Category Archives: Harvard Advice

Tuesday Tips: Harvard Business School MBA Application Essay Tips 2014

Harvard Business School has decided to repeat the same essay question this year as originally used in last year’s application cycle. Though the admissions committee said they were planning to change the essay questions every …

Harvard Business School has decided to repeat the same essay question this year as originally used in last year’s application cycle. Though the admissions committee said they were planning to change the essay questions every year, it turned out that the one open-ended essay was helpful enough to use it again.

The most challenging part of this essay is remaining disciplined. With unlimited space to make your case, you may be tempted to compose a laundry list of everything interesting or impressive you have ever done. That urge could backfire, as the essay is used to determine who isn’t a fit for HBS as much as selecting the lucky candidates who make it into the interview round. Maturity, accomplishment, and leadership are highly valued qualities and this essay is your chance to display those qualities through the stories you choose and the voice coming through your writing.

There is one question, technically optional, for the Class of 2017 application essay:

You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?

HBS adds this tip to the essay prompt:

There is no word limit for this question. We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.

A note on word count: HBS traditionally has limited essays to around 400 words each. Do not be tempted to go overboard with a 2,000 word essay, rather focus on concise and clear writing and consider keeping this essay to 1,200 words or less. Our successful clients had essays anywhere from 500-1,300 words last year, though you should take a pass through your essay to cut any unnecessary words if you find yourself on the upper end of that range.

The goal of this essay is to know yourself, know HBS, and know how to match the two to demonstrate your fit for the school. Your first task should be to evaluate all of the other aspects of your candidacy – what is the story your resume tells? What do you think recommenders will say? How does your transcript communicate your skills, accomplishments and interests? Then you need to evaluate how to fill the gaps with the essay.

We advised many successful clients on this essay last year, and those who received an acceptance letter from Harvard Business School pursued a range of topics. Some applicants focused on their career journey and aspirations while others wrote about their personal background. Both highly personal and career oriented essays were successful, and most candidates told more than one story in the essay. One common thread we observed was that all of the successful essays demonstrated a core driving passion.

While comparisons with Stanford’s “What Matters Most” open-ended question may come immediately to mind, HBS is very different and it will be important to know the program. As you consider possible stories to tell in this essay keep in mind that HBS has always been highly focused on leadership and wants to accept candidates who have a track record of leadership impact and a success trajectory that indicates upper management potential. Accomplishments have traditionally been a strong focus of HBS essays, and using at least one accomplishment story in this essay may be a good strategy, particularly if your accomplishments are not obvious when reading your resume or transcripts.

A note on what not to do: We see many applicants tempted to include “why HBS” type information in HBS essays. This has never been part of an HBS application essay question and we don’t recommend including that sort of angle here. HBS is quite clear on why applicants are interested in the school, and they would rather see you use the space to provide more information about yourself and your candidacy.

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HBS Students Offer Interview Tips

When Harvard Business School sent out Round 1 interview invitations last week, the Harbus’s general manager La Keisha Landrum posted an article that afternoon letting those lucky recipients in on some of the secrets of …

Harvard interview tips

When Harvard Business School sent out Round 1 interview invitations last week, the Harbus’s general manager La Keisha Landrum posted an article that afternoon letting those lucky recipients in on some of the secrets of a successful admissions interview.

Here are the key takeaways from current HBS students that Landrum shares to inform your own interview preparation:

“Know your application inside and out. Sounds simple, but review it. Know your story and practice explaining key achievements that you mention  in your resume or essays.”

“To practice, I did 6 simulated interviews with HBS students that proved invaluable in my preparation.”

“Prepare three or four good stories (which could be adapted to answer practically any question), then record yourself on iSight answering 20 minutes of questions. Watch to assess your body language, tone.”

“Know your resume cold. Know your essay(s) cold.”

“If you were reading your application, what questions would you have for yourself? Those are probably the questions you’ll get on interview day.”

“As you think about your strategy for answering interview questions, it’s a good idea to rehearse your answers, but do not memorize them! That will come off as inauthentic and can really hurt your chances.”

“HBS students are expected to be able to think on their feet in the case method. The interview screens for that.”

“You will be asked a lot of questions—often in rapid fire fashion. But don’t forget to get your own message across.”

“ What do you want to convey to your interviewer? Find a way to get your points across in your answers.”

“When preparing for your interview, practice being succinct in your answers. HBS is looking for articulate students who can make convincing statements or arguments without going on and on forever.”

“ Remember, it’s only a thirty-minute session, so your interviewer will get frustrated if you are taking up too much air time.”

As you prepare for your interview, one of the most important tips to remember is to sound natural—not scripted—during the exchange.  Instead of trying to remember and include every last one of your memorized bullet points, focus on succinctly answering only the question at hand.

If you can get from point A to point B in a clear, logical way; maintain an open, friendly, and professional demeanor; dress appropriately; and have an inquisitive attitude about the school and all it has to offer students, you stand a very good chance of coming out of the interview with flying colors.

***

Stacy Blackman Consulting offers two valuable eBooks which may help you on your journey to Harvard Business School. Please check out our:

Harvard Business School Admitted Student Profile and Harvard Business School Interview Guide.

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Harvard Business School MBA Application Essay Tips 2013

This year Harvard Business School has streamlined the essay process even further by limiting the usual batch of essays to one question. While one question for HBS makes coming up with topics somewhat easier (in …

This year Harvard Business School has streamlined the essay process even further by limiting the usual batch of essays to one question. While one question for HBS makes coming up with topics somewhat easier (in prior years Harvard often asked applicants for three accomplishments) the open ended nature of the question and the no-limit word count will make this one question potentially quite challenging.

There is one question for the Class of 2016:

You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?

HBS adds this tip to the essay prompt:
There is no word limit for this question. We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.

The goal of this essay is to know yourself, know HBS, and know how to match the two to demonstrate your fit for the school. Your first task should be to evaluate all of the other aspects of your candidacy – what is the story your resume tells? What do you think recommenders will say? How does your transcript communicate your skills, accomplishments and interests? Then you need to evaluate how to fill the gaps with the essay.

While comparisons with Stanford’s “What Matters Most” open-ended question may come immediately to mind, HBS is very different and it will be important to know the program.

As you consider possible stories to tell in this essay keep in mind that HBS has always been highly focused on leadership and wants to accept candidates who have a track record of leadership impact and a success trajectory that indicates upper management potential. Accomplishments have traditionally been a strong focus of HBS essays, and outlining one or two leadership oriented accomplishments as examples of who you are would likely be a strong approach. Other ideas are to reflect upon your future goals, explain an important formative experience, and reflect upon your growth as you enter an MBA program.

We see many applicants tempted to include “why HBS” type information in HBS essays. This has never been part of an HBS application essay question and we don’t recommend including that sort of angle here. HBS is quite clear on why applicants are interested in the school, and they would rather see you use the space to provide more information about yourself and your candidacy.

A note on word count: HBS traditionally has limited essays to around 400 words each. Do not be tempted to go overboard with a 2,000 word essay this year, rather focus on concise and clear writing and consider keeping this essay to 600 words or less.

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How to Master MBA Interviews

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com ‘Tis the season for interviews! This is the most unpredictable portion of the MBA application process, since every interviewer is different. The same …

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com

‘Tis the season for interviews! This is the most unpredictable portion of the MBA application process, since every interviewer is different. The same interviewer may even react differently depending on his or her mood that day. For the lucky round one MBA applicants who have been invited to interview by their target business schools, here are several tips for preparing and guidance on what to expect.

The role of the interview varies by program, so if possible, reach out to your network of current or former students at the school for an insider perspective. Most MBA programs will offer the option to interview on campus or with a local alumni volunteer. You should make your decision based on your personal needs, rather than on the basis of how it may look to the admissions committee.

If you have the time and resources to visit the school, you’ll have a great opportunity to meet current students and attend classes. However, if an on-campus interview coincides with a big quarterly meeting at your job, the additional stress would likely make the experience far less beneficial, so it’s probably better to interview with a local volunteer. No matter which option you choose, the admissions committee uses the same metrics to evaluate your performance.

The first step in preparing for your interview is to review your applications. A few weeks have probably passed since you hit the submit button, so you’ll need to return to the MBA applicant mindset by reviewing your overall application strategy. If your interview is “blind”””meaning the interviewer hasn’t seen any of your application materials””this review will help you remember what aspects of your background you want to highlight.

At some MBA programs, such as Harvard Business School, the interviewer will have already reviewed your application and will tailor his or her questions specifically to help the admissions committee learn more about you.

The second step in your interview prep is to review some typical questions. Many candidates post their experiences online in boards, forums, and blog posts.

Once you have a list of likely questions in hand, you can use those questions to practice. Being concise, focused, and enthusiastic is your goal, and knowing what talking points you want and need to share will help. Write out short bullet points to outline what you would say in response to your practice questions.

When I was at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University meeting on-campus recruiters for a summer internship, I learned about an interview technique called the STAR method. I consider it one of the most useful frameworks for effectively answering interview questions.

For those unfamiliar with this technique, STAR stands for situation, task, action, and result. The STAR technique can be applied when asked “situational” questions, such as: “Tell me about a time you failed;” “Tell me about a time you came up with an innovative solution;” “Tell me about a time you managed a difficult project;” and “Tell me about a time you led a team.”

The power of the STAR method is that it allows you to formulate a very complete answer, but it keeps your answer organized and prevents you from rambling on and on””a common occurrence in interviews.

Here’s one example of how you can organize your notes:

Situation: “Product A was losing market share to a new competitor.”

Task: “I needed to create a plan to regain our lost share.”

Action: “I led a team to implement tactics A, B, and C.”

Result: “We regained lost share, plus 10 percent.”

And then you stop.

Often, the interviewer will probe further, asking for very specific details related to your story. You need to be prepared to elaborate, but just start with the basic elements of your story. STAR will help you get there.

Once you know what you need to say, the only thing left to do is to practice. Enlist the help of family and friends, and ask them to provide constructive feedback. After you have undergone several mock interviews, you will feel more relaxed and be able to focus on connecting with your interviewer and demonstrating your enthusiasm for the school.

If time permits, think of a few interesting questions to ask the interviewer at the end of the conversation. Alumni interviewers will enjoy reminiscing about their experiences, and will especially like any questions about clubs or activities they were part of. Current students can provide a great perspective on what they wish they had known, or the most interesting aspect of their MBA experience.

Now that you have done your interview homework, the final step is simply to relax and enjoy the process.

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R1 Update From Harvard Business School

In her latest update to the Harvard Business School MBA admissions blog, Director Dee Leopold explained what happens today for Round 1 applicants waiting anxiously for news of their status. To recap, potential candidates can …

HBS

In her latest update to the Harvard Business School MBA admissions blog, Director Dee Leopold explained what happens today for Round 1 applicants waiting anxiously for news of their status. To recap, potential candidates can expect to receive either an invitation to interview,  placement on the waitlist, or be released.

For those who received an email notification today with interview details, congratulations! However, if you were not successful in your R1 application to Harvard, you should know that while the blow certainly stings, it truly is better to know now so that you may refocus your energies on your other target schools and perhaps the next round deadlines.

While placement on the waitlist can be frustrating, or even feel like a disappointment, we think applicants should really pay close attention to how Leopold explains the process, and the odds. The waitlist is where promising candidates end up when there has been an array of outstanding applicants in a particular round, and yes, this is good news, because it means you’re still in the running!

At Harvard Business School, placement on the waitlist means the admissions committee wants to re-review your candidacy after they see Round 2  applications. In the best case, you would be invited to interview on the R2 timetable; otherwise, the school will inform you of your release in mid-February.

“We anticipate that approximately 100 Round 1 applicants will be asked to join the waitlist on October 24,” Leopold says, later explaining that, “Last year, we interviewed 48 Round 1 candidates who were placed on this early waitlist before interview and admitted 24 of them.”

Those odds may be longer than you’d like, but for a top-notch MBA program, many applicants are happy to take their chances.

For more on this topic, read our post from the spring with advice for accepted, waitlisted and denied MBA applicants.

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Advice from Harvard’s MBA Admissions Director

Don’t try to stand out, do make sure you understand—and are excited about—the case method approach to learning, and stay curious are three of the main pieces of advice Harvard Business School’s Dee Leopold offers …

Don’t try to stand out, do make sure you understand—and are excited about—the case method approach to learning, and stay curious are three of the main pieces of advice Harvard Business School’s Dee Leopold offers applicants in a recent post on her director’s blog.

While some candidates may feel deflated after reading her remarks, fearing they might have to switch strategies mid-stream, Leopold’s tips benefit anyone applying to Harvard and other case method-based MBA programs.

Tip #1

“Try to resist the urge to make “standing out” your primary goal in the admissions process. If you have made traditional choices all along (college, extra-curriculars, major field of study, jobs), own it. You’ll look silly if you try to portray yourself as a rogue daredevil. There are plenty of people at HBS who come from traditional backgrounds.”

I would add that excellence comes in many different packages, and sometimes small examples can brilliantly illustrate your distinctive contributions. Avoid any attempt to manufacture a memorable impression and instead focus on relaying with enthusiasm your own unique accomplishments and interests. You’re not being asked to talk about yourself for any other reason than to help a school learn why you made the choices you did. What those choices were is hardly relevant.

Tip #2

“Do your homework about the case method. It’s our signature pedagogy and it is nothing like traditional academia. Watch Inside the Case Method on our website and ask yourself if you find this method of learning intriguing and exciting. If it’s not for you, choose another school now vs. later.”

The Case Method approach is a proven winner because it brings the subject to life, brings business back to reality, and allows you to benefit from the professional experiences of a diverse group of classmates. However, this method may not be for everyone.  Other top programs, such as Chicago Booth School of Business, Kellogg School of Management, Yale School of Management and more rely on a broader mix of teaching methods.

Tip #3

“Stay curious. It’s so easy to stay “heads down” during the application process and become so introspective that you lose sight of the larger world. Keep reading. Keep listening. We’re looking for people who can dig into a case about a company they have never heard of, in an industry they don’t think they care about – and be 100% engaged.”

I like to remind applicants to stay connected to the bigger picture ”“ remember what this process is all about.  Ultimately it is not about submitting a set of essays.  It is not even about getting in to X school.  It is about your future, your career, creating opportunities for yourself.  Tap into all the things in life that inspire you; this will help you to make things happen.

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