Harvard Business School is looking for candidates who are ambitious and extraordinary, with a habit of leadership, an impressive track record, and a penchant for consistently hitting their goals. Beyond that, HBS wants mission-driven individuals who are poised to make the institution proud and motivated by a deeper purpose. If you can combine that with a riveting story of who you are as an individual, you tip the odds in your favor.
Fortuna’s Malvina Miller Complainville served as the Assistant Director of Careers Services at Harvard Business School and led the Programs and Communication team, developing career development programs for HBS students and providing hundreds of hours of one-on-one career coaching to HBS students. Below, she offers some of her insider tips for applying to Harvard Business School, as well as some key Harvard Business School MBA admissions requirements.
Tip #1 – Stand out from your peer group
Given the thousands upon thousands of candidates that HBS gets to choose from, successful candidates are those who manage to show how they stand out from the crowd. The HBS admissions team puts a great deal of effort into crafting a diverse and dynamic classroom, with individuals who will bring perspective and experience that is different from their fellow classmates. Candidates who have strong experience but whose profile seems undifferentiated from the hundreds or thousands of other candidates from the same sector are not going to make the cut. So give some deep thought to what is unique about your background and about your potential contribution to the program. If you can convince the admissions team that you have a truly unique profile, you will have a much better chance of succeeding. If you have a common profile and have some months or years before you plan to apply, think about how you could gain some differentiating experience that you will be able to highlight on your application.
Tip #2 – Showcase your leadership
Leadership is at the core of the Harvard experience. HBS is known as the school for general management training, specifically developing leaders who will “contribute to the well being of society.” The admissions office gives greater weight to leadership experience, and less weight to intellectual horsepower than some other top schools. So when applying to HBS, make sure your leadership experience comes across prominently, not just as a one-off, but as a pattern of leadership that can be demonstrated at different stages of your development. This leadership experience can come from your professional work experience, academics, hobbies, extracurricular activities and community work. So before you sit down to work on your Harvard application you need to take the time to identify instances from all aspects of your life that point to your ability or instinct to lead. You should also touch on your future leadership role in your essays and interview. What positive impact will you have on your chosen industry?
Tip #3 – Articulate a clear, ambitious and realistic career vision
Reflect on how your career vision aligns with HBS’s values. Like other business schools, HBS discusses in detail their values on their website and in social media so make sure you are clear on what these are. Your career vision should be detailed, with short-term goals and long-term goals. It should be ambitious and achievable. And if it seems to you that west coast rival Stanford GSB has cornered the market in careers that change lives and change organizations, think again. Harvard is equally interested in finding out what impact you intend to have on an institution, an industry and the world.
You should also think of two different paths that could lead you to your long-term career goals; this gives you more flexibility if one of your short-term goals prove challenging to achieve.
Tip #4 – Spend time fine-tuning your resume
The resume is often the first element that the file reader will review, so it needs to pack a punch. And with Harvard now down to only one optional essay your resume has never been more important. Make sure that the strength of your credentials comes across very strongly. Highlight your achievements and the impact you had in your roles. Quantify your achievements and impact with specific numbers wherever possible. HBS is looking for candidates on a rapid career trajectory, so make sure your evolution (promotions, increasing scope of responsibility, etc.) is clearly demonstrated.
For six more essential insights on HBS, including Harvard Business School acceptance rates and HBS MBA application deadlines, please download the complimentary, complete version of our HBS Insider Tips Report.