HBS Interview Prep: Format, Criteria + Sample Questions
Are you one of the lucky applicants who just received an interview invitation from Harvard Business School? The HBS interview really is the deciding factor as to whether or not the candidate gets in. SBC’s team includes several Harvard Business School admissions experts, including former HBS Admissions Officers who also hold HBS degrees. In other words, their expertise is deep.
SBC consultant and former HBS Admissions Officer Andrea has exclusive insider advice about preparing for the HBS interview. Today, we’re sharing this wisdom with you.
“The interview really is the deciding factor as to whether or not the candidate gets in,” Andrea reveals. “Very few interviews don’t go well, so you really have to rise to the top of the good interviews.”
Contact one of our SBC Principals to request availability for HBS interview preparation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. HBS interview prep support at SBC is available only after the school has extended interview invites. Here’s the overview of SBC’s interview prep services.
The Harvard HBS Interview
What is the #1 most important tip?
“The single most important element of the interview is demonstrating deep intellectual curiosity with the ability to develop a point of view or perspective,” says Andrea. HBS continues to assess leadership and academic and quantitative capabilities during the interview. Now, the focus turns toward personal qualities that are hard to assess in a deep way on paper.
“You cannot let even the smallest question seem surface level,” she warns. “Demonstrating depth of insight and the ability to cross-correlate are so important.”
What does the HBS interviewer do to prepare?
Andrea reveals that your HBS interviewer will prepare beforehand by extensively reviewing your application, line by line, to formulate tailored questions. That way, the HBS interviewer is fully briefed, and the questions are forward-moving—not a recap of what was already submitted.
“The interviewer is trying to get into the mind of the interviewee,” Andrea explains.
HBS interviews usually have an observer plus the interviewer. The interview observer’s presence, the tailored, probing questions, and the post-interview reflection are factors that demonstrate the thoughtfulness of the HBS interview process. Despite the extensive prep, there’s always room for spontaneity during the interview. This ensures interviewees stay on their toes. Questions often change, and the interviewer can navigate toward whatever direction the conversation goes.
Be sure to check out the B-Schooled podcast Episode #41, which is dedicated to explaining HBS’s unique, personalized interview process, and also covers tips on how candidates can prepare.
HBS Interview: Do’s
- Prepare to engage naturally, be on your toes. Conversational is better than scripted.
- Answer the questions asked. Listen and adapt.
- Self-reflect. Open up about growth, learning, setbacks, adapting, and other real-life experiences.
- Know your audience. Would Aunt Betty understand your explanation of your job? Avoid industry-heavy jargon.
- Roll with any nerves that may surface. A shake, shift, stutter, or twitch is fine as long as you can articulate answers well.
- Ensure you’re in a quiet space without interruptions, and turn off all noise-making tech. Even open windows can create distracting noise. Dress in business attire. Test sound and lighting beforehand.
HBS Interview: Don’ts
- Don’t fixate on worries or insecurities about your candidacy for HBS. Everyone has some level of fear, especially for interview prep. Most interviewees are in the same boat.
- Don’t try to be perfect or overly rehearsed. It’s not the time for an engineered speech but rather a thoughtful conversation in which you’re fully in the moment, reflective, and authentic.
- Don’t tell the interviewer what you think they want to hear.
- Don’t be a jerk. You’d be surprised how often this happens!
- Don’t be late. It’s unacceptable to be even a minute late.
- Don’t have any interview prep materials with you. You don’t need any papers or your phone.
How to Prepare for the Interview
Remember, at HBS, no applicant is admitted without an interview. The school wants to hear and understand you beyond your application. Your interviewer will want to understand the kaleidoscope of your traits and attributes.
“Each AdCom member is given almost free rein to determine how or what they’d like to assess in the interview. Be nimble and ready to go deep on any topic,” Andrea advises.
Make sure you know everything on your resume. Prepare to answer questions ranging from major industry headlines to hobbies and interests. For example, if you’ve said you’re a historical fiction buff, be ready to discuss it.
This interview will also cover the nuances of several of your life choices. Make sure your answers show character and introspection. You won’t have any notes in front of you, so become well-versed in your own experiences, both professional and personal.
Share framing and context before explaining details. The interviewer has already read a lot about you. Now, it’s your job to make them excited about you—something you fully control with how you shape your answers.
Motivations, learnings, anomalies, growth, hesitations, and realizations are all ways to show depth of character and genuinely connect with the interviewer beyond the facts they have already read.
Since the interviewer’s questions are tailored to your candidacy specifically, know there’s a reason for each question. The interviewer may be asking in reaction to a recommender comment, the challenges of your industry applicant pool, or other reasons based on your application.
“At the end of the interview, if you are asked what else should we know about you, know that it is not a throwaway question,” Andrea says. “You should have managed the interview to that point so that you know what you wanted to share that you haven’t and take the opportunity to work it in.”
HBS Interviewer Evaluation
Afterward, your interviewer writes a summary of the experience, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. The interview write-up ends with a recommendation to the director on whether to admit.
There are roughly three recommendations: “No way,” “solid—fine to be in class,” and “rock star.”
- Having a rock star interview almost guarantees you get in. If you have a solid/fine interview, the director will use those to fill in the class. Many in this category will not get in.
- Of every ten who interview, approximately seven to eight will give a good-to-great interview. Unfortunately, one or two will bomb it. Then, of those seven to eight strong interview performances, two or three will be admitted.
Applicants should remember that there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to admissions at HBS. Admits can fluctuate depending on the round, the quality of the applicant pool, etc.
Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.
Admissions Officer at Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB)
MBA, Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB)
Asst Director MBA Admissions
at Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB)
Director MBA Admissions
at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business
Admissions Officer at Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB)
MBA, Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB)
MBA, Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB)
Minority Admissions, the GSB
Diversity Programs, the GSB
Assistant Director MBA Admissions
at Columbia Business School (CBS)
M.S.Ed, Higher Education, U of Pennsylvania
Ashley is a former MBA Admissions Board Member for Harvard Business School (HBS), where she interviewed and evaluated thousands of business school applicants for over a six year tenure. Ashley holds an MBA from HBS. During her HBS years, Ashley was the Sports Editor for the Harbus and a member of the B-School Blades Ice Hockey Team. After HBS, she worked in Marketing at the Gillette Company on Male and Female shaving ...×
Kerry is a former member of the Admissions Board at Harvard Business School (HBS). During her 5+ year tenure at HBS, she read and evaluated hundreds of applications and interviewed MBA candidates from a wide range of backgrounds across the globe. She also led marketing and outreach efforts focused on increasing diversity and inclusion, ran the Summer Venture in Management Program (SVMP), and launched the 2+2 Program during her time in Admissions. Kerry holds a B.A. from Bates College and ...×
A former associate director of admissions at Harvard Business School, Pauline served on the HBS MBA Admissions Board full-time for four years. She evaluated and interviewed HBS applicants, both on-campus and globally. Pauline's career has included sales and marketing management roles with Coca-Cola, Gillette, Procter & Gamble, and IBM. For over 10 years, Pauline has expertly guided MBA applicants, and her clients h ...×
Geri is a former member of the Admissions Board at Harvard Business School (HBS). In her 7 year tenure in HBS Admissions, she read and evaluated hundreds of applications and interviewed MBA candidates from a diverse set of academic, geographic, and employment backgrounds. Geri also traveled globally representing the school at outreach events in order to raise awareness for women and international students. In additio ...×
Laura comes from the MBA Admissions Board at Harvard Business School (HBS) and is an HBS MBA alumnus. In her HBS Admissions role, she evaluated and interviewed hundreds of business school candidates, including internationals, women, military and other applicant pools, for five years. Prior to her time as a student at HBS, Laura began her career in advertising and marketing in Chicago at Leo Burnett where she worked on th ...×
Andrea served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years. In this role, she provided strategic direction for student yield-management activities and also served as a full member of the admissions committee. In 2007, Andrea launched the new 2+2 Program at Harvard Business School – a program targeted at college junior applicants to Harvard Business School. Andrea has also served as a Career Coach for Harvard Business School for both cu ...×
Jennifer served as Admissions Officer at the Stanford (GSB) for five years. She holds an MBA from Stanford (GSB) and a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Jennifer has over 15 years experience in guiding applicants through the increasingly competitive admissions process into top MBA programs. Having read thousands and thousands of essays and applications while at Stanford (GSB) Admiss ...×
Erin served in key roles in MBA Admissions--as Director at Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and Assistant Director at Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB). Erin served on the admissions committee at each school and has read thousands of applications in her career. At Haas, she served for seven years in roles that encompassed evaluation, outreach, and diversity and inclusion. During her tenure in Admissions at GSB, she was responsible for candidate evaluation, applicant outreach, ...×
Susie comes from the Admissions Office of the Stanford Graduate School of Business where she reviewed and evaluated hundreds of prospective students’ applications. She holds an MBA from Stanford’s GSB and a BA from Stanford in Economics. Prior to advising MBA applicants, Susie held a variety of roles over a 15-year period in capital markets, finance, and real estate, including as partner in one of the nation’s most innovative finance and real estate investment organizations. In that r ...×
Dione holds an MBA degree from Stanford Business School (GSB) and a BA degree from Stanford University, where she double majored in Economics and Communication with concentrations in journalism and sociology. Dione has served as an Admissions reader and member of the Minority Admissions Advisory Committee at Stanford. Dione is an accomplished and respected advocate and thought leader on education and diversity. She is ...×
Anthony served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise. During his time as a Wharton Admissions Officer, he read and reviewed thousands of applications and helped bring in a class of 800+ students a year. Anthony has traveled both domestically and internationally to recruit a ...×
Meghan served as the Associate Director of Admissions and Marketing at the Wharton MBA’s Lauder Institute, a joint degree program combining the Wharton MBA with an MA in International Studies. In her role on the Wharton MBA admissions committee, Meghan advised domestic and international applicants; conducted interviews and information sessions domestically and overseas in Asia, Central and South America, and Europe; and evaluated applicants for admission to the program. Meghan also managed ...×
Amy comes from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania where she was Associate Director. Amy devoted 12 years at the Wharton School, working closely with MBA students and supporting the admissions team. During her tenure at Wharton, Amy served as a trusted adviser to prospective applicants as well as admitted and matriculated students. She conducted admissions chats with applicants early in the admissions ...×
Ally brings six years of admissions experience to the SBC team, most recently as an Assistant Director of Admission for the full-time MBA program at Columbia Business School (CBS). During her time at Columbia, Ally was responsible for reviewing applications, planning recruitment events, and interviewing candidates for both the full-time MBA program and the Executive MBA program. She traveled both internationally and dome ...×
Erin has over seven years of experience working across major institutions, including University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School, and NYU's Stern School of Business. At Columbia Business School, Erin was an Assistant Director of Admissions where she evaluated applications for both the full time and executive MBA programs, sat on the admissions and merit scholarship committees and advised applicants on which program might be the best fit for them based on their work experience and pro ...×
Emma comes from the MBA Admissions Office at Columbia Business School (CBS), where she was Associate Director. Emma conducted dozens of interviews each cycle for the MBA and EMBA programs, as well as coordinating the alumni ambassador interview program. She read and evaluated hundreds of applications each cycle, delivered information sessions to audiences across the globe, and advised countless waitlisted applicants. ×
HBS Post-Interview Reflection Tips
The “post-interview reflection” has no official word limit and is due within 24 hours of the interview. Nonetheless, we suggest you keep it to one page or less in length. In it, you should thank the interviewer(s) and recap what you enjoyed about your conversation. Don’t forget to answer the question they asked directly. (In the past, it has been, “How well did we get to know you?”.)
If you believe the interview went well, you don’t need to write more than a few paragraphs. But what if you felt you could’ve answered a question better or think there’s something substantive you should have included? Then use the reflection to add clarity or dimension in a way that further demonstrates your intellectual curiosity.
End with a 30,000-foot reflection on what the entire process has meant to you, any deep insights you have as a result, and what lies ahead for you.
Sample HBS Interview Questions
Below is a recent set of questions from an interview with Chad Losee from an SBC client:
- Where are you currently?
- How is your family?
- What does it mean to be the head on such a big project?
- What does a day look like in your work? Follow up on specific examples.
- What’s your style of leadership? What would those you manage say about you?
- Describe a time you had issues with staff that reported to you. How did you work around that?
- What point in life made you want to have a life of impact?
- Who have you had an impact on?
- Why MBA?
- Name some companies you like.
Here is another set of interview questions from HBS shared by an SBC client:
- How was your experience growing up in [country] and then moving to the US?
- Why did you attend your college, and why your [major]?
- Walk me through this deal on your resume.
- Tell me about a deal that was difficult for you.
- How do you manage your analysts?
- Why impact investing?
- How would you convince potential investors of your vision?
- Describe a class that you think would empower you to achieve your goals.
- Which class would be hard for you?
- How would you increase minority presence in large corporations?
- What else do you wish to talk about?
The SBC team wishes you much luck with your HBS application and interview and would love to support your efforts. Contact one of our SBC Principals to request availability for HBS interview preparation by emailing email@example.com ASAP. As a reminder, HBS interview prep support at SBC is available only after interview invites have been extended. Here’s the overview of SBC’s interview prep services.