Harvard – The interview with a sprinkling of wine & cheese

A large part of my HBS interview experience was associated with the ‘extras’. A mere 30 minute interview doesn’t do the day justice, so much of my state of mind hinged on the day around it. So you’ll get the full account, Dear Reader


With the build-up, comes nerves. Falling asleep to ‘snow overnight in England’ brought back my memories of my GMAT – where I almost missed my exam slot after my train dragged its way painfully over partially frozen rails. This did nothing for my anxiety. Thankfully, the weather was clear and bright on the day.

My preparation in the morning consisted of reading my application what seemed over 100 times in the preceding days, until I knew it backwards. I also spent significant time answering common questions (although it felt a bit overpriced, I do recommend ClearAdmit’s interview guide- http://www.clearadmit.com/products/interview-guides/ – all the information is freely available elsewhere on their site but it is a useful summary of possible questions. Their school guides are better though). Several questions found on forums were actually asked in the interview, so perhaps not wasted time going through these thoroughly, if nothing else to get some themes in your head you’d use to answer each one.

My last half hour on the train & tube I turned off. So I was fresh I just read the newspaper on the way in.

The Preamble


Park Lane: More expensive now

HBS had taken a few hotel business rooms on Park Lane for the week in London. Probably the most exclusive hotel area in the city, I actually felt a little out of place. This territory is normally reserved for high rollers and unfathomably wealthy Chinese tourists. 

Arriving 20 minutes early, I bumped into the previous interviewees having a drink before they left. They looked calm. Fresh. Almost… casual? (B******ds!) However, my nerves started to dissipate. Talking to my fellow applicants was actually interesting, if a little intimidating. One had traveled from Rwanda to be there. This is a LONG way. I almost forgot I was about to be interviewed.

After they left, I had the chance to talk to one of the Admissions team, again completely off-topic and just soothing before the big event. If nothing else was gained during this day, at least I handed out a useful tip on where to get theatre tickets for the West End. Suddenly, I was on. ‘Tim?’

The Interview

After all I’d read, a surprisingly relaxed experience. My nerves had settled slightly by then, and the interviewers were friendly and welcoming – not at all like the fierce HBS interviews I’d read about as expected.

The interview itself was very free flowing. I don’t really see the point in listing the questions in detail, as I got the impression they were chosen from a very long list based on my own circumstances. However, most were about fine details in my application. I’d suggest making sure you’re able to expand on each and every aspect in there.

I mean, every one. I was even asked about my childhood and a particularly notable part of where I grew up – “did it influence you?”. Err…

The 30 minutes went really quick. So quick I was stunned when we finished. Some points I wanted to get across in the interview, simply didn’t come up due to time. I can understand why its short – for the Admissions Committee to interview everyone personally around the globe as they do at HBS, they have a huge number to get through and an enormous amount of travelling. The logistics of it must be a nightmare.

Funnily enough though it’s not often you can say you actually enjoyed an interview, whatever the outcome. I still have no idea about my chances, I stumbled in a few places but was confident in others. It was made clear that this is only part of my application and the application as a whole gets taken into account in the final decision.

I suspect mix and diversity is a key part at this stage too, as the numbers dwindle. If there’s more than a few European-based Operations applicants still standing, I may be sunk whatever my own performance. The converse is also true. I’ve now allowed myself to be slightly hopeful as the odds shorten. Idiot. I’m sure I’ll regret this.

“Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane” – Morgan Freeman, in ‘Shawshank Redemption’

Post-Interview Wind Down

Then I had a two hour gap. HBS had organised a private Alumni Q&A session in the evening. Only one thing to do, in the rain in London. Pub.

My pen I had on the way in was missing. I panicked briefly that it had fallen out in my pocket during interview, the interviewer had slipped on it after I left and he was now waiting for paramedics. This would not do my chances any good. [Your imagination does crazy things at times like these…]

I wrote down every question I could remember from the interview, and assumed I’d remember my answers. (Next morning, I realised actually I really didn’t so perhaps take some notes on key points of the answers too?). Useful for the post-interview reflection, a new part of the applcation at HBS where you have 24 hours to write a final note & mini-essay.

Wine (After beer…)

The Alumni panel in the evening was an absolute joy. I was joined by my fiancé (invited by HBS – a nice touch) and we got the chance to ask a lot of private questions about everything from post-HBS experiences to the housing lottery. The alumni were great, enthusiastic and blew off a lot of cobwebs from the traditional HBS image. I left thinking it was not possible to be more enthusiastic about anything so I guess the evening did its job. The cheese was good too.

The scene of battle: Park Lane

The scene of battle polite conversation: Park Lane

The Wait

So it’s now four days later. 4/23. The notification deadline of December 11th looms large. Already it’s like some sort of terrible torture. I’m a little more philosophical now about the outcome, but I am certainly both allowing myself at least some hope which usually precedes a terrible disappointment for me.

I can’t imagine a better interview day experience though. It was clear a real effort was made to get to know the real me, and not try and catch me out or trip me up. Well done to HBS.


7 thoughts on “Harvard – The interview with a sprinkling of wine & cheese

  1. Great recap. Sounds like you did really well. We are all in the same boat now just trying to keep my mind off of the decision dates and hoping the next few weeks go quickly!

    • Yup looking at Kellogg and Fuqua must admit I am lacking motivation at the moment! Feels like it’s the first time in a long time that I can take a step back and breath!

    • Thanks Sarah! Hope you enjoyed the HBS event. What did you make of the “Friends of Garvald BS” bit considering your fulbright app? If I’m lucky enough to get accepted that’ll be my next step I think – sadly I comfortably meet their definition of ‘financial need’!

      • Think was nice they made an effort to come along. It was interesting to see that raised the income threshold by 10,000 and halved what they would pay out, to get more people through the scheme. Like the idea of applying once you got a place as I find it funny that I may well have money to spend before I have a uni place to spend it on. From the Fulbright database it looks like Fulbright and Harvard like each other quite a bit.

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