The acceptance rate at Harvard Business School’s prestigious MBA program is just 9%.
With many applicants having impressive work experience and an excellent academic record, it can be crucial to find a way to create a stellar application that stands out from the crowd.
If you’re invited to interview, first of all––congratulations! Second, you’re probably wondering how to prepare.
We’ve put together this article to help you to know what to expect at the interview. Keep reading to find the most common Harvard MBA interview questions and how best to answer them.
Will I have to complete an interview as a part of my Harvard MBA admissions process?
Not everyone who applies to Harvard’s MBA gets invited to complete an interview.
The school splits its application process into three distinct phases: written application, interview, and post-interview reflection.
During the first phase three things can happen with your application:
- You get invited to interview
- You get held for further consideration
- You receive an early release and are withdrawn from consideration
If your application falls into one of the first two categories, then you will either complete your interview immediately or need to complete an interview at a later phase to move forward with the application process.
That means that no matter what, you are likely to need to complete an interview to get into Harvard Business School.
Types of interview questions
There are several different types of interview questions that you could encounter during a Harvard MBA interview, so it can be useful to acclimate yourself to these as part of your preparation.
Structurally, the interview will typically last around 30 minutes, with the main section lasting 20-25 minutes. Opening questions will usually be broader and more introductory in nature.
Personal questions help Harvard get to know you in a more in-depth way than what can be shared through application materials alone. Questions in this category will typically ask you to expand upon some aspect of your professional or personal background.
Industry questions assess how well you understand the industry that you currently work in or plan to go into after graduation. Interviewers will ask you questions about companies in the industry, what makes them successful, and why you’ve chosen this career path over others.
General professional questions are also common during Harvard MBA interviews. These aren’t personal or industry-specific. Instead, they focus on your general professional goals, skills, and knowledge.
When will my interview take place?
When your interview takes place will depend on which round you apply during, and what happens to your application during the first phase of review.
You may be invited to interview immediately, in which case you would likely interview sometime in October or early November.
Alternatively, your application may be held for further review. In that case, if you do get invited to interview, it may take place in November, December, January, or even later.
Harvard MBA interviews were conducted virtually during the pandemic, and some students will likely continue to have this option moving forward.
Top Harvard MBA interview questions and how to answer them
What is the difference between you and the leaders you admire?
This question is designed to assess how well you can articulate where you’re currently at in your career and where you hope to go.
It’s also a way for the interviewer to measure your humility and willingness to admit that you still have areas in which you can improve.
This question requires a level of self-reflection and introspection on your part, and you should aim to provide a specific answer. You should be able to reference a leader and state which traits or skills they possess that make you admire them. Then you should be able to talk about how your traits compare to the leader’s and denote specific ways in which you could improve them.
Better still, you could mention how your MBA at HBS will help you gain the knowledge and experience that you need to become more like the leader you have referenced.
What would your 5 closest friends say about you and why?
This question tends to catch people off-guard, but it’s really just another way of asking you to describe yourself.
Harvard MBA interview questions may use this strategy––slightly deviating from common variations of questions––to get you away from a prepared answer.
When answering this question, it’s best to highlight traits and experiences that will relate to your ability to succeed at Harvard Business School. For example, you can talk about past positions and how they shaped you into the type of person who can succeed in Harvard’s MBA program and make a positive contribution to the student body.
How is your current company winning in the market? How can they continue to do so?
Interviewers ask this question to get a sense of how well you understand your company’s competitive edge. If you need help figuring this out, consider why customers choose your current business over its competitors.
Regardless of what factor you name, it can be helpful to demonstrate an awareness of the overall market and other impacting factors, in addition to knowledge of your competitors.
The second part of your answer will need to be informed by your understanding of how the industry that your company operates in will progress over the coming years. An excellent answer will reference specific actions that your company can take to maintain––or grow––its competitive edge in the face of changing circumstances.
What’s something you wish you would’ve done differently?
It can be tempting to answer a question like this with a response based on the idea of having no regrets. However, doing so isn’t usually a great way to impress your interviewer.
Harvard asks this question because it wants to see that you’ve learned from your mistakes. If you say that you have no regrets in your life, then you miss out on a valuable opportunity to show how you’ve grown. You also risk coming across as arrogant.
Instead, when answering this question you should try to zoom in on a specific instance in your life in which things didn’t turn out the way you wanted them to. Then, speak to how going through that experience helped turn you into the person that you are today.
This will inform your interviewer not only of the way you handle stress or disappointment but also of your ability to critically reflect on your own choices––both of which are critical leadership skills.
What made you go into your career field?
The main purpose of this question is to assess what interests you and where you hope your career will go after you earn your MBA.
When answering this question, be sure to let your passion shine through. It can also be really helpful to highlight a specific experience that made you choose your current line of work.
For example, maybe you had a rewarding internship while earning your undergraduate degree that set you on this course. Or perhaps you had an experience in a specific role that shaped or changed your interests.
The only thing you need to avoid here is saying that you chose a career path for the money. While that may be true, it’s unlikely to add any value or depth to your interviewer’s understanding of you as an applicant.
What do you do at your current job?
This question is an opportunity for you to talk about some of the cool things that you’re doing in the workplace.
Try to pick 2-3 specific responsibilities that you have at work which are relevant to your ability to succeed at Harvard Business School. Then, describe those responsibilities in-depth and be sure to explicitly make the connection between them and your ability to succeed at Harvard.
Valuable points to mention here might include any leadership or managerial experience, ability to think critically, strategic analysis and decision-making, or interpersonal skills.
What’s a company you admire? How do you think their technology could be applied to a challenge we currently face?
If you get this question, it’s designed to assess how deeply you think about companies and their technologies.
Harvard doesn’t just want you to be able to pick a company that you admire. They also want you to be able to talk about why you admire that company.
With this variation, you need to be able to start specific and then expand to look at the big picture. You should be able to describe a specific technology that a company utilizes, which excites you.
Then, talk about why that technology is so important to the world at large. What types of problems can it solve? Who will benefit from it? Why does it matter? If your answer covers some of these questions, then you’re likely on the right track.
Need a hand with your Harvard MBA interview prep?
Your Harvard MBA interview is a crucial step in your MBA admissions process, and preparation is key.
It’s also why you should seriously consider seeking professional assistance with your interview preparation process. Admissions Roadmap can provide you with the personalized guidance, coaching, and feedback you need to unlock your full potential and maximize your Harvard MBA interview.
We’ve helped applicants get accepted at the top MBA programs in the country. But don’t just take our word for it. Visit Admissions Roadmap today to learn more about what we can do to help you knock your Harvard MBA interview out of the park.