Communication is key for INSEAD – in no small part because it is a key factor that their recruiters look for. Hence the INSEAD application elicits your communication effectiveness holistically. First, INSEAD asks you to write reflective essays – and to do so succinctly. Balancing this emphasis on written communication is a new VIDEO COMPONENT – the adcom wants to see you communicate in a spoken, interpersonal setup as well. Ultimately, verbal acuity really matters in the INSEAD program because the ability to comprehend, synthesize, communicate, and act on complex ideas across cultures is central to global leadership.
Motivation is the second driving interest of the INSEAD adcom. The application form terms its three essays “Motivation Essays.” Keep that word “motivation” in clear focus as you draft those essays; it indicates that you should express not just what you’ve done but why – what drives you; what propels your choices, decisions, and actions. These written essays are the first “getting to know you” element. Later, upon submitting, you’ll address further questions sent to you by the adcom, likely addressing more professional aspects of your candidacy and your interest in the program – and, again, your motivation for applying. Taken together in both form and content, the written and video components should portray both sophisticated communication abilities and self-awareness of who you are and what inspires you, moves you, propels you forward.
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)
This question essentially gets to a key point: how well do you know yourself, and are you able to openly acknowledge your motivations and shortcomings? (Perhaps one could interpret it as “Are you mature?”) Note that “strengths” and “weaknesses” are plural – and they should be personal, not professional, characteristics. A personal weakness such as “impatience with detail” could certainly have professional impact, but don’t cite a weakness that is purely work-related.
I suggest 2-3 strengths and 1-2 weaknesses. Provide examples for all of them – these examples can vary in length – sometimes a sentence will suffice. If you can choose one anecdote that reveals both a strengths and a weakness, it’s efficient with space and can strengthen the essay. Also, try to bring in anecdotes/examples from outside work and from work – not all work, and not all non-work.
The main formative factors you choose to cite may be related to and integrated with the strengths/weaknesses; in addition, you can discuss key elements of your background that differentiate or distinguish you and are truly key to your personal development.
(NOTE: There is potential for some overlap in this essay with Essay 2, so look at both questions together and organize content before writing them.)
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 2 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, 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 will be very powerful if it’s insightful.
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 – insight is what’s important, not something seemingly “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 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.
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.
After you hit the “submit” button on the application, you will receive on your dashboard 4 randomly selected, recorded questions within one hour (a link will also be emailed to you). These questions will not be the same for all applicants. You’ll have a week to complete this component, and after you do so your application will be deemed complete. This component will likely be a place to discuss your familiarity and fit with INSEAD and your motivation for applying – though don’t necessarily expect a “why INSEAD” question – it may not be that direct. In addition, it will be a place to portray your international perspective – another key interest of the adcom. Finally, presentation matters. If they only wanted the content, presumably they would have had written questions. Plan and find that perfect balance – be yourself, but be professional. Polished, but not slick or contrived. This “perfect balance” will be different for different people, depending on their culture, their personality, their profession. To prepare, if you haven’t had any formal training in presentations or communication, it would be a good idea to try some self-videos with random questions and analyze them, looking as well as listening.
***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with individual programs to verify the essay questions, instructions and deadlines.***
If you would like professional guidance with your INSEAD application, check out Accepted’s MBA essay editing and MBA admissions consulting or our MBA Application Packages, which include advising, editing, interview coaching, and a resume edit for the INSEAD application.
Cindy Tokumitsu has advised hundreds of successful applicants, helping them gain acceptance to top MBA and EMBA programs in her 15+ years with Accepted. She would love to help you too. Want Cindy to help you get Accepted to INSEAD? Click here to get in touch!