Harvard Business School’s Dean of Admissions Dee Leopold recently spoke to Fortune about the small things she notices during interviews that will sometimes cinch an acceptance, recalling some specific interviews she had conducted.We were particularly struck by one of the stories Leopold told—which began from a casual conversation starter to the applicant being able to demonstrate his problem solving skills, and earn an acceptance.
The particular applicant was especially nervous during his interview, so Leopold asked him to make some hypothetical New Year’s resolutions. When the applicant said he wanted to be more organised, Leopold asked him why.
“I thought I’d packed really well for this trip,” he began. “But I got to my hotel late last night, 10:00 on a Sunday night in Boston. I unpacked, and I realised I have a 9:00 Monday morning interview at Harvard Business School and I don’t have a shirt.”
Leopold perked up. He was wearing a shirt now. Clean and white and neatly pressed. “What did you do?”
“I put on my fraternity tee-shirt,” he said, “made a sandwich board that said ‘Will barter for dress shirt,’ and went out on the street.”
That story garnered an acceptance for the applicant—Leopold said it showed basic problem solving skills without fanfare or making a fuss.
Every year, Harvard Business School receives about 9,000 applications for approximately 900 spots in each class. Maybe it’s time to get a little creative.