For example, if you work at a startup, they will research the company and likely have questions about its strategy, goals, challenges, or opportunities. If you’re in private equity and your resume includes accomplishments related to a specific transaction, your interviewer could ask for details about that acquisition such as other competitors in the space or how your company affected the transaction. Also, make sure you can speak to every item on your resume—even a bullet from a job several years ago or a hobby that you listed.
Remember Your Audience
As you answer your interviewer’s questions, avoid using technical terms or industry jargon. As you speak with your interviewer, keep in mind that they may not have any knowledge in your area of interest, and you can lose someone pretty quickly by using too many technical words. One rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Can my grandparents understand this?” It’s a good idea to practice with impartial observers who don’t know much about your job so you can make sure you answer in a clear, conversational, and comprehensive way.
Consider the “Hows” and “Whys”
Because HBS spends substantial time researching you and learning about everything in your application, your interviewers will know a lot of the “whats” of your profile—for example, what project you led and how much revenue you generated. What they are looking to get out of the interview is a deep understanding of the “hows” and “whys” behind those “whats.” Imagine that your resume contains the “whats,” and the interview is your chance to share the context behind the bullets on your resume. HBS is looking to assess how you handle successes, challenges, and failures; your passions and values; and your future goals/ambitions. Whenever you can show your motivation for doing something or reflect on what you may have learned, it can help the admissions committee evaluate you more fully.
Understand Industry Trends and Context
More than most schools, Harvard Business School is likely to want to assess your understanding of the industry you are in, its competitors, and even what might keep your CEO up at night or what you would do differently. The admissions committee may ask what trends you’re seeing in your industry, so you might need to spend some time considering these aspects to ensure you’re more comfortable reacting to questions on interview day. Think ahead of time about the space your company occupies in the market and what challenges and opportunities you see for the business and the industry as a whole.
Consider Tone and Communication Style
HBS teaches almost exclusively using the case method, so you need exceptional communication skills to demonstrate you’re up to the task of not only grasping concepts and clearly relaying them, but also teaching others. The HBS interview is where you can showcase your ability to articulate your thoughts clearly and confidently, as well as to respond to questions or unexpected shifts in topic in a way that shows you are listening. Practicing answers to questions ahead of time, on video or at least out loud with an observer, is helpful to get more comfortable. Make sure to show enthusiasm not only for the school, but also for what you’re talking about—your job, an extracurricular you’re passionate about, or even a favorite book. Interviewers will be assessing whether you appear to be someone whom others would want in their study group or section, so you should appear more conversational than rehearsed.
After the Interview
You will be asked to write a Post-Interview Reflection within 24 hours of the interview. Tailor the reflection to what you discussed in the interview, and reaffirm your belief that Harvard Business School is the right place for you. Immediately after the interview, make notes on what was discussed (e.g., Do you feel that the interviewer got to know you? What do you wish had been covered?).
The Post-Interview Reflection should summarize what went well, what could have been touched upon (if applicable), what you learned from being on campus, and how the interview experience affirmed that HBS is the right place to pursue your MBA studies. Where possible, include new information about you and give the admissions board one last chance to see a different side of your profile. Although there is no word limit, 400–500 words is typically a good length.