INSEAD Business School Essay Analysis 2020-2021

Last updated on October 5th, 2017

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Welcome to this article in which I will discuss the INSEAD Business School, which has campuses in France and Singapore. If you’re looking at applying to INSEAD this year, you have come to the right place.


First, let’s look at the program. What works for INSEAD is the one-year program. It’s actually crunched and more like 10-11 months rather than a year. It offers accelerated learning and if you’re looking for a one-year program, this is definitely one of the top three one-year programs in the world today.


Secondly, INSEAD is truly international. Although most of the US B-Schools have diversity, with 30 to 40% of their class coming in from outside of the US, theirs are predominantly an American programs. It’s the same thing if you look at Europe. However, if you look at INSEAD, the kind of diversity that you have, the kind of geographies that you have with about 40 to 50 different nationalities every year in the program, you see a program that is truly international. I think that’s a huge plus.


One more thing that probably works well for INSEAD is the fact that it has dual campuses (France and Singapore). It is possible for you to take advantage of the exchange opportunity; you can do some courses in the other campus. Thus, you can get a mix of both.


I think one thing you need to look at when applying to INSEAD is the fact that because it’s such an international program, they require you to have some amount of international background. Make sure you go to the website and read their admission criteria. The criteria are:


  • Ability to contribute

  • Academic capacity

  • Leadership Potential

  • International motivation (adaptability and flexibility in multi-cultural environments)”. Unless you have experience working very closely with people from different cultures and different geographies in your home country, this is going to be a little tough. You need to have some amount of international exposure. Just keep that in mind while you’re applying for the INSEAD program.


2020-2021 INSEAD Business School MBA Deadlines


INSEAD has two intakes


September 2020 Intake


Round 1

Application Deadline: September 19, 2020

Interview Decision Notification: October 19, 2020

Final Decision Notification: November 23, 2020


Round 2

Application Deadline: November 14, 2020

Interview Decision Notification: December 14, 2020

Final Decision Notification: January 25, 2020


Round 3

Application Deadline: January 9, 2021

Interview Decision Notification: February 8, 2021

Final Decision Notification: March 15, 2021


Round 4

Application Deadline: March 6, 2021

Interview Decision Notification: April 5, 2021

Final Decision Notification: May 10, 2021


You also have the option of the January Intake, that’s the beauty of it. The flexibility is that you can join by September or you can join in January. If you’re looking at January 2020, the deadlines are:


January 2021 Intake


Round 1

Application Deadline: February 20, 2021

Interview Decision Notification: March 22, 2021

Final Decision Notification: April 26, 2021


Round 2

Application Deadline: April 17, 2021

Interview Decision Notification: May 17, 2021

Final Decision Notification: June 21, 2021


Round 3

Application Deadline: June 5, 2021

Interview Decision Notification: July 5, 2021

Final Decision Notification: August 9, 2021


Round 4

Application Deadline: July 24, 2021

Interview Decision Notification: August 23, 2021

Final Decision Notification: September 27, 2021




Insead Business School Essay Analysis 2020 – 2021


You have four job essays and three motivational essays. We have had students getting into INSEAD almost every year for the last many years, and one thing I can tell you is that for all the other schools one week or 10 days is doable but for INSEAD, it takes a lot more.You need to factor in more time for your application. Now, let’s look at 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 the budget, clients/products and results achieved. (short answer)


You need to have a short answer. Now, the deal with this is  that it is a crunch or a summary of your overall career progression. Don’t try to copy paste your CV over here. Try to be slightly more human in your approach. Try to describe it in a way that a layman can understand because many of these essays are going to be looked at by people who may not be in your industry. See, for the resume that you send to prospective employers, you assume that since they are in the same industry, same domain, they understand a lot of jargon.

For example, don’t write “Ten Thousand LOC”, instead, write “Ten Thousand lines of code”. You need to make sure that you explain in simple terms.


A key thing is that the question also talks about the “…results achieved.” You need to be able to quantify what you did, it’s not just what you did. Just don’t go to the company’s portal and look at the job description for your particular title and copy/paste and say “I developed…I designed….I managed”. You should talk about what  the result was. There is a very simple framework that you could use:  Situation, Action, and Result. You could talk about the background of the project given to you, what you did in the project, and what the result of the project was. You could easily break it up into three parts.



Job Essay #2


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


Obviously, they are not just looking at the title so don’t say that “I am a manager and I’ll become a senior manager.” You need to also explain what the senior management role would. entail Perhaps you need to quantify it. For example, if you’re currently handling ten accounts, as a senior manager, you would probably be responsible for 50 accounts, so you need to basically quantify the role.



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)


Don’t try to keep this in the resume format. When you graduated, what were the options you had? Why did you pick your first employer, was there a reason for you to do that? After that, why did you pick the second employer? What was the learning that you had with the first employer? What was the learning that you had with the second employer? You need to gradually take them through the journey of your life.


Again, try to be brief. Don’t try to elaborate too much. Don’t try to dramatize it. In fact, this is not an essay where you should bring quotes and emotions and all that into the play. To some extent, keep it dry. That’s what your third job essay is going to be like. One key thing is, “Describe your career path with the rationale behind your choices.” You’re not just telling them what you did but also “why you did” “what you did.”



Job Essay #4


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


Here, the deal is that they are not looking at why you want to do an MBA. So tell them, “what is it that you want to do eventually in life?” If you’re not applying, this is still what you want to do. For example, “I want to be a Product Manager. As a Product Manager, I feel that I am going to be responsible for the life-cycle of a product. I feel I will be able to affect and influence the way users deal with the particular problems faced.” That is what they want to hear from you. You can dream about your long-term. It may not be as concrete as your short term but you could say that you eventually want be in a role where you start your company where technology is going to directly affect in a particular area that you are passionate about. You can have slight leeway in not being very specific but don’t try to pick a bizarre thing. One mistake that people make is that they are good at writing short-term goals but when it comes to the long-term goal, they say something like “I want to be an entrepreneur.’  You want to be “an entrepreneur” is too vague. You need to be slightly more specific. Tie it to your motivation, your passion.


Now, let’ discuss the optional job essays.



Optional Essay


If you are currently not working or if you plan to leave your current employer more than 2 months before the program starts, please explain your activities and occupations between leaving your job and the start of the program.


First, if you’re currently unemployed, it’s okay. You don’t need to sweat it but you need to show them how you are constructively utilizing your time. You cannot say, “I quit my job, and I am preparing for the GMAT and applying to INSEAD.” Instead, you can say, “I am taking these courses and I am making sure that I am investing in myself so that I can develop further professionally”, or you can talk about your personal reasons for which you have taken a sabbatical. Whatever the reason be, write it. Make sure that you’re not telling them you’re sitting at home and binge-watching Netflix, and goofing off.


Also if you have plans to quit to do something meaningful to you. Well, one of my students who went to INSEAD this year, went and took his pilot license because that was his dream since childhood. He wanted to be a pilot. So he said, “I am going to take this opportunity and spend 2 to 3 months getting my pilot license.” Now, that’s something that is not related to an MBA. People don’t try to see how you’re putting all these dots in this perfect linear curve which is leading towards your goal. It’s okay to do things that appeal to your passion even if it doesn’t link directly to your MBA goals but if it is, please mention it here.



Motivational Essays


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).


This is a slightly complex essay. Let’s go through it one by one. You need to talk about two or three life incidents, hobbies, things that have happened to you, and things you did but out these two or three things that you’re going to talk about, you need to be able to cull out the strengths and weaknesses that you’ve discovered in yourself. The strengths and weaknesses cannot be isolated and your stories cannot be different. They have to be merged together.


Let me give you an example. One of my students spoke about how she grew up in a joint family and she said, “Growing up in a joint family, the one thing that I realised was that I always had to share my things and initially, it was very tough because as a kid I would want everything I would get. Every time my parents would get something, they would get five of it because there were five other kids growing up in the same family.” Then she spoke about how that deeply influenced who she was today and how she spun it as positive. Now, going ahead, she spoke about a particular thing that she gained from her father. Her father was someone who believed that you have to go all out and give it your best, and at some point she became slightly high strung. It was always like you had to go for the kill. You always want 100%;  it’s not that you’re expecting this from just yourself but it’s something that you’re expecting from others as well. Once she started working, she realised that sometimes you “Let perfection not be the enemy of getting things done.” She realized that there were constraints that she had to work around and not everything goes according to plan but as humans we need to know how to deliver the maximum. Not 10/10 but even if she got 8/10, she learned to be fine with it. This was a potential weakness. She said, “I still go back to the urge of perfection but now I have perhaps come to terms with this fact.”


You talk about a couple of strengths, you talk about a weakness or two, and then you kind of weave your stories into it. At the end of the essay, what does INSEAD really want to know? It wants to know who you are as a person. What are the gifts? What are the gaps? One mistake that people make in the weakness part is that they kind of mask the weakness by saying that it is a strength. For example, in the earlier example, she said, “Perfection is my weakness and it’s not something that I am proud of.” However, people say, “Oh, I am a perfectionist but you know what? Sometimes I have to deal with these people who don’t understand who I am.”  Or here is another example of incorrect weakness, “I work so hard. I am a hard worker and I don’t know when to stop. I work for 16 hours a day.”In this example, they try to showcase that as a weakness. A weakness has to be slightly more genuine.


That’s pretty much the first essay we have. As I have said, you need to tie it up together. 500 words, two strengths, and one weakness, 150 words to develop each story. That’s 450 words, then the starting and finish will be 50 words. 500 words will nicely cover it all.



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).


Very clearly, 200 words for success, 200 words for failure. In the 200 words for success, talk about why you are proud of it. It does not have to be something that is earth-shattering but something that you personally relate to well. Maybe it’s a small thing that you did at work that completely changed your perspective towards leadership. It states “Explain why.” why are you proud? It’s not just the “What’ but also the “Why”.


The second part, “….Where you failed…” Here,what people do is, they say, “I failed but then eventually, I succeeded.” No, it has to be failed. There is really no escape, you failed and it was a spectacular failure. You learned, you fell flat on your face but you know what? You got up. You bounced back. You learned so much about life. In fact, as I have mentioned earlier, in Australia, there is an elite air force where they ask this question, “Have you failed?”, and if respondents say, “I have not failed”, they are actually not considered for the elite corps. The reason is, if you haven’t failed in your life you don’t know what failure is and B-School can be a tough place. They want people with very high EQ. That’s a huge part of the whole B-School experience, which is why the second essay is about your failure.


It’s not so much about what happened, it’s okay if you have made mistakes because everyone makes mistake but what really matters is, “What did you learn?  How did that impact your relationship with others?” You also need to talk about how this success and failure have changed you as a person. If you haven’t thought about it, it’s a good time to think about it now. As I said, EQ is a quality that INSEAD looks for in their applicants.



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)


One of the things that INSEAD or any other B-School looks for is leadership qualities. So now, what do you mean by leadership? Leadership Is when a person says, “My life is not just going to work, coming back home, watching TV, and going to sleep. I am passionate about certain things”, and a leader will typically have one more thing he is going to pursue on the side. You need to pick what it is and quantify it but more than the ‘What’, again I will tell you, it’s about the “Why”. Why is that cause so dear to you? Why did you not pick something else? Why did you pick that sport?Why do you jam with your band every weekend? What about music inspires you? What can other people learn from you? 300 words is plenty of space to elaborate on that part.


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)


This is the usual optional essay. If you have any gaps in your education or work experience, the optional essay is the place to address it, or if you feel that there is something that the Admission Committee needs to know, you can write about it. Make sure that this is not something that you’re trying to retrofit, like a story which does not fit anywhere else. Don’t do that. You’re better off not writing this essay than writing something for the sake of it.


I know there is a lot for the INSEAD essays. If you’re applying this year and you think there is any way in which we can work together and we can help, please let us know by clicking the link below.