HBS Interview Prep: Format, Criteria + Sample Questions

HBS interview

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 hbs@stacyblackman.com. 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

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

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.

HBS interview

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.

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 hbs@stacyblackman.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.

Baker Library image credit: Dariusz Jemielniak (CC BY-SA 3.0)

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Harvard HBS, Stanford GSB and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Erin, who was Assistant Director of MBA Admissions at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) and Director of MBA Admissions at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Meet Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.


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