The International Institute for Management Development (IMD) requires only one official written essay of its applicants, and it is a rather brief one on a difficult decision. However, candidates can submit a short optional statement as well, if they wish, and are tasked with responding to several short essay-type questions within the body of the school’s application. These cover such topics as other business schools the applicant is targeting, what skills they already possess that relate to their professional goals, and what their Plan B might be. For a full analysis of IMD’s core essay and these additional prompts, read on.
IMD 2023–2024 Essay Tips
Required Essay: What is the most difficult decision you have had to make as a leader? (Word limit 300)
To respond to this essay prompt, you will need to share an anecdote in which something was at stake—the reader must feel and understand that your decision involved some level of risk. If you faced no possibility of negative ramifications, reaching your decision could not have been very difficult, as the school’s question specifically stipulates. Once you have chosen an experience to explore, focus on the challenge involved. Reveal your thought process so that the admissions committee can understand how you reached your ultimate conclusion. Also, know that your decision does not need to have been proven to be the right one. You could even show that all the options available to you at the time were less than ideal and explain how you optimized the imperfect outcomes. If the anecdote you are considering for this essay does not encompass a “sharp” enough set of conflicting options, definitely pick a different story to share. The scale or scope of the situation in an objective sense is not as important as how demanding and affecting it was for you personally.
Although the prompt does not ask you explicitly to discuss what you learned from this situation, this is usually implied in such essays. Challenging episodes are ideally seen as opportunities for growth in some way, and showing that you learned from the event shows the admissions committee that you are capable of meaningful self-assessment and can find the silver lining in difficult moments. That said, the word limit for this essay is rather restrictive, so keep this part succinct and to the point. Briefly share what you learned from the experience and how it has altered who you are and/or how you now view or interact with the world. IMD wants to know not only that you have faced and worked through the demanding process of reaching a particular resolution but also how that situation has contributed to the person you are today.
Keep in mind that the school is specifically asking about a time when you struggled with a decision as a leader, so the more you can convey your mind-set and decision-making process, the better. The admissions committee wants to understand how you come to understand and then weigh your options, particularly when others are involved. So, be as thorough and detailed as possible with respect to this element of your story.
Optional Essay: Is there any additional information that is critical for the Admissions Committee which has not been covered elsewhere in this application? (i.e. re-application, health, grades, etc.) (Word limit 50)
In general, we believe applicants should use a school’s optional essay to explain confusing or problematic issues in their candidacy, which this prompt does indeed allow. So, if you need to, use this opportunity to address any questions the admissions committee might have about something in your profile—a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT or GRE score, a gap in your work experience, etc. Consider downloading our free mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice (and multiple annotated examples) on how best to approach the optional essay to mitigate any problem areas in your application.
Although IMD technically leaves the door open for you to share any other information about your candidacy that you feel might be pivotal or particularly compelling, you do not have much room in which to do so. Be judicious in deciding whether the admissions committee truly needs any more input to be able to evaluate you fully and effectively. Do not fear that not submitting some kind of response to this prompt would somehow count against you. Because every additional submission demands that the admissions committee do extra work on your behalf, you must be absolutely sure that the added time is warranted. If you feel compelled to impart information that you believe would render your application incomplete if omitted, keep your statement(s) brief and on point.
The following questions are not presented as official essays in the IMD application but require a slightly longer and more thoughtful response than a simple short-answer query, so we wanted to offer a bit of guidance on them as well.
Source of Information: What other programs are you applying to? (Word limit 100)
IMD asks you to use a drop-down menu to indicate why you have decided to apply to its MBA program, which will give the admissions committee insight into what you are generally looking for in a business school (e.g., networking opportunities, reputation, curriculum, faculty expertise). By asking you to share the other schools you are targeting, IMD is looking for some level of confirmation of this information. One would assume that all the programs you are targeting will share similar characteristics. IMD obviously knows best what it offers and whether it is capable of delivering what you seek as a candidate, so this is understandably useful information for the admissions committee to have. Simply provide the names of the other programs you intend to apply to.
Career Development Questions:
In the Career Development section of its application, IMD asks you to indicate your preferred industry, function, and geographical location for your post-MBA career using drop-down menus. Similarly, it asks you to name your three target companies. Then, it poses the following three related questions. Although the answers you will provide here cannot truly be considered “essays” (given their brevity), we nevertheless wanted to offer a little guidance on responding to the prompts effectively.
Do you already have a network in place? (Word limit 50)
IMD’s mere 50-word limit for this question clearly conveys a desire for “just the facts,” so respect the school’s wishes and be as direct and succinct as possible. The admissions committee wants to understand if the program will truly be able to position you to reach your postgraduate career goals, and this is an important part of the equation for most candidates. If you are targeting a path for which a network is necessary for success, and neither you nor IMD has one that would be adequate to support you appropriately, the admissions committee might conclude that the school is not the right choice for you. Or perhaps, the program cannot offer the kind of network you would require, but you are already well connected, so this part of your professional development would not need to be a consideration in your evaluation for admission.
What skills and experience do you think you already possess that will help you with your post MBA career plans and will make you stand out in front of potential employers? (Word limit 100)
With this question, IMD wants to know what you already bring to the table, so to speak, perhaps in part to get an idea of your potential not only in your stated area of interest but also in the other areas you might not have considered but could be just as successful. This is also a chance for you to demonstrate that you understand what is required of someone in the professional role or industry you are targeting and have the self-awareness to know which of those requirements you might already meet. Note that the question refers to experience as well, so inform the admissions committee about any opportunities you have had thus far to engage in your target work firsthand. If space allows, you might also consider mentioning any life lessons, personal passions, or other stimuli that have inspired you to this point and compel you to keep moving forward on your chosen path.
What is your plan B if you are not able to secure your ideal job post MBA? (Word limit 50)
Candidates often feel they must be totally unequivocal in their career goals to impress the admissions committee, but in this case, IMD directly instructs you to speculate on and articulate a second option. The school knows that sometimes the best-laid plans do not play out as expected or might even yield unintended results, and it wants to know that you are prepared to switch gears and recommit to a different path, if necessary—and that you are fully capable of doing so. What is critical here is that your backup goal must be just as connected to your skills, interests, and ambitions as your original plan and would therefore not seem random or unreasonable. For example, you would probably have a difficult time convincing the admissions committee that your goal is to work in technology consulting while your alternate goal would be to work in human resources, because these industries, for the most part, require entirely different skills and personalities. Make sure that the alternate path you offer here and your original path are equally plausible and achievable.