Essay Tips: INSEAD

INSEAD’s essays require quite a bit of information on your job history, not to mention extensive detail about how you envision your future. The key here is to highlight the aspects of your career that you are most proud of, that show you on a multi-cultural stage, and then to explain how that experience, along with an MBA from globally-focused INSEAD, will allow you to pursue your career goals in the future.


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. (250 words maximum)

The key to strong job descriptions is “results achieved.” Definitely provide the other requested elements, but the distinguishing factor will be those results. Quantifying impact usually shines a spotlight on your impact and contribution.

The second most important element is “major responsibilities.” Don’t list the mundane or the aspects of your job that everyone with your title will share. Where did you shoulder “major responsibility”? Be specific in these descriptions to differentiate yourself, especially if you are from a common professional group in the applicant pool.

2. Please give 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)

Don’t confuse “full description” with “complete history.” How would you characterize your career since college? You also have to answer the second part of the question and you only have 250 words. Choose the most important elements — those elements that show contribution, leadership, and since this is INSEAD, a multi-cultural and global perspective.

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

This is pretty self-explanatory. Show that you aren’t waiting for the phone to ring. How are you improving yourself in the interim? How are you improving your community?


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)

For a question like this I recommend two strengths and one weakness. If you can choose one anecdote that reveals both the strengths and the weakness, you could have a strong essay. Don’t forget to discuss how these qualities influenced your personal development. For more on INSEAD 1 and writing about weaknesses, please see our video Writing About Weaknesses.

A word on weaknesses. Be honest without going overboard. Don’t make up a phony weakness. I attended an HBS info session a few years ago. One of the alumni said that he discussed a “phony weakness” in his essays (required for HBS that year), and his interviewer focused right on it, and basically said, “Come on. What’s a real weakness?” The applicant had to get real in a hurry. Take advantage of the essay: Give it some thought and respond with the benefit of that reflection. For more information, please see “Flaws Make You Real.”

At a recent AIGAC conference one of the adcom members remembered that an applicant in response to a similar question had listed his weakness as “pitching new ideas in a meeting.” The adcom member felt that the applicant was specific, real, and showed self-awareness by revealing this flaw. In fact, by demonstrating these qualities in addition to the requested weakness that he was working on, the applicant actually enhanced his chances of acceptance with his response.

Don’t write about “weakness in pitching new ideas in meetings” as your flaw just because you saw it here It will become the lame, stale example everyone uses. However, you all have weakness. Just be thoughtful enough and honest enough to reveal yours.

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)

Reference achievements from different areas of your life. (But don’t go back to high school and earlier to do so.) The accomplishments should show impact, contribution, and for INSEAD at least one should have a multi-cultural flavour. Quantify to add credibility and specificity to your attainments.

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

OK. When did you blow it. What did you learn from the experience. That lesson is the key element. The question is about resilience — your ability to learn and bounce back from failure. Much like HBS 2, this essay is a place for you to show that quality. Leaders need it. 

4. a) Discuss your short and long term career goals. (300 words maximum)


b) How will studying at INSEAD help you achieve your vision? (250 words maximum)

New variation on the goals theme. For A, show that you have a clear direction, a goal for your MBA. That means not that you know what you want to study while at INSEAD, but that you know what you want to DO and where you want to do it after you leave INSEAD. Define the function you want to perform and the industry you want to perform in it when you have your MBA. If relevant, you can also provide geographic preferences.

For the long-term goals, a little fuzziness is allowed, certainly more than for the short-term. However, the long-term goals should flow directly from the short term. It should all make sense and hang together.

For B, given your goals, why do you want to attend INSEAD? What about its distinctive, intense, multi-campus program will help you achieve your goals. What do you anticipate learning and how will it help you realize your vision.

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),


b) Describe the ways in which a foreigner in your country might experience culture shock. (250 words maximum)

Choose the option that is easiest for you to answer and allows you to bring out an aspect of your experience not found elsewhere. Keep it short, real short.

6. (Optional) Is there anything that you have not mentioned in the above essays that you would like the Admissions Committee to know? (350 words maximum)

Use the optional essay to give them one more reason to accept you. DON’T use it for a superficial summary, a restatement of your other essays, or anything similarly boring and trite. If you choose to write it, produce a tight, focused essay revealing something you haven’t yet discussed.

7. (Reapplicant) In case of reapplication, please provide an update on any new aspects of your professional, international, academic or personal profile that would not have been included in your previous application. Please also explain your motivation for re-applying to INSEAD. (400 words maximum)

Historically, INSEAD was tough on MBA reapplicants. Hopefully this question signals a greater openness to reapplication.

How are you a better applicant now than you were last time? What’s changed? INSEAD adds a twist by asking you to explain why you are re-applying. Why do you think you will get accepted this time if you didn’t last time? The answer had better not be that you’re counting on a decline in application volume to help you squeak in the Fountainbleau door. Again, how are you “new and improved?” Why do you still want INSEAD?

By Linda Abraham, founder and president of and author of MBA Admission for Smarties. If you would like professional guidance with your INSEAD MBA application, please consider Accepted’s INSEAD MBA Packages or our MBA essay editing.

*This blog post originally appeared on Accepted Admissions Consulting Blog.



Round 1 April 11, 2012 midnight (23.59) Central European Time
Round 2 June 20, 2012 midnight (23.59) Central European Time
Round 3 August 16, 2012  midnight (23.59) Central European Time



Round 1 October 3, 2012 midnight (23.59) Central European Time
Round 2 December 5, 2012  midnight (23.59) Central European Time
Round 3 March 13, 2013  midnight (23.59) Central European Time


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