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Posted on June 1, 2012

INSEAD Essay Questions Analysis: 2012-2013

INSEAD's essay questions cover a good deal of ground, giving candidates ample opportunity to discuss a variety of topics related to their interests and experiences. The first two “job essays” ask for a factual account of one’s current position (or lack thereof) and career progression, while the remaining five calls for short reflections and discussion of topics that MBA applicants are used to. With careful thought and planning, you can use these seven essays to present your well-rounded personality.

INSEAD's Website: “We evaluate each applicant against four central criteria: leadership potential and work experience; academic capacity; international motivation; and ability to contribute to the INSEAD experience." Therefore, when narrating your stories, make sure they bring out these traits along with other qualities.

Job Description Essays

Essay 1: Briefly summarize your current (or most recent) job, including the nature of work, major responsibilities, and, where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of the budget, clients/ products, and results achieved. (250 words)

INSEAD’s first question requests a snapshot of the applicant’s career at present. Keeping in mind that this will be the Ad Com’s introduction to your materials, you might also provide the context necessary for the reader to understand your place within the organizational structure and the work that occupies your days. Please stay focused on the details of your present job and avoid drifting away from your greatest achievements. You will get the opportunity to do that in other questions.

Essay 2: Please give us a full description of your career since graduating from university. If you were to remain with your present employer, what would be your next step in terms of position? (250 words)

This question can be challenging and makes you wonder how can I give a "full description" of my professional career in just 250 words. Not only that, but you are also required to be specific about your next step if you were to remain in your present job. Hence brevity is the key here. Your best bet is to focus on each full-time position you’ve held, explain the reasons behind each move, increases, and/or changes in responsibility, and the lessons/skills learned. Remember to use your words as precisely as you can.

Essay 3: If you are currently not working, what are you doing and what do you plan to do until you start the MBA program? (250 words)

This question shows that INSEAD is not excluding unemployed candidates from admission if they are utilizing their time productively. So INSEAD provides them an opportunity to advocate their case and discuss the new skills they are learning, the volunteer work they are involved in, any conferences and professional development workshops they are attending, and other efforts they are making to secure short-term employment before MBA. This would validate their growth even during the time they are unemployed.

Personal Essays

Personal Essay 1: Give a candid description of yourself, stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors, which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (600 words)

This question requires you to do a lot of introspection. It is important to address all parts of the prompt: strengths, weaknesses, and main factors responsible for your personal development. However, it is also in your best interest to focus as much as possible on the positive. So, you may want to begin with two or three positive qualities and then comment on one or two weaknesses. Do not forget to substantiate your personal traits with real-life examples. This question gives applicants the freedom to select examples from their personal, professional, or extracurricular life, so try to select your examples with a view to presenting a balanced picture of your personality.

You may select either of the following two methods for discussing strengths or weaknesses:

a) Make statements about your character and back them up with an example as 'evidence' of your statements.

b) Find a single story (a work project, for example) that will illustrate all of your strengths, and, if possible, weaknesses.

When discussing your weaknesses, make sure to explain how they have affected you and what you are doing now to rectify them. If relevant, mention which B-school resources can help you get over these weaknesses

Note that for each personal characteristic introduced, you should reflect on the factors that have influenced your personality.

Example: "The stories of hardships faced by my father during his childhood and later his success ingrained in me the importance of hard-work and sustaining through challenges."

Personal Essay 2: Describe what you believe to be your two most substantial accomplishments to date (if possible, specify one personal and one professional), explaining why you view them as such. (400 words)

This is a straightforward question that clearly stipulates INSEAD's requirement of one personal and one professional accomplishment. Instead of providing a laundry list of accomplishments weave one story around your accomplishment in personal life and another one around your professional life. Let your life experience tell the story of your accomplishments.

Also, these accomplishments should tie into your "strengths" essay. That is, they should illustrate the "strengths" you have already discussed in your first essay.

Your accomplishment story should have four components: the challenge, the achievement, the outcome/ result, and the significance. That is, you should explain why this accomplishment is meaningful to you both in terms of the challenges you overcame, the results you produced, and the lessons you learned.

Example: "Inter-caste marriages are considered taboo in the conservative Indian society. Therefore, my decision to marry my girlfriend Priya, a girl belonging to a higher caste, met with severe opposition. (An example of Personal Accomplishment)

Personal Essay 3: Describe a situation taken from your personal or professional life where you failed. Discuss what you learned. (400 words)

To fully address this question, you will need to reflect on life experiences when you could not live up to your expectations. You should describe the situation in detail what went wrong and why. Make sure to clearly address the second part of this question and discuss the personal growth that resulted from your failure/setback. You might also consider closing this essay with a brief comment about how this lesson has benefited you since the time of the initial failure.

Also, while selecting your failure story, make sure you select a situation when you faced a setback despite your sincere efforts. Do not confuse between a failure and a mistaken story because there is a  difference between the two: You are responsible for your mistake, so you need to take ownership for it, whereas external factors are responsible for your failure which means you did your best, but things didn’t work out the way you had planned. However, the experience still taught you life lessons.

Lastly, tell your failure story in such a way that it presents you in a positive light, revealing your strengths.

Example: "Last year, a similar situation developed, and despite clear briefing of motives, many teams again showed reluctance to follow the required measures. This time, I did not hesitate to warn the management who took proactive steps to steer the errant teams into place. Thus, the single setback that I faced in my professional life taught me valuable team- working skills that I am now practicing successfully."

Personal Essay 4: a) Discuss your short- and long-term career goals. (300 words) and

b) How will study at INSEAD help you achieve your vision? (250 words)

This is the standard 'goals' essay expecting you to specify your short-term and long-term goals and INSEAD's role in helping you achieve them. This question has two parts with a specific word count. Therefore, you need to be extra careful in adhering to the prescribed word limit. INSEAD expects you to not only have a clear sense of your goals but also of their connection to INSEAD's offerings. So, you should have a thorough knowledge of the school’s curriculum, faculty, special programs, and extracurricular activities, and explain how you will use them to achieve your goals.

Additionally, even though the prompt does not ask you about your contribution, you may throw in a sentence about the value you will add to the school (if space permits).

Example: "I am confident that with my academic potential, team-working abilities, innovative spirit, leadership skills, and global outlook I will add significant value to the INSEAD community."

Personal Essay 5: Please choose one of the following two essay topics:

a) Have you ever experienced culture shock? What insights did you gain? (250 words) or

b) Describe the ways in which a foreigner in your country might experience culture shock. (250 words)

This question is designed to gauge an applicant’s cultural sensitivity and ability to conduct business in an international setting, because INSEAD, is a highly international program.

a) The first option asks you to recount a trying experience in another country that demanded a significant amount of adjustment resulting in personal growth.

b) The second option asks you to reflect on the unique characteristics of your own culture that might not be acceptable to a visitor.

In both responses, you need to demonstrate cultural flexibility, offering examples/ evidence of your ability to operate well with teams of diverse cultures. Remember to outline the struggles you went through in the process of cultural adjustment, and the lessons you learned in the process.

Example: "I vividly remember that morning when as usual I went to the office canteen for breakfast and found it closed. I was told that the canteen remains closed in the month of Ramadan. I was shocked to learn that even restaurants don’t serve meals in the daytime during Ramadan." (An example of culture shock an Indian applicant employed in a Middle East country received)

Optional Essay: Is there anything that you have not mentioned in the above essays that you would like the Admissions Committee to know? (200 words) (This essay is optional)

An optional essay is an opportunity for you to give the Ad Com relevant information that you could not give in other essays or other parts of your application. This question is also meant to shine a spotlight on the experience or a side of your personality that has not been revealed in the other parts of your application: essays, recommendation letters, and resume.

Even though INSEAD has provided you enough ground to cover your candidacy, you may still use this essay in a variety of ways to further strengthen your candidacy. First, you may use this question to reveal your non-professional side. For example, if you have significant extracurricular accomplishments (sports, music, writing, painting, etc.) or a community welfare activity that you initiated or led, you should share those stories. You can also use an optional essay to address a weakness in your profile, like a low GPA or GMAT, a gap in your job history, or your inability to get a recommendation from your current supervisor.

Example: "The private tutoring job that I had to take up to support mine and my sister's education required me to spend 30 hours/ week and left me with hardly any time to focus on my studies. This eventually ended up pulling down my grades to 70%."

Do you have questions about your application? E-mail Poonam at poonam@myessayreview.com or sign up here for a free consultation.