The HBS interview is totally unique in the b-school landscape. With other top MBA programs, there’s some debate about how big a role the interview plays in your chances of getting in. But the HBS interview is considered a crucial part of the Admissions Committee’s decision-making process.
That’s one of the reasons why, unlike virtually every other MBA program, the HBS interview is conducted by actual members of the AdCom.
The HBS interview is also utterly unique for its structure. With 30-40 questions delivered in just 30 minutes, it’s specifically designed to keep you on your toes, and to be hard to prepare for. But it’s not impossible, as long as you know what to expect. That’s why we’re sharing this HBS interview guide, which will tell you everything you need to know about the Harvard Business School interview.
HBS Case Interview Guide
This HBS case interview guide contains all the information you’ll need to help you prep for your HBS interview. We’ll walk you through the different kinds of questions to expect. We’ll also offer tips to help you prep for the interview. And we’ll share some of the important concrete information you’ll need to make sure you’re on track to land and ace your HBS interview.
HBS Interview Questions
The main thing that makes the HBS interview unique are the questions. But it’s hard to define, because the questions are designed to resist formulas and to defy expectations. Above all, the HBS interview is designed not only to gain information about you as an applicant, but also to study your ability to offer deeply considered, well articulated, and authentic answers in high-pressure, unpredictable scenarios.
With that said, there are still a few main question types that most of the interview questions can be categorized by. Let’s call these: Past Experiences, Present Assets, and Future Goals.
Obviously, many interviews ask you about your past experiences, but what makes these HBS interview questions unique is their rigor and directness. Your interviewer will likely be a member of the AdCom who has read every single word of your application. So you won’t be getting any boilerplate questions that will be easy to prepare for, such as, “Tell me about a time you had to deal with an unexpected difficulty.” Instead, you’ll get highly targeted questions, like, “Tell me about why you left [X Company],” or “Tell me about how you dealt with [Y challenge] while working on [Z Project].” These questions will be less about behavior and more about your motivations and your experiences.
This category of questions will try to assess your strengths and weaknesses as a candidate. Of course, these are common in any interview, but of course the HBS interview offers these questions with a twist. For example, instead of asking you to name your own strengths and weaknesses, they’ll ask you how your five closest friends would describe your strengths and weaknesses.
Questions about future goals are also common with any interview process. The HBS interview is unique in how highly specific and in-depth these questions go. Your interviewer will be chosen for their expertise in the industries, markets, and sectors you’ve indicated an interest in. Therefore, they’ll ask quite granular questions that test your knowledge of the past, present, and future of those areas.
HBS Interview Prep
While the HBS interview is designed to weed out applicants who have over-prepared by rehearsing formulaic answers, there are still things you can do to gain an advantage in your HBS interview prep.
Your Application Is Key
Make sure you know your own application up and down. This may seem silly, but in the rush of admissions season—and by trying to make yourself as attractive on paper as possible—it’s easy to include things on your application that you either forget about or don’t actually know that much about. But your interviewer will be targeting these areas, so it’s crucial you study every element of your own application and come prepared to defend it.
Learn The Nuances Of Your Industry
Learn the nuances of your industry. Your interviewer will have direct experience of the industries you’re targeting, and they’re going to do everything they can to determine your level of expertise. It’s not just enough to be interested in the industry or to have tangential experience—you should know your industry well enough to be able to have an improvised, in-depth conversation about it. You should also have a sense of what lies ahead for the industry’s future.
Don’t rehearse your answers. The interviewers are seeking authenticity and quick-thinking. Over-rehearsing your answers not only won’t prepare you well for the actual HBS interview questions you’ll encounter—it can lead to you seeming robotic and stilted. It’d be better to practice giving in-depth responses to unpredictable questions.
Seek out mock interviews if you can. Mocks can be one of the best ways to prepare. However, you’ll want to make sure you do your mock interviews with someone who knows the actual HBS interview process, or who has read up on it so they can give you the kinds of spontaneous, rapid-fire questions you’re likely to encounter in the interview. In your mock interview answers, practice giving answers that are off-the-cuff but still considered and insightful.
HBS 2 + 2 Interview
The HBS 2+2 program allows college students to secure their entrance to the MBA program before gaining the necessary two years of work experience for attending Harvard Business School. The HBS 2+2 interview is structured just like the other HBS interviews.
HBS Interview Acceptance Rate
The HBS interview acceptance rate is actually not terribly intimidating, with 60% of the nearly 2,000 interviewees being offered a spot in the program. It’s much harder to get an interview than to pass the interview stage.
HBS Interview Timeline
The HBS interview timeline begins with the application deadlines for Rounds 1 and 2. The Round 1 deadline for this admissions cycle is September 6, 2023, and the Round 2 deadline is January 3, 2024.
Typically, invites to Round 1 interviews start rolling out in the first week of October and continue throughout the month. Round 2 interview invites typically start going out at the end of January or beginning of February, and continue until the beginning of March.
The application deadline for HBS 2+2 applicants is April 25, 2024.
HBS Interview Tips
Okay, now let’s look at some crucial HBS interview tips to keep in mind as you go about your interview prep.
Your interview starts when you walk through the door. Your interviewers will be evaluating you before the formal interview even begins. They’ll be noticing whether you seem nervous or at ease in the waiting room. They’ll also notice whether you’re polite and pleasant with other applicants, or whether you’re uncommunicative and rude.
Know Your Application
Anything on or off your application is fair game. You need to know your application up and down, since your HBS interviewers will be asking you all about it. They’ll also be asking you questions about the industry you’re interested in, including aspects that may seem to have nothing to do with your application.
Stay On Your Toes
Be prepared for tonal shifts. One of the favorite methods HBS interviewers use to keep applicants on their feet is to shift unpredictably between small-talk and rigorous deep-diving questions. They’re trying to keep you from settling into a comfort zone, and they want to test your ability to retain a cool head through instability.
Expect The Expected
Expect the unexpected. The HBS interview will often contain oddball questions that may relate to an industry you haven’t indicated any interest or experience in. This is actually a chance for you to demonstrate your ability to think deeply, critically, and insightfully even with limited information.
Maintain Your Composure
Maintain your composure. B-school—and business more generally—requires people to stay cool and collected even in the face of the stressful or the unknown. If you’re nervous, or if you’re asked a question you don’t have a great answer to, don’t fall apart. Stay present and ready to answer the next question.
Look For Motives
Try to assess what your interviewer really wants to know. Even if the questions seem to come from out of nowhere, or if they’re oddly phrased, you can often take a second to figure out what your HBS interviewer is actually trying to figure out about you. They may want to know about your problem-solving skills in the face of limited information, or they may want to know about how you handle adversity—even though these may not be directly apparent in the content of the question.
Be Authentic And Confident
Be authentic and confident—not arrogant, and not overly rehearsed. Remember, you’ve had to jump through a lot of hoops just to land the HBS interview, and by the time you do, you’re more likely to succeed than to fail. Successful b-school applicants are driven by a confidence in their own abilities. They also learn to improvise when they encounter the unexpected. And finally, they have a deep knowledge of their field of expertise that doesn’t hide behind pre-formulated answers or jargon.
Don’t Underestimate Reflection
Make the most of the post-interview reflection. Every applicant has to submit a post-interview reflection within 24 hours. This is a final chance to demonstrate your ability to think deeply and critically. You can use this as an opportunity to show off your capacity for authentic self-reflection and to address any areas you feel you may have neglected in your HBS interview.
The HBS interview is a crucial step in landing a spot at one of the top business programs in the country. However, it’s also a difficult and unconventional hurdle to clear. You’re going to encounter a range of questions that fluctuate more wildly and probe more deeply than you’ve probably encountered before. But if you study the information and the tips in this guide, you’ll be prepared to face the unexpected, so you can ace the interview and set yourself up for a successful business career.