If you’re vying to get into Harvard Business School, first you’ve got to nail the interview.
While HBS isn’t known for throwing candidates strange interview questions, it can still be a nerve-wracking experience — one 30-minute interview isn’t long to make a strong impression.
We spoke with Nabil Mohamed, a second-year Harvard student, about his interview experience. As editor-in-chief of The Harbus, HBS’s student newspaper, Mohamed also helps update and publish the paper’s “Unofficial Admissions and Interview Guide,” which offers valuable insights into the admissions process.
Here are Mohamed’s top tips for acing the business school interview:
Show that you want it.
For Mohamed, this meant flying from Egypt to the U.S. to do the interview in person. “I felt it would give a good impression if I actually flew to Boston and gave the interview over there,” he says. “It would show them that I had a keen interest in the school, and I took a vacation off of work to see them, see the campus, and do a class visit.” Even if you aren’t flying overseas, look for ways to go the extra mile to show your interest.
Learn from people who’ve done it before.
As soon as you know you’ve made it to the interview round, Mohamed recommends reaching out to others that have gone through the process to find out more about it. Then start practicing.
Constantly answering interview-type questions will keep you from being caught off guard when you’re actually there, and getting feedback from experienced interviewees will let you know if you’re on the right track with your answers.
This isn’t a psych-out interview, Mohamed says. The interviewers aren’t trying to trick you — they only want to gauge your personality and see how you would fit in. HBS isn’t known for using oddball interview questions, so relax and let your true personality show.
Mohamed warns against giving generic answers or answering a different question than what’s asked. Because the interview is relatively short, it’s important to use your time as efficiently as possible. Focus on giving clear, concise answers. “Make sure that your answers aren’t too long, aren’t too weak, and most of all that the arguments that you’re giving aren’t flimsy or too cliched,” he says.
Be ready to back up your answers with evidence.
When asked if he was a good teacher, Mohamed said he was and defended his answer when the question was followed up with “Why?” By giving context to his answer, he showed his strengths and abilities. In the end, the explanation he gave revealed more about him than the answer itself.
Control your ego.
Coming off as overconfident or arrogant serves as a huge red flag to interviewers. If you can’t control your sense of entitlement for a 30-minute interview, it’s not likely you’ll be able to control it for two years, Mohamed says. They’re looking for applicants who want to learn from HBS, not those who believe they already know everything.
Don’t be who you think Harvard is looking for, be who you truly are. The interviewers want to see if you’ll be a good fit for HBS, and pretending to be someone you’re not won’t give them an accurate reading. “It’s both worthless and harmful to you if you go in with a completely different persona,” Mohamed warns.
Celebrate your achievements, but don’t go out of your way to show off how big or important an accomplishment was if the question doesn’t call for it. “You give the interviewer the sense you’re a little too happy with what you’ve achieved, and that you might not have the humility to recognise that other people have achieved other things, too,” Mohamed says.
Use the post-interview reflection strategically.
Within 24 hours of the interview, Harvard requires each candidate to submit a post-interview reflection chronicling their experience. The reflection also offers applicants an opportunity to address anything they weren’t able to cover in the interview.
For example, Mohamed told his interviews that, after graduating, he hopes to open a styrofoam recycling business in Egypt. However, when asked which company produces styrofoam, he froze and confessed that he didn’t know. After the interview he looked it up, and then not only explained in his post-interview reflection why he didn’t know, but related how this new information would help his future business plans, as well as what he hoped to gain from HBS. “I tried as much as possible to turn the fact that I didn’t answer into an advantage,” he says.
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