Harvard MBA Interview

As with so many other parts of the admissions process, the interview for Harvard Business School is unique – and uniquely challenging. If you’ve been dreaming about getting an MBA from HBS, it’s imperative that you understand the interview process, so you can prepare correctly and ultimately ace your Harvard MBA interview.

Understanding the style of the Harvard MBA interview

The majority of interviews are conducted by two members of the admissions committee: one who acts as the interviewer and one who acts as an observer. They are all limited to 30 minutes.

The style of a typical HBS interview tends to be very rapid-fire, even aggressive in some cases. This is intentional, because of the constrained time frame, and because the admissions committee wants to get a real sense of who you are and how well you perform under pressure.

Defending your background

At the start of the conversation, your interviewer will likely go through your application and resume, pushing you to explain and defend the choices you’ve made along the way.

You may be asked why you chose your undergraduate degree, how you went about getting your first job and why you chose certain internships.

This is not a good time to be scrambling to remember what you said in your essays, or to be blindsided by information in your recommendation letters. Before your HBS interview, you will want to review everything you submitted as a part of your MBA application.

Typical Harvard MBA interview questions

You should expect the typical admissions interview questions about your long-term goals, why you feel an MBA is the right choice for you, and why, specifically, you have applied to Harvard.

It’s not enough to be able to discuss these issues on a superficial level. As with the discussion about your background, you’ll need to be prepared to respond to rigorous questioning about your decisions, and to explain the reasoning behind the choices you’ve made.

Frequently Asked Interview Questions

We’ve selected interview questions in each category:

Past experiences

Your past experiences can tell a lot about how you’ve dealt with success and failure. When interviewing with Harvard, “expect to be asked a number of questions that will help interviewers gauge how life has tested you and how you responded to that test,” Blackman writes. Sample questions include:

  • Why did you choose to work for your current company?
  • Many people go straight from investment banking to a private equity firm. Why do you feel you need the MBA in between?
  • Describe a situation where you successfully responded to change.
  • Describe a time when you helped someone at work.
  • Describe a mistake you’ve made within the past three years.
  • Describe your greatest accomplishment.
  • How would you describe your style for teaching peers?
  • Tell me about a time you failed.

The interviewer wants to know the rationale behind all of your decisions and how you developed your areas of interest, she says. Successful responses will provide reasoning and details that were sparked by the actions you took.

Present attributes

“These questions present opportunities for you to demonstrate self-awareness and reveal your values and passions,” writes Blackman. It’s important to build off your past experiences and demonstrate your current personality and views of yourself and the world. Sample questions include:

  • What is your leadership style?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • What inspires you?
  • What book are you currently reading?
  • Name a leader that you admire.

Candidates should be prepared to elaborate and answer the question “why?” to each of the above interview questions. Successful answers will clearly demonstrate your personality, perspective, and values, Blackman says. You want to show you have the drive to learn and grow on a continual basis.

Future goals

Harvard’s mission is to “educate leaders to make a difference in the world,” and interviewers want to know about your ambitions. Sample questions include:

  • What do you expect to gain from an MBA at Harvard?
  • Where will you be five to seven years post-MBA?
  • What excites you most about your career plans?
  • How will you continue learning in your next position?
  • What are the difficulties you face in achieving your goals?
  • What will you do if you do not get into business school this year?
  • What do you think of the HBS admissions process?

Clearly describing your future goals should bring the interviewers full-circle. “When answering these questions, it is important to include tangible examples from your past and present, in order to convey that your future goals are not only logical and well-thought out but also achievable.

Harvard MBA Interview Question - 5

It was a very humbling atmosphere to be in at Harvard. I have lots of opportunity to chat with other interviewees and hear about what they’ve done. Everyone there was very accomplished in their own field, and it was amazing to be with a group of people that’s so diverse. It was hard for me to really feel competitive with any of them (granted I have a very specific and non-tradition industry background) because of how different everyone’s backgrounds were. Really at this point it seems more like an exercise in “how do we want the class structured” than “do they deserve a spot”.

The class visit was great, very engaging. Learned a bit about stock price valuation based on DCF versus Comparables methods. Afterwards a couple fellow Canadians (one from my undergrad university) came up and had a chat with me which was nice.

Prior to the interview, there were lots of people who were clearly anxcious sitting in a room with me. We chatted a bit in the 5mins leading up to the interview, but obviously it got a little tense.

The interview itself I felt went really well. My interviewer asked a lot of questions, and they were mainly directed at filling in details behind things only touched upon in my application. The type of stuff that doesn’t make it on to your 1 page resume in detail anymore because it was 5 years ago. I choose to believe (haha) that was because she was just trying to make my case stronger, and that my references and I had adequately described my last few years of work experience. Between questions the interviewer did watch the clock, felt as though that was mainly to make sure we kept to the 30min time limit because some of her questions went down the rabbit hole based on my previous answers.

When did you get in to Boston?
Did you attend a class?
Why did you choose X engineering?
Did you have any internships while completing your undergraduate degree? Tell me about them
Why did you choose to work for Company Y?
Questions about early rotations at Company Y and specific roles that weren’t written about much in my application
Tell me about your experience during the Natural Disaster Z
What were your recognition awards at Company Y for?
Tell me about your new/current role at Company A
What do you find most challenging about your current role?
Why did you get a dog?

No Surprises
Generally, I thought the interview was structured like I expected (focused on why I made certain decisions, and how they impacted me) but the subject matter was different than I expected to an extent. It was fine since I could answer those questions relatively easily.

What surprised me was that towards the end of the interview the interviewer actually made positive comments to me about my application. I had expected the stone face, poker player type of interview with little to no feedback – however she was willing to make comments like “what’s great about your application is that you have a lot of leadership experience which we usually only see in military applicants.” While that doesn’t mean I’m in by any means (Dec 12 is coming up fast!) it was a bit of a confident boost which has made the waiting a little bit easier.

Conclusions about School
I think Harvard will always have an elitist reputation with the general person/population, BUT I don’t think it’s deserved. Sure the criteria and screening process are rigorous, but the people I’ve met (students, adcom, prospective students, professors) are very kind and down to earth. It’s a school I can imagine enjoying because of the people. Until you’re there and you meet everyone I think you’ll always have the fear in the back of your head that the reputation is true.

Harvard MBA Interview Question - 4

I was interviewed by two admissions people — one who had read my app in full (who asked all the questions) and one who had only read my resume (who was less engaged but made a lot of facial expressions). The interview tone was VERY friendly overall, which caught me by surprise. I did a lot of smiling and laughing and it felt very natural.

Mix of super straightforward questions, like:
– why did you go into X industry, did you have a long-term plan for your career
– tell me about your industry
– tell me what happened at your company
– what would your friends say about you

as well as questions that weren’t TOTALLY curveballs but I didn’t expect and was caught off-guard:
– knowing what you know from your current job, how would you do your first job differently?
– if you had 6 months to do two very different things, what would you do?
– what is the solution to X huge industry problem

Toward the end it got very conversational where we were kind of bouncing ideas off of each other. I even challenged what one of the interviewer said about something and was concerned that might have been the wrong move but I think it probably just showed that I could hold an opinion and defend it.

I felt great coming out of the interview, and the person who walked me out gave me really strongly positive vibes. 24 hours later, I felt terrible and couldn’t believe what an idiot I was for my stupid answers. Advice is, don’t do that — a lot of wasted time and anxiety about something that you can’t control.


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Harvard MBA Interview Question - 3

I applied in round 1 and interviewed in November. I happy to report I was accepted in December! The interview process at HBS is extremely well organized. There are activities all day with various candidates interviewing at different times. I made my trip two days and would recommend others do the same. I had not formally toured the campus before being invited to interview, so I did a two day visit to get a better feeling for the school. I signed up for all of the activities on the first day and had my interview the second day in the morning. This provided me with many potential anecdotes that were fresh in my mind about the program that could be discussed in the interview. 

As for the interview, it was with one adcom member and another observer who did not speak. The interviewer was very nice and friendly and the environment was not meant to be tense (of course I was naturally a little nervous). Most of my questions were focused on the industry I work in, however there were a few pointed questions about things I did not expect (know every point on your resume!). Here are the questions I was asked:

1. Tell me more about X senior design project I worked on in college (5 years ago)
2. Why did you decide to go to college at X
3. How did you get your first job at X company
4. Why did you transition from job 1 to job 2 (both were investment banks)
5. Why did you decide to transition into current company and why did you choose this industry (now in acorporate role)
6. Tell me more about what you do in your current role
7. What do you think got you promoted so quickly (I answered this as a what are your strengths question)
8. What are some challenges your industry faces
9. How is your company tackling these challenges 
10. What do you make of X new competitors in your industry (interviewer was knowledgeable of the industry) 
11. What makes X person at your company such a good leader
12. What could this person do better

Overall, the entire experience was very pleasant. The key is to stay calm and think clearly. The interview process really made a great impression on me and made me want to get in even more!

Harvard MBA Interview Question - 2

My interview was very standard. It lasted for 30 minutes, I interviewed with two members of the Adcom, who were very nice and tried to make me feel comfortable during the whole process.

The questions I was asked were:
– Tell me about yourself
– You want to work in sector A , why?
– You did an internship in sector B, was it related to sector A ?
– What was your other internship about? can you explain a technical aspect of your job.
– You wrote about this story in your essay, can you give us more details about this aspect?
– What does a typical day at your current job look like?
– What does the CEO of your company worry about?
– Tell me about a time when you received a piece of constructive feedback.
– Who is a leader you admire? ( she added that it could be either a leader that I had worked with and that I know professionally or a well-known business leader)
– What are your future goals ?
– We have two minutes left, is there a question that you wished I asked?
– Recommend me something, anything. ( there was 30 seconds left in the interview)

Overall, the interview was very pleasant, and time flew by very quickly. I’d definitely recommend that you prepare using all the interview reports that you can find, and focusing on the specific questions that are related to your application.


Frequently asked Situational and Behavioural interview questions

Practise Now

Harvard MBA Interview Question - 1

I enjoyed being on campus and personally meeting HBS students. I was fortunate to attend a class and man was I excited! The interview itself wasn’t the typical rapid fire experience I read about in MBA blogosphere, but it was a no-joke ordeal. Particularly, I didn’t get much affirmation from the two interviewers I had. They do a pretty good job at maintaining a blank face throughout the interview. 

From what I perceived, the adcoms who interviewed me read my app as most of the questions were tailored to my app content. 

The interview was a blur, but I remember a few questions I got. I am a 2+2 student, so much of the questions was about my college and internship experiences. They are as follows:

1.) Tell me about how you choose your college.
2.) How was adapting to U.S. pop culture when you first arrived here for college (I am a foreign student).
3.) Tell me about your internship experiences.
4.) How was your experience as the class president.
5.) What is the dynamics of your family. 
6.) Which country has the most malaria incidence in the world (I have a public health experience).
7.) Post-MBA plans.

Frankly, I thought I blew the interview. Right of the bat, I was edgy and was in over my head until I heard “it was nice interviewing you.” In retrospect, I felt overwhelmed because of the number of follow-up questions I got, although I think I did justice to all the questions thrown at me. And the fact that they kept a blank face only added salt to the injury. Also I was surprised by a few of the questions I got, especially the “tell me about your family dynamics” one. I felt like it was some kind of a trick question, and as I answered it, I struggled with convincing myself that it wasn’t a bait to lure me into a tangle. 

If there is a piece of advice for prospective students, it will be to be yourself and tell your story in the most passionate of tone. Also chances are that you might have done better in your interview than you might have thought. 

I am glad I got into my dream school. HBS is a great place to be. Judging by the quality of conversations I had with interviewees and HBS students alike, I believe I am going to enjoy my two years there.

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