Harvard Business School is telling MBA applicants worried about a new 24-hour deadline for a reflection on their admissions interview that the school is really looking for an email-not a highly polished 400-word essay.
Dee Leopold, managing director of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, acknowledged in a blog post on June 29th that her office is getting lots of questions over the recently announced changes to its MBA admission policies, the most significant since 2002 when HBS required interviews for all admitted candidates. “And your questions have actually been helpful as we put the finishing touches on this exercise,” she wrote.
Leopold said applicants who gain an interview with Harvard will have to answer a simple question: “You’ve just had your HBS interview. Tell us about it. How well did we get to know you?”
‘THINK OF THIS AS AN EMAIL YOU MIGHT WRITE AFTER A MEETING,’ ADVISES LEOPOLD
HBS has decided that it will not impose a word limit on the answer and will no longer consider it an essay. Added Leopold: “We think the instruction memo will look something like this: ‘This is not an essay. Think of this as an email you might write after a meeting. We will be much more generous in our reaction to typos and grammatical errors than we will be with pre-packaged responses.”
Leopold’s latest instructions also clearly communicate the school’s desire that applicants not use MBA admission consultants to draft or polish the response. “Emails that give any indication that they were produced BEFORE you had the interview will raise a flag for us. We do not expect you to solicit or receive any outside assistance with this exercise.”
SOME CONSULTANTS HAD BEEN ADVISING CLIENTS TO DRAFT THE POST-INTERVIEW ESSAY EARLY
The warning comes amidst concern that some admission consultants were telling applicants to deliberately hold back some details in the first two essays required of a Harvard application so that they could prepare the third post-interview essay in advance and then tweak.
Leopold made clear that the school is not expecting another typical essay. “Here’s what we’re thinking: This is NOT another essay. We want your response to be much more like an email. Why? In the Real World, it is unlikely that you will be given months and months to craft essays of any sort. It just doesn’t happen. In the Real World, it is almost a sure thing that you will be asked to write emails summarizing meetings and giving your opinion in a short time frame. Since HBS tries to be as “close to practice” as possible, this shift from essays to more real time writing feels appropriate.
‘THERE IS NO FORMULA, NO TEMPLATE’
“I know this is hard to hear but this should NOT be a cause for anxiety. We want your genuine reaction to the interview experience. As is always the case in the Real World, this means there is no right answer to the question. There is no formula, no template. But, we can tell you what the WRONG approach is: to get lots of coaching and prepare the response in September for an interview in November. To have lots of people edit and tweak it. To avoid answering the question but instead jam in six more accomplishments or copy and paste an essay from another school. Please understand that we really do plan to be very generous and kind about typos and grammar. We’re not looking for a polished response.”
DON’T MISS: BEHIND HARVARD’S BIG ADMISSION CHANGES or DEE LEOPOLD’S HARVARD B-SCHOOL ADMISSION SLIDES
This year, Harvard Business School is requiring MBA applicants to complete a Post-Interview Reflection within 24 hours of their MBA admissions interview. The school has given very little guidance on formatting or content, saying only that the HBS post-interview reflection is intended to be informal, more like an email than an essay.
For some MBA applicants, this lack of constraint can be freeing. For others, it can cause considerable anxiety, especially in the immediate aftermath of an already stressful interview. To minimize that anxiety, I want to give you a few points to consider as you think about your HBS post-interview reflection.
Wait until after the interview to write the reflection.
HBS is asking you to reflect on what happened in the interview, so please do not write your reflection before your interview has even taken place. It will sound canned, and will fall flat. Instead, as you prepare for your interview, make note of the strengths and themes that you might want to emphasize in your HBS post-interview reflection. Then, after your interview, you can weave these strengths into your response.
Take notes after the interview, but don’t immediately write your reflection.
Most applicants, immediately after their MBA interviews, still have a lot of adrenaline coursing through their veins and might have a skewed perspective on how well or badly they did. That is not a good mindset for reflection. Jot down notes about your conversation directly after the interview, and then take at least a few hours to settle down before writing your reflection. Take a walk, go get a coffee, talk to a friend. Then, you can sit down and approach the post-interview reflection with a more levelheaded perspective.
State what went well in your interview, with specific references to conversation points that you enjoyed or found very helpful. Then, reflect on anything that you felt could have gone better- topics that you wanted to discuss, or areas where you might not have fully made your point. Keep these reflections candid but positive. Where relevant, discuss any follow-up actions that your conversation inspired. Other possible topics include:
- Similarities between you and your interviewer that sparked discussion
- New HBS resources that you learned about
- Discussion about how your interests could be applied at HBS
- How your interviewer addressed your concerns
Re-emphasize your strengths and personal brand themes.
This is your chance to give the final word on your candidacy. As you reflect on the interview, make sure that you are emphasizing your personal brand themes and re-focusing on your strengths.
Reiterate your interest in HBS.
As you conclude your reflection, state your continued interest in HBS, along with specifics about why it is a good fit for your goals and personality. Let admissions board members know that you enjoyed the interview and want to be a part of their program.
Keep the formatting concise and simple.
Though no board member word count is given, HBS has said that the post-interview reflection should resemble an email that you would send after a meeting. The best emails are concise and to the point, and communicate a lot in a few words. Your post-interview reflection should do the same. State your points simply and clearly, and don’t waste words. When formatting your text, remember that multiple short paragraphs are easier to read than one long block of text.
Finally, please make sure that you proofread your HBS post-interview reflection before sending it in. I know that HBS has said they will be more lenient with typos in this case, but it is always more impressive to turn in a clean, error-free document. Take the time to read over your words and check for spelling and grammar errors. If you have time, wait a few hours between drafting your response and re-reading it. It is always helpful to approach something with fresh eyes- you are much more likely to spot gaps and errors.
Keep these guidelines in mind as you head into your HBS interviews, and whip them out when it is time to tackle that post-interview reflection.
This article originally appeared on the official blog of EXPARTUS, a top MBA consultancy serving MBA hopefuls worldwide.
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