This application season, INSEAD has made almost no changes to its essay approach and prompts. The admissions committee is posing the same career-related short-answer questions, with just one notable tweak. Whereas last year, INSEAD asked candidates to share their short- and long-term career goals “with or without” an MBA from the school, this time, it is interested in hearing only the “with” option, having deleted “or without” from the prompt. Applicants must still submit three motivation essays and complete a video component, which involves answering four questions as four separate one-minute video recordings. The program does not share in advance what those four questions are or the topics they cover, though we imagine one is likely some variation of a “why INSEAD?” query. In this analysis, we offer our advice on responding to INSEAD’s suite of short-answer and essay questions.
Job Description 1: Briefly summarise your current (or most recent) job, including the nature of work, major responsibilities, and where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, clients/products and results achieved. (short answer)
Job Description 2: What would be your next step in terms of position if you were to remain in the same company? (short answer)
Job Description 3: Please give a full description of your career since graduating from university. Describe your career path with the rationale behind your choices. (short answer)
Job Description 4: Discuss your short and long term career aspirations with an MBA from INSEAD. (short answer)
For the school’s job-related short-answer questions (essentially mini essays), we encourage you to start by very carefully parsing exactly what data the school requests for each. Together, these four prompts cover many of the elements seen in a traditional personal statement essay, including info about one’s career to date, interest in the school, and professional goals. However, the topics are clearly separated among individual submissions rather than covered in a cohesive single essay, and INSEAD also asks applicants to comment on their expected progression within their current firm were they to remain there rather than entering business school.
The first prompt requires that you outline roughly six different aspects of your current or most recent position. Be sure that you address each of the elements the school lists, and do not skip any just because you would rather write more about some than others. You may also want to consider providing a very brief description of your company or industry, if the nature of either might not be readily clear to an admissions reader. For the second question, your response should be fairly straightforward. If your firm has a clearly defined management hierarchy in which one position leads directly to a higher one—and you would be interested in adhering to that system—you simply need to explain this and perhaps offer a short description of the new responsibilities your next position would entail. If your company does not have such an arrangement or you would want to move in a different direction, simply explain what your preferred next role would be and the duties involved.
The third prompt is rather self-explanatory with respect to detailing the various stages of your career to date, but do not be remiss in responding to the “rationale” and “choices” aspects of the query. The school wants to know that your progression has not been passive, with your simply accepting the next good thing to come along, but rather that you have made thoughtful decisions with clear motivations and intentions behind them. For the fourth question, you will need to present your professional goals within the context of an INSEAD MBA education. Do your research on the school to identify specific resources it offers that relate directly to the skills and experiences you need to be successful in your career, thereby illustrating how INSEAD would help you achieve your aims. Above all, be sure to show determination and direction—that you are focused firmly on your intended end points and will not be easily deterred.
For all your job description responses, avoid using any acronyms or abbreviations that would not be easily recognizable to most people. Using shortcuts (in the form of abbreviations/acronyms) and skipping basic contextual information could make your answers less understandable and therefore less compelling and useful to an admissions reader, so do yourself a favor by more completely depicting your situation. Also, consider framing your responses to these rather straightforward queries in a narrative format to make them more interesting to the admissions reader, rather than simply outlining the basic information. Strive to incorporate a sense of your personality and individuality into your submissions.
As we have noted, these questions cover many elements of a traditional personal statement, so we encourage you to download a free copy of our mbaMission Personal Statement Guide . In this complimentary publication, we provide a detailed discussion of how to approach such queries and craft effective responses, along with multiple illustrative examples.
Optional Job Essay: If you are currently not working or if you plan to leave your current employer more than 2 months before the programme starts, please explain your activities and occupations between leaving your job and the start of the programme.
With this essay, INSEAD hopes to see signs of your interest in ongoing self-improvement, knowledge or experience collection, and/or giving back. Whether you are choosing to leave your job a few months before the beginning of the MBA program or are asked to do so by your employer, simply explain what you expect do and gain during the interim. The admissions committee wants to know that you are the kind of person who takes advantage of opportunities and to understand what kinds of opportunities appeal to you. For example, perhaps you plan to complete a few quantitative courses to be better equipped to hit the ground running in your related MBA classes, or perhaps you want to spend some time with distant family members or volunteering in your community because you know that your availability to do so will be limited when you are in school, and you want to maintain those important connections. Maybe you want to travel to improve your language ability in a more immersive environment before coming to INSEAD, given the importance of this skill in the school’s program. Or you might be arrange informational interviews, job-shadowing opportunities, and/or unpaid internships, which could help in various ways with recruiting and job selection. Whatever your goals and plans, clearly convey how you anticipate your experience(s) to add to or change your character, enhance your skill set, and/or increase your understanding of yourself or others—all of which are valuable in business school.
Motivation Essay 1: Give a candid description of yourself (who are you 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).
Although INSEAD’s request for “main factors … which have influenced your development” comes in the latter half of this essay prompt, we feel you should actually provide this context for your formative experiences before discussing the strengths and weaknesses you derived from them, because showing a clear cause-and-effect relationship between the two is important. The school asks that you offer examples “when necessary,” but your essay will be strongest if you present anecdotes to illustrate and support all your statements. Still, your essay should not end up being a hodgepodge of unconnected anecdotes that reveal strengths. Instead, focus on two or three strengths and one or two weaknesses in the mere 500 words allotted.
As always, be honest about your strengths (do not try to tell the committee what you think it wants to hear; truthfully describe who you legitimately are) and especially about your weaknesses—this is vital. Transparent or disingenuous statements will not fool or convince anyone and will only reveal you as someone incapable of critical self-evaluation.
Motivation Essay 2: Describe the achievement of which you are most proud and explain why. In addition, describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiences impact your relationships with others? Comment on what you learned (approximately 400 words).
For this essay, you will need to offer two anecdotes that reveal different sides of you as an applicant, describing a high moment from your life and a low moment. Because the school also asks you to address how these incidents subsequently influenced your interactions with others and what lessons they taught you, you must identify stories that not only involve a significant incident but also affected you personally in a meaningful and long-lasting way. These elements of your essay are just as important as the accomplishment and the failure you choose to share; your unique thoughts can differentiate you from other applicants, and showing that you recognize how these incidents changed you and your relations with others demonstrates your self-awareness and capacity for growth. Steer clear of trite and clichéd statements about your takeaways, and really reflect on these situations to uncover your deeper reactions and impressions. For example, everyone gains some level of resiliency from a failure, so you must offer something less common and more compelling and personal.
Be aware that the best failure essays are often those that show reasoned optimism and tremendous momentum toward a goal—a goal that is ultimately derailed. In most cases, you will need to show that you were emotionally invested in your project/experience, which will enable the reader to connect with your story and vicariously experience your disappointment. If you were not invested at all, it is hardly credible to discuss the experience as a failure or learning experience.
Motivation Essay 3: 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)
Although stereotypes about the top MBA programs abound—this school wants consultants, that school is for marketing professionals, this other one is for techies and entrepreneurs—the truth is that they all want a diverse incoming class, full of people with various strengths and experiences that they can share with one another for the good of all. Discussing how you choose to spend your free time—explaining why your chosen activities are important to you and what you derive from them—provides the admissions committee with a window into your personality outside the workplace and classroom and an idea of what you could contribute to the student body and INSEAD as a whole.
Optional Motivation Essay: Is there anything else that was not covered in your application that you would like to share with the Admissions Committee? (approximately 300 words)
We tend to believe that the best use of the optional essay is to explain confusing or problematic issues in your candidacy, and this prompt offers an opportunity to do just that. So, if you need to, this is your chance to address any questions an admissions officer might have about your profile—a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT or GRE score, a gap in your work experience, etc. We suggest downloading your free copy of the mbaMission Optional Essays Guide , in which we offer detailed advice on deciding whether to take advantage of the optional essay and how best to do so (with multiple sample essays), if needed.
INSEAD does not stipulate that you can only discuss a problem area in this essay, however, so you have some leeway to share anything you think may be pivotal or particularly compelling. We caution you against trying to fill this space simply because you fear that not doing so would somehow count against you. Remember, by submitting an additional essay, you are asking the admissions committee to do extra work on your behalf, so you need to make sure that time is warranted. If you are using the essay to emphasize something that if omitted would render your application incomplete, take this opportunity to write a very brief narrative that reveals this key new aspect of your candidacy.
After submitting your INSEAD application, you will need to respond to four additional questions in video form. You technically have until 48 hours after the deadline for the round in which you apply to complete this element of the process, but we strongly recommend doing so sooner rather than later while your mind is still in application mode and to ensure you do not somehow forget this task or have to rush through it at the end of the allotted time period.
Because all INSEAD interviews are conducted by the school’s alumni, members of the admissions committee have previously had no opportunity to see or meet with candidates; they had to learn all they could simply from the written portions of the application. This video component now gives the committee direct and dynamic insight into applicants’ character and personality, as well as another angle on their language abilities. About the videos, INSEAD says on its site, “The Admissions Committee is interested in obtaining an authentic view of you as a person, to see how you think on your feet and how you convey your ideas.” So when the time comes for you to record your responses, do your best to relax, answer genuinely, and let your true self shine through!
Business schools outside the United States are increasingly popular among MBA hopefuls, and we at mbaMission are proud to offer our latest publications: Program Primers for international b-schools. In these snapshots we discuss core curriculums, elective courses, locations, school facilities, rankings, and more. Click here to download your free copy of the INSEAD Program Primer .
The Next Step—Mastering Your INSEAD Interview: Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. We therefore offer our free Interview Primers to spur you along! Download your free copy of the INSEAD Interview Primer today.
This article first appeared here INSEAD Essay Analysis, 2017–2018 by mbaMission