Posted on November 5, 2014

ISB Essay Questions Analysis 2014-15

Cycle 1 Cycle 2
Application Deadline September 15, 2014 November 30, 2014
Offer Date November 15, 2014 February 15, 2015
Acceptance Date 15 days from the date of the offer 15 days from the date of the offer

 From ISB website:

Selection Criteria

Each one of you is unique for us at the ISB. However, to give yourself that extra edge, there are a few parameters which you could highlight through the application form so that you stand out:

  • Leadership Potential
  • Diversity
  • Academic Background/Analytical Ability

In the past 3-4 years, ISB had emphasized more on career goals and accomplishments (both personal and professional) of their prospective students. This year, in addition to career goals and accomplishments, and personal and professional traits  set them apart from other candidates, ISB has broadened the range of questions that require the applicants to dig deeper and introspect to identify their unique personality traits , their  talents and experiences. The accomplishment essay from last year has been replaced by a new essay (200 words) which allows applicants to choose from among four options.

With an early start, careful planning, and considerable soul searching, you can present an impressive and convincing picture of your well rounded personality and your fit with the school. Another challenge for you is that this year you have 1000 words instead of 1200 words from last year to present your candidacy to the prestigious ISB.

Let’s take a look at the essay questions:

Q1. Innovation or doing things differently it is said is a key to future success. Could you substantiate or negate this idea based on your experience. Please provide examples from your own experience – either examples of your own innovation or examples of others whom you have worked with. (300 words max)

This essay question is related to one of the key traits that business schools are looking for in their prospective students- the future business leaders. (Remember ‘challenging the Status Quo’, one of the four defining principals of Haas.) Innovating or doing things differently is considered a key to achieve success in the business world. ISB is offering you an opportunity to agree or disagree with this idea. So you have the option to refute this argument , but whatever you choose, you will need to back up your point with solid examples from either your personal or professional life or someone else’s  life with whom you have worked closely.

Begin the essay with your viewpoint about the argument. If you agree with the argument, reflect deeply to look for examples when you had led a change or initiated new processes at work, or in your personal life, or in your community. To brainstorm ideas, you may ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did you have to take a decision with insufficient information?
  • Did you have to step out of your assigned job responsibilities and go an extra mile to complete a project on time?
  • Did you question an established practice or thought within an organization? How did your actions create positive change?
  • Did you have to convince someone of your innovative ideas when working on a project?
  • Did you have to get out of your comfort zone and take an initiative while working on a project?

Explain the situation briefly and then go on to explain the actions you took. Don’t forget to share your though process when dealing with the situation. The school wants to know how you navigate through the critical situations, how you take initiatives and how you arrive at decisions. After detailing out the action part of your story, share the outcome of your innovative actions, the success it led to and the significance it has for you. In case your argument is against the premise, then carefully choose   your examples/ story to demonstrate how other factors (not innovation) are essential to achieve success.

You may breakdown the essay into two parts:

  • Ø Explain your viewpoint about innovation being an essential ingredient to future success. Why you think so? ( approximately 50-75 words )
  • Ø Support your argument with examples (you may not have space to share more than one story) from your personal or professional life. Make sure your story has all the 4 components – situation, action, outcome and significance. For more details on this 4 part structure, click here.

In the following example, the writer discusses the outcome and the significance of his/ her experience.


After working several unpaid overtime hours, we succeeded in getting the project back on track with a better client relationship. Also, we recently received the Inov@r Accenture Brazil award, for the FY12/13 most innovative project in the risk management practice. The experiences, though demanding, were unmatched because of the challenge of initiating change by me and influencing others. Also, they prepared me to adapt my leadership style to different contexts. 

Q2. Applying to and enrolling in a Business School is an important career decision. Critically look at your career to date, the choices you have made, the key influences behind those choices, your goals for the future and how you expect to benefit from the ISB experience in achieving your goals. (300 words max)

For the last three years ISB has been wording its goals questions differently. Let’s look at the goals questions from the last two years:

  • How does the ISB PGP tie-in with your career goals? (300 words max ) 2013 -14
  •  Where do you see yourself three years after you graduate from the ISB? (300 words max) 2012-13.

You can see that the verbiage of the goals question has changed every year, but there has been no change in the word limit: 300 words maximum. However, this year, the essay prompt is more detailed than before as it also provides the applicants specific pointers on what they should include in their career goals essay. The word ‘critically’ means that  the school expects you to dive deeper to reflect on the career choices you have made so far , your rationale behind each career move, your future career aspirations ( both short term and long term ) and the role of ISB in helping you realize those goals.

Thus, 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 of an MBA from your target school to achieve your goals), and your future (goals and objectives).

Begin your essay with a brief career history and provide details about how you have pursued your career, acquired new skills and progressed along your career path all these years. Then go on to describe 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.

Once you have elaborated your goals, explain how an MBA from ISB is your best bet at this time?  How it will help you achieve your goals? All schools expect you to not only have a clear understanding of your goals but also of their connection to their offerings/resources. Therefore, you should have a thorough knowledge of PGP program of ISB so you can demonstrate how its resources (curriculum, faculty, clubs, student communities etc.) are perfectly aligned with your goals and will bring you closer to your dreams.

In the end, discuss what value you will bring to their program? Even though the essay prompt doesn't ask you about your contribution, you may throw in a sentence about your potential contribution to the program. (If you choose to address option # D of the question # 3, then you may skip this part in goals question.)

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

Ø Your career history (approximately 100 -130 words)

Ø Short term Long term goals (approximately 70-100 words)

Ø Connection between ISB’s resources and your goals (approximately 100 words)


“With its academic resources, leadership training, practical approach to learning, brilliant faculty with 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 ‘Goals Essay’ click here:

For sample 'Goals Essay’, click here

Q3. Any One of the following (200 words max):

A). This experience completely changed my way of thinking.

B). An instance when you went out of the ordinary to achieve something significant, but in hind sight feel you could have done better. 

C). Tell us about your role in a team that made a significant contribution to the organization  

D). Contribution to peer learning and engagement with the ISB student body are important aspects of the ISB experience. What contribution do you expect to make in this direction during the one year at ISB.

Let’s look at each one of them separately

A)    This experience completely changed my way of thinking:

In order to get the right story for this question, you will need to do significant introspection and reflection into your past experiences. Since the essay prompt doesn’t specify personal or professional experience, you have the option to choose your story from your personal or professional life. However, please make sure that your story clearly explains your mindset before the experience and after the experience. For example, you may have certain ideologies or perceptions about some people or events or situation, but certain situations you encountered altered your perceptions and made you look at the same people, events, or situations in a different light. It doesn’t matter if your experience was good or a bad, what matters is that it changed your outlook and made you a wiser person. While narrating your experience, do not forget to include your thought process and how you were impacted by the situation.


This experience was an eye-opener for me. I had never before thought about myself from such a perspective. Since then, I have made conscious efforts to voice my commitment, and if I say ‘yes’, then make myself accountable to my commitments. Our still continuing partnership with Kevin bears witness to it.

 B). I achieved something significant, but…..:

It is obvious that through question, the Ad Com wants to learn about your significant accomplishment – an experience in which you demonstrated diligence persistence, team working or leadership skills and made an impact on your organization. However, the addition of ‘but’ at the end of this open ended question makes you think harder about what  was  lacking in that achievement. If you look back and analyze the situation, you may probably think that if you are given another  chance, you would  do it in a much better way and improve on certain areas that had escaped your attention at that time. Pick one accomplishment (preferably professional), analyze it critically and come up with areas that you could have improved upon that would have led to even better results.


“Today, I recall this experience as one of the most meaningful leadership experiences primarily because of the incredible accomplishments of my small team with an average experience of only two years. Together, we could achieve the ambitious objective, and bring back the much needed positive environment because of our shared vision and   drive for excellence. However, in hindsight, I feel that I made a mistake by accepting a few ideas suggested by some team members to respect their self -esteem, as I myself was not convinced of their saleability.  If I had been assertive enough to reject those ideas, we could have utilized the resources more effectively on other ideas. I learned that balancing opinions with decision-making is essential to move forward.”

Furthermore, if you have already learned from your accomplishment story and have made those improvements in a later project or assignment with better results and impact, you may cite these two examples to answer this question. This will demonstrate how you grow form your experiences and continue to better yourself.

C). Tell us about your role in a team that made a significant contribution to the organization.

This question is designed to evaluate your team working skills. The Ad com would like to know if you are only an individual contributor or if you can function well within team setting as well and contribute significantly to your team. To brainstorm ideas for these questions ask yourself the following questions:

  • Ø Did you resolve a crisis with in team?
  • Ø Did you convince someone (may be your team lead) of an innovative idea that later yielded good results?
  • Ø Did you go beyond your expected role to make an impact?
  • Ø Did you keep the team motivated whenever required?
  • Ø Did you encounter resistance in a team setting? How did you address the situation?

After you choose your story, make sure to explain all the relevant details of the experience- the situation/challenge including the description of the description of the team), action (your role and how you conducted yourself), outcome (the impact you made ) and the significance ( Was the experience  meaningful to you? Did it enhance your team working skills and make you a better team player?)

Let’s look at the following example where the writer wraps up his story explaining why this experience was significant to him.


 Personally, overcoming this challenge is significant to me in terms of my overall confidence. To challenge the client team at a client location and win my proposal made me more confident in speaking my mind about the project issues at work. Since then I never hesitated in expressing my opinion, helping me provide many valuable contributions to the projects. “

For my article on ’Accomplishment ‘Essay’ click here.

For sample ‘Accomplishment’ Essay, click here.

D). Contribution to peer learning and engagement with the ISB student body are important aspects of the ISB experience. What contribution do you expect to make in this direction during the one year at ISB.

This question is basically about the value you will bring to the ISB. Think of your talents or skills and elaborate on how you will leverage them to enhance the experience of your peers. To answer this question, you need to do a thorough research of the resources and offerings of ISB (clubs, organizations etc.) and then explain how you plan to get actively involved in those activities (both inside and outside of class), enrich the learning and experience of your peers and be a valuable contributor to the ISB during your one year at the campus.

Q4 (optional): Please provide additional information, if any that will significantly affect the consideration of your application to the ISB. (200 words max)

This essay prompt is  repeated from last year; the only difference is that you are allowed to use 200 words instead of 300 words. 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.

Please refer to the following example of a candidate whose grades dropped because of his military service.


Although my leadership experiences in the military taught me many valuable lessons in teamwork, perseverance, and management, through all my responsibilities, it impacted my grades.    Thus, I do not view my undergraduate performance as an accurate representation of my academic abilities. However, I hope the above reasons will assist you in understanding my particular situation.   I grew from this experience and took a dedicated approach to professional education.  I would respectfully ask the admission committee to consider this when reviewing my application.

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

Click here for article on Optional Essay

Click here for Sample Optional  Essay


Want some help in telling your memorable stories in only 200 words, read my article:

Business School Application Essays- ‘Less is More ’

Good luck on your Round 2 applications J

For questions, email me at