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Harvard Business School Interview Questions & Report: Round 2 / Adcom / On-Campus

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I flew in 2 days before my interview so I could spend the day before on campus attending all activities. I’ve never been to Boston or Cambridge and wanted to have time to get a good grasp of what HBS was like, but also what the city I was going to live in for 2 years would be like. Day before interview I sat in on a class, had lunch with current student panel, student campus tour, career development activity, and coffee chat with current students.

Beyond allowing myself to get some jitters out, I really enjoyed the chance to get a better feel for campus/atmosphere. My interview was the next day at 11:30. It all happened relatively as expected. Someone comes to the hospitality room about 15 minutes before to take you upstairs to the waiting room where you sit until called one by one into your interview room. Before heading up the stairs, she stopped and gave us a pep talk. “You’ve already made it this far, and that’s a huge accomplishment, relax, we just want to get to know you a little better. Hands in the center for 11:30.” And then we yelled 11:30 hah. I appreciated that, calmed a bit of nerves. However, as soon as you are seated in the waiting room, you wait here trying to not tense up for a few minutes, talking with other candidates who are willing to chat. I tried to crack a few jokes – but alas not that many people felt funny.

I had a note-taker and an interviewer. The note-taker made a point to introduce himself, but to also say, do not pay attention to me, talk to her. Which was a bit odd, but ok. The interviewer had read my application and both had a copy of my resume in front of them.

So all of this I expected. Even as the first minute went on, it felt conversational:

  1. When did you get into Boston?
  2. What have you done since arriving?

Very conversational, I felt at ease, and we ended up talking about finding the best coffee and pastry shop. Then she went from smiley to very serious, stated that, although she’d love to chat about pastries all day, that we had to move on. And then the interview took a very different turn.

The remaining questions were all spoken with a very skeptical and negative tone. Asked in a way like she was doubting I truly did anything my resume said, or doubting some of my projects I described. For perspective, I have 10 years of work experience. She spent the entire time peppering me with questions about my current job — only covered 18 months of 10 years of experience. That in itself threw me off. But moreso, as I mentioned, the tone was pretty unexpected. I tried to not let that throw me off and did my best to explain:

  • What does a VP of XXXX actually do?
  • Why does your job matter to your firm?
  • Did you really lead a team of XXXXX to do XXXX? What did you do that was important? Where all of the ideas your own or did you collaborate?
  • Why would {x large company} want to enter X? What is happening in the marketplace that is affecting that?
  • How I went about a specific project, she narrowed in on.

She was obviously not familiar with my industry and maybe that is why she asked questions the way she did. I’d say 99% of the time was answering the above questions regarding my industry and current job. I did have a question that was industry related and did my best to explain to her while avoiding jargon. After about 28 minutes of being in the hot seat, she ended by asking if I wanted to talk about anything else.

The note taker walked me down to the lobby and on the way asked a personal hobby question, which was fun to talk about. But despite the warm ending, I was pretty shaken up by my interview experience. I consider myself pretty good at being called on the spot and responding to questions, but for whatever reason the interview just felt speculative. Maybe a mental mind game? Since I’m an older candidate possibly trying to sense my maturity? Either way, walked out of there in dire need for a cookie as a pick me up!

Advice — honestly the advice I received before was that “No one has bad HBS interviews.” “HBS interviews are a conversation; just know your story.” However, that didn’t prepare me at all. I knew my story and all 10 years of work experience very well and was thrown off. So my advice is to go in not expecting anything per say. You could have a nice conversation – or it could be a mad dash of hot seat questions!

Despite an interesting interview – going to campus was the best decision I made. I absolutely fell in love with the campus, the people, the vibe. I wrote in my post-reflection how much of a positive factor that was and I encourage anyone to make the trip if they can. It’s totally worth it.

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