Alongside INSEAD’s recently released deadlines for the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 intakes, the powerful MBA program has also pushed out the essay topics for the application. Relative to last year, neither the questions nor word limits have changed.
However you choose to attack these essays, the first important step to take is to develop a deep understanding of the program. That requires not only knowing all about INSEAD’s program structure, courses, and professors but also understanding the outcomes and reaching out to alumni for first-hand information. Essentially, you need to identify how INSEAD will fit your particular profile and professional projects, and, in turn, how you may benefit the school.
Job Essay 1: Briefly summarize your current (or most recent) job, including the nature of work, major responsibilities, and where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of the budget, clients/products, and results achieved. (short answer)
This question, like all other job essay questions, should be treated in a direct but thorough manner. If you come from a well known and attractive MBA industry, such as consulting or finance, assume your reader is familiar with your role and keep your answer brief. On the other hand, if you have a less common professional background, you can marginally extend your answer to allow the admissions committee to fully appreciate your function.
Job Essay 2: What would be your next step in terms of position if you were to remain in the same company? (short answer)
Let’s start by noting that you don’t need to use this question to pat INSEAD on the back or discuss what other companies you might work for. The admissions team is just looking to figure out how your role will evolve in your current company if you were to remain. Do you expect a promotion? Increase in the size or number of your projects? Growth in your team? Growth in your team’s impact? There are many questions you might be able to answer here, but do your best to keep your answer concise.
Job Essay 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)
In this essay, INSEAD is looking for candidates who are determined and strategic. They want people who, from an early period, understood what they wanted to do professionally, created a plan to attain it and adjusted that plan according to the circumstances they met. This could be your longest response to a job question, especially if you had multiple position changes or promotions in your history. Whatever’s your particular case, you’ll need to build a cohesive argument that doesn’t just restate your CV, but actually allows the reader to follow your thinking during every transition in your history, since graduation.
Job Essay 4: Discuss your short and long term career aspirations with or without an MBA from INSEAD. (short answer)
INSEAD wants candidates who not only dream big but can also achieve those dreams. This is especially true for short-term goals. If you’re currently an analyst in banking and write about becoming a CFO of a large company coming out of the MBA, the individual reading your application is going to pause. In fact, if the INSEAD admissions team is uncertain about the likelihood of you achieving your stated short-term objective, they will confer with their colleagues in career development. At the same time, you don’t want to aim low, as INSEAD is looking for people who are going to go after professional opportunities that are attractive post-MBA. Therefore, you need to strike a careful balance in your short-term aspirations between exciting and realizable.
For the long-term goal, you can choose something more daring. You do still want to select a role that will be somewhat possible, but, more importantly, it very much needs to be impactful. Moreover, most of the time, it should also be linked to your short-term objectives, thereby illustrating continued growth in your career. However you decide to approach this portion of the question, what you achieve in the future should naturally make an impact on a larger playing field than what you’re able to achieve right out of an MBA.
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.
When it comes to the optional job essay, keep in mind that INSEAD is not seeking to punish candidates who will take a break before the start of their studies, but rather that they would like candidates to have a clear rationale and goals relative to the choices they make. If you fall under the conditions of this question, do make sure to explain why.
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)
INSEAD is searching for people who are well-rounded and introspective. To answer this question, you will need to understand what your key differentiators are, what defaults you have, and how they both connect to form your character.
A good answer, however, doesn’t just include a list of your best and worst qualities, but rather carefully weighs them against the other parts of your application to make sure that you’re hitting all of the important notes for INSEAD, while also including clear examples that illustrate these qualities. INSEAD loves storytelling, and has asked candidates at times to “make [the admissions team] laugh or cry.” So, don’t hesitate to really open up to the reader about your experiences.
Another important tip to keep in mind is that you have to be very careful about choosing weaknesses. While it’s necessary to avoid sounding generic or picking weaknesses that are in fact strengths (the amount of people who include ‘detail-oriented’ as a weakness is staggering!), you cannot choose weaknesses that make you seem like a poor future candidate or those that beg the question: why hasn’t this individual taken steps to correct this weakness?
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. (approx. 400 words)
Achievements and failures are opportunities to illustrate value and growth. As you write this essay, you will need to frame such instances in the context of your effect on others. In other words, this essay is not just about your leadership and development but is also about how your decisions have impacted those around you.
A final requirement of this essay is to highlight what you learned from those two experiences. In each case, INSEAD wants you to be introspective and examine every aspect of the outcome to discover what left the most long-lasting and beneficial mark. If we’re unable to learn from our successes, we can’t repeat or improve on them; and if we’re unable to learn from our mistakes, we only risk repeating them.
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? (approx. 300 words)
Despite INSEAD’s use of the word ‘all’, often you cannot and should not discuss every activity you’ve participated in, as the word limit is rather severe. However, the second part of the question really exposes how you should choose your extracurriculars. The admissions team wants you to write about activities that have taken a profound place in your life, as well as those that have developed qualities that INSEAD finds enticing, such as leadership and teamwork. Moreover, don’t miss the chance to connect your activities with those at INSEAD, if possible. There may be clubs or events that clearly reflect your interests; by mentioning them, you express your willingness to give back to the INSEAD community.
Optional Essay: Is there anything else that was not covered in your application that you would like to share with the Admissions Committee? (approx. 300 words)
INSEAD’s optional essay can be used in two ways: to highlight a strongly positive attribute of your candidacy that you haven’t had the opportunity to write about in previous essays or to explain away an issue in your profile.
Because INSEAD has already asked you for a plethora of stories concerning all aspects of your life, don’t feel pressured to include an additional one within this optional essay. Therefore, be sure to carefully evaluate if an extra essay actually gives your application a competitive advantage in the context of all of its parts.
If, however, you have a significant issue in your profile—for instance, poor university grades—it is absolutely necessary that you explain it within this essay. Otherwise, INSEAD will have no choice but to consider the worst possible cause for the issue, which could significantly impair your chances to move on to the interview process. Supposing you do have something in your profile that may stand out negatively, be sure to address it in a clear and concise manner, while, if possible, illustrating how you have permanently resolved the problem, e.g., acing additional university courses you took during a recent summer to make up for poor previous academic performance.
Since 2016, INSEAD has been using the video interview to gain a more visual and extemporaneous representation of its potential students. Though it’s made up of just 4 short questions, the interview is a compact format in which to judge your communication skills and your ability to think under pressure. Since you will be unable to rerecord any of your answers, barring technical difficulties, take the time to practice, practice, and practice.
The following are INSEAD’s notes on the video interview process:
Shortly after completing your INSEAD MBA online application, you will receive an e-mail notification from Kira Talent with a unique link to complete 4 video interviews. Your link will be also available on your dashboard within the application system.
The video should be seen as a unique opportunity for you to share your passions, your motivations and who you truly are. 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.
The video interviews do not replace face-to-face interviews with Alumni.
Your application will be considered as complete and ready to be reviewed only once we have received your answers to the video interviews. Please complete your video interviews at your earliest convenience and no later than 48 hours after the deadline to which you are applying. We strongly recommend however that you complete this step before the final date to allow yourself some time to prepare for this exercise.
If you need help with your INSEAD MBA strategy or application, be sure to get in touch with our INSEAD admissions experts.