INSEAD Essay Analysis, 2016–2017

INSEAD Essay Analysis, 2016–2017 - mbaMission

*Please note: You are viewing an essay analysis from the 2016-2017 admissions cycle. Click here to view our collection of essay analyses for the current admissions season. 

In recent years, we have seen more and more of the top business schools scaling back the number and/or length of their required application essays, yet INSEAD continues to stick with its longtime format of multiple short essays. The school did reduce the number of  motivation essays by one (from four to three) this year, but this may not do much to shorten the length of time candidates must dedicate to the school’s application, because INSEAD also added a brand new video component involving four additional questions. The program has not revealed what those four questions are or the topics they cover, though we feel that applicants should expect that one will be some variation of a “why INSEAD?” query.  Our thoughts on how to approach INSEAD’s multiple written essay prompts follow.

Job Essay 1: Briefly summarise 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)

Job Essay 2: What would be your next step in terms of position if you were to remain in the same company? (short answer)

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)

Job Essay 4: Discuss your short and long term career aspirations with or without an MBA from INSEAD. (short answer)

For the school’s job essays, we encourage you to start by very carefully parsing exactly what data the school requests for each. Together, these four prompts cover many of the elements seen in a traditional personal statement essay, including info about one’s career to date, interest in the school, and professional goals. However, the topics are clearly separated among individual submissions rather than covered in a cohesive single essay, and INSEAD also asks applicants to comment on their expected progression within their current firm were they to remain there rather than entering business school.

The first job essay requires that you outline roughly six different aspects of your current or most recent position. Be sure that you address each of the elements the school lists, and do not skip any just because you would rather write more about some than others. You may also want to consider providing a very brief description of your company or industry, if the nature of either might not be readily clear to an admissions reader. For the second job essay, your response should be fairly straightforward. If your firm has a firmly defined management hierarchy in which one position leads directly to a higher one—and you would be interested in adhering to that system—you simply need to explain this and perhaps offer a short description of the new responsibilities your next position would entail. If your company does not have such an arrangement or you would want to move in a different direction, simply explain what your preferred next role would be and the duties involved.

For the fourth essay, in addition to presenting your professional goals, you will need to address both options with respect to earning an INSEAD MBA. Do your research on the school’s program to identify specific resources it offers that relate directly to the skills and experiences you need to be successful in your career, thereby illustrating how INSEAD would help you in achieving your aims. As for how you might pursue your goals without an INSEAD MBA, describe some other resources (such as courses, networks, or even volunteer opportunities) that could help you on your path instead. Above all, be sure to show determination and focus—that you are focused firmly on your intended end points and will not be easily deterred.

For all the job description essays, avoid using any acronyms or abbreviations that would not be easily recognizable to most people. Using shortcuts (in the form of abbreviations/acronyms) and skipping basic contextual information could make your essays less understandable and therefore less compelling and useful to an admissions reader, so do yourself a favor by more completely depicting your situation. Also, consider framing your responses to these rather straightforward queries in a narrative format to make them more interesting to the admissions reader, rather than simply outlining the basic information. Strive to incorporate a sense of your personality and individuality into your submissions.

As we have noted, these questions cover many of the same elements seen in a traditional personal statement essay, and because personal statements are generally similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge. Please feel free to download your copy today.

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.

With this essay, INSEAD hopes to see signs of the candidate’s interest in ongoing self-improvement, knowledge or experience collection, and/or giving back. Whether you are choosing to leave your job a few months before the beginning of the MBA program or are asked to do so by your employer, simply explain what you expect do and gain during the  interim. The admissions committee wants to know that you are the kind of person who takes advantage of opportunities and to understand what kinds of opportunities appeal to you. For example, perhaps you plan to complete a few quantitative courses to be better equipped to hit the ground running in your related MBA classes, or perhaps you want to spend some time with distant family members or volunteering in your community because you know that your availability to do so will be limited when you are in school, and you want to maintain those important connections. Maybe you want to travel to improve your language ability in a more immersive environment before coming to INSEAD, given the importance of this skill in the school’s program. Or you might be arrange informational interviews, job-shadowing opportunities, and/or unpaid internships, which could help in various ways with recruiting and job selection. Whatever your goals and plans, clearly convey how you anticipate your experience(s) to add to or change your character, enhance your skill set, and/or increase your understanding of yourself or others—all of which are valuable in business school.

Motivation 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).

Although INSEAD’s request for “main factors … which have influenced your development” comes in the latter half of this essay prompt, we feel you should actually provide this context for your formative experiences before discussing the strengths and weaknesses you derived from them, because showing a clear cause-and-effect relationship between the two is important. The school asks that you offer examples “when necessary,” but your essay will be strongest if you present anecdotes to illustrate and support all your statements. Still, your essay should not end up being a hodgepodge of unconnected anecdotes that reveal strengths. Instead, focus on two or three strengths and one or two weaknesses in the mere 500 words allotted.

As always, be honest about your strengths (do not try to tell the committee what you think it wants to hear; truthfully describe who you legitimately are) and especially about your weaknesses—this is vital. Transparent or disingenuous statements will not fool or convince anyone and will only reveal you as someone incapable of critical self-evaluation.

Motivation 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 (approximately 400 words).

For this essay, you will need to offer two anecdotes that reveal different sides of you as an applicant, describing a high moment from your life and a low moment. Because the school also asks you to address how these incidents subsequently influenced your interactions with others and what lessons they taught you, you must identify stories that not only involve a significant incident but also affected you personally in a meaningful and long-lasting way. These elements of your essay are just as important as the accomplishment and the failure you choose to share; your unique thoughts can differentiate you from other applicants, and showing that you recognize how these incidents changed you and your relations with others demonstrates your self-awareness and capacity for growth. Steer clear of trite and clichéd statements about your takeaways, and really reflect on these situations to uncover your deeper reactions and impressions. For example, everyone gains some level of resiliency from a failure, so you must offer something less common and more compelling and personal.

Be aware that the best failure essays are often those that show reasoned optimism and tremendous momentum toward a goal—a goal that is ultimately derailed. In most cases, you will need to show that you were emotionally invested in your project/experience, which will enable the reader to connect with your story and vicariously experience your disappointment. If you were not invested at all, it is hardly credible to discuss the experience as a failure or learning experience.

Motivation 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? (approximately 300 words)

Although stereotypes about the top MBA programs abound—this school wants consultants, that school is for marketing professionals, this other one is for techies and entrepreneurs—the truth is that they all want a diverse incoming class, full of people with various strengths and experiences that they can share with one another for the good of all. Discussing how you choose to spend your free time—explaining why your chosen activities are important to you and what you derive from them—provides the admissions committee with a window into your personality outside the workplace and classroom and an idea of what you could contribute to the student body and INSEAD as a whole.

Optional Motivation 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)

However tempted you might be, this is not the place to paste in a strong essay from another school or to offer a few anecdotes that you were unable to use in any of your other essays. Instead, this is your opportunity, if needed, to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer may have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, or a gap in your work experience. In our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide (available through our online store), we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay (along with multiple sample essays) to help mitigate any problem areas in your profile.


After submitting their application, this season’s INSEAD candidates must respond to four additional—and as yet unknown—questions in video form.  Although applicants have until one week after the deadline for the round in which they apply to complete this element of the process, we recommend doing so sooner rather than later while your mind is still in application mode and to ensure you do not somehow forget this task or have to rush through it at the end of the allotted time period.

Because all INSEAD interviews are conducted by the school’s alumni, members of the admissions committee have previously had no opportunity to see or meet with candidates; they had to learn all they could simply from the written portions of the application. This new video component will now give the committee direct and dynamic insight into applicants’ character and personality, as well as another angle on their language abilities. About the video, the INSEAD admissions committee says on its site, “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!” So when the time comes for you to record your responses, do your best to relax, answer genuinely, and let your true self shine through!

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