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HBS Interview: Complete Guide, Prep + Sample Questions

January 31, 2024
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Part 1. IntroductionAbout the Harvard Business SchoolHBS Interview OverviewWhat HBS Looks For in Candidates How To Prepare for the HBS Interview Most Asked Sample HBS Interview QuestionsTop Tips on How To Successfully Ace the HBS InterviewFAQs

If you’ve submitted an application to Harvard and received an invitation for an interview, you’re halfway to claiming your seat in a prestigious MBA program. This interview is unique and challenging, with about a 50 percent acceptance rate for candidates who reach this stage. 

In this guide, we'll delve into the distinctive characteristics of the interview, what Harvard Business School (HBS) seeks in candidates, and valuable tips to boost your chances of success. With proper preparation, you'll be well on your way to earning an MBA from Harvard.

About the Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School, established in 1924, is a renowned institution located in Boston, Massachusetts. It's committed to educating leaders who uphold values like respect, honesty, integrity, and accountability. HBS is known for its brand recognition through the Harvard Business Review and its prestigious ranking among the top business schools globally.

HBS distinguishes itself through the HBS Case Method, fostering collaborative problem-solving and diverse perspectives. They offer various programs, with the two-year full-time MBA program being the standout choice.

Harvard business students

Source: Harvard Business School

HBS Interview Overview

If your application is well-received and the admissions committee wants to evaluate your candidacy further, you will be invited to participate in an interview

The interview is timed to last no longer than 30 minutes and conducted by an admissions committee member who reviewed your application. These interviews can occur in various locations, such as on-campus, via Skype, or in domestic or international hub cities. 

The interview’s style consists of rapid-fire questioning that can even be aggressive. This sounds nerve-wracking, but the reasoning for this is that the admissions committee has a concise amount of time to get a real sense of who you are, and they also want to know how well you can perform under pressure. 

In your 30-minute-long interview, you have about five minutes for your introduction, 20 to 25 minutes for the body of your interview, and about two minutes for your conclusion. The introduction of your interview will ask you comprehensive questions to make you feel more comfortable or questions that sound like elevator pitches.

In the body of your interview, you are asked to “deep-dive” in content areas that either were not already covered on your application or the interviewer wants to know more about a topic you wrote about already. 

You may have to clarify your career path, explain in detail why you want to attend HBS or demonstrate your interpersonal abilities and how your acceptance will benefit HBS and your peers. 

You may also have to defend your background by explaining the choices you’ve made in your life. You may be asked questions about your undergraduate degree, your jobs, or about internships you’ve completed. 

The end of your interview can be your opportunity to wrap up everything you’ve talked about and a chance to thank your interviewer. However, this is a great time to briefly address any topic you weren’t asked about in the interview. Remember to keep it brief and concise, as you likely don’t have much time left at this point.

female student being interviewed

Post-Interview Reflection

The HBS Post-Interview Reflection, it's an opportunity to further impress the admissions committee after your Harvard Business School interview. Here are eight key tips for crafting a compelling reflection:

  • Follow Informal Style: HBS suggests a casual, email-like style for the reflection. Keep it conversational, and clear, and avoid overly complex language.
  • Take Immediate Notes: Right after the interview, jot down thoughts about questions and responses, including what went well and what could be improved.
  • Take a Break: After initial notes, take a short break to relax and gain fresh perspectives.
  • Organize and Structure: Organize your notes, develop a clear structure, and select the main points you want to emphasize.
  • Share Thoughts, Not Just Summaries: Avoid simply recounting the interview details. Share your thoughts, feelings, and candid perspectives.
  • Add New Insights: Provide additional insights or context related to interview topics, showcasing your depth of understanding.
  • Avoid Overpolishing: Don't over-edit; authenticity is valued. HBS expects quick responses, so maintain genuine feelings and thoughts.
  • Final Review with Fresh Eyes: Take a final break before reviewing and submitting your reflection to ensure it reflects your style, voice, and intended messages.

These tips will help you craft a strong HBS Post-Interview Reflection that can leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee.

What HBS Looks For in Candidates 

Harvard Business School understands that its candidates come from diverse areas of study and background. Whatever the experiences of students, HBS looks for candidates who fit these three characteristics

Habit of Leadership

Harvard Business School is preparing students to tackle real-world business issues and positively impact the world. The admissions committee needs to see leadership potential in its candidates. 

Leadership expression can present in many forms, from academic or business achievements, community involvement or obligations, personal accomplishments, or college extracurriculars.

Students will learn the skills they need to be great and fair leaders at all scales, whether managing a team or running an independent business. In your interview, you should aim to highlight specific instances in which you successfully took the reins on a project or managed a group of people toward a goal. 

This will demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have a great foundation and will significantly benefit from the leadership training offered in the Harvard Business School MBA. 

Analytical Aptitude and Appetite 

It’s no surprise that Harvard Business School has a demanding and fast-paced learning environment. The admissions committee is looking for candidates who love a great debate and lively discussion. The HBS Case Method mentioned above and field-based learning methods are why the admissions committee values candidates with these qualities.

Candidates must be able to “assess, analyze, and act upon complex information within often-ambiguous contexts.” The admissions committee will also review your past academic experience, your GMAT or GRE scores, the nature of your work experience, and, if applicable, the TOEFL iBT and/or IELTS. 

If you want to retake your standardized admission test before applying to HBS to aim for a higher score, multiple services offer GMAT prep or GRE prep. To give yourself the best chance of succeeding in the interview, you should review your application from front to back to ensure its high quality. 

Engaged Community Citizenship

Background Federal Guidelines Reporting Multi-dimensional Reporting
American Indian or Alaska Native
Asian American 128 22%
Black or African American 59 10%
Hispanic or Latino 62 11%
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
White 287 50%
Multi-Race 34 6%
Did Not Report 6 1%
American Indian or Alaska Native
Asian American 128 22%
Black or African American 59 10%

Source: Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School’s MBA program involves a great deal of collaboration from the entire community. HBS students are held to the highest ethical standard and must positively impact the HBS community. 

Students must be “eager to share their experiences, support their colleagues, and teach as well as learn from their peers.”  HBS values students from diverse backgrounds and industries, as reflected in HBS’ class profile.

In your interview, you should reflect on times you have made a positive impact in the world around you and the positive influence on the classroom. Reflect on the times you have supported a colleague or other experiences you think would demonstrate yourself as a prepared, ideal candidate. 

What Makes the HBS Interview Unique

The interview is slightly different from other interviews conducted at other business schools. While some schools may take a relaxed approach to their interview process that sounds more like a conversation than an interrogation, the interview for HBS is far more fast-paced and can feel aggressive if you’re not prepared.

Unlike other schools, you will not have an opportunity to ask questions about the program, the case method, the FIELD method, or any other component of the MBA program. The 30 minutes allotted for your interview are only to evaluate your candidacy; you are expected to learn more about the school on your own time. 

Another unique component of the interview for HBS is what follows it. Within 24 hours of your interview, candidates must complete a post-interview reflection. This reflection is uploaded through HBS’ online application system.

It is often where applicants express gratitude for the opportunity and “unbridled enthusiasm if not awe at what they discovered during their visit to campus.” The reflections can have an extensive range for word count, typically ranging from around 200 to 1300  words.

Some students choose to write about their interactions with other MBA students on campus, reflect on the diversity of students, or clarify their intentions to impact the HBS community positively. There are numerous examples of sample reflections online written by men and women from a variety of fields. 

How To Prepare for the HBS Interview 

Preparing for the interview for HBS can be a daunting task, mainly because you don’t know with certainty which questions you will be asked. That being said, there are actions you can take before your interview to ensure that you’re prepared enough to withstand your interviewer’s rapid-fire questions. 

person typing on keyboard

1. Reread Your Application

This is the first step you need to take to ensure you're well-prepared for the interview for HBS. You should reread your entire application in detail and take care not to skim over anything. 

Brooke Wheelan, a former associate director of admissions at HBS, said, “I cannot tell you how many times I interviewed applicants who could not talk beyond the surface of what they put down on paper.” 

She suggests that applicants look back on their application to follow up on other details and context, whether that be the thesis paper they wrote in college five years ago or a reason they want to work for a specific company that goes deeper than the superficial level. 

2. Know the Goal of the Interview 

Every interviewer wants to know how you will add something distinct to the classroom and how a candidate will positively impact the community at HBS as both a student and an alum. By tailoring some of your preparation to the three things HBS is looking for in candidates listed above, you can be better prepared to demonstrate your value to the admissions committee.

Demonstrate your leadership qualities in your answers, talk about your passion for discussion and debate, and highlight how you plan to engage the HBS community and learn from those around you. 

3. Get an Idea of Sample Question 

There is indeed no way to know with certainty what questions you will be asked in the interview for HBS, but looking at sample questions can help understand the general potential subject nature of the interview. 

For example, questions at the beginning of your interview will likely be broad, but you can also use the introduction questions to sway the path of the rest of the discussion, so take full advantage. Some general questions you may be asked include:

  • “Why did you make a particular career choice?” 
  • “Why do you want to go to Harvard Business School?” 
  • “Why did you choose what you did for your undergraduate degree?”
  • “Why did you choose a certain job or internship?” 

These questions are comprehensive, but this is an excellent opportunity to summarize why you’re an ideal candidate by providing concrete actions that you have taken in your personal and professional life. 

You will also be asked more challenging questions than those above, however. Here are some examples of more complex questions that you may or may not be asked during your interview: 

  • “How would your middle school peers describe you?”
  • “What do you think makes someone a good leader, and what kind of leader are you?”
  • “What is a firm you admire, and what do you think makes them stand out from their competition?”

The more challenging questions will have you establish a position and defend and support your idea on the spot. These questions are intentionally tricky and show the admissions committee how well you can think on your feet. Remember, these questions are meant to throw you off balance, so you need to be prepared to answer anything. 

Most Asked Sample HBS Interview Questions

Let's discuss the most commonly asked sample interview questions for Harvard Business School (HBS) interviews. These questions can be categorized into four main types: Standard Questions, Application-Based Questions, Industry Questions, and Grab Bag Questions.

man being interviewed

Standard Questions

These questions aim to understand your background, motivation, and personal qualities.

  • "Tell me about yourself."
  • "Why do you want to pursue an MBA at HBS?"
  • "What are your short-term and long-term career goals?"
  • "Describe a challenging situation you've faced and how you handled it."
  • "What is your leadership style, and can you provide an example of your leadership experience?"

Application-Based Questions

These questions focus on your application, experiences, and achievements.

  • "Walk me through your resume."
  • "Discuss a specific accomplishment that you are most proud of and why."
  • "How will your past experiences contribute to the HBS community?"
  • "Explain any gaps or inconsistencies in your academic or professional history."

Industry Questions

These questions assess your knowledge and understanding of the industry you plan to work in.

  • "What trends or challenges do you see in your target industry?"
  • "How will an MBA from HBS help you excel in your chosen field?"
  • "Can you provide an example of a successful company or project in your industry and what you admire about it?"

Grab Bag Questions

These questions can cover a wide range of topics and often test your ability to think on your feet.

  • "If you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be and why?"
  • "How would you handle a disagreement with a team member in a group project?"
  • "Share a failure or setback you've experienced and what you learned from it."
  • "What book or article has had a significant impact on your thinking?"

When preparing for your interviews, it's essential to practice answering these types of questions, as they provide a well-rounded assessment of your candidacy. Also, be prepared to ask your own questions!

Additionally, you should be prepared to discuss your experiences, values, and aspirations in a thoughtful and genuine manner. Remember to avoid clichés and focus on showcasing your unique qualities and perspectives. Good luck with your interview preparation!

Top Tips on How To Successfully Ace the HBS Interview

Even with your preparation, there are some tips to help you increase your chances of nailing the interview for HBS. 

1. Have Fresh Material Ready 

Even though you have no way to ascertain what you’ll be asked, you can prepare responses in advance that “best illustrate the decisions you've made on your journey to business school.” 

However, do not recycle any examples you provided in your essay or any other part of your application. The interviewer has already read your application from front to back. Come up with fresh and new examples to share to demonstrate your interpersonal skills and the breadth of your experiences. 

2. Practice Your Responses In Advance, But Don’t Memorize Them 

You, of course, want to have fresh material prepared, as mentioned above, but take care not to memorize your answers by heart. You should have a general idea of what you want to say in response to particular question areas, but coming across too well-rehearsed can make you sound robotic. 

You need to know enough about your application to answer any question without hesitancy but within an appropriate time limit. You don’t want to completely derail your interview by dancing around one answer for 15 minutes. Be as concise as you can!

3. Practice, practice, practice! (With a mock interview.)

Reading material about the interview for HBS is a great way to understand the format and expectations of you. Still, practical experience can go a long way to increase your chances of success. You can participate in mock interviews that will use potential questions that the HBS interviewer may ask you. 

These services are valuable to be prepared for any curveballs and receive feedback on your answers from professionals. Maybe you’re spending too long on responses to a particular query area, or perhaps you’re much too general or superficial with your answers.

This feedback is a great way to understand the areas of your interview that you excel at and what you may need to work on a little more. 

Former HBS interviewer Brooke Wheelan said, “The ultimate sweet spot is to have enough confidence to effectively communicate your story to your interviewer while still sounding natural and unrehearsed. My mantra is to know it and then forget it.”


Get ready to dive into the FAQ section covering all the crucial details about the interview process.

1. Will How and Where I Participate in the HBS Interview Have Any Effect on My Candidacy? 

No. Neither the time of your interview nor its delivery has any effect on your candidacy. 

2. How Many People Will Be Interviewing Me? 

One member of the admissions committee who has read your application will interview you. There may be an observer also from the admissions committee in the room as well. 

3. What’s the Purpose of the Observer? 

The observer acts to minimize personal bias by having another person present to listen to your responses. They will only listen and not ask you any questions, and they will have only read your resume, not your whole application. 

If there is no observer present, that means nothing about your candidacy. Sometimes the admissions committee can't have two people in the interview. 

4. Is the Post-Interview Reflection Optional? 

No, all candidates must submit a reflection online within 24 hours of the interview. Try to think of the reflection as a detailed follow-up email that also expresses your gratitude and enthusiasm. 

5. When Should I Expect an Invitation for My Interview? 

Invitations to attend an interview are given on a  rolling basis. The timing of your invitation has nothing to do with your candidacy. 

6. Is the HBS Interview the Make-or-Break Component of My Application? 

Whether or not the interview leads directly to your acceptance of HBS or not is subjective. The interview is another component of your HBS application. 

It is undoubtedly an indicator of positive interest from the admissions committee, but it does not guarantee your acceptance. The HBS interview serves as “one element among many that are considered as we complete a final review of your candidacy.”

7. Can I Defer My Admission to Harvard Business School?

Yes, Harvard Business School offers the 2+2 deferred admissions program, allowing current students to secure an MBA spot after gaining two to four years of professional experience. 


If you've received an interview invitation from HBS, you're closer to securing your spot in Harvard Business School's MBA program. This interview is distinct, with rapid-fire questions. Answer with examples showcasing leadership, academics, and ethics. Know your application well; it assesses your fit for the program.

Bring fresh material, prepare, but sound natural. Mock interviews provide valuable practice. With this guide's information and tips, you'll confidently navigate the challenging HBS interview.

About Inspira Futures

At Inspira Futures, our sole focus is to get you accepted at your dream business school. Our team of experts consists of former admission committee members and alums from Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and other M7 schools. Our goal is to help you write great essays, ace interviews, and win scholarships. Without any stress or hassle. Our clients have gone on to secure admits at the world's top business schools while also being winners of some of the most prestigious scholarships like Stanford Knight Hennessy, HBS Baker Scholars, and many others.
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