INSEAD Essay Analysis

INSEAD Essay Analysis for 2016-2017

Last updated on September 16th, 2016

Reading Time: 10minutes

You’ve scored well on your GMAT and now you’re thinking of applying to some of the most sought after schools in Europe. I’m sure INSEAD is on your list, and you’re racking your brains over the writing of the essays. But, worry not because today we’re going to be doing an analysis of the INSEAD essays.
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As always, they have the four job essays and they have the four motivational essays. The difference really between the job essays and the motivational essays is that the job essays are “What you do” and the motivational essays are “Who you are”. So fundamentally, that’s really the difference.
Now, in terms of writing essays, you can be creative in the motivational ones but not so much when you’re describing your job. The very word “description” is asking you what you are doing and what you want to do.
Let’s look at the job essays, starting with the first one.

Job Essays


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)

It asks you to summarise your current job, your nature of work, major responsibilities, the number of employees, the size, the clients and the results achieved. Now why is this different from a resume? Or why wouldn’t you just give a resume and have a look at it?
There are two reasons for this.
The first reason is that a resume does not have a very standardized format. So they want to make sure that they are able to capture key information such as the responsibilities and the budget. They want to make sure that it gets mentioned. That’s number one.
Number two, if you look at it from an inside perspective it is easier for them to go through all the essays in one flow and get a sense of who you are, rather than looking at multiple documents, checking your CV and then looking at your essays. It just keeps it cohesive; keeps it in one place.
One advice over here is: Be data-driven. Be very specific in terms of numbers. Again, the way you write it has to be very clear, it has to be very crisp, has to talk about what you’ve done and it clearly says “your current job”—so stick to that and talk about what you do.
This is an essay that gives them a preamble or a background to the other essays. Think of it from the perspective of the person who’s reading your application. He has the application package. This is the first application he is going to read. This gives him a sense of who you are.
So obviously, as much as possible, the impact of what you’re able to do through your job will make a difference in the way he perceives you.
Thus it’s extremely important that you talk about the size of budget and the kind of clients. It may happen that you want to focus on one area.
For example, let’s say you are in sales. Very clearly, you would not have a budget, but you probably talk about the kind of clients, the kind of revenue that you’re hitting.
If you are, let’s say, in marketing, yes, you could talk about the budget that you get. You could talk about the impact that you’re trying to create. Whatever it is, make sure you keep the focus on impact.
Now that they have read the first essay, they go on to the second one.

Essay 2:


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

Here, your goal has to be realistic. So you obviously want to mention what your boss is doing, what your manager is doing, talk about how long it would take and also talk about perhaps the kind of differences between your job role and that job role.
So, don’t say I’m an associate director and I’ll become a director. They really don’t know the difference between what an associate director is supposed to do and what a director is supposed to do. You have to spell it out.

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 very interesting question because you are not going to give a chronological order of what all you’ve done. You also want to talk about why you did what you did.
Why did you get your first job in that company?
What did you really learn?
What is it that you felt you were wanting more?
What are the challenges that you wanted more of?
Why did it lead you to that specific second company?
Again, what did you learn over here?
So, try to talk not just about the stuff you did but also the rationale behind your choices. As I said earlier, it is about what you’ve done—maybe you’re not very creative about the way you’re responding but you have to tell about why you for that particular career path.
One more thing over here would be in terms of the word limit. In the initial draft, write as long as you want to, but eventually it is recommended you keep this to a few hundred words, not more than that.

Essay 4:


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

The detail here is with or without an MBA from INSEAD.
What is it that you want to do? What is it that inspires you? What is it that you want to be? What is version 2.0 of yourself?
Once you’re able to talk about that, almost unfettered, not really thinking about justifying it to INSEAD, this is where the essay’s response would really come out.
How long term should it be? Maybe 5-10 years. Don’t make this a crystal ball gazing 25-30 year long term.
Talk about your career aspiration from a function, industry, geography perspective; the kind-of-impact-you’ll-produce perspective. You may want to throw in your dream company, your dream title—all of that is okay.
Coming to the motivational essays—one that could be a little tricky, a little tough. Unlike the job essays where you have to provide data and then massage the data, motivational essays are not so straightforward.
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Motivational Essays


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).

This is not a straightforward strength-weakness essay. You can’t write two strengths, write two weaknesses and get it done. This essay is really asking who you are.
Who is this person who’s written the first four essays?
Why did he make those career choices?
Why does he want to do what he wants to do?
Can I understand more about you?
If I were to meet you tomorrow, would I be able to recognize you as the person who’s written these essays?
That is what they are really looking for.
Give special emphasis on the “examples” part. A lot of what we do, the decisions we make are a function of what we have experienced in life.
For example, this student grew up in a joint family. Because she grew up in a joint family, she was taught right from childhood to share her things with others. She always realized that, “there’s nothing that is mine”. Even the toy she got for her birthday, she would share with her cousins and vice versa.
What this taught her was a sense of adapting, a sense of giving; a sense where she wasn’t self-centered and she had a more giving nature. She said, “If I were to look back at my career, it’s this giving nature, where I walk into a place of work and I actually try to think of ways to help others”. This trait got her to where she is in her life.
So sometimes it’s good to talk about personal incidents, let’s not try to make it into a very corporate thing. You can give your work-related experiences too, e.g. if it is something that was at work, where you had a difficult time, sure you can give all of those experiences. But try to keep it personal.
Coming to the weaknesses, they don’t really want to know what the weakness is, to keep you out. They are trying to understand what the weakness is, just to see if you’re a self-aware person; if you are in touch with yourself. Do they know who the real person behind all these achievements is?
And that’s where the weakness comes. If you end up saying things like, “I work too hard”, you end up sounding very shallow. They say this person doesn’t really know who he is. I’ll again give an example of what someone had written for his weakness.
He said, “I grew up in a very strict background and my father was a person who said, ‘we are here to work’. He himself was a workaholic, so I never enjoyed childhood. I was great at studies, I went to college, I used to look at all these people enjoying themselves and I used to think that they are goofing around; they are not utilizing their time.
But it’s only in my mid-twenties that I realized that’s also a part of life. This is a weakness. Even today I find it very hard to unwind. I’m always very tightly wound. I’m trying hard to overcome it. Have I completely overcome it? Probably not.”
So that gives a complete picture of who you are. You have 500 words so that’s ample space for you to talk about two positives and perhaps one area of improvement.

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).

This is not really about what you did, but what you learnt from that. The focus of this essay should be not on the stories (because you have 400 words and you can’t possibly describe the entire experience).
But you should be able to give the readers a teaser of what you went through and spend a significant portion of this essay talking about what you learnt. When you talk about an achievement, it’s something that made you proud.
Why did it make you proud?
Was it something you wanted?
Was it retribution?
Was it a feeling of being vindicated?
What was it that you were going through?
What does it tell them about you?
Similarly, the fact that you failed is not the problem.
What did you learn from this failure?
Were you able to bounce back?
How does that make you a better person today than you were when you did not experience the failure?
In 400 words, focus more on two meaningful stories.

Essay 3:


Tell us about an experience where you were significantly impacted by cultural diversity, in a positive or negative way (approximately 300 words).

This is an essay that has been in the INSEAD application forever. They have had various ways in which this essay has been worded. But what you want to take care in this essay is to not talk about something shallow.
For example, don’t say, “I went to Europe and I saw the way they were clothed” or don’t say, “I went to the Middle East and saw the way they were clothed”.
It’s obvious you would know the way they are clothed in those places. That shows your lack of awareness. This is talking about cultural diversity, and cultural diversity is not in the way someone dresses. It is in the way someone thinks.
So again I’ll give an example here of one of our students who had got through INSEAD.
She wrote in her essays that when she went to the US, she saw her colleagues spending like crazy, saving typically hardly less than 10% of what they earned.
Coming from a very conservative Indian background, she obviously had the habit of saving money. She found it very hard to understand why people were being such spendthrifts.
That’s when she went back, she understood that after World War II, there was this huge surge in capitalism; how they were born in an environment where they were taught that the more you spend, the better it is for everyone else.
That’s really a shift in mindset. It doesn’t mean that she suddenly started spending more. It’s just that she became more aware and 6-8 months down the line, she was less critical of people who perhaps were spending more than what she did. So, you have to be slightly more self-aware.
And leaders are typically high energy people. They are not going to come home, download a movie from the torrent, eat Maggi, watch the movie and go to sleep. They’d probably do something else, something that makes them interesting.

Essay 4:


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).

Now again, this essay is not so much about what you did but what you learn from it.
How does that make you a better person?
If you’re going to be sitting next to me in  the class, what am I going to learn from you?
And leaders are typically high energy people. They are not going to come home, download a movie from the torrent, eat Maggi, watch the movie and go to sleep. They’d probably do something else, something that makes them interesting.
And I’m pretty sure you have something that makes you interesting.
What is that one x-factor that is a conversation opener? When you walk into a party and say, “Hey you know what, I do this”, and people come and say, “Hey, that’s interesting”—put that over here.
So that’s really what it is. 300 words, a lot of space for you to not just tell what you have done, but also as I said, what you have learnt.
And then you have the final one, which is the optional essay.
Now there are two optional essays, one optional essay, which is the gap essay, which comes as part of your job essays and the other which is part of the motivational essay.
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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.

The gap is pretty clear. If you have more than two months gap, you probably need to explain why you’re not working.
Again, my recommendation, do not try to make this into a sob story. Do not try to say, “Oh, I was laid off”. Make it look as this is what happened and give a very practical reason of why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you’re truthful, you don’t need to worry about it.

Optional Motivational 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)

This is true for all optional essays. After the interview, you are about to leave the room, but then you suddenly remember something really significant that could tip the scales in your favor. And you want to come back, you want to knock on the door,  and say, “Excuse me sir, may I come in?”, what is that one thing that you would say?
If you want to say, “Oh well, by the way, you know what, when I was in college I won this particular quiz competition”, they are going to think, why did this guy come back?
But if you’re going to say something significant that is meaningful and something that you did not have the opportunity to cover anywhere else in the essay, then definitely this is the place for you to put it.
So, go ahead, tackle the INSEAD essays with confidence.
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