The Harvard Business School Admissions Interview
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The Harvard Business School Admissions Interview



hi I'm John burn with Pollux and quants I'm sandy Kreisberg the HBS guru and today I'm going to be the HBS interview guru yes folks it's that time of the year when Harvard Business School sentence out invites for its interviews and just to give you the round number of stats you know what a typical year Harvard will get about ninety five hundred applications from people who want to go to its MBA program out of that 9500 pool Harvard typically interviews about 1,900 candidates it ultimately will accept about a thousand fifty so that's about a fifty five percent success rate once you get the invite of course the big question is how well can you do and that's what we'll talk to you sandy about today I mean what's the biggest reason why people flunk the Harvard Business School interview they get lost and they talk too much it's pretty simple they ask they ask a simple question like why did you go to Cornell and it throws you for a loop and you start talking about growing up and then you start talking about what your interest was in high school and you talk about your gym teacher there there are people at Harvard Business School who are still answering that question yeah now this is only a 30 minute test after all and it does differ from what a lot of schools do because in this case you're going to be interviewed by a professional and a member of the admission staff and usually there's an observer who also comes in and takes notes so there's two of them and one of you I know it's an incredibly anxious thing and I and I guess that's why someone can blow a simple question like why did you go to Harvard or Yale or Cornell or whatever for your undergraduate education we'll answer that at the end yeah so but what's the best the best way to prep for this then what you the best way to prepare is to you can buy books about this you can find this on the internet it's listed in the materials that are below this video find out the tip of the very typical questions we're going to go through some of these typical questions like introduce yourself to your classmates or walk me through your resume or why did you go to your undergraduate school or people often get thrown by this question if you're an international student date the first question is awesome tell me what you want your classmates to know about China or tell me three things you think your classmates should know about China okay so how would you answer that people who are from I actually had a mock interview with somebody last night and I said tell me what people to know about China and this person gave me this elaborate intricate thing you want to you want to start macro for one thing if you want to do business in China you have to be prepared to work with the government it's very important the second thing is that the climate in China now is open towards business and they're open towards these types of businesses and you could tick off one or two right but you will need a local partner okay and the third thing you should know about China is that if you go to if you plan to go to Beijing it's it's very full of carbon fumes and pollution so be prepared for that okay now that the answer strike me as incredibly obvious yes they are and it's okay to be obvious in other words no one ever flunked an interview for being obvious if this is an important point what you've done is you've answered the question you've told them three things about Rhino right if they want to know more they might say that's interesting that point you made about you need a local partner you know how do you get such a partner okay the interview is the caravan has moved on you're no longer talking about what do you want to know that China you're talking about something else don't judge your response by how an independent analyst would say that gave me a lot of valuable information about China that's not what going on what's going on is that you have convinced them that you can answer a spontaneous question with simplicity without getting lost right and so just being articulate clear somewhat linear is going to be really helpful yes right that's right by even even the most standard of all the interview questions that anyone gets at any business call not only Harvard walk me through your resume is there a way to do that effectively without without being just boring and bland yeah this is repeating what's on the paper yeah this is something you should prepare for you should have a stick about this you could go happy to do that there's there's three parts to my resume there's my current work experience in high tech there's my education and my graduate degree and then there's my upbringing in wherever I came from right now what I'd like to focus on is that I work for high tech Co in a role it's a little bit of Management and a little bit of technical stuff and I supervise three or four people I'm happy to go through some of the line items with you if you're interested in as you can tell in my resume I went to yield University and I liked it and I had a good computer science training there and some of my favorite courses were computers 101 and cooking for nerds and the third part of my resume is you know my interesting background in this country where I come from and growing up in that country gave me a real feeling for how global business is and it extended my horizons and it also gave me a love for soccer right I'd be happy to expand upon any one of those things and what about great beginning to any question is there are three things I want you to know so you're in control and you reduced it to three things yeah that that is a good idea what about the other question we mentioned before why did you go to Cornell because that's an awful very typical class let's make it harder okay yeah let's say you went to Harvard College and the question is and they asked this question how come you went to Harvard College you're tempted to say it's the best university in the world hey lady duh like I went to a high school in Long Island and people are fighting to get into Harvard College and by dint of working for hours and hours and hours to get a high G bad score and kissing a lot of butt to get AI GPA I got into Harvard and everybody was happy and that's why I went okay okay and that's just very good news and that's the truth but you can't say correct what do you say because when I was in vest and blank when I was in high school I was very interested in in a liberal arts education I wasn't sure what I wanted to do I was I had you know pretty good performance in high school and I was interested in staying in the Northeast my guidance counselor said you know you should think about these Ivy near Ivy schools and it's possible you should visit them and see which ones you like I visited Harvard College and I was I was very impressed I went to a class about a history course and I was very impressed with the professor I was very impressed with the interactivity and then a friend of mine you're ahead of me was at Harvard College and I stayed overnight with that friend and I got to experience the house life and I got to meet his friends and they were very exciting and very international and for those reason you know I came back from that weekend I was really sold on wanted to go to Harvard College you convinced that house that John okay not even my BS meter went off on that yeah okay another common question is what are you doing at work lately how do you answer that don't get lost you know well as you know I work for the Acme computer company and we're in a very difficult phase now we're between projects and this is always stressful because you have to be a little bit innovative and you have to go from production mode to sales mode so right now we're both trying to sell ideas to people above me at Acme and I've also gotten involved in client support so this is a new function for me I'm trying to actually sell product to clients right interesting okay you know in the now there are oddball questions I know that they are not in the majority and some candidates may never even get a single oddball question right yes and I know that's why they're odd and you advise people not to focus on that because it can throw you off from the basics right don't focus on preparing for oddball questions because you'll you'll create this echo chamber inside your head where you think that performing well on the interview involves answering these little sneaky tricky questions and that the interview is going to be some process where they're going to ask you increasingly difficult there's like a game show oddball questions that's that's not the way it works so that's that's the trouble with preparing for these oddball twists like what will you never be good at sandy I can't imagine for me that's easy you know I'll never be good at music I'm a basketball that to others I guess less shameful in admission so how do you answer a question like that though you pick something um down-to-earth sometimes sometimes your answer should be obvious don't don't don't avoid the obvious if they said you know something I'll never be good at you know I'm not particularly gifted musically so I'll never be a good violinist I'll never even be a bad player you know I can barely hold a violin without you know it's so damaging yeah it's almost the answer doesn't matter as much as just an articulate thoughtful response that's correct right so what do you want to keep doing your doing stop doing this is a famous question they buy one or two Harvard interviewers Harvard interviews are done mostly by the admission staff with a couple of alumni who serve as de facto admissions officers and there's there's one or two people who like this question you know what do you want to keep doing what do you want to start doing and what do you want to stop them yeah what do I want to keep doing I want to keep going to the gym even though I'm a geezer and it's a pain in the neck because it's keeping my arthritis at bay okay is it this is a good answer for me okay that's to keep doing as opposed to I want to keep doing meaningful work yes okay what do I want to stop doing I want to stop wasting time on the Internet you know I am on the internet a lot for my work and but don't stop coming to poets in quads yeah well that's not wasting time okay that's that's investing yeah that's investing in its object-oriented I want to I want to stop wasting time on the internet and start doing I want to start eating more healthy food you might say why aren't you doing it okay here's what I really love yes introduce yourself behind with this introduce yourself to God let's pretend you're God okay well that's an oddball with ending on a high note – oh and do we need to know how you need to dress how you need to act overall beyond saying you need to look have present a professional appearance right they the instructions that you get on a Harvard interview is that it's business for Oh scary so you wear a jacket and tie if you're a man I hope so I wrote that's black tie but yeah yeah you can get away with you that means necktie okay believe me they're not going to punish you if you wear a blazer and nice gray pants and a necktie and I'm no expert on this for women but whatever the equivalent is now the unofficial guide to the interview by the harvest staff it's a student newspaper Harvard Business School since women should not wear any low-cut blouses women should wear grey and neutral colors what uh this skirt should be at least at the knee sounds rather heels should be lower than three inches no blend and no perfume yeah well that's good advice you agree with that yeah let me tell you something don't try and score points with your clothing just have it neutralized that would be my so that would be the no blame thing right I like don't go don't go for Ultra Wall Street you know there's a look where you're wearing like on stride navy blue pinstripes the white collar in the blue shirt okay yeah that was wasn't that the guy from the movie wolf of Wall Street yeah or the one that came before it the other Wall Street move was removing yeah don't make a statement with you don't wear a $200 necktie probably don't wear a tie bar even though I like those don't try and make a statement with your dress okay how do people I think this is really an important piece of advice because a lot of young men and women show up and they're really jittery and they're jittery because a lots at stake Harvard Business School for many people any of these great business goals is a life long dream they've invested a lot in this they've gotten to this final point they feel if they do well they would have very good chance of getting an invite so you get a little scared you get a little tight howdy howdy just relax you're nerves how do you just get into the zone to to be who you are you know my advice is get there early and then but what you'll do is you'll have to sign in you'll you'll be thrown in with a lot of other people right you'll buy the just the act of getting over there that will calm you down this is raises another point so that's the way to get into the zone okay talk to other people that that is a tremendously relaxing experience what you shouldn't do is stay alone living within your own echo-chamber imagining great show-stopping answers just getting more and more and more into your own head your own imagined experiences the very fact of dealing with other people would be relaxing and helpful this is the danger and I've written about this of a Skype interview or a telephone interview if you get a scud you know sometimes you're stopped you know that you've got to do a Skype interview what you would be doing for a Skype interview you'd be sitting there for the hour before the interview in front of your computer just getting yourself psyched up living in your own echo chamber and then the interviewer you know just saying okay I want this to start I'm going to really knock this out of the park I told the story of a client of mine who was in the in the Green Zone in Iraq if it's during the first Iraqi war and this guy had a Harvard interviews in a lot of places at the time they were not interviewing him back during the war okay so it was it was a it was a I think a telephone interview or Skype interview I forget this guy was in the service he was in some special ops program he's a high performer man was he getting ready for his interview he was getting psyched up and psyched up and he had his dogging points and he had cards about what he was going to do after you know Harvard Business School and what his life plan was and he was psyched up inside done and then the phone rings or the Skype thing starts what do you think the first question walk me through your resume how are you safe that was the first quiz are you safe the interviewer said are you safe and the guy later told me that totally threw me for a loop I was ready to get into combat I was ready to rock and roll and in the interviewer asked what under the circumstances is very humane very obvious very realistic question and in the guy's head he said lady am i safe honey I'm safer here in the Green Zone then you are in your sketchy Cambridge condo look where do you come off as good me whether I'm safe no he can say that he didn't say that but that's what he that's what he that's what he thought yeah you know yeah yeah how you can think it what is it you know 800 words a second okay those were in the half second that's that's what he thought and that destabilization that energy said truly offer I never recovered he said that I never recovered that for the whole interview and it was not he was not in sync with the interview did it make a difference ultimately he didn't get in oh wow and he was a very qualified guy had to go to Stanford okay now I would imagine another way to get in the zone is to do you know with the famous phrase says how do you get it the carting of all you practice and you practice and you practice so the value of a rehearsal the value of a mock entry well yeah it is it really to help you get into the zone well you can hire me for a mock interview details are on my website people find that to be quite helpful if you don't want to do that it helps to practice but practice with a friend who is trying to be low-key and realistic not a friend who's making it worse but the both of you are then involved in some bad symbiotic relationship where things are becoming more esoteric and more refined and more on polish right because what a friend is likely to do is to move on rather than to say let's focus on the basics you know the friend might say okay walk me through your resume and then instead of correcting that their friend might go let's go to these oddball questions if you were if you were a vegetable what would you be or an instrument in a symphony yes right okay any last words of advice to people who are lucky enough fortunate enough to actually get an invite yeah the purpose of the yes glad you asked the purpose of the interview is to flunk people it's not to find it's not like you're auditioning for a synth in your orchestra you know you've seen these things where synth in your orchestra during the arrow auditioning five maestro's who play the violin and each one of these five people are terrifically talented and what's going to separate out the five people is some very tiny difference in skill or tone or or you know musicality right that's not what's going on even though that's the way a lot of people model it don't flunk the interview don't get lost don't get don't get nervous don't show off don't get affected right that's my opening and parting words all right well good luck to all of you who have an invite or are about to get one we also have on the site an extensive interview if you'd like to read it as opposed to see it in video with a lot of other advice to offer as well and that's simply under how not to blow your Harvard Business School we'll interview we hope you also sell the harvest book exam we'll give them a plug we have excerpts on the site from the unofficial guide to the Harvard Business School interview which is updated every year by the harvest staff harvest is the school newspaper yeah man I think they do a pretty good job with it actually anyway people debate all those links are right down below they're absolutely all right well good luck to you

About Ralph Robinson

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11 thoughts on “The Harvard Business School Admissions Interview

  1. Do you have any insight on how the admissions committee views an applicant's score on the "Integrated Reasoning" section of the GMAT? The significance of that section is a mystery!

  2. Has the HBS Guru founder actually been to the MBA program at HBS? Not sure. And I have. Not sure how helpful these tips are. This is very basic!

  3. Believe me, this is one of the best videos I have ever seen ever! a lot of great recommendations useful not only for getting to Harvard but also to any kind of interview! Thanks! 

  4. Hi, I was hoping you could review me.  Thanks!

    GPA: 4.0 GMAT: 750 
    Degree: B.A. Economics, Finance Minor at USC (CA). Graduated in 2 years.

    Job: Work at top Economic/Financial litigation consulting firm (NERA, Cornerstone, or Analysis Group). Worked on cases involving Patent/IP, Antitrust, Insider Trading, M&A, etc.

    Will have 2-3 years of work experience when start business school. Given my age having graduated early, is an extra year of work experience a big plus? How is economic/litigation consulting received vs management consulting/other jobs?

    Application Story: Wasn't sure if wanted to do law, econ, or mba, so did econ consulting after college. Now am decided on mba and want to pursue management consulting post-mba.

    Personal: Club soccer player, tutored USC Athletes, taught AP Bio to classes of LA high schoolers, run a sub 3:30 marathon. Can get rec from prize winning economist who worked for personally. Interned at top mutual fund while in college.

    What are my chances at: HBS, Stanford, Chicago, Wharton, MIT, Northwestern

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