The Best INSEAD Workflow

I love the INSEAD application essays. The set is probably the most expansive among top schools and requires a comprehensive and integrated approach, which perfectly matches my consulting philosophy. In fact, I would say I have a 90-95% success rate with my INSEAD clients, with two of the most recent having GMAT scores of only 660 and 680 (average 709).

There are many essays to tackle, which INSEAD separates into “Job Essays” and “Motivation Essays”. The list looks intimidating at first glance, but if you approach them in the following order, they will be much more manageable.

Start with the Job Essays:

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 #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)

Notes: These three essays together form a fairly standard Goals Essay.

INSEAD does not ask “Why INSEAD”, so don’t waste time or space including it. Save it for your interview.

The wording of Job Essay #4 confuses many people. The question is not asking for two separate sets of goals, just one. Think of it as “What are your short-term and long-term career goals whether or not you get an MBA from INSEAD.”

INSEAD is flexible with its “short answer” limitation, but I tell my clients to aim for about 300 words, which illustrates good judgment and discipline while providing enough space to answer thoroughly.

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

Notes: Be sure your “next step” is “not as good as” the short-term goal you outline in Job Essay #4 or else the admissions committee will question your need for the INSEAD 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.

Next, the Motivation Essays.

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).

Notes: these are typical MBA topics. Please see my resources on Leadership and Failure essays. Also, the 400-word limitation is the total for both essays, or about 200 words each.

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)

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).

Notes: This is always the most challenging essay for INSEAD applicants. I suggest reviewing your other essays, especially Motivation Essay #2, to identify specific core strengths — the ones that have allowed you to be successful so far — and your core weaknesses — the ones that might hold you back from achieving your goals. Keep in mind that strengths and weaknesses are often mirror images, i.e., a reliable strength can become a weakness under different conditions and vice versa. Once you have done that, you can explore the personal areas in your life that might be the source of these strengths and weaknesses and/or when you first discovered them.

For example, let’s say your greatest achievement (Motivation Essay #2) was negotiating a contentious business deal where the parties involved fought constantly. In that case, your strengths might include staying calm under pressure and reaching mutually beneficial agreements with people that don’t get along. Where did these strengths appear in your personal life? Perhaps your parents fought a lot and you were the “peacemaker” in the house.

And what about your weaknesses? Well, if you are a natural negotiator, perhaps you try too hard to find win-win solutions, even when you hold all the cards. Maybe you are too nice when the business situation calls for you to be a “killer”. Answering this essay well requires critical self-analysis and self-awareness. It is not necessary to explain the contributions you will make or the takeaways you will receive from INSEAD based on these strengths and weaknesses respectively. Those things should be obvious if you’ve done the essay well.

As a final note, I strongly recommend against writing about hard or technical skills as strengths and weaknesses. Those will not give INSEAD the personal insights they want.

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)