Posted on June 18, 2013

ISB Essay Questions Analysis: 2013-14


ISB has changed its application package for its PGP applicants for the 2014 batch. Last year, ISB applicants had written 3 required essay questions (300 words each) and one video response question.

This year’s applicants will submit 3 required questions (300 words each, but different prompts), and one optional essay of 300 words to provide additional information. These four essays offer them an ample scope to present a strong and compelling case to the ISB admissions committee.

With an early start and careful planning, you can present an impressive and convincing picture of your career, accomplishments, and future plans. The good news is you now have 1200 words instead of 900 words from last year to present your candidacy to the prestigious ISB.

Let us take a look at the questions:

Essay 1: Attitude, skills, and knowledge differentiate people. Elaborate with two examples of how you would differentiate yourself. (300 words max)

Even though ISB has slightly changed the verbiage of the first question, the term ‘differentiate’ is last year’s prompt is retained. This year’s prompt is more specific and expects you to specify the attitude, skills, and knowledge that differentiate you from other people. Unlike last year, this time you do not necessarily have to illustrate your skills by your personal and professional accomplishments because you will get a chance to discuss your most significant personal or professional accomplishment in question #3.

For this question, you need to draw on your special talents’ skills, interests, and passion. Please note that all of us are gifted with unique attributes/ talents that set us apart from others, so no two people in this world are alike.  Therefore, in order to brainstorm ideas for this essay, I would encourage you to reflect and dig deeper to identify the qualities that make you a unique individual. After you identify 3-4 attributes that define you ( e.g. integrity, honesty, perseverance, etc.), go ahead and illustrate them with real-life examples, showcasing your abilities to make you a successful candidate at ISB. Your response to this question should provide the Ad Com an understanding of the value you will bring to the ISB.

Example: “My voluntary experiences have not only helped me understand various social and cultural issues among poor people and the farmers but also reinforced my love for sharing knowledge and experiences with others. With these values, I am looking forward to spending some time teaching the poor children the basics of cultural values while pursuing my PGP course at ISB.”

Essay 2: How does the ISB PGP tie-in with your career goals? (300 words max)

Last year’s goals question expected the candidates to focus only on their goals within a window of three years after the MBA. This year, ISB has made a slight variation and wants its candidates to discuss their career goals in general which mean this year’s applicants will discuss short-term as well as long-term goals.  The school now wants you to have a holistic view of your career aspirations.

Please note that the goals essay requires you to make a logical connection between your past, present, and future. This means you need to tell a story that connects your past (work-experience, skills), present (your need for an MBA from your target school to achieve your goals), and your future (goals and objectives). So after providing a brief career history, discuss your post MBA goals and then move on to your long-term goals.

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 step2 and so on. Make sure that your goals are realistic as well as ambitious. That is, if you aim for a technology or 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 present skills would facilitate this transition.

After elaborating on your goals, you should elaborate on how various resources of ISB’s program will bring you closer to your goals. That is, you need to demonstrate how ISB’s offerings (curriculum, faculty, clubs, student communities, etc.) are perfectly aligned with your goals.

Since you have only 300 words to discuss your short-term, long-term goals, and their connection with the PGP program of ISB, you need to be extremely precise in presenting your case. I would suggest that you follow the structure below:

  • Your career history (60-75 words)
  • Short term (70-100 words)
  • Long term goals (60-70 words)
  • The connection between ISB’s resources and your goals (50-75 words)

Example: “With its academic resources, leadership training, practical approach to learning, brilliant faculty with a diverse professional background, and perfect location, ISB will provide me the critical tools and network that I need to achieve my career aspirations. Also, I am confident that with my academic potential, leadership abilities, and innovative spirit, I will add significant value to the  ISB  community.”


For more information on goal's Essay’ click here.

For a sample of 'Goals Essay’, click here.

Essay 3: Pick the most significant achievement (professional or personal) you have had and elaborate on the key learning you took away from it. (300 words max)

For the past two years, ISB has required its applicants to share their most significant personal and professional accomplishments. This year they want you to share your most significant accomplishment (personal or professional). This means you need to pick out and elaborate just ONE accomplishment that showcases your candidacy in the best light. At ISB, you will be competing with the traditional IT applicant pool, so your best bet will be not to select an accomplishment that demonstrates your role as a team leader in an IT project. Instead, you should try to select an achievement that showcases your ability to face challenges in other roles e.g. your adaptability to changes in the global world, your talent to convince others of executing your innovative ideas, your potential to go beyond what was defined, expected, established, or popular, and your courage to take calculated risks that yielded results and so on.

The essay prompt gives you options for choosing your story from your professional or personal life. However, I would recommend that you choose your story from your professional life. ( you may discuss your personal  accomplishments e.g. community service, extra-curricular activities, etc. in an optional essay)  Also,  you may consider choosing an accomplishment story that ties into your skills and attributes shared in your response to Essay #1.

Please make sure not to begin your story with: "My greatest accomplishment is" or "one thing I did well was... ". Let your story/ experience speak for you.

The ‘how’ part of your accomplishment is as important as the ‘what’ part. The second part of the questions tells you to ‘elaborate ‘the key learning you gleaned from this experience

Again, be as precise as you can in presenting your story. You may follow the following framework to organize your ideas:

  • the challenge (50-75 words)
  • the achievement/action (75-100 words)
  • the outcome/result (50-75 words)
  • the significance/ the key lessons you learned (90-100 words)

In the following example, the applicant wraps up his story by outlining its significance for him.


“This contract has been a huge learning experience for me. I learned new project management techniques/tools and status tracking mechanisms and honed my negotiation and leadership skills. It may not be the toughest or most revenue-generating contract for the organization, but it helped build a long-term relationship of my company with XXX and introduced new processes and frameworks that XXX uses today to optimize the cost of the deliveries of Medicaid clients.”

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

For the sample ‘Accomplishment’ essay, click here.

Essay 4 (optional): Please provide additional information, if any, that will significantly affect the consideration of your application to the ISB. (300 words maximum)

This essay prompt is repeated from last year, the only difference is that it is now optional, and not a required essay. This question provides you an opportunity to explore an important aspect of your candidacy, or other significant achievements/strengths not mentioned in other essay responses, resume, and recommendation letters.  You can choose examples from your work (if you have more than one equally outstanding professional accomplishment to share), community service, education, travels, or any other hobbies. You may also share a life -experience that has greatly influenced your personality and life. The idea is to bring to light that aspect of your personality that truly makes you unique. Then you should try to demonstrate how you can leverage this skill or quality to enhance your MBA experience or your future career.

You may also use this essay question to address a weakness in your profile, such as a gap in work or low GPA or GMAT. Your weakness may also bring out a positive aspect of your personality.

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%."The tutoring experience, however, benefitted me in two ways. It reinforced my passion for teaching (I still find 10 hours/ week to teach my home maid’s children. Also, it provided me the satisfaction of being a dutiful son.”

Note: Please make sure that all four essays should read like four different chapters of your unique story rather than solitary pieces.

For my article on an optional essay, click here.

For a sample optional essay, click here

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