When it comes to getting into Harvard Business School, it’s all about the basics: Intelligence, kindness, and willingness to beg in the street. HBS accepts only 900 out of 9,000 applicants a year these days. Those 9,000 applicants have an average GMAT score of over 700 (aka Really High), and boast a wide variety of super-human professional accomplishments. So what separates the 900 from the other 8,100? Fortune editor-at-large David Whitford has a nice interview with HBS director of admissions Dee Leopold about the intangible qualities that contribute to acceptance — including, yes, a successful applicant who spent the night before his interview begging outside.
Let’s start with Leopold story of a woman who made an impression by showing a kindness to a fellow applicant:
It happened downstairs in the admission office. Everybody congregates down there. They’re all nervous. They’re all thinking this is worse than the dentist’s office. I go down to pick someone up and bring her upstairs for an interview. And this other young woman I was watching from a distance, she stops halfway up the stairs and says, “Wait, I need to go back downstairs.” She had told the person sitting next to her that she should just go up the stairs at 3:00. She said, “I have to tell them no, someone will come and get you.”
“Wow, when you’re so young and self-absorbed and you can already think about somebody else, that’s, like, really beautiful,” Leopold tells Whitford. (It would perhaps not surprise critics of the corporate world that showing a tiny shred of normal human kindness is enough to set you apart from the crowd in business school.)
Leopold tells another story about one nervous applicant who reluctantly revealed he had forgotten to pack a shirt for his trip to Boston for the interview. Leopold asked him where he got the shirt he was wearing now. “I put on my fraternity tee-shirt,” the applicant told her, “made a sandwich board that said ‘Will barter for dress shirt,’ and went out on the street.”
I have to admit this story makes my BS-O-Meter go off: Why didn’t the guy just buy a new shirt? Is making a sandwich board and humiliating yourself in the street really faster than just finding a Men’s Wearhouse? Maybe all the clothing stores were closed? But let’s let that slide and find the real lesson here: Leopold likes a creative thinker, and “somebody who’s going to figure it out.”
So when you find yourself in an interview at Harvard, be nice and tell a good story. Oh, and don’t forget to study for the GMAT.