Tuesday Tips – INSEAD Essay Tips

Through five essays that span both career and personal attributes INSEAD seeks to understand who you are as a person, and what you have demonstrated in your career. Two campuses, multiple degree options and a diverse and international class set INSEAD apart from its competitors. INSEAD is an international MBA that has a compelling reputation within the US, offering excellent recruiting opportunities throughout the world.

INSEAD focuses separately on the job and personal portion of your MBA application essays, seeking to understand candidate’s roles in detail and career progress before delving into the personal aspect. Most MBA programs combine all aspects of your career goals trajectory into one essay. INSEAD provides three separate opportunities to discuss your current job, past experiences and future goals. Though career is covered in three essays rather than one, you should make sure that the set works coherently together. As INSEAD states on the website: “We evaluate each applicant against four central criteria: leadership potential and work experience; academic capacity; international motivation; and ability to contribute to the INSEAD experience.”

Job Essays
1. Please give a detailed description of your job, including nature of work, major responsibilities; and, where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, number of clients/products and results achieved. (250 words)

This question should focus entirely on your current work situation. Though you will want to provide relevant context for your current role, make sure you are devoting most of the essay to describing the details of your day-to-day responsibilities and oversight. If you are lighter on supervising others or managing a budget, you have the opportunity highlight some key responsibilities and results.

2. Please give us a full description of your career since graduating from university. If you were to remain with your present employer, what would be your next step in terms of position? (250 words)

This is essentially a walk through of your resume using the essay format to allow you to provide a unifying thread through the narrative. If your past experiences require explanation, this is an opportunity to demonstrate the reasons for any unusual choices you have made, and how your past experiences have combined to provide you with your current skill set. If you have a fairly straightforward career path you can take the opportunity to comment on some of the learnings from each position and where you would go next should you stay with your job.

Personal Essays
1. Give a candid description of yourself, 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. (400 words approx.)

Strengths and weaknesses are a common topic for MBA applications. This is a great opportunity to highlight some of your skills and attributes that demonstrate leadership, teamwork or other qualities of a future business leader. Demonstrating self-awareness and the ability to assess your own performance will be impressive. Providing an example for each strength or weakness you describe will be most helpful to provide solid evidence.

When describing weaknesses you will want to focus on those weaknesses that you have taken solid steps to address, or that have been a route to learning more about yourself. Often strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin, in which case you can even tie your key weaknesses to your key strengths. Because it is often difficult to write about one’s weaknesses this is an especially important essay to share with others to seek feedback on tone and impact.

2. Describe what you believe to be your two most substantial accomplishments to date, explaining why you view them as such. (400 words approx.)

Similar to the HBS question, this is an opportunity to describe two of your most important accomplishments. While impressive accomplishments are great and will certainly enhance your overall application, you should pay equal attention to explaining why these accomplishments are valuable to you. If you concisely explain the accomplishment and how you were able to bring it to fruition, you will have room to provide the context for your personal pride in the accomplishment.

3. Describe a situation taken from school, business, civil or military life, where you did not meet your personal objectives, and discuss briefly the effect. (250 words approx.)

Modeled after the failure or mistake essay, this prompt requires you to discuss a situation that was disappointing to you. The most important aspect of this essay is to demonstrate that you are able to learn and grow as a result of a mistake. Everyone faces disappointment; it’s how you react that determines your effectiveness in an organization.

A strong essay will include a clear and concise description of the situation; describe your objectives, and how you did not meet them. Then you should devote some space to discussing what your reaction was and how you moved forward. Demonstrating that you learned something from the situation will be important, and either applying that lesson to the current situation or a subsequent experience would be an excellent way to wrap up the essay.

4. Discuss your career goals. What skills do you expect to gain from studying at INSEAD and how will they contribute to your professional career. (500 words approx.)

In some ways this is a continuation of the first two essay questions. Here you should make a case for why an MBA is the appropriate next step in your career and life, and why INSEAD is the right place to do it. You already laid the groundwork on where you have been in essay 2, and where you are right now in essay 1, and this essay should be part of the overall career trajectory.

INSEAD is not rigid about the experience level of MBA candidates, but does ask that you know why you are seeking an MBA. Your future career goals should flow logically from where you have been in your career and your education at INSEAD. If you are confident about where you are going the admissions committee will be more confident about your ability to take advantage of the unique MBA experience.

5. Please choose one of the following two essay topics:
a) Have you ever experienced culture shock? What did it mean to you? (250 words approx.), or
b) What would you say to a foreigner moving to your home country? (250 words approx.)

Both of these essay choices seek a response that will demonstrate your awareness of the world outside your home country. Either essay offers an opportunity to highlight any international or cross culture exposure you have had. You will want to demonstrate cultural sensitivity, but also an awareness of the real differences between people and nationalities.

Culture shock can be a result of a new country, an unfamiliar group of people, or even a novel situation. Because INSEAD is such an international community it would be best to use this opportunity to discuss your awareness of other cultures and people. Choose an example that is easy to understand, and then spend some time explaining why you felt the culture shock and what it signified to you.

Option b allows you to act as host in your own country, describing the customs and challenges that may await a foreign visitor. This essay can demonstrate your skills of observation and empathy as you step into a strangers shoes and evaluate your own culture and values.

Whether you choose option a or b, it will be important to make sure you are highlighting your ability to conduct business across cultures. As a highly international program INSEAD will want to see demonstrated international savvy.
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