Category Archives: MBA Interviews

Harvard Business School essays (2009-10) add a cover letter just like MIT Sloan’s

Harvard has released their new essay questions, and deadlines for 2009-10, adding a cover letter essay (optional) which MIT Sloan’s has as a standard request for years. Still only four essays are required for HBS, and the first two compulsory questions remain the same:

1. What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600)
2. What have you learned from a mistake? (400)

For essays essays 3 and 4, applicants now have five topics to choose from (up from four) two of which are new. One , a cover letter “introducing yourself to the Admissions Board,” is equivalent to the MIT Sloan signature essay.

This is no surprise. Cover letters are deeply difficult to get right because they require acute balance between brevity and detail. They test your ability to extract and communicate what is really important – demonstrating a key management skill.

The other new question: “Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision,” is familiar ground in admissions, and something well covered in MBA Studio’s profiling process that focuses on your key life transitions (why?) and prepares you for questions like this in your essays and interview.

The full set of options for HBS essays 3 & 4 are:

Please respond to two of the following (400-word limit each):
1. What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?
2. Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization.
3. Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision.
4. Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board.
5. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?

The deadlines are (all 5pm EST) R1: October 1, 2009; R2: January 19, 2010; R3: April 8, 2010


Duke-Fuqua admissions tips that carry weight for any application

Business Week this week interviews Duke Adcom Director Liz Riley Hargrove. The principles shared are common to all good schools, but also give a current sense of what Fuqua is “looking for.” As BW summarize it: “applicants with a propensity for teamwork who are ‘leaders of consequence.'”

Admissions-relevant highlights are extracted here:

Can you describe the Duke culture?

“It can be defined as a collaborative leadership culture. The foundation of our program and the day-to-day learning experience has often been described as “Team Fuqua.” Most of what the students will do in their MBA program will be done in some sort of team dynamic. But we also expect in this environment that they will take risks and hone their leadership skills.

“Students are involved in many aspects of the administration and running of the school: serving on the admissions committee, preparing first-year students for the job-search process, serving on the curriculum committee. Really, if you choose to enroll at Fuqua, you’re accepting partnership status. And that’s a partnership that I think differentiates Duke from a lot of other business schools—the amount of responsibility and impact that students are able to have here.”

Who wouldn’t be a good fit for Duke?

“This could be a really tough environment for people who aren’t used to working in teams. If you have perfectionist, individualistic tendencies, this could be a very frustrating experience. We expect our students to work in teams with their classmates to solve problems, and we expect that they’ll negotiate through conflict and difficult conversations.”

What are some common mistakes people make in the interview?

“In many instances, the students who don’t do well in their interview haven’t done their research to understand why they want to attend Duke. And oftentimes, instead of answering the questions, they’ll drive the interview or frame every response with what they want the interviewer to know. Have a good understanding for the story that only you can tell.

“It’s critical that your interviewer walk away understanding three key concepts: why you want an MBA, why you want one from Duke, and what you hope your contribution will be.”

Full Text: Duke Admissions Tips – BusinessWeek.

Some great interview advice between the lines in “Harvard is my hump”

There’s a heartwarming story in today’s Philippine Star (philstar.com) by Gina Valerie Chua, who tells the story of her March HBS interview and April admission to Harvard. See the full story at this link.

Other than the feel good factor, for admissions purposes there are two takeaways. First is she beat out many apparently better candidates – as she puts it: “those NASA astronauts and genetic scientists who are dreaming of the exact same thing.” She says: “Only 900 applicants are admitted out of 10,000 from all over the world: investment bankers, UN diplomats, cancer-curing surgeons — and little old me somehow found my way through.”

I’m sure she is being modest about her own competitive profile, but the point remains. You don’t need to be a superstar. You just need to be competitive and apply well.

The second takeaway concerns reflections on the HBS interview.

Says Chua: “I remember my interview. They asked me why I insist on writing despite my career in investment banking, an anomaly in this world of perfectly drawn certainties. What I told them is the very reason you are reading this now: I wish to write about possibility. Whether we are meant to find it at home or some 9,000 miles away, there is a world waiting for us, waiting for our courage and our lack of self-restriction. We cannot help but be creators — of books, skyscrapers, wars or dynasties — and the best of who we are can only be found in the hope they leave behind.”

Idealistic waffle wouldn’t you say? Puke? Well, that’s the point. For better or worse most Adcoms like idealism. Harvard perhaps more than most. They don’t want naivete, but they do like world-changing visions. If you are not something of a dreamer at 25, you’ll never be, and they are not looking to put the HBS brand on (more) money-grabbing cynics.

And, reassuringly, they don’t penalize anomalies, nor seek a world of perfect certainties. Be yourself.