Posted on June 10, 2015

ISB Essay Questions Analysis – 2015-16

ISB Application Deadlines:

Round 1: October 15, 2015 (11:59 pm India Standard time)

Round 2: January 5, 2016 (11:59 pm India Standard time)

From ISB Website

Selection Criteria

Each one of you is unique to 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

Like previous years, ISB has changed the verbiage of all the three mandatory essay questions this year. For the first time in four years, the phrasing of the optional essay has also been altered, making it more specific and detailed. The good news is that the total word limit has been increased by 200 words, so this year’s applicants have 200 extra words to showcase their candidacy to the Ad Com of the prestigious ISB. 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.

Let’s take a look at the essay questions:

Essay 1: If we were to admit just one more student, make a compelling argument as to why that student should be you by describing an (only one) achievement in your personal/professional life that you are most proud of. What did you do that sets you apart from others? What did you learn? (400 words maximum)

With a slight modification in the phrasing, this question is similar to the achievement/accomplishment essay ISB had asked in 2012 and again in 2013. Here are the questions:

(2012-13) Please make a strong case to differentiate yourself from an exceptional set of applicants applying for PGP 2013-14. You could cite personal/professional achievements to present your case.” (300 words max)

(2013-14) “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)

However, this year’s applicants are allowed 100 words extra to share the story of their most significant accomplishments.

This essay prompt requires you to share your most significant accomplishment (personal or professional) that sets you apart from other candidates and has the potential to offer you the single remaining seat in the 2016 batch of ISB students. 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. So dig deeper into your life experiences, and if you think you have made a greater impact in your non-work/extracurricular activity that sets you apart from other candidates, go ahead and share that story.

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 how this accomplishment distinguishes you from other applicants and what ‘ key learning you have gleaned from this experience,’

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

  • the situation/challenge (50- 75 words)
  • the action (100 -150 words)
  • the outcome/ What sets you apart from others (75-100 words)
  • the key lessons you learned (100 words)

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

Example: “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 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.”


For my article on 'Accomplishment Essay' click here.

For 'Sample Accomplishment essay' click here.

Essay 2:  Choose one of the following 2 options:

Describe an (only one) defining moment in your personal/professional life when you had to make a risky decision, and explain what you did, why and the outcome. (300 words maximum)

This question requires a significant amount of self- reflection. Like the first essay, this question also allows you to choose your story from a person of professional life. So you can reflect on your life as a whole and identify an experience where a lot was at stake but you still went ahead and made that decision. Again the ‘how’ part of the essay is as important as the ‘what’ part. Therefore, you will need to elaborate on the decision-making process, explaining the reasons behind your decision despite the risks involved. Don’t forget to explain your thought process when you found yourself at the crossroads of making a tough choice. The purpose of this question is to evaluate you for your risk-taking ability and decision making acumen- the key traits true leaders are known for.

To organize ideas for this essay, you may use the same 4 part structure I have recommended for the first essay.

  • the situation/challenge (50- 75 words)
  • the action (75- 100 words)
  • the outcome/ result (50- 75 words)
  •  Significance/ the key lessons you learned (50-75 words)

In the following example, the candidate is reflecting on the impact of a risk she took in her personal life.

 “This experience helped me grow tremendously as a person. I am stronger and more independent than I have ever been to. I finally learned how to live alone as an adult. I am much happier than I was a year ago. I have risked everything I knew for a decision to pursue an MBA, and with it a new career, but I am confident that this decision will bring me happiness and fulfillment in life.”


Describe an (only one) situation in your personal/professional life when you had to interact with people from diverse backgrounds. How did it affect you and what did you learn?

This question is designed to assess the candidates’ ability to interact and function well with people of diverse backgrounds and cultures.  The candidates with international experience have an advantage here as they can share more experiences where they had to work with people of diverse nationalities and cultures. To brainstorm ideas for this question, you may ask yourself the following questions when recalling your experience of working with international and intercultural teams:

  • What challenges did you encounter in getting across your ideas?
  • What differences did you notice in their work culture and way of functioning?
  • What actions did you take to smooth the interactions?
  • What was your thought process when navigating through cultural differences?
  • Did you encounter resistance in a team setting? How did you address the situation?
  • What cultural insights did you gain in the end?

After you choose your story, make sure to explain all the relevant details of the experience- the situation/challenge (including 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 cultural adaptability and made you a better team player?)

In the following example, a Brazilian candidate is reflecting on his experience of working with Germans when he faced work ethics differences in Brazil and Germany.

Example: “His reaction shocked me because emailing minutes of meeting with supervisors copied has been natural to me. We Brazilians usually avoid direct conflict, and sometimes, even if we don’t agree with something, we say, “I’ll do that”, meaning we will actually never do that. Unless there are a written commitment and a supervisor on the loop, verbal agreements do not mean much".

This incident taught me to value my word more and think twice before committing to something.

Essay 3: What are your post ISB career plans and how will your past experiences and the Post Graduate Programme in Management (PGP) contribute to taking you there?(300 words maximum)

Though worded differently, this question is similar to last year’s goals question. This is a straightforward goal question that 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 ISB 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. Explain your rationale behind each career move. 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 post-MBA and long term (5 - 6 years after MBA) goals. Even though the question doesn’t ask about long term goals, you may want to discuss it briefly. 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 on 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 the 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.

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 follow the structure below:

  • Your career history (100 -130 words)
  • Short term Long term goals (70-100 words)
  • The connection between ISB’s resources and your goals (100 words)

Example: “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.”

Note: For more information on ‘Goals Essay’ click here.

For 'Sample Goals Essay’, click here.

Essay 4 (Optional): Please use this space to explain any career breaks / provide any other information not covered elsewhere in the application that could significantly impact your candidature at ISB.(200 words maximum)

Note: It is not necessary to write this essay. Please use this space only if there is something really significant that you would like us to know.

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 at ISB and your future career.

As directed in the essay prompt, you may 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.

Example: 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.

Click here for article on 'Optional Essay'

Click here for 'Sample Optional  Essay'


  • Make sure that all the four essays should read like four different chapters of your unique story rather than solitary pieces. Also, when choosing your stories, make sure you maintain a balance between your professional and personal stories that showcases your well-rounded candidacy.
  • Want some help in telling your memorable stories in only 200 words, read my article:

For Business School Application Essays- ‘Less is More’, click here.

Want to learn about the experiences of an applicant who was accepted into the PGP program of  2015-16, click here.

Good luck with your Round 1 applications.

For questions, email me at

















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