20 interview questions Harvard asks MBA candidates


harvard business school class

Flickr/Betsy Weber

Students attend an HBS lecture.

Being among the small percentage of applicants admitted to the No. 1 business school in the world immediately puts you in some seriously good company.


Of the nearly 10,000 applicants to Harvard Business School's class of 2017, only 11% were admitted.

What made them stand out? As with any interview or exam, preparation is key. And when applying to Harvard, it's vital.

Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, helps clients earn admission to top MBA programs. She has an undergraduate degree from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.

Over the past decade, Blackman has studied successful Harvard interview transcripts. She put together an interview guide featuring sample questions, which are broken into three categories: past experiences, present attributes, and future goals.


We've selected interview questions in each category from Blackman's Harvard interview guide.

Past experiences

Your past experiences can tell a lot about how you've dealt with success and failure. When interviewing with Harvard, "expect to be asked a number of questions that will help interviewers gauge how life has tested you and how you responded to that test," Blackman writes. Sample questions include:

  • Why did you choose to work for your current company?
  • Many people go straight from investment banking to a private equity firm. Why do you feel you need the MBA in between?
  • Describe a situation where you successfully responded to change.
  • Describe a time when you helped someone at work.
  • Describe a mistake you've made within the past three years.
  • Describe your greatest accomplishment.
  • How would you describe your style for teaching peers?
  • Tell me about a time you failed.

The interviewer wants to know the rationale behind all of your decisions and how you developed your areas of interest, she says. Successful responses will provide reasoning and details that were sparked by the actions you took.

harvard business school

Flickr/Florian Pilz

The HBS campus in Boston, Massachusetts.

Present attributes

"These questions present opportunities for you to demonstrate self-awareness and reveal your values and passions," writes Blackman. It's important to build off your past experiences and demonstrate your current personality and views of yourself and the world. Sample questions include:

  • What is your leadership style?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • What inspires you?
  • What book are you currently reading?
  • Name a leader that you admire.

Candidates should be prepared to elaborate and answer the question "why?" to each of the above interview questions. Successful answers will clearly demonstrate your personality, perspective, and values, Blackman says. You want to show you have the drive to learn and grow on a continual basis.

graduation, harvard, caps and gown

joebeone via Flickr

Harvard graduates.

Future goals

Harvard's mission is to "educate leaders to make a difference in the world," and interviewers want to know about your ambitions. Sample questions include:

  • What do you expect to gain from an MBA at Harvard?
  • Where will you be five to seven years post-MBA?
  • What excites you most about your career plans?
  • How will you continue learning in your next position?
  • What are the difficulties you face in achieving your goals?
  • What will you do if you do not get into business school this year?
  • What do you think of the HBS admissions process?

Clearly describing your future goals should bring the interviewers full-circle. "When answering these questions, it is important to include tangible examples from your past and present, in order to convey that your future goals are not only logical and well-thought out but also achievable," Blackman writes.

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