You walk out of your Harvard Business School (HBS) interview, and you are either floating on cloud nine, feeling amazing, or your mind is racing with “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve.” You wish you could run back to the interviewer to clarify your answers or add details. With the HBS Post-Interview Reflection, you can! Not literally, of course, but you nonetheless have the opportunity to follow up on anything you think was left incomplete, unclear, or unsaid.
The HBS Post-Interview Reflection, a 300- to 450-word submission that is due within 24 hours of completing your interview, is a chance for you to make your final case to the admissions committee.
Here are nine tips for achieving an insightful reflection that could help get you accepted at HBS.
1. Pay attention to the guidance given by HBS.
One message that stands out in the guidance HBS provides is that the essay is not intended to be a formal one. The admissions committee advises that you think of the submission as though you are writing a reflection after a meeting. To me, this guidance suggests that your writing style can be more casual than you would use in a typical “professional” write-up and therefore less rigid. Imagine you are composing an email to a colleague. In fact, I always like to read the reflection essay aloud to ensure that it is clear and sounds like a letter addressed to an actual person. For example, dispense with long sentences, and avoid using a lot of multisyllabic words. Ultimately, ask yourself, Does this read like how I talk?
2. Jot down your thoughts immediately after the interview.
Right after your interview, go someplace quiet where you can think about the meeting and discussion you just had. Write down your thoughts about the questions you were asked and how you answered them. Note the questions for which you feel your responses were incomplete or not as clear as you would have liked. Perhaps you now remember additional information you could have provided.
Importantly, also note the questions to which you gave great answers. Were you organized and articulate in your response? Remember, this reflection is not simply a self-critique. It should ideally be balanced.
3. Take a breather to decompress.
I always recommend taking a short break after you jot down your initial round of notes. Whether you grab a bite, take a walk, or go to the gym, having a change of scenery and focus is important in two ways. Firstly, it helps your mind relax. With this comes clearer thinking, which is needed for good writing. Secondly, inspiration seldom comes from staring at a computer screen. A shift in your environment can spur different memories of and perspectives on your interview. If you can, carry a notebook with you so you can record any new thoughts that come to you during this time.
4. Come back recharged and focused—then start writing.
When you return from your breather—hopefully reenergized—it is time to start writing! Review your notes and organize them. Develop a structure for your reflection, and choose the main points you want to focus on in your essay. What message do you want to deliver to the admissions committee? Because of the brevity of the reflection essay, you will not be able to (nor should you) touch on every single question in the interview. However, key points you might want to include are as follows (in no particular order):
- A brief thank you
- Anything you were thrilled to discuss (this could include what you think went well)
- Anything you missed or want to clarify or add to
- Why you are excited about HBS (or how you could contribute to the class)
5. Share your thoughts and feelings; do not just summarize what happened.
One common mistake I see in reflections is summarizing too much what happened in the interview. Do not simply recount the meeting “blow-by-blow”; this is not a journal entry. Your reflection will be much more interesting if you share your inner thoughts and perspectives. For example, were you surprised by any question or line of discussion? Do not be afraid to be candid—this will help your reflection come across as more authentic and personal.
6. Think about what new insight or perspectives you can add.
The reflection is a unique opportunity for you to offer the HBS admissions committee further insights or perspectives. For example, what else can you add on a topic that was discussed during the interview? Perhaps you could provide additional background or context to a project that would be new information for the school. If you have other examples that are relevant to an interview question, you could also share them in your reflection. These examples do not need to be completely “new” to HBS. For instance, if you have a meaningful project listed on your resume but did not describe it in detail in your application essay, writing about it in your reflection might be appropriate.
7. Be thoughtful in addressing “why HBS.”
A very common question we get from clients is how much they should include in their Post-Interview Reflection about why they want to attend HBS. The question of “why HBS” might not even have come up in your interview at all. That is not unusual for HBS interviews. This is also reflected in the HBS application, which includes no specific “why HBS” prompt.
Yet you might decide that you really want to share with the admissions committee the reasons you consider HBS your top choice. If so, addressing this topic in your Post-Interview Reflection is perfectly fine. However, you need to be thoughtful about how much space you allocate to the topic, and ask yourself how much of the information will be new to HBS and additive to your candidacy. I find that a simple reference to what makes you excited about attending the program can be a good way to wrap up your reflection. Or you could mention what you are looking forward to contributing to the HBS classroom.
All that said, not mentioning “why HBS” at all in your Post-Interview Reflection is also perfectly acceptable. Remember, this essay is your chance to highlight some of your thoughts for the admissions committee. If you feel that “why HBS” is less important than the other ideas you want to share, prioritize accordingly.
8. Do not overpolish your essay.
As tempted as you might be to keep refining your reflection as much as you can in the time allotted, be careful of overpolishing it. I find that applicants’ early drafts will often contain a lot of genuine feelings and thoughts, which is precisely what HBS wants to see in the reflection—so you do not want to edit your essay to such a degree that this high level of candor and authenticity is lost. This is why the school gives you just 24 hours in which to respond. Which brings me to my final tip…
9. Take another break before your final review.
Although you have only a short amount of time in which to write and submit your reflection, if you can take another brief break before giving it one final review, I highly encourage you to do so. Ideally, come back to your essay with fresh eyes, and read the final draft out loud before submitting it to ensure that it embodies the style, voice, and message(s) you want to convey to the admissions committee.
I hope these tips can help you draft a strong HBS Post-Interview Reflection. If you would like even more targeted guidance on the HBS interview and on writing this unique essay, check out our HBS Mock Interview and Post-Reflection Support services.