INSEAD continues to buck a trend – whereas many b-school applications have recently leaned toward “minimalist” essays and/or just require one, INSEAD still asks you to write several thought-provoking and challenging essays. In the program with perhaps the most intensive global focus, verbal acuity matters, because the ability to reflect on, synthesize, actualize, and communicate complex ideas across cultures is central to global leadership.
One way INSEAD has followed a trend, however, is by removing the previous job description essays and making them short-answer questions in the application. That leaves what they term “Motivation Essays.” Keep that word “motivation” in the forefront of your mind as you draft those essays; the concept should appear directly or indirectly in each. It means that the adcom wants to know what drives you; what propels your choices, decisions, and actions.
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)
For a question like this I recommend two strengths and one weakness. If you can choose one anecdote that reveals both the strengths and the weakness, it’s efficient with space and can strengthen the essay. Don’t forget to discuss how these qualities influenced your personal development. For more on INSEAD 1 and writing about weaknesses, please see this video:
A word on weaknesses. Be honest without going overboard. Don’t make up a phony weakness. I attended an HBS info session a few years ago. One of the alumni said that he discussed a “phony weakness” in his essays (required for HBS that year), and his interviewer focused right on it, and basically said, “Come on. What’s a real weakness?” The applicant had to get real in a hurry. Take advantage of the essay: Give it some thought and respond with the benefit of that reflection. For more information, please see “Flaws Make Your Real.”
At an AIGAC conference a couple of years ago one of the adcom members remembered that an applicant in response to a similar question had listed his weakness as “pitching new ideas in a meeting.” The adcom member felt that the applicant was specific, real, and showed self-awareness by revealing this flaw. In fact, by demonstrating these qualities in addition to the requested weakness that he was working on, the applicant actually enhanced his chances of acceptance with his response.
Don’t write about “weakness in pitching new ideas in meetings” as your flaw just because you saw it here. It will become the lame, stale example everyone uses. However, you all have weakness. Just be thoughtful enough and honest enough to reveal yours.
(NOTE: There is potential for duplication in this essay with Essay 2, so look at both questions together and organize content before writing them so that you eliminate or at least minimize overlap.)
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)
With only 400 words to describe two significant experiences, and the specified discussion points, you need to use stories that can be told without a lot of background information. And keep in mind Essay 1 – don’t use stories that reflect exactly the same messages. “Achievement of which you are most proud” is a high bar, and it can be from either work or outside of work. It also should be something that reveals qualities or attributes about you that are positive and relevant. I suggest using something from the last two to three years. Luckily you don’t have to write about the failure about which you are most ashamed… Discuss a failure that is specific, fairly recent (but it doesn’t have to be yesterday), and meaty enough to have rattled you a bit. Again, work or non-work topic is fine.
In discussing what you learned from the experiences and how they impacted your relationships, identify one specific thing for each point for each story – there isn’t room for more. And there isn’t need for more, because one can be very powerful if it’s insightful.
3. Tell us about an experience where you were significantly impacted by cultural diversity, in a positive or negative way. (approximately 300 words)
In choosing your topic story, think about “impact” – often people describe being surprised or emotionally challenged by encountering new or different cultures, but that’s not enough to make this a good essay. Impact is what happens after the initial response: how did the experience change your behavior, or change your perception, or inspire you to learn something, or cause you to reconsider beliefs/ideas – these are impacts.
Narrate the story succinctly, vividly portraying the impact on you. The adcom wants to see that you are thoughtful, resourceful, and responsive in encountering cultural diversity, because it is a key attribute of their program.
4. 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)
Simply discuss the range of activities you participate (or have participated) in – those that are major passions, and those that are “just fun” – clarifying their relative role and importance in your life. Be straightforward in how they enriched you – no need to strive for something “different” that no one has ever felt or experienced before…. Imagine you are meeting with clients or superiors – between the business dealings (and perhaps over a drink); you and they might chat about non-work interests – approach this essay like such a conversation. Not quite as casual as with a peer, but still conversational, straightforward, and intended to connect on a person-to-person level.
Optional 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)
Use the optional essay to explain anything that needs explaining and/or to give them one more reason to accept you. DON’T use it for a superficial summary, a restatement of your other essays, or anything similarly boring and trite. If you choose to write it, produce a tight, focused essay revealing something you haven’t yet discussed.
INSEAD Application Deadlines for September 2016 Intake:
INSEAD Application Deadlines for January 2017 Intake:
By Cindy Tokumitsu, author and co-author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports, including Why MBA and Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with Accepted.com.