My HBS MBA Interview: A Consultant’s Account

So I had landed an MBA interview, at HBS. This was pretty expected at my place. The previous year almost 4 senior colleagues from my office (MBB consulting) got an interview invite. But the story really is in the fact that only 1 of them managed to matriculate at HBS. I had good admission stats, as you can imagine. But it was really the interview that gave me the blues. It was my dream to get into HBS (as is that of any Tom, Dick or Harry in management consulting), but the interview was giving me the jitters. Anyway let me set out for you my path leading to my successful interview at HBS. I’m doing this at the request of the phoney site-admin “Carl”, who also happened to be a colleague at my office, and one of my recommenders (Aha!).

My Background: 3 years at an MBB consulting firm, 750+ GMAT. 3.8 GPA from an Ivy leaguer in finance, US/white male. Lots of extra-curricular activities, recommendations from an HBS alumnus as well as a Director at my firm. Stated post-MBA goal was to start a startup. If you used this as your post-MBA goal now, you may likely get dinged depending on your profile.

HBS Consultant Interview

My Preparation: The dismal conversion rate the previous year scared me to shreds. I was desperately searching for Kreisbergs and Blackmans to help me with the interviews. I did multiple mock interviews. I’m really grateful because a top MBB_consulting office (such as Boston/NYK/London) always gives you a rich list of alumni who would have made it to HBS. In that sense its also not a very level playing field. Of course I’m not going to rant here since I’m among the advantaged. Anyway I reached out to a couple of alumni and after several back-and-forth emails we were able to schedule sessions. Most of the advise was very similar, however there were quite a few differences. I figured its not really about the interview questions that are making the rounds on the internet, but its also about how well you adapt (and NOT defend) the challenges put forth by the interviewer. I say ‘adapt’ instead of defend because in many cases HBS aspirants tend to take on the incorrect perception that you have to answer all interview questions thoroughly and to the extent that the interviewer has no doubt about your application at the end. Well, wake up. This is not even humanely possible. There will certainly be loose/weaker aspects in your story. Instead of trying to defend/deny them its best to acknowledge the doubts/interjections conveyed by the interviewer and try to bring up alternatives that support your story. Here’s an excerpt from my interview:

Adcom: So I see that you’ve stated your post-MBA goal as starting a startup. Is an MBA even necessary for starting a startup?

Me: I must say, this is a question that many of my recommenders have asked me and honestly I’ve stumbled a little bit with this one. Some of the most successful startups in the world have had CEOs who never had an MBA and are even dropouts in some cases. But I think I do need an MBA because of the nature of my startup. I’m looking to found a management consultancy, with great emphasis on specialist practice. This is a domain in which the knowledge-barrier is quite high. Many successful management consultants have spoken out about the benefits of doing an MBA mid-career. If I’m looking to take on the best management consulting firms out there, I need to be great at consulting myself. This is why I think…….

I’m not sure if my answer really convinced adcom. Certainly my candid acknowledgement went a long way. Without much further ado here are the questions:

  1. Take me through your work experience and tell me which experience has deeply affected your professional thinking? Why?
  2. What is the one decision you have regretted the most in your professional life? Why?
  3. About your post-MBA goals, why do you think an MBA is necessary for starting a startup?
  4. Why do you think HBS is the best school to take you to your post-MBA goal?
  5. If you matriculate at HBS, what clubs will you join and why?
  6. What was the most recent feedback you received from your manager? How did you react to this feedback?
  7. If a conflict was to arise between you and your manager on doing things a certain way, for example in a client-case you are trying to solve, and there isn’t much time to resolve the conflict, how would you act/behave?

Author: Homer

Homer has an MBA from a top-three US B-School. An Indian engineering graduate from a non-IIT (IITs are Indian equivalents of our tech schools such as Caltech and MIT), Homer is hope for all non-IITians looking to get into Harvard/Wharton/Stan. Homer has a BE degree in mechanical engineering from a college in the south Indian city of Bangalore. Homer says that he was never a great student in his earlier days or at engineering school. What then worked in his favor? Well he founded a mechanical engineering startup after working for a couple of years at a renowned German automobile company. Homer has the longest pre-MBA work experience in our family - 4 yrs at his first job in a no-name mechanical engineering firm + 2 yrs at the German automobile maker + 3 yrs at his startup. Homer sold his startup back to his former employer and is now a top consultant (MBB consulting). Watch out for posts by Homer (to avoid them, of course!).

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