My Harvard Post-Interview Reflection (PIR)

Harvard asks you to write a post interview reflection (PIR) within 24 hours of your interview. Many have said that there is little you can do in this reflection to get in, but there are a few things you can do to eliminate yourself.  Here are my tips:

  1. Follow instructions.  Make sure you have a plan to complete the PIR and have access to internet.  Do not delete your upload once complete (even though the system will allow you too).
  2. Allow time to reflect. Although it will be very helpful to jot down some details about your interview immediately following the interview, that is not the time to write the PIR.
  3. Complete other visit activities around interview day. Attending class visits and other interview day activities will not only be beneficial for you, but will also benefit your PIR by providing additional data points that you can use while writing.
  4. DO NOT WRITE IT AHEAD OF TIME!  They will smell it from a mile away and they have specifically asked you not to do so. In addition, this is intended to be a reflective exercise.

You’ve just had your HBS interview.  How well did we get to know you?  

Twenty-four hours is not a lot of time.  My wife and I meet in sixth grade.  Seven years later, we started dating and four years after that we got married.  I spent five years building my family and developing myself and earning three promotions at my company. It has taken twenty-eight years for me to become the man I am today. However, a lot can happen in twenty-four hours. As I reflect on my interview, I cannot help but to also think about my entire day at HBS.

Jane, when you began by telling me that you were impressed by my application, I could not believe it.  “Impressed by me? I am just a kid from Indiana. How could someone from Harvard Business School be impressed with me?”

Although I may have not nailed every question, I believe you did get to know me in my interview. However, you know the version of me that existed twenty-four hours ago. Since that interview, I met war heroes and Ivy-league scholars that could be my future classmates, I learned about the seemingly endless amounts of opportunities at the CPD, and I toured the world-class facilities at iLab. I am starting to really get it:  I can see what I can do with an HBS MBA. Twenty-four hours ago I did not believe I was special, but if you are still considering me to join you at this amazing place, I must be.

Jane, you asked me if there was anything else I wanted to share at the end of my interview. I attempted to convey how I was passionate about using business to have a positive impact on people’s lives. In the last twenty-four hours, I have realized how big that impact could be.  Twenty years from now my company will have a different CEO and in the next twenty years dozens (maybe hundreds) of entrepreneurs will start biotechs that will disrupt healthcare and save lives. Twenty-four hours ago I would have asked, “Why should that be me?”  Now I am asking, “Why not me?”

How to pick the right business school for your MBA

Your first task is to define what you are looking for in your MBA, where you see yourself afterwards and how much effort you are willing to put into the program. Before you even start to look at schools, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you want to study abroad or would you prefer to remain in the country where you are right now? If abroad – are you planning to return or would you rather settle down somewhere else?
  1. What is your main intention of the MBA? It could be a planned change of industry and/or position, the next step towards a promotion, a desire to expand your network, the attempt to get international exposure or an approach to leave your comfort zone and let your views be challenged.
  1. Define how important the brand of the school is for your plans. Do you have to rely on the career services team to find a job? Should recruiters have heard of your school or is that not of importance in your target industry?
  1. Do you thrive in large groups or do small team sizes allow you to excel? Would you rather have some internal competition or a focus on teamwork and collaboration?

Having answers to these questions will make your decision process easier. However, if you are still unsure in a certain area you can also come back to this later.

Now it is time to start narrowing down your selection:

Stage A — USA vs Europe vs Asia

To make this first decision, it is important to know where you are going to look for a job after the MBA. US schools have the longest history and many of them are considered the best in the world. However, the level of international diversity is fairly low compared to European schools. Harvard Business School’s class of 2017, for instance has 71% students from North America whereas INSEADs class of 2017 is diversely represented by Europe (37%), Asia (31%), North America (14%), Middle East/Africa (10%) and Latin America (7%).

Study where you want to work. U.S. schools mainly teach U.S. related business cases, give you a strong U.S. network and have companies hiring for the U.S. job market on campus. You will be perfectly prepared for the States, but if you plan on working in Europe or Asia these things will be less relevant.

The same goes for Asia: Choose a school based in Asia if you have a dedicated interest to work there, to learn an Asian language or to develop intense networking relations to the continent. If none of those apply, cross it out.

European schools are more global: you will develop deep connections to classmates from many countries and will see them re-locate to all corners of the world once the MBA is over. Anyhow, the focus is again local: you will mainly meet recruiters who are looking to hire for the European job market. And here even the country choice inside Europe becomes important because in most of the cases you will need to speak the local language of the country where you want to work in. Study in Barcelona and learn Spanish if you want to work in Spain. Go to Paris and learn French to get a position in France. If you are from Europe and plan on returning home after the MBA, consider the additional language as a plus for your profile.

Stage B — 1-year vs 2-year program

Once you are sure with the continent, you will have to pick the program length.

Do you already have a great position at work where you want to return to as quickly as possible with your newly earned MBA knowledge? Are you not interested in an international exchange program or in an industry switch where an internship could help you? Go with the 1-year option. You will experience a fully packed intensive year where you will learn all the business skills, have ample networking opportunities and start with your post-MBA job hunt from day one. However, you will not have much time to reflect and try out new things. A year is quickly over and your game plan should be set out already before you start.

The 2-year option will give you a similarly intensive first year where you will cover all the main subjects. You will have more time to find yourself and learn about all the interesting experiences from your classmates, though. The second year with its international exchange and corporate internship gives you ample opportunity to try out a new industry and re-position yourself during the MBA. If you are still open for different industries and want to take as much as possible from the MBA experience, a 2-year program is the best fit for you.

Stage C — Rankings / Tier 1 vs Tier 2

Now that you have a rough idea of how your MBA program of choice should look like, it is time to consult the rankings. In the end it is about personal fit, but rankings normally correspond to the brand awareness that recruiters have towards the several schools and are a good indicator if the schools can be considered tier 1, tier 2 or even tier 3.

Start with the schools that have been continuously in the Top 10 (Top 20) over the past couple years and cross-compare different rankings (Financial Times, Economist, Forbes, Bloomberg, Business Insider). Work your way down from the top and cross out all the schools that do not comply with your Stage A and Stage B requirements.

You should be left with only a couple of schools that make it into Stage D.

Stage D — School specific pros and cons

This is the part where you actually have to conduct your own research. You are trying to figure out which of the schools are strong in the areas that you consider important. Now it is not only about facts and figures but also about your personal feeling towards the school. Can you picture yourself studying there? Assess the following areas to get a full overview:

Campus location

  • Country / Area
  • City vs village
  • Lively and crowded campus vs quiet campus
  • Commute distance and time from housing to campus
  • Language
  • Climate

Class profile

  • Diversity of nationalities
  • Diversity of industries
  • Male / female ratio
  • GMAT average
  • Class size and overall students


  • Collaborative vs competitive
  • Conservative vs liberal
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Strength of bonds formed
  • Individual support


  • Electives
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Exclusive opportunities such as business labs or real world consulting projects
  • Case method vs various teaching methods
  • Grading system (bell curve?)


  • Demanding vs relaxed
  • Amount of workload
  • Time pressure


  • Industry ties
  • Hiring firms on campus
  • Partnership with other business schools
  • Brand awareness
  • Mission values and goals

Costs and Scholarship

  • Total tuition fees
  • Living expenses
  • Likelihood to receive a scholarship

Alumni network

  • Size and spread of alumni network
  • Interpersonal bond of alumni and personal identification with the school
  • Number, frequency, size, and location of alumni events

Industry focus

  • In which field do most graduates find a job?
  • What is the school known for?

Career services quality

  • Percentage of students finding a job after the MBA
  • Total salary and salary increase

Once you completed all four stages you will have a selection of schools that you can apply to. Get in touch with the admission team to discuss your profile and get help with your application. Be aware that a campus visit will not only give you great insight on the “feel” of the school but will also give you an edge in your application essays. Towards the admission committee, it is a strong sign of dedication and will be considered in your favor.

All the best with finding your future business school!


About the Author

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

Andreas on the roof of IESE in Barcelona

Andreas is a Class of 2018 MBA candidate at IESE Business School in Barcelona. He went from his first MBA research in October to taking the GMAT in December to getting 100% school admits in January.  As a diploma master mariner, he currently sails the world on a 500-person cruise ship where he leads 160 crew members. His interest in the management world was sparked when he interned in his families maritime ship supplier business. He loves to read about tech, innovation, and stock markets and keeps himself fit with running, gym workouts, and football. You can read more from Andreas on his blog at

So you just got an invite to interview at HBS, Now What?

This article was originally posted on

Harvard Business School (HBS) invites about 2,000 of its nearly 10,000 applicants to an MBA interview each year. So congrats if you made it this far. About 50% of these 2000 will receive an offer to join the MBA program. Of which, about 90% will accept the MBA admissions invite. What does that really mean? Well, at HBS, the MBA interview is more of a weed-out rather than a get-you-in component. If you have been invited, you are qualified to attend HBS. You have the minimum combination of GMAT, GPA, réesumée, and personal statements to get in. However, the school is testing for a few things:

  • Can you clearly articulate yourself in English well enough to survive the case-method?
  • Are you an a**hole?
  • Can you standup under pressure?

Let’s tackle each of these questions one at a time so that you can avoid a few pitfalls the MBA admissions committee has set for you and maybe (hopefully) even relax a little – just follow these interview tips!

Will your English hold up in the MBA interview and HBS case-method?

Put yourself into the classroom, you are there with some of your generation’s brightest minds, more than two thirdsof whom learned English as their native language. The topic bounces back and forth across the room as nearly half of your 90+ classmates weigh into an 80-minute case discussion. Before arriving to the class you read the case (one of at least two), which might add up to a few dozen pages in total the night before. This is why just speaking and reading English isn’t good enough at HBS. You have to be able to understand what the 90+ other people in the room (many with unique accents themselves) are saying. The discussion moves fast and requires you to digest the previous comment and formulate your response in less than a second, before the professor calls on someone else. You will be judged on the frequency and quality of these comments by both your peers and professors. This description is not meant to intimidate you, but rather to illustrate that the HBS learning model is challenging for many and nearly impossible for someone who struggles in English.

Like everything in admissions (GMAT, GPA, etc.) English ability is judged relative to your peer demographic. This means that if you are applying from a country with high-levels of English-fluency (like European countries, India, etc.) you will be expected to be on top of your game. Conversely, countries that typically have lower levels of comfort and utilization of English (like Japan) you might be able to get away with a few mishaps, like asking the interviewer to repeat the question or providing an answer that doesn’t imply that you understood the real intent of the question. HBS also uses their unique post-interview reflection to judge your command of written English. Since the essay is due only 24 hours after the interview and should be about the interview itself, it becomes apparent which applicants would not be able to keep up with HBS’s pace. HBS does not expect grammar perfection on the PIR, but if you are unable to create a comprehensible story, this could be a sign to the MBA admissions committee that you will struggle in the program.

Don’t let the MBA admissions committee think you are an a-hole

If you believed you ‘nailed’ every question they threw at you and are obviously thinking, “There is no way those other brainless dimwits could get in before me,” then the chances are you might be hearing bad news in a few weeks. HBS is looking for people that are self-aware, and know their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Sure the people that get into HBS are impressive, but they still are people and people make mistakes and are flawed. So if you are asked about your weaknesses, don’t say “I work too hard.” If you are asked about your mistakes and failures, don’t conclude by stating how the others on your team “couldn’t understand what you were trying to do” or “lacked your ambition”. Instead focus on what you learned from your failures and what your plan is to continue to develop. There is a fine line between arrogance and confidence, don’t cross it.

The MBA interview is bomb-able

Speaking of confidence, remember I said that the interview is more of a weed-out process? Well, that means you cannot bomb it and if you do, you probably are not getting in. You are going to be asked a lot of questions in your 30-minute interview as it is meant to simulate the fast pace of the HBS classroom. Many of these questions will be pretty standard, like, “Walk me through your résumé.” But they will get you, I promise you. They are very good at asking you the one question you were not expecting. Like asking an MD/MPH what they would do if they couldn’t work in healthcare; a real question to one of my clients in round one (luckily, I had prepped him for this one). It is not that important what your answer is, but rather that you can formulate a sensible response in a few seconds. I tell my clients that ask if they skip a question, that skipping should only be used as a last resort at HBS. If you literally cannot think of anything other than “uhhhh, I dunno,” then ask if you can come back to that question at the end, but this is a risk and should be avoided if possible. Think again to the HBS classroom, where cold-calls are the norm and “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer. The MBA admissions committee is trying to see if you can stand up under this type of pressure.

In conclusion, there is great news. If you manage to demonstrate competence in English, don’t act like an a-hole, and don’t completely fall flat, you now have a much greater than 50% chance of getting in. When you consider that you started with only 11% chance you should feel pretty great about those odds. So be yourself and relax (unless you are an a-hole…in which case pretend that you are someone else).