Posted on June 22, 2015

INSEAD Essay Questions Analysis: 2015-16

The MBA application form for the September 2016 intake of INSEAD’s MBA is now live.  The essay questions remain the same; however, there are some changes to the functionality of the form itself.  First, all essay questions are now embedded in the form so that essays no longer need to be uploaded separately.  Second, INSEAD has also slightly adjusted the format so the candidates don’t miss important pieces such as the goals, which were sometimes not answered.

Also, candidates are now required to upload a CV.

INSEAD still has one remaining deadline for their January 2016 intake – Round 4 on 5 August. 

 Deadlines for the September 2016 intake are:

  • Round 1 - 16 September 2015
  • Round 2 - 14 October 2015
  • Round 3 - 13 January 2016
  • Round 4 - 24 February 2016

To view the deadlines on INSEAD’s website, click here.

INSEAD’s essay questions allow candidates to discuss a variety of topics related to their interests and experiences, thus providing them ample opportunity to present each aspect of their candidacy. The first two “job essays”  ask for a factual account of one’s current position and career progression, while the third one offers unemployed applicants a chance to explain themselves.The four “motivation essays” call for short reflections and discussion of a variety of topics e.g. strengths and weaknesses, failures, accomplishments, extra-professional activities, etc. With careful thought and planning, you can use these 6 essays to present your well- rounded personality.

 According to INSEAD Admission Team :

The essay section is a critical part of our evaluation process. As such, we advise you to spend a significant amount of time on your application essays, as they are a critical part of our evaluation process. Your responses to the essay questions provide the best opportunity to be creative and tell us about yourself. We would like to get to know you and to find out what motivates you. The essays are not meant to be academic articles or business memos, but rather your personal stories. Please answer essay 1 to 4 as they are all compulsory. Essay 5 is optional.”

INSEAD's Admission’s Criteria:

  1.  Academic capacity
  2.  Leadership potential and professional experience
  3.  International Motivation
  4.  Ability to contribute to the INSEAD experience

Job description Essays

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. (short answer)

This question requests a snapshot of the applicant’s current or most recent job. .Keeping in mind that this will be the Admission  Committee's introduction to your candidacy, you should also provide information so the reader can understand your place within the organization and the work that occupies your days. Please stay focused on the details of your present job nature of work, major responsibilities, supervision, size of the budget, number of clients/products, and most importantly, “results achieved.” While detailing out your current job, you should also focus on the impact you have made on your organization. But please avoid elaborating on your greatest achievement as you will get an opportunity to do that in the second motivation essay.

2. What would be your next step in terms of position if you were to remain in the same company? (short answer)

This question is tricky because you need to show that your next position should be more challenging than your current one. But if an MBA at INSEAD is your next step, you probably don’t need your next promotion. So you may need to show here that in order to achieve your goals, you first need an MBA from INSEAD.

3. Please give us a full description of your career since graduating from university. Describe your career path with the rationale behind your choices. (short answer)

This question can be considered as a walkthrough of a resume in the essay format. The purpose of this question is to get an understanding of how you have progressed along your career path. Your best bet is to focus on each full-time position you’ve held, the reasons behind each move, increases, and changes in responsibility, and the lessons/ skills learned. It is important to show progress at each stage of your career, which is straightforward if you have worked for the same company and received regular promotions. However, if you have changed companies, make sure to explain the reason how, and why you made your career choice.

4. Discuss your short term and long term career aspirations with or without an MBA from INSEAD. (short answer)

After detailing out your career history, explain where you stand now why you believe that an MBA is the next logical step in your career path NOW? What are those skills that you still lack which you hope to acquire by an MBA? How an MBA will fill the gaps in your career?

Then explain your short term (3-5 years after MBA) and long term (5 - 8 years after MBA).  Please make sure to demonstrate a logical connection between your short term and long term goals. In other words, explain how you will move from step 1 to step 2 and so on. Make sure that your goals are realistic as well as ambitious. That is, if you aim for a technology or a consulting role, you’ll need to demonstrate that you already possess some skills/experience in that area and are now aiming to enhance those skills. Likewise, if you are a career changer, you should provide evidence as to how your current skill set would facilitate this transition. (Approximately  150- 200 words)

Remember to use your words as precisely as you can.

Note: For my blog on ‘Goals Essay’ click here.

For a sample ‘Goals’ essay, click here.

5. If you are currently not working or if you plan to leave your current employer more than two months before the program starts, please explain your activities and occupation between leaving your job and the start of the program.  (optional)

This is the fourth year that INSEAD has included a question providing unemployed applicants the space to explain their situation. This shows that INSEAD is not excluding unemployed candidates from admission if they are utilizing their time productively. So it provides them an opportunity to advocate their case and discuss the new skills they are learning, the volunteer work they are involved in, and 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.

This question also includes applicants who are planning to take a break of more than two months between the time they submit their applications and the time they would join INSEAD’s program. In this case, also, they need to evidence how they are actively developing skills,   making productive use of their time, and progressing toward their career goals. This essay is also a place for the applicants who are leaving their current employer to join another one, two months before entering the program. They should use this essay to discuss their new employment.

Motivation Essays

Motivation Essay #1: Give a candid description of yourself (who you are as a person), 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. (approximately 500 words)

This question requires you to do a lot of introspection. While it is important to address all parts of the prompt:  strengths, weaknesses, and main factors responsible for your personal development, it’s important 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, and then 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 personality.

What two methods you can use to draft this essay?

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 (from your personal or professional life) 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 have done or are doing now to rectify them. If relevant, mention which B-school resources can help you get over these weaknesses.

How you can discuss factors that have influenced your personal development?

Remember that for each personal characteristic introduced, you should reflect on the factors that have influenced your personality. It is up to you if you want to discuss these influential factors while discussing your strengths and weaknesses or after having discussed them.

Roughly you may aim at allotting 200- 250 words to strengths, 100 words to weakness/weaknesses, and 150-200 words to the main factors that have shaped your character/ personality.

Motivation Essay #2: Describe the achievement of which you are most proud of and explain why? In addition, describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiences impact your relationship with others? Comment on what you learned. (approximately 400 words)

Through this question, INSEAD now expects you to discuss both your accomplishment and failure in one single essay. You need to dig deeper and explain how these experiences have impacted your relationship with others.

Since you are allowed to use 400 words, it is in your best interest to allow approximately 200 words to each of your stories.

Also, this accomplishment and failure should tie into your “strengths” and weaknesses essay.  That is, your experiences of achievement and failure should illustrate the “strengths” and “weaknesses” 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.

To explain your failure story,  you’ll need to reflect on life experiences when you could not live up to your expectations. You should describe how the situation went wrong and why. Like your accomplishment story should also have four components: the challenge, the action, the outcome/result, and the significance or effect. That is, you should explain how that failure taught you important lessons that you later used in your life to better yourself. The failure story may be presented in such a way that it presents you in a positive light, revealing your strengths.

Make sure to clearly address the second part of this question and discuss in what ways these experiences have impacted your relationship with others at work or in the community and what learnings you have gleaned from your experiences.

 Note: For my blog on  ‘Accomplishment Essay,’ click here.

For the sample ‘Accomplishment Essay', click here.

For my blog on 'Failure Setback/Mistake Essay,' click here.

For a sample Failure Essay, click here.

Motivation Essay #3: Tell us about an experience where you were significantly impacted by cultural diversity in a positive or negative way. (approximately 300 words)

INSEAD is a highly international and multicultural program, so this question is designed to gauge an applicant’s cultural sensitivity and ability to conduct business in an international setting. You will need to do a lot of reflection for this prompt so you can recount a cultural experience that demanded a significant amount of adjustment resulting in personal growth. Explain how the experience changed your behavior or perception, or inspired you to learn something new about that culture, or made you reconsider your own ideas /values/ perceptions

Your response/story should demonstrate cultural flexibility, 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.

Motivation Essay #4: Describe all types of extra-professional activities in which you have been or are still involved for a significant amount of time (clubs, sports, music, arts, politics, etc.). How are you enriched by these activities? (approximately 300 words)

The extra-curricular is an important element of how INSEAD evaluates the candidate on one of its four key admissions criteria: ‘ability to contribute.’ They want to know if you are an applicant who will not only contribute to the classroom but also to the life of the community outside the classroom as a student, and later, as a member of the alumni network. Candidates who have other interests/hobbies that they are passionate about and who perhaps have some achievement in sports, music, arts, etc., will go on to become students who will take the lead in student clubs and will be actively involved in the alumni network.

Motivation Essay #5: Is there anything that was not covered in your application that you would like to share with the Admissions Committee? (approximately 300 words) 

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. More importantly, you should 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.

Note: For my Blog on an 'Optional Essay,' click here.

For sample 'Optional Essay', click here.