Preparing for Your HBS Interview 2023-2024

With expert commentary from former members of HBS admissions committee, Brooke Wheelan and Laura MacLean.

HBS reports that the school interviews approximately 20% of applicants. This means that with just shy of 10,000 applicants per year, HBS interviews fewer than 2,000 candidates—and dings roughly 8,000 without ever even having spoken to them. If this number of rejected HBS applicants sounds staggering, that is because it is! HBS sees an incredibly rich pool of candidates each year and has the unenviable task of saying “no” to people who are more than qualified to attend.

If you are one of the lucky few to receive an invitation to interview at HBS, congratulations! As Brooke Wheelan, former associate director of admissions at HBS, has said: “Statistically, your odds of being admitted to HBS’s MBA program just became a coin toss!” Harvard accepts approximately 50% of the candidates it interviews.

How do I prepare for an HBS interview?

Preparation is critical for the HBS MBA interview, especially if you want to influence that coin toss in your favor. But given how unique its interview format is, HBS demands a different kind of preparation. Brooke and Laura MacLean, former admissions board member at HBS, suggests breaking your HBS interview prep down into a few phases.

Get into the right mind-set.

  • Understand the HBS interviewer’s goals. Both Brooke and Laura will tell you that HBS interviewers are focused on answering two questions throughout the interview:
    • Will this candidate’s voice add something distinct to the HBS classroom?
    • Will this candidate have a positive impact on the broader HBS community as a student and as an alum?
  • As you think about how you can inspire your HBS interviewer to respond “yes” to both these questions, consider the program’s evaluation criteria, which it is very open about: Habit of Leadership, Analytical Aptitude and Appetite, and Engaged Community Citizenship.

Study, practice, know it, and then forget it.

  • Start with the basics: Reread your entire HBS application. This might strike you as unnecessary (you already know your application, right?), but think about the reason behind our advice: Your Harvard interviewer will base your entire interview on the information you presented in your application and will have identified areas they want to probe. So revisit and reflect on everything you submitted, and be ready to answer any possible question about any aspect of it.
  • Practice for your HBS interview—out loud. Have you ever thought through something you wanted to say but then heard yourself go down a very different path than you had intended once you started speaking? Or found yourself droning on? Practicing out loud will not only help you build fluency and familiarity with the details of your experiences, but also train you to become more precise, thoughtful, and intentional in your answers.
  • Know it, and then forget it. The sweet spot of readiness for your HBS interview is when you have the confidence and ability to effectively convey who you are while being fully present—in the moment, authentic, and unrehearsed. Achieving this state requires practicing your talking points until you know them deeply so you can simply speak genuinely and from the heart in your interview rather than reciting preplanned answers.

Clients of our HBS mock interview services receive additional “behind the curtain” advice garnered during the years Brooke and Laura spent preparing for and conducting interviews with thousands of HBS candidates.

Can you get into HBS without an interview?

The quick and absolute answer is no; no one is admitted to HBS without an interview. So much of the MBA experience at any program—and this is especially true with HBS’s case study method—centers on peer-to-peer learning. That learning comes about through your interactions with others and how you leverage your experiences, such as when making a point in class or explaining your rationale for something to your teammates. HBS relies on the interview in part to assess not only your ability to effectively and concisely communicate but also the quality and richness of the experiences you could share with others in your HBS section and the broader HBS community.

How long should your HBS Post-Interview Reflection (PIR) be?

At this point, if you are interviewing with HBS, you have probably ascertained that the school likes to test your judgment. As with your essay response to “What more would you like us to know?,” HBS provides no specific recommendation word count for your PIR. The school’s guidance is to think of the submission as an email you might send someone after a meeting with them. We at Gatehouse Admissions interpret that to mean that your PIR should be long enough to make your intended points but not so long that you risk losing your reader’s attention or wasting their time. We have seen successful PIRs of just a few hundred words and others of close to a thousand. We suggest 400–500 words as a starting point, but ultimately, the appropriate length will depend on you, your interview, and your response to the PIR prompt. Applicants tend to find our PIR support services valuable because we can help candidates devise a personalized strategy that works best for them and their candidacy.

Interested in experiencing an HBS interview for yourself? Gatehouse Admissions offers HBS Mock Interview Services—your chance to conduct a mock interview with a former member of HBS admissions or any one of Gatehouse’s Consultants.