INSEAD Essay Questions Analysis 2012-2013

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INSEAD's essay questions cover a good deal of ground, giving candidates ample opportunity to discuss a variety of topics related to  their interests and experiences. The first two “job essays” ask for a factual account of one’s current position (or lack thereof) and career progression, while the remaining five call for  short reflections and discussion of topics that MBA appliance are used to. With careful thought and planning, you can  use these  seven essays to present your  well rounded personality.

INSEAD's  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." Therefore,when narrating your stories, make sure they bring out these traits along with other qualities.

Job Description Essays

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 budget, clients/ products and results achieved. (250 words maximum)

INSEAD’s first question requests a snapshot of the applicant’s career at present. Keeping in mind that this will be the Ad Com’s introduction to your materials, you might also provide the context necessary for the reader to understand your place within the organizational structure and the work that occupies your days. Please stay focused  on the details of your present job and avoid drifting  away to your greatest  achievements. You will get opportunity to do that in  other questions.

 Essay 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 question can be challenging and makes you wonder how can I give " full description" of my professional career in just 250 words. Not only that, you are also required to be specific about your next step if you were to remain in your present job. Hence brevity is the key here. Your best bet is to  focus on  each full-time position you’ve held ,explain the reasons behind each move , increases and/or changes in responsibility , and  the lessons/ skills  learned. Remember to use your words as precisely as you can.

Essay 3: If you are currently not working, what are you doing and what do you plan to do until you start the MBA programme? (250 words maximum)

This question shows that  INSEAD is not excluding unemployed candidates from admission, if they are utilizing their time productively. So INSEAD provides them  an opportunity to advocate their case  and discuss the new skills they are learning , the  volunteer work they are involved in,  any conferences and professional development workshops they are attending , and other efforts they are making to secure short-term employment before MBA. This would validate their growth even during the  time they are unemployed..

Personal Essays

Personal Essay 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. (600 words maximum)

This question requires you to do lot of introspection. It is important to address all parts of the prompt:  strengths, weaknesses , and main factors responsible for your personal development. However, it’s also in your best interest to focus as much as possible on the positive. So you may want to begin  with two or three positive qualities and then comment on one or two weaknesses . Do not forget to substantiate your personal traits with real- life examples .This question gives applicants freedom  to select examples from your personal, professional or extracurricular life , so try to select your examples with a view  to presenting a balanced picture of your personality.

You may select either of the following  two methods for discussing strengths or weaknesses:

a)      Make statements about your character and back them up with  example as 'evidences' of your statements.

b)      Find a single story ( a work project , for example) that will illustrate all of your strengths, and, if possible, weaknesses .

When discussing your weaknesses, make sure to explain how they have  affected you and what you are doing now to rectify them. If relevant, mention which B-school resources can help you get over these weaknesses

Note that for each personal characteristic introduced, you should reflect on the factors that have influenced  your personality.


"The stories of hardships faced by my father during his childhood and later his success ingrained in me the importance of hard-work and sustaining through challenges."

 Personal Essay 2: Describe what you believe to be your two most substantial accomplishments to date (if possible specify one personal and one professional), explaining why you view them as such. (400 words maximum)

This is a  straightforward question that clearly stipulates INSEAD's requirement of one personal and one professional accomplishment. Instead of providing a laundry list of accomplishments weave one  story around your accomplishment in personal life and another one around your professional life. Let your life experience tell the story of your accomplishments.

Also, these accomplishments should tie in to your "strengths" essay.  That is, they should  illustrate the "strengths" you have already discussed in your first essay.

Your accomplishment story should have the four components: the challenge, the achievement, the outcome/result, and  the significance. That is, you should explain why this accomplishment is meaningful to you both in terms of the challenges you overcame ,the results you produced, , and the lessons you learned.

Example:( An example of Personal Accomplishment)

"Inter-caste marriages are considered taboo in the conservative Indian society. Therefore  my decision to marry my girl friend Priya, , a girl belonging to higher caste, met with severe opposition."

 Personal Essay 3: Describe a situation taken from your personal or professional life where you failed. Discuss what you learned. (400 words maximum)

To fully address this question, you’ll need to reflect on a life experience when you could not live up to your expectations .You should describe the situation in detail what went wrong and why. Make sure to clearly address the second part of this question and discuss the personal growth that resulted from your  failure/setback. You might also consider closing this essay with a brief comment about how this lesson has benefited you since the time of the initial failure.

Also, while selecting your failure story, make sure you select a situation when  you  faced a setback  despite your sincere efforts . Dot not confuse between a failure and a mistake story because there is a  difference between the two: You are responsible for your mistake, so you need to take ownership for it, whereas external factors are responsible for your failure which means you did you best, but things didn’t work out the way you had planned. However, the experience still taught you life lessons.

Lastly, tell  your  failure story  in such a way that it  presents you in a positive light, revealing your strengths.


"Last year, a similar situation developed, and  despite clear briefing of motives, many teams again showed reluctance to follow the required  measures.  This time , I did not hesitate to warn the management who took proactive steps to steer the errant teams into place. Thus, the single setback that I faced in my professional life taught me valuable team- working skills that I am now practicing successfully." 

6. Personal Essay 4: a) Discuss your short and long term career goals. (300 words maximum) and b) How will studying at INSEAD help you achieve your vision? (250 words maximum)

This is the standard 'goals' essay expecting you to specify your short term and long term goals and INSEAD's role in helping you achieving them. This question has two parts with specific word count. Therefore, you need to be extra careful in adhering to the prescribed  word limit. INSEAD expects you to not only have a clear sense of your goals but also of their connection to INSEAD's offerings. So you should have a thorough knowledge of the school’s curriculum, faculty, special programs and extracurricular activities, and explain how you will use them to achieve your goals.

Additionally, even though the prompt doesn't ask you about your contribution, you may throw in a sentence about the value you will add to the school (if space permits).


"I am confident that with my academic potential, team-working abilities, innovative spirit,  leadership skills , and global outlook I will  add significant value to the INSEAD community."

 Personal Essay 5: Please choose one of the following two essay topics:

a) Have you ever experienced culture shock? What insights did you gain? (250 words maximum) or
b) Describe the ways in which a foreigner in your country might experience culture shock. (250 words maximum)

This question is designed to gauge an applicant’s cultural sensitivity and ability to conduct business in an international setting, because INSEAD,  is a highly international program.

a) The first option asks you to recount a trying experience in another country that demanded significant amount of adjustment  resulting in personal growth .

b) The second option asks you to reflect on the unique characteristics of your own culture that might not be acceptable to a visitor.

In both responses, you need to demonstrate cultural flexibility, offering examples/ evidence of your ability to operate well with teams of diverse cultures. Remember to outline the struggles you went through in the process of cultural adjustment, and the lessons you learned in the process.


(An example of culture shock an Indian applicant employed in a Middle East country received )

"I vividly  remember that morning when as usual I went to office canteen for  breakfast and  found  it closed. I was  told that the canteen remains closed in the month of  Ramadan.  I was shocked to learn that even   restaurants don’t serve meals in daytime during Ramadan."

 Optional Essay: Is there anything that you have not mentioned in the above essays that you would like the Admissions Committee to know? (200 words approx.) This essay is optional.

An optional essay is an opportunity for you to give the Ad Com  relevant information that you  could not give  in other essays or other parts of your application. This question is also meant to shine a spotlight on an experience or side of your personality that has  not been revealed in the other parts of your application: essays, recommendation letters and resume.

Even though INSEAD has provided you enough ground to cover about your candidacy, you may still use this essay in a variety of ways to further strengthen your candidacy. First, you may  use this question to reveal your non-professional side. For example, if you have significant extracurricular accomplishments (sports, music, writing, painting etc.) or a community welfare activity that you initiated or led, you should  share those stories. You can also use optional essay  to address a weakness in your profile, like low GPA or GMAT , a gap in your job history, or your inability to get a recommendation from your current supervisor.


"The private tutoring job that I had to take up to support mine and my sister's education required me to spend 30 hours/ week and left me with hardly any time to focus on my studies. This  eventually ended up  pulling  down my grades to 70%."













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