Harvard, Wharton, Yale: What an Interview Can Show

My Harvard Business School interview was one of the most challenging obstacles I’ve ever faced in my life.  Perhaps more challenging than attending HBS itself.  It was by phone (very unusual) because I was based in Mexico and was frequently traveling to rural parts of the country.  It was timed – exactly the 30 minutes that was allotted to me.  My interviewer must have cut me off 4 or 5 times – she’d ask me a question and if she felt that she had either gotten the sufficient information or I was going in the wrong direction, she’d just stop me.  But by the end of it, I felt I’d made a good impression.  Not too good, but hopefully good enough.  There’s no way to know for sure, but it must not have gone too badly, as I was accepted first round to HBS.

My Wharton interview was completely different.  I’ve been told that I must have been subjected to a “behavioral” interview, which Wharton is moving away from, but what was most different was the interviewer.  He was a Wharton alum living in Mexico City.  He was a successful entrepreneur and had started a software consulting company.  He spent the first 20 minutes or so grilling me – on my application, on my work in Mexico, on the kinds of business I hoped to start.  He never cut me off like the HBS interviewer had, he just insisted on arguing with every statement I made!  But after those first 20 minutes, it suddenly switched to a more standard interview, with questions such as, “What’s your highest achievement.”  And then, after a full hour had passed and I was expecting to be finished, he said, “Well, that’s the interview.  Do you have any questions for me?”  Overall we talked around an hour and a half and I learned a ton about Wharton’s program.

My Yale interview was my last and final interview and was conducted by a current student.  He never cut me off, barely asked me about my achievements or failures, but focused instead on my personality, motivations, and values.

As you can see, interviewers come in all kinds of styles, but I do believe it says a lot about the schools.  HBS, as the leader of the case method, is most interested in students’ abilities to express themselves succinctly in class.  Wharton (or at least my interviewer) was looking for my ability to calmly defend my positions through rigorous debate.  Yale clearly put values as a priority, and tested this element (at least in my case) first.  I can’t attest as well to Wharton or Yale, but I think HBS’s interviewer was great glimpse into HBS’s culture and priorities, so be sure to pay attention to your interview and find something in the interview that is telling about the school program for which you are interviewing. Ask your interviewer questions and you’ll be sure to learn a lot about not only the program, but also what the school is looking for.

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Julia Kastner is a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in New York. She runs her own socially responsible, fair trade denim company called Eva & Paul and before starting her business she was working on nonprofit outreach projects of all kinds.