Sandy, I think many of those questions are predictable and in a way reassuring. But is it really fair to say the interview is meant to weed out people?
I talk to lots of people who have been interviewed and then get official feedback from HBS, which is something they offer in various formats for applicants who have been dinged after interview (but not to applicants who have not been interviewed). By far, the biggest reason given for the ding is an interview screw up. Here is a typical example, “Dee said that I should try to “interview in more real-time, not try and come across too polished or canned…. Here’s a quote she read me from my interview report, ‘seemed like he was worried about getting all of his points across in 30 minutes.’”
So what is the take away from that?
The biggest mistake people make in preparing for the HBS interview is worrying about trick questions. In fact, the Poets&Quants’ story The Most Unpredictable Questions HBS Asks is something of a disservice because those “oddball” questions get people preparing clever answers and searching for more oddball questions.
Hey, I love that story and those questions are real. So which oddball questions are you talking about?
Here are some of them:
What are the two best pieces of advice you have been given, and why?
What do you want to be remembered as?
What is your definition of a leader? How do you fit that definition?
How do you make big decisions?
How would your parents describe you when you were twelve?
What is one thing I’d never have guessed about you, even after reading your application?
What is the one thing you would like me to remember about you?
And now, John, by reprinting them we have put the elephant in the room and people reading this will do just that. Think about oddball questions and clever answers. That was cruel fun, but my advice to applicants facing interviews is NOT to do that.
Those are great questions and great conversations starters at a party. So anyway what should people do?
They should have comfortable answers to basic questions like those mentioned in the reports above.
Those are not sexy questions but they come up with great frequency and they often come up early, when the interviewer is still judging you. The oddball questions often come up in the second half of the 30-minute interivew and by that time, in the interviewer’s mind, you are either OK or not. Although you can certainly shoot yourself in the foot in the last 15 minutes, you cannot save yourself.
Are there any new questions, new oddballs, based on your experience?
In light of what I just said, why would you want to know that?
Because those more frequently asked questions are rather boring. Besides, I am a sadist and our readers want to know.
How about these:
What would you say to [President Obama, Hillary Clinton, President of your university or company] if you had 10 minutes?
Recommend a book to Vladimir Putin, and why?
What is your favorite iPhone application?
What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you in public?
What will you regret not doing at HBS?
Introduce yourself to God.
As a lapsed Catholic, that last one could get me in trouble. Anyway, if you made it to this stage, it’s a big deal. The interview is the only thing separating you from a seat in the class, right?
Yes, but it’s like being born. It’s a special passage where awful things can happen. Tremendous damage can occur in a very short period of time. You should worry about it, and you should prepare for it.
Sandy, what’s the most common misperception about these interviews?
Some think this is like an audition for a symphony orchestra where the conductor is choosing one violinist out of ten and you have to be .001 better than nine other people. It’s not that. It’s more like an audition for a marching band. You just have to be able to bang a drum in terms of talent and not appear to be arrogant, inward, unsure of yourself, confused or most importantly, someone they do not want in the band.
At Harvard, that means if they interview ten people, they will reject one with marginal English right out of the box. If you can’t speak English, you’re done. You won’t be able to survive. Then, of the remaining nine English speakers, one to two people might have a meltdown of some kind. They have a bad hair day or a bad tongue day. So the way that smart people blow the Harvard interview is to have a bad half hour.