Category Archives: Harvard Advice
June 6, 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.
November 5, 2012
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.
October 24, 2012
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 …
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.
September 21, 2012
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
May 29, 2012
The essay questions and deadlines for Harvard Business School’s class of 2015 are now posted online on the HBS admissions website along with the questions for recommenders. This year’s essay questions are a strong departure …
The essay questions and deadlines for Harvard Business School’s class of 2015 are now posted online on the HBS admissions website along with the questions for recommenders. This year’s essay questions are a strong departure from previous years, specifically in the number and length of the essays.
At Stacy Blackman Consulting we always take a holistic approach to our clients’ MBA admissions process, and this approach will be especially well suited for the application changes this year.
As you approach the HBS application you will need to think about more than just the essay questions ”“ make sure your resume is a compelling view of your career path, your recommenders are providing specific examples of your management potential and leadership qualities, and approach the two essay questions as opportunities to showcase who you are and what motivates you. The final essay, written in 24 hours after your interview, should fit in holistically with the rest of your application. A thorough self assessment of your strengths and weaknesses will be an asset as you approach this essay set.
The limited word count for Harvard Business School essays forces applicants to be focused and concise. When you answer a question, think about a discrete example that can be efficiently described, leaving you room to discuss lessons learned.
Harvard Business School is interested in knowing how you work as a person, how you think, and what kind of leader you are. Community involvement and a broad international perspective are certainly valued. Most importantly, specific and concise examples are the best way to demonstrate who you are. Without specifics, a claim to be a leader is empty.
Essay 1: Tell us about something you did well. (400 words)
Similar to the “three accomplishments” essay prompt of prior years, this is your opportunity to highlight one of your most impressive accomplishments. When you think about the ideal topic for this question make sure you are pulling from all aspects of your life, not just work. If you have an impressive accomplishment in a volunteer or extracurricular activity, this could be an opportunity to showcase both the accomplishment and your commitment to the activity.
While an incredibly impressive accomplishment may seem important to this question, it’s actually better to show the moments where you grew, changed or realized something crucial about yourself. If you were an Olympic gold medalist yet this objectively impressive accomplishment wasn’t meaningful in your life, it has far less impact in an MBA application. Even a seemingly humble accomplishment can be illuminated with your own reflection.
That being said, this is also an opportunity to “brag” about a key achievement, and it should be something that you are proud of not only because of the result but also the process. Make sure you provide detailed information about your own individual contribution to the achievement to highlight your ability to lead and achieve through your direct efforts.
Essay 2: Tell us about something you wish you had done better. (400 words)
In past years HBS has required an essay about a mistake. This essay is similar and asks you to consider situations that did not turn out as you wanted.
As you think about a triumph in your life in essay 1, essay 2 leads you to consider a challenge. As you consider how to approach this question, make sure you evaluate how you were able to move past and overcome the situation. Leadership can be effectively formed through difficulty (often referred to as “crucibles”) and HBS is interested in your own personal reaction to setbacks. Are you someone who can effectively navigate disappointment? How do you react when challenged? Are you able to learn from experience?
As you recount the situation that you wish had gone better, it will be crucial to demonstrate what you have learned. Think about why you selected this specific experience and what change and growth resulted from the situation. This essay is your opportunity to demonstrate your maturity, flexibility and leadership qualities.
New this year is the opportunity to “have the last word” in your HBS application. If you are invited for an interview you will be asked to submit an essay quickly afterwards. HBS is selective in the interview process and does not conduct interviews “blind.” Therefore, you will likely have a detailed opportunity to talk about your specific situation in the interview and also in the written reflection.
Following the interview, candidates are required to submit a written reflection using our online application system. This must be submitted within 24 hours following the completion of the interview. Detailed instructions will be provided to those applicants who are invited to the interview process.
This essay is your opportunity to leave a positive impression with the admissions committee and you should take full advantage to accomplish that goal.
This essay is designed to give you an opportunity to provide all relevant information, even after you have submitted your application and conducted an in-depth interview. At that point you may feel like you have contributed everything you can to the application process. Therefore, it will be useful to think about how you will approach this essay before you are even invited for the interview.
Before you select a topic for this question refer to your application strategy and list of strengths and weaknesses. Did you cover your key professional experiences? What have you demonstrated about leadership? If you have not addressed important extracurricular or volunteer activities or a story from your background that illuminates your interest in HBS and potential contribution to the class, this is the ideal space to provide that information.
If you have an outline of what you are likely to write in this essay it will make it much easier to submit a coherent and self-aware essay in 24 hours. Then you can tailor the final essay to incorporate your perception of the interview and any thoughts about areas you could have illuminated further. Overall, the entire application should formulate a holistic view of you and your fit with HBS.
June 9, 2011
Ahmed was the son of a self-made billionaire who owned a real estate empire in the Middle East. When Ahmed started thinking about business school he decided to work with Stacy Blackman Consulting because he …
Ahmed was the son of a self-made billionaire who owned a real estate empire in the Middle East. When Ahmed started thinking about business school he decided to work with Stacy Blackman Consulting because he saw his experience within the family business, largely working directly for family members, as his largest challenge in the application process.
In reality having work experience and goals that center around a family business can be a huge asset to an MBA application. After all, family business applicants are guaranteed to have a job after graduation, which minimizes any placement stress for the career services office! On a serious note, having a leadership role in your family business can be just as impressive as working for a stranger if you position your experience and recommenders correctly.
Ahmed had strong numbers with a 3.6 GPA from Cornell and a 720 GMAT that was balanced between quant and verbal. He had demonstrated leadership in college, specifically as the President of the International Student Program Board, with a mission to develop international cultural experiences for Cornell students. Ahmed had immediately returned to his family business upon graduation, and he had never worked for any other organization professionally.
We addressed his recommenders immediately upon starting our work together. Ahmed worked closely with his father, the CEO, yet we advised that an immediate family member would look biased if he wrote the recommendation.
Ahmed’s career path within his father’s real estate empire was impressive by any measure, and I was immediately excited to help craft his story when he recounted his work history. Ahmed started as part of the strategic acquisitions team and learned how to structure deals and operate within a challenging political environment to achieve the company’s business goals in commercial real estate. Ahmed had a vision for expanding the company into temporary housing and hotels to serve a growing expatriate worker population, and pitched the board an idea to develop their first apartment building. When his pitch was approved Ahmed moved from an analyst role to supervising construction, sales and operations of the apartment property. His building was an immediate success, after Ahmed’s team signed corporate relocation deals at a higher profit than the region’s average. Ahmed now wanted to return to school for his MBA with a long term goal to run the residential division of the family business and drive rapid growth. Ultimately Ahmed was positioned to take over the entire business from his father.
While Ahmed’s work history was impressive, he needed the confirmation of unbiased outside observers to give his work experience credibility. We had to delve into Ahmed’s work history within the firm to generate a list of possible recommenders who were not family members. After two brainstorming sessions we finalized the following list:
The firm’s head counsel ”“ he was not part of the family, but did report into Ahmed’s father
An independent business consultant who had worked with Ahmed on several acquisitions ”“ he was not a direct report of Ahmed’s father, but did have a vested interest in working with the company again
The banker who worked with Ahmed’s company to finance big deals ”“ again, not directly related to the company but invested in its success
We determined that these three professionals were the most unbiased of the possibilities, and had the added benefit of being unrelated to Ahmed. In the end he used the consultant and banker as references for Wharton, Chicago and Kellogg, and used all three recommendations for Harvard. For Stanford he asked the banker, consultant and a classmate who had worked with Ahmed as part of the International Student Program Board for a peer recommendation.
In addition to formulating a strong recommender strategy for Ahmed, we showcased his strong results for the business by quantifying the revenue his new division generated for the business. Luckily his numbers were impressive and the combination of strong leadership skills, business acumen, and independent recommendations earned Ahmed an admit to Harvard.
To read more SBC Case Studies, click HERE.