Ace your HBS Interview | Ultimate guide to Harvard MBA Interview

The HBS Interview is one of, if not the most difficult one to crack. Harvard MBA interviews are extremely demanding even for polished applicants with stellar profiles. This ultimate guide will help YOU prepare for your HBS MBA interview. It has been developed by taking inputs directly from Harvard students and alumni that successfully cracked the Harvard admissions process.H

HBS Interview Format

Interviews at Harvard last around 30 minutes. The interviews are conducted in person with 2 members of the admission committee and they generally stick to the timeline. One panel member is the ‘interviewer’ that asks questions to the applicants while the other member is the ‘observer’ that generally sits quietly and judges the applicant’s performance in the interview.

Like most MBA admission interviews, HBS interviews are also generally stress interviews. However, the conversation is not casual either. In general, questions are asked to an applicant to test their ability to explain and answer in a concise manner, the things the applicant should be able to explain. Most importantly, HBS Interviews are not designed to ‘select’ applicants. Instead, they’re conducted with an aim to ‘ding’ the applicants. Owing to the large number of applicants to Harvard Business School MBA program, it makes sense for the admission committee to focus on rejecting the unfit candidates first.

Hence, the most important part of the interview is the first part. Within the first 10 minutes of the interview, the panel members have formed an opinion of you and your candidature at the school has been decided. This is also why the first few questions in the interview are the most important (More on this later in the interview questions section)

HBS interview dates and HBS interview invites

Fewer than 2 out of the 10 applicants that apply to Harvard get a Harvard MBA interview invite.

The upcoming round 2 HBS interview invites for will roll out on in the end of January. The specific HBS interview invite dates are January 28th 2019 and January 31st 2019. This round is for the 2019 intake and the class will graduate in 2021. Unlike previous years, Harvard has reduced the number of days on which interview invites are rolled out, from 3 to 2. It has also reduced the gap between these days from multiple weeks to a single week. Good for applicants as they have face less number of stressful days.

Once the HBS interview invitations 2019 are rolled out, applicants can schedule the exact dates of their interview on the Harvard admission portal. Another reason for selecting two different days for interview invites is to prevent choking or crashing of the online portal in case of applicants surge.

If the past is any guide, 80% of the Harvard MBA interview invitations will be rolled out on 28th January while the remaining 20% and the applicants will receive their HBS interview invite on 31st along with the remaining applicants who will most likely get a ding email.

HBS interview acceptance rate

Around 50% of the interviewed applicants receive a final admit from the school. This also makes Harvard one of the most selective MBA schools.

HBS Interview Guide | How to prepare for your Harvard MBA Interview

HBS is notorious for its curveball interview questions that surprise applicants. These questions have made HBS MBA interviews quite popular and not surprisingly a lot of the applicants spend a significant amount of time collecting such questions and preparing answers to them. This is a BIG MISTAKE that every applicant should avoid!

The most important part of preparing for the interview is to focus on the basic questions first. This includes questions like, “Walk me through your resume”, “Tell us about yourself”, etc. As mentioned earlier, the first 10 minutes of the interview are enough for the interviewer to decide your fate. These initial questions are the first ones to come up in the interview and hence, the primary focus during preparation should be on them.

HBS Interview Questions

Here are 8 of the most common Harvard MBA interview questions:

  1. Walk me through your resume? (Tell me about yourself)
  2. Why did you attend a particular school X? Why did you take a particular job Y? (Questions that try to understand your reasoning behind the career path you have taken)
  3. Have you been to a Harvard class before? Have you attended the class before coming for the interview? (Questions that try to understand your response to how Harvard’s classes and education system work)
  4. Have you been to a Harvard class before? Have you attended the class before coming for the interview? (Questions that try to understand your response to how Harvard’s classes and education system work)
  5. Have you been to a Harvard class before? Have you attended the class before coming for the interview? (Questions that try to understand your response to how Harvard’s classes and education system work)
  6. Have you been to a Harvard class before? Have you attended the class before coming for the interview? (Questions that try to understand your response to how Harvard’s classes and education system work)
  7. Tell us about the industry X you have worked in. You’ve worked in company ABC from the X industry, what is your outlook for the industry in the future? (Questions that try to understand the domain knowledge and expertise of the applicant in the industry they have worked in)
  8. What do you wish to gain at Harvard? What are the courses you are looking forward to? (Questions to assess if the applicant has a reasonable motive for an MBA at Harvard)
  9. What companies would you wish to work for? What company do you admire the most? What would be your advice to the CEO of this company? (Questions to understand the future plans of the applicant post a Harvard MBA)
  10. What does a typical day at your firm look like? Who are the leaders that you have worked with or look up to? What are the pros and cons of working at your current company? (Questions to focus on the leadership, team management, self-evaluation aspects of applicant’s profile)
  11. How will you contribute to the class? What is unique about you? (Questions focusing on the diversity of the applicant)

It is extremely important for applicants to be able to answer these basic questions in a short concise manner within few seconds. The first half of the 30 minutes is almost completely covered with these interview questions.

Oddball HBS Interview Questions – Toughest Harvard MBA interview questions

The second half of the interview involves the oddball interview questions that Harvard is notorious for. These are some of the toughest MBA interview questions amongst all the MBA schools’ admissions.
Some of these questions are:

  1. Explain to me something you’re working on as if I were an eight-year-old?
  2. How would your parents describe you when you were twelve?
  3. What is the one thing you would like me to remember about you?
  4. What are the two best pieces of advice you have been given, and why?
  5. How do you make big decisions?

Such questions, while being tricky are also quite rare. Nevertheless, applicants should also spend time preparing for such questions. Especially because these questions trigger follow up questions and hence, these answers determine the future course of the interviews.

Download Common HBS Interview Questions Compilation

At MBA Sage, we’ve collected and compiled over 50+ Harvard MBA Interview Questions that have been asked directly in the Harvard MBA interviews. You can download the document by filling this form below:

How to answer Harvard MBA Interview Questions

To ensure thorough preparation, follow this thumb rule:

  • The interview panel is obsessed with motive and transitions. Applicants should be prepared to explain every small detail on their resume – Why you did it, what you learned, what you are proud of, what would you do differently, why you took that job, why you left, etc.
  • Follow this priority order while preparing for the interview – Role >Team > Company > Industry
  • This implies that you should first be thorough with what your role was, next you should focus on how you managed or interacted with the team and how your role contributed to the team.
  • The next level of preparation would be to understand how the role contributed to the company and understanding the internal working of the company.
  • Finally, it is also important to understand the industry in which the company belonged to and how the future prospects of the industry look like.

Top 3 mistakes to avoid during the Harvard MBA interview

  • The most common mistake applicants make while answering a question is getting lost in the answer. Remember that the interviews will last only around 30 minutes. It is extremely important to be concise and to the point while answering the questions.
  • Adding to the point above, often applicants try to ‘cover everything’ in their resume during the interview, which is absolutely not necessary. The interviewer has already gone through your entire profile and hence, answers should only contain as much information as required. The interviewers will ask for more information if they feel the need.
  • Another common mistake is being ‘scripted’ or ‘arrogant’. Often very successful applicants tend to boast while speaking about their profile. In fact, applicants have been known to give a very scripted and crammed up answer when asked about basic questions like “Tell us about yourself” or “Why do you want to join Harvard”. Despite having been through this a million times in practice, it is important for applicants to still speak with the same freshness as if it is their first time answering the question.

HBS post – interview reflection | What to write in the HBS Interview reflection essay?

In the past 3 years, Harvard has introduced an additional component to their interview process. This part, known as the post interview reflection involves the applicant writing a follow up mail on the interview experience to the interviewers within 24 hours of taking the interview.

The reflection essay has to be a minimum of 400 words and it can be leveraged by the applicants in the two great ways:

  • Applicants can mention about the A, B, C things that were discussed and also add C, D that were left out.
  • A part of the email should also be converted into a nominal thank you note for the interviewer and for the interview experience.
  • Mention a few additional positives of joining Harvard to again reiterate how excited you are to join the program.

Although these emails cannot significantly change the chances of getting into the school, they can still be a nudge in the right direction.

HBS mock interview | How to practice for the Harvard MBA interview

The best way to prepare for the Harvard interview is to practice mock interviews. Mock interviews can give you the practice and the room to commit and learn from the mistakes that you should avoid in the final interview.

MBA Sage conducts mock interviews of Harvard applicants directly with the students and alumni of Harvard Business School. These mock interviews are structured to be helpful to the applicant in many ways:

  • Applicants can choose from a pool of mentors on our platform. We have a separate mentor pool specifically of Harvard MBA students and alumni to coach Harvard MBA applicants
  • The chosen mentor prepares their own set of questions for the applicant’s profile and conducts a mock interview with the applicant. This interview covers questions across different categories as asked in the final Harvard MBA interview. Applicants can expect to face similar questions in their final interviews.
  • Post the mock, the mentor provides feedback to the applicant on their interview performance. This feedback is highly personalized and comprehensive and includes all aspects such as the structure of the answers, the language used by the applicant and other important factors.
  • Applicants can also have a general discussion of their doubts with the mentor about the Harvard MBA program, the application process or any other questions about interview preparation

At MBA Sage, We’ve already helped 50+ applicants with their MBA journey in 2018 and in 2019 we’re set to break our own record!
Fill this form below to know more about how these mock interviews are conducted:


Edited at MBA SAGE
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