The interview questions HBS is asking so far

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Perhaps the most feared and intimidating interview in MBA admissions is the one at Harvard Business School. That’s true for several reasons.

First, unlike student or alumni-led interviews, where the interviewer reviews your resume as you hand it to them, the HBS Admissions Committee comes dangerously prepared. The night before they carefully review each resume, looking for inconsistent themes, odd career transitions, vaguery to clear up, and anything they happen to find interesting. They then write up a list of pointed questions and prepare to deliver them rapid fire over the course of their 30 minutes with you.

Second, the entire time the interviewer and their scribe will be evaluating your communication skills to see if you’d crack under the pressure of the case classroom. They will want to see that you are able to clearly articulate your thoughts with logical structure and that your answers are persuasive. They will also probe to test the depth of your professional knowledge to see if you will be able to serve as an appropriate representative for your industry to the rest of your section.

Third, HBS’s admissions department is a well-oiled machine, and many find the incredible professionalism of its staff to be intimidating. There is a dedicated check-in center where Admissions Director Chad Losee can often be seek taking applicant’s coats. At the appointed time, an admissions staffer walks all the interviewees up to their “green room” to wait for their individual interviewers to be ready. Precisely at the appointed hour, the interview room doors open, and the names of each applicant are read out. Exactly 30 minutes later, the interviews end and the applicants are led back downstairs and on their way. For some, this is too much and we often receive reports that when clients visit the bathroom before and after the interviews, they can hear other applicants vomiting.

The questions HBS has already asked this year:

In general we are finding that HBS is much more interested in measuring each candidate’s industry knowledge and ability to represent their industry in section. We recommend that candidates prepare by researching the latest trends in their industry and be able to speak to the recent performance of their own company.

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  • Explain to me why you studied [foreign language on resume].

  • Explain how the [foreign language listed on resume] alphabet works.

  • Why did you study [undergraduate major]?

  • What is your criteria for turning down investments?

  • Compare and contrast [your sector] with [another adjacent sector].

  • Why did you choose to work abroad? Why that city?

  • Tell me about your most interesting consulting project.

  • What about your background led management to choose you for this project?

  • What are the challenges that the company you are working with right now is facing?

  • How have you tried to [solve problem mentioned in your application] through your professional work?

  • Tell me more about [the start-up you interned at]. What is the next big thing for it?

  • Which competitors should [start-up company] worry about? Do you think [company] will ever be profitable?

  • How would you evaluate [your undergraduate college’s] recent endowment investments in your industry?

  • What do you read, what news?

  • What do you do for fun?

  • Was your military service mandatory? If not, why did you do it?

  • Why do you want to move to [country]?

  • Evaluate the value of [your industry].

  • Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?

How to succeed in the HBS/HKS Joint Degree Program

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Commonly known as “Jointees,” the students in the joint degree programs at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business school are united in their desire to affect change in both business and in government. Their experience moving between two Harvard schools presents a unique set of opportunities and challenges, and each year the third year jointees pass on their wisdom to the classes below them. Some of the piece of advice agree, others conflict, but they are all born out of three years of lived experience.

Work on improving your influence – The “core curriculum” at HKS and the “Required Curriculum” at HBS both help you understand and analyze problems on the firm, industry, and systemic level. However, you be successful, you still need to convince others how to change, the benefits of change, and the imperative to change. Use your time outside of class to grow in this area.

Speak to the unconverted – once you have learned how to solve global challenges and have developed the tools to be convincing, make sure to break out of the echo chamber and speak to those who do not agree with you. That’s the only way to make change.

Take "fierce control" over your education – You only have three years to explore two schools in which someone could spend a lifetime. Don’t count on the distribution requirements to show you everything worth exploring. If you find yourself over committed, talk to HKS professors about not submitting assignments. After all, grades here really don’t matter.

Invest in people – People are what will make your educational experience and people are what you’ll take away from the school after you graduate. Determine who you want to stay friends with in 10 years, and spend time with them!

Don’t be a bleeding heart – The rest of HBS will expect you, as a jointee, to be a bleeding heart, always reflexively advocating for government regulation and against business enterprise. Don’t fall into that trap. As soon as you do, people will anticipate your opinions, see your views as biased, and stop listening to them. By instead trusting that others will fill those roles early in the term, you can save your credibly (and that of all jointees) to advance social arguments later on when the lines are blurrier and the stakes are higher.

(or) Be a bleeding heart! – Someone has to do it.

Be proud of your story – Own it and learn to tell it well.

Make special time for other jointees – they will be your best partners, champions, friends, and resources.

Save your ammo for the last third of class – some of your peers at HKS will villainize the private sector and some at HBS believe that government is unnecessary. Jointees know that the public and private sectors need to work together (and with the non-profit sector) to tackle the “great challenges” in the world. You usually only get to make one comment per class session, so save your airtime for the end so you can correct your peers when they say otherwise.

Pick your PAE client carefully – As a Master in Public Policy (MPP)* candidate you’ll have to complete HKS’s thesis-like Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) in which you will work with a client to deliver a policy deliverable. Pick someone who communicates clearly, understands your limitations, and will value your work. If the work is interesting, the client relates to your post-graduation goals, and the experience broadens your personal network, that’s a plus.

Pick your PAE partner carefully – You can only use this trick to do half the work if your partner is reliable.

*Note: joint degree candidates between HKS and Tuck, Wharton, Stanford GSB, and MIT Sloan can transfer to the MPP to the Master in Public Administration degree, which does not have a PAE requirement

Be open to random talks and new experiences – there are so many of them at Harvard. Say yes to a few of them each week – especially those at other schools you wouldn’t otherwise explore.