Timeout with Trav: Bombed HBS Interview

Click here to read the intro to this blog series! Send your admissions questions to timeout@veritasprep.com!

Dear Trav,
What happens if I bombed my HBS interview?

A little word to the wise—everyone thinks they bombed their HBS interview.  HBS interviewers are notorious for giving little or no verbal or nonverbal feedback during interviews.  They’ll sit stone-faced while you try to expound on the passions that drive your life, the incredible achievements in your professional career and the countless extracurricular activities you’ve been involved in.

One of the Best Interviews of the Season

When I visited the HBS campus and sat in on an info session, the 2nd Year student was telling us about her interview experience. She said that she barely made it through the interview, sat down on the steps outside the building, and just cried. This was a tough woman from the financial sector who had put up with all sorts of stresses in her 80+ hour work weeks.  And yet she thought she had absolutely doomed her chances of attending her dream school. Much to her surprise, she received notification that she had been admitted to Harvard Business School!  Once on campus, she bumped into the member of the admissions committee who had interviewed her.  The woman remembered her interview and specifically commented that it was one of the best interviews she had conducted in the entire application cycle! Please remember that particularly at HBS, but with other schools as well, you cannot judge your interview performance by the visual or verbal cues offered by your interviewer.

A Holistic Approach

Secondly, remember that the interview is simply one element of your entire application. When applying for a job, your resume and job application are often just tools to get you through the initial screening process. It’s the interview that really counts. This is NOT how the MBA admissions process works. The interview is just one element among many data points that the admissions committee considers. While inappropriate interview conduct or a blatant lack of knowledge about the program may weigh heavily against your acceptance, the interview is rarely a make-or-break event. Most schools will use the interview to evaluate fit with the program. Since they have far more qualified applicants than available spots in the class, an admissions officer’s task is to select a diverse group of applicants from a large pool of qualified candidates.  It is not to simply evaluate candidates using a checklist of qualifications and select the ones who receive the most points. The interview allows the admissions officer to get a quick sense of what the candidate may offer to the class, but it is taken into consideration with numerous other factors.

The Post-Interview Reflection

At HBS, you have a chance to redeem yourself after your interview with the post-interview reflection. If you honestly bombed your interview and left a terrible impression with the interviewer—whether it was through complete ignorance of the school or the world around you, inappropriate behavior or dress, complete lack of focus in your career goals, or you just slept in and missed it—I don’t think you’re going to be able to completely turn the admissions officer’s opinion of you around by 180 degrees no matter how eloquent your Post-Interview Reflection may be. However, for most of us, there are always a few things that we wish we could have articulated a bit better in our interviews or topics we wish we had covered in greater depth.  At HBS (and perhaps other schools will begin to adopt this model), you have the opportunity to supplement your interview within 24 hours.  I would not recommend that you stock your Post-Interview Reflection full of excuses for this answer or that answer in your interview.  Instead, simply supplement your answers with greater clarity and detail. Use propriety in its length. It should be about as long as a memo you’d receive at work—long enough to provide necessary information but not so long that people stop reading. Showing true introspection and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of your interview will show a personal and professional maturity that HBS and other B-schools are looking for.

Diversification Decreases Risk

From my personal experience, I am generally a great interviewer, but for some reason I bombed two of my MBA admissions interviews.  Perhaps it was overconfidence on my part that resulted in insufficient preparation, or perhaps I was simply not intended to go to those schools and the universe conspired against me. I was denied admission to one school and waitlisted at another. Luckily, I was interviewed by three other programs and ended up deciding to go to Kellogg—one of the best decisions of my life. This is a telling example of why you should apply to multiple programs. There’s no silver bullet that will guarantee admission any top-tier business school, and there are many factors that are simply out of your control. If you bomb an interview at one school and combined with other factors it ultimately results in being denied, you should ensure that you have other options!  Diversify your portfolio of target schools and make sure you’re applying to many programs that will enable you to achieve your goals.

Let’s hope that you’re one of the many HBS candidates who thinks they bombed their interview when in reality is was one of the best of the season!

Very Best,

If you’re thinking about applying to business school, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Travis Morgan is the Director of Admissions Consulting for Veritas Prep and earned his MBA with distinction from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He served in the Kellogg Student Admissions Office, Alumni Admissions Organization and Diversity & Inclusion Council, among several other posts. Travis joined Veritas Prep as an admissions consultant and GMAT instructor, and he was named Worldwide Instructor of the Year in 2011.