INSEAD Essay Topic Analysis 2017-2018
Now that the online application for INSEAD’s January 2018 intake is live—and the INSEAD essay topics for 2017-2018 have been released—we wanted to follow up with some commentary for business school applicants targeting the school this season.
INSEAD has maintained the four Job Description essays and three Motivation Essays for their application. Further, the school simply requests a “short answer” rather than specifying a word limit for these responses, giving applicants a fair amount of leeway (and building in a test of the candidate’s judgment) with this portion of the application. In the past, word limits for these short answers have ranged from 250 to 350 words. Meanwhile, the wording of the program’s three remaining Motivation Essays remains unchanged from last season. INSEAD cut the question about cultural impact, but added a video component after submitting the application. This component is mandatory in order for one’s application to be considered complete. The adcom is giving applicants one week after the relevant application deadline for the completion of the video portion. Note from the adcom: “We are keen on getting to know you better and believe that through a video you can come to life, so be spontaneous, be creative and be yourself! We look forward to virtually meeting you!”
Let’s take a closer look at each of the prompts:
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 budget, clients/products and results achieved. (short answer)
While the essay sections of many MBA applications begin by addressing the overall progression of the applicant’s career up to this point, INSEAD’s first question requests a snapshot of the applicant’s career at this moment. Even if you have held a number of positions within the same organization, it’s best to maintain focus on your current position and responsibilities, as per the instructions. Keeping in mind that this will be the adcom’s introduction to your application materials, you might also provide the context necessary for the reader to understand your place within your company’s organizational structure and the work that occupies your days. While there is some room to talk about “results achieved,” there’s no need to get bogged down in the specifics of certain projects or engagements – an effective response to this question will be composed of fairly general comments that are focused on the present. It is fine to incorporate some more specific information about your career’s “greatest hits” later when responding to other questions.
Job Essay 2: What would be your next step in terms of position if you were to remain in the same company? (short answer)
By focusing on what the applicant’s next logical step would be in their current organization (i.e. without an MBA), the admissions committee aims to get a sense of the candidate’s current professional momentum. Applicants will ideally be able to outline a next step that would entail increased responsibility, whether it be around project size and complexity, employees managed, or P&L. Candidates might also mention an estimated timeline for promotion into this position, if applicable. Because the information requested by this item is more limited than the other short answers in this section, applicants will likely be able to provide a complete answer in 100-150 words.
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)
This is a tall order for a “short answer” essay, so brevity and efficient use of language will be critical here. The adcom is looking for an applicant who can present his or her career as a coherent whole, and demonstrate that he or she has been on an upward trajectory since the outset. While it would be ideal for you to include some comments on lessons learned and skills gained over the course of your career, the primary focus should be touching upon each full-time post you’ve held, explaining the reasons behind each move you’ve made, and commenting on increases and changes in responsibility.
Job Essay 4: Discuss your short and long term career aspirations with or without an MBA from INSEAD. (short answer)
INSEAD poses a fairly straightforward career goals essay question, asking applicants to discuss both their short- and long-term career plans. The “with or without an MBA from INSEAD” is an interesting twist, and seems to hint that the school is looking for candidates who are so determined to accomplish their professional objectives that they will work toward them whether or not they gain admission to their program. That said, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re making an informed decision in applying and that an MBA is an essential next step along your career path. We, therefore, recommend that applicants assume that an MBA will factor into their immediate career plans, whether it’s from INSEAD or another leading program.
Candidates will want to identify the position that they hope to hold immediately after graduating from an MBA program, naming both a job title and 1-2 organizations for which they would most like to work. They will then want to discuss their longer-range 5-10 year plan, explaining not just what role they hope to occupy but also commenting on the broader impact they hope to have in this position. Space permitting, it would also make sense to touch on the ways an MBA would facilitate progress toward these goals, and the factors that make INSEAD an especially good next step. To underscore this fit, it would make sense to name some curricular or programmatic offerings that are relevant to these objectives. Conducting thorough research on the program — whether by visiting campus or attending an info sessions, speaking with students and alumni, or reading the Clear Admit School Guide to INSEAD — will help you achieve maximum impact with this brief response.
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.
This is the sixth year that INSEAD has included a question affording unemployed applicants the space to explain their situation, as well as a component that includes applicants who are planning to take a break of more than two months between the time they submit their applications and the time they would enter INSEAD’s program. In either scenario, applicants will do well to demonstrate that they are (or, in the case of those taking a leave, will be) actively developing skills, forging connections, and making progress toward their career goals. This essay is a great place to discuss increased involvement in volunteer work, attendance at conferences and professional development workshops, efforts to secure short-term pre-MBA employment, and other plans for making the most of one’s time between applying and beginning the program at INSEAD.
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. (approx. 500 words)
This is a fairly open-ended question that essentially asks the applicant to introduce him or herself to the admissions reader, delving past the facts of one’s job and hobbies into a deeper discussion of the candidate’s personality and values. That said, there is still an opening to provide illustrative examples that show how these qualities manifest in one’s day–to-day life. Applicants should of course note that this prompt also asks them to discuss formative past experiences that have shaped who the applicant is today, giving them plenty to do with the 500 word allotment for this response.
It’s important to address the question in full when responding to this sort of essay, but it’s also in one’s best interest to focus as much as possible on the positive. This is a akin to describing oneself to a new friend or on a first date: you do want to provide a heads up about any salient shortcomings you’re aware of, but want to spend most of your time selling your strengths (i.e. the reasons that someone might want to befriend/date/admit you). With this in mind, you might lead off with two or three positive qualities, sharing brief examples of that these characteristics have enabled you to accomplish or how they’ve positioned you to help others. When discussing these kinds of personal qualities, it’s ideal to back up every statement about your character with a brief example to really “prove” that you possess the quality in question. By doing so, you’re effectively “showing” rather than “telling” the reader how your personality and values inform your behavior (and potential contribution to the INSEAD MBA program). After illustrating your strengths, you’ll then want to comment on one or two weaknesses – ideally ones that you’ve already taken steps to address.
Note that this response also calls for the candidate to reflect on the forces that have shaped his or her personal development; commentary on this topic could be built into the discussion of each personal characteristic introduced — or in an introduction or conclusion if there are themes that run throughout your examples. INSEAD’s framework gives applicants free rein to choose personal, professional or extracurricular subjects, and applicants would do well to select examples with an eye for presenting a balanced picture of their interests, skills, and experiences.
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)
This response — which asks applicants to detail (1) their proudest achievement, (2) a potentially unrelated failure, (3) the impact both experiences had on their interpersonal relationships, and (4) the lessons they learned from each — requires one to cover quite a bit of ground in just 400 words. In detailing both items 1 and 2, applicants will need to provide sufficient context for a reader to readily understand the nature of the situation or project, the stakes involved, and the outcome. Between the need to provide background and the sheer volume of information being requested, this is a truly challenging prompt to address in just 400 words.
Applicants will need to be thoughtful about how they organize this essay. If discussing unrelated examples, we recommend treating the achievement and failure within two 200-word mini-responses to ensure that they fully address each element of the question. Or, if you experienced an achievement and a failure (not necessarily in that order) in the course of a single project or engagement, a chronological narrative may be more natural.
Candidates should note that both the accomplishment and failure can be drawn from the professional or personal realms, leaving a fair amount of leeway in the subjects they select. Of course, applicants should think strategically about the examples that will add the most value to their files; given how little room there is to detail professional accomplishments in the job essays, for example, applicants may find that a workplace success of which they’re proud is a good choice for this response.
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)
This essay requests an inventory of the applicant’s significant past and present involvements and hobbies, as well as a statement about how these have been worthwhile and rewarding. Given the vast scope of this question, it’s probably helpful to think through some parameters for the activities one might include — particularly for well-rounded applicants who have a number of hobbies, interests, and involvements. In this context, 3+ hours per week for at least three months is probably a reasonable gauge for a “significant” involvement. While the prompt doesn’t specify a time limit, it’s likely that one’s activities since beginning college will be of interest to the admissions committee, though current involvements should likely take precedence over older ones if the word count becomes an issue.
There’s one other strategic considerations to bear in mind when selecting what to highlight here: social or community-based involvements are generally better suited to this essay than solo involvements (e.g. reading, working out, watching movies). Business school requires a high degree of collaboration and engagement, so admissions committees seek applicants who are naturally inclined to engage others in their leisure time. For this reason, training for races with a running club will go over better than saying you spend several hours alone at the gym each week.
Once you’ve selected which activities to highlight, the most effective response to this essay will likely be a straightforward one, describing the nature and extent of one’s involvements outside of work and what kind of enjoyment or enrichment the applicant derives from each.
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)
This is a rather openly worded optional essay, suggesting that applicants are free to share any information that they feel would add value to their file (in addition, of course, to explaining extenuating circumstances or acknowledging weaknesses in their applications). That said, INSEAD’s essays themselves cover a fair amount of ground, so candidates would do well to consider whether what they’re sharing in this essay could have been covered in response to one of the program’s required prompts.
Clear Admit Resources
Thanks for reading our analysis of this year’s INSEAD essay topics! As you work on your INSEAD MBA essays and application, we encourage you to consider all of Clear Admit’s offerings:
Posted in: Essay Topic Analysis, Essays
Thank you for these tips. I'm struggling to find content for the optional essay.
Should I use this space to justify my relatively weak GMAT and emphasize my value in multiple years of international exposure in an unique industry?
I doubt it would be a disadvantage to leave it blank. On the other hand, it might even be a disadvantage to force something in there, am I correct?
First of all - for others to know this - no reason to "find content" for the optional. It's completely optional and only clarification and explanation info should go there.
"emphasize my value in multiple years of international exposure in an unique industry" - this is a perfect example of what not to put in there. It would really piss them off because you are given a whole set of job essays, 3 letters of recommendation and your CV to get this across.
While INSEAD doesn't really obsess about the GMAT in that the average is a bit low vis a vis US schools I have heard them say that the GMAT can always be retaken and so, they are a little less forgiving for this reason.
Also, they are extremely concerned about making sure you can "hit the ground running" as it is a one-year program and you must have the quant abilities to keep up with the breakneck speed of things. So if the GMAT is low, you need to use the optional essay to assure them you got this.
One of my current client has a poor test score however he is a CFA - doing MBAMath as well - and we are going to use the optional essay to address the test score and call attention to his good math grades in a sea of otherwise not awesome grades.
"You don't often come across people so perceptive and empathetic." - EM, NYC