ISB Essay Review for PGP 2016-17

ISB Essay Analysis for 2015-16

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Click here if you looking for the latest ISB Essay Analysis (the 2016-2017 application season).


The ISB essays pose an interesting mix and have something for everyone to write about. Some of the previous essay topics were tricky and not everyone could have written about them with ease. This year it sticks to a very standard format of 3 essays and 1 optional essay. Out of the 3 standard essays, one of them gives you an option to choose between two essays.


The overall approach to the essays should be to compare yourself to someone else with a similar but only slightly better profile. So if you have done your engineering from Delhi College of Engineering then think this guy has done it from IIT-Delhi. If you have a GPA of 8.5 then assume this person has a GPA of 9.0. If you have a GMAT of 730 then assume this person has a 750. If you have worked for a good brand name – say TCS then assume he has worked for a better one – say Microsoft.


In short – if on paper this person has an edge over you in terms of PURE numbers then what is it that you would do to make ISB sit up and look at your profile. What will make them say “Wow! We got a guy who is very interesting”. If you don’t have an answer to that – then maybe it is time for you to start thinking.


A total of 1100 words for the essays so there is a lot of room for you to play around. However, those who are new to MBA Applications writing might find this word limit very tight. Also, I have kept the tone and grammar of this analysis very “conversational”. In some places I could even be grammatically wrong. Like this.
However, when you write the essays I would recommend you think through the writing part. It has to be articulated well – clear and crisp is the mantra. (We do have a service for those struggling with the word count and grammar.)


ISB essay 1:


If we were to admit just one more student, make a compelling argument as to why that student should be you by describing an (only one) achievement in your personal / professional life that you are most proud of. What did you do that sets you apart from others? What did you learn? 


(word limit: 300 words)


If you have heard any of Steve Job’s speeches, this is the “one more thing moment”. This is the time in his speeches, when after talking about all the cool features, at the very end, he gives out yet another killer feature to wow the audience. Or take this analogy: If you had an hour long interview and after it got over, just before leaving, you turned around and said “One more thing” – what would it be?


In short, this question is asking you – What is your WOW factor?


Remember to use the START framework to compose your answers. This essentially breaks down any story into 5 parts:


S        ->      Situation

T        ->      Task

A       ->      Action

R       ->      Results

T        ->      Takeaways


#1 Situation:


What to write:

What was the background to the problem? What was the enormity of the issue? Why did you come in? What did it mean to you?



Make sure you give the reader enough background. This is like the first few scenes in a movie in which every character is described. This is to ensure you drive home the point about WHY it was so important for you.



“While Traction Technologies always had a policy of “employees first”, they did have to make the hard decision of laying off people if they had to continue being profitable. I walked into the office everyday morning knowing that this could very well be my last day. The cafeteria crib sessions were like group therapy for us.” 


#2 Task:


What to write:

Explain clearly the task you had at hand. This could either be an explicit job role or something you assumed without being told. In either case you need to ensure you explain what is it that you were trying to achieve.



It is important that you give a clear picture of WHY you chose to do that set of actions. What was the thought process behind it? Give them a glimpse of who you are.



“However, I soon realized that it was negative energy that was getting spread. I did not want everyone to wear a sad face everyday. So I decided to replace the everyday crib session with a “brown bag lunch session” where we would talk about the latest technology. Not only would it help us focus away from the negativity but also it would also help us in retooling incase we got some other job opportunity.”


#3 Action:


What to write:

What did you do? Did you face any resistance? Did you have to change your plans midcourse? What was the biggest challenge that you DID NOT anticipate?



A lot of writers spend almost 90% of the essay talking about what they did. Here is where you have to be careful. You need to be crisp and clear. Don’t get into too many details.



“Only 6-7 people turned up for the 1st session as many thought it was company-sponsored and hence were put off. Upon getting to know it was their “friends” who were conducting it, the numbers swelled over the next few weeks to over 50. The debates were animated and a lot of ideas were exchanged in these informal sessions.”


#4 Result:


What to write:

What was achieved because of this? Did people save money? Did it help a particular client? Did you get a promotion or a reward or excellent ratings?



Don’t repeat what is already mentioned in the “Achievements” section of your application form. Just touch upon the impact it made to the organization and toyou. Be poetic and not prosaic.



“My CEO personally called me for a meeting where he praised me for my leadership, saying “Ashok, you really know how to push your circle of influence”. I felt an immense sense of pride but it also made me wonder about what he had said about me.”


#5 Takeaways:


What to write:

Read the question stem again: What did you do that sets you apart from others? What did you learn? A few more questions to make you think: How did this change you as a person? What do you look back to and remember the most? How does this reflect on you as a person? What is it that you would do differently because of this experience?



Be personal. This is not a place to give a bullet list of things. Nor is this a place to brag. Also tie it with WHY this is such an important achievement for you.



“I think this achievement stands out because it revealed something about myself that even I did not now. It showed me that I am a servant leader – someone who leads from the back. Secondly, it told me that though at the start of our careers, we feel we have limited influence,  only when we really try, do we know how much we are capable of.”


If you see, the example takes you through the story of Ashok by providing you a ringside view of what happened in his life and how he was enriched by the experience.


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ISB Essay 2


Describe a (only one) defining moment in your personal / professional life when you had to make a risky decision, and explain what you did, why and the outcome?




Describe a (only one) situation in your personal / professional life when you had to interact with people from diverse backgrounds. How did it affect you and what did you learn?

(word limit: 300 words)

At the outset, it does NOT matter which essay you pick. Final ISB Admits would have an equal mix of people who chose the “risky decision” and people who chose “diversity”.  So don’tover-think this.
In other words, pick the story that YOU think makes more sense. Don’t think of it from the Admissions Committee perspective. Let me rephrase it: Don’t even TRY to think of it from the Admissions Committee perspective.

#1 Risky Decision

Part 1: What was the risk?
A lot of times the writer assumes that the reader knows the risks involved. The assumption could be flawed. For example: “We realized two days before the deadline that we couldn’t meet it”. Now unless you explain the gravity of the project you cannot assume the reader knows about it. It could be a small change request being worked on by a 1-member team, as part of an inconsequential maintenance project, or it could be a major online feature go-live for Flipkart for which marketing has already been done.  You need to tell the reader about the risk.
Part 2: Why did you decide to take the risk?
So what were the options available? Maybe there were none and this was not really a calculated decision. Maybe you chose the risk in the face of grave personal danger for a larger cause. Whatever it is – make sure you spell it out clearly.
Part 3: How did you take the risk?
Was this a blind gamble or were you monitoring the outcome periodically and making changes to your approach? I hope you pick the latter. As a potential ISB candidate you don’t want to come across as someone who cannot think through a situation. After all, one of the biggest risks is doing an MBA! 🙂
Also provide some insights into team-work i.e. did you take everyone into confidence while making this decision, did you understand the implications well, what did you do when things did not go your way.
Part 4: Why did you take the risk?
This is the part ISB is more interested to know – what does this tell them about you? What did you learn from it? How does that make you a better person today? It is not the risk itself but the person behind the decision to take the risk that ISB is looking for.
A lot of times people think they should only write about risks that they succeeded in. Not true! You can write about risks that you took that did not turn out the way you wanted them to. For example you can talk about how you took a risk of putting your money in a wrong investment. Or maybe about how you quit your job thinking you will have your own startup but it didn’t materialize. Or maybe about how you bet on the wrong guy for a job.
It is okay to fail. It is more important to realize the lesson behind it. However, remember that the narration of a risk that did not lead to success has to be evocative and insightful to have an impressive effect.

#2 Diversity

A similar essay prompt has been used in INSEAD for many years now. The advantage here is unlike the INSEAD one – don’t think just geography. Think financial background. Think language background. Think educational background. *Anything* that makes the other person different from you is good!
Some of the most successful students we have had have spoken about something that changed the way they think about others. Here are some examples:
One applicant went to the US for the first time in her life and saw how people spent money without saving much. At first she resisted the idea but slowly understood that this is how people in the US work and appreciated how this fosters new ideas and helps the economy grow. This is how diversity impacts you.
Another applicant went to Germany and saw his PhD guide’s son stop studying after high-school to explore his passion for skiing. At first he was shocked but soon realized the beauty of a culture that lets people decide for themselves. This is how diversity changes the way you think.
If you see none of these stories are about diversity that stems from ignorance of another culture. For example, to say I went to France and was taken aback that they drink wine with every meal is not talking diversity. It is talking “stupid”.
It is not okay to just talk about the diversity. You also need to talk about how it impacted you.
Here is where you talk about how it has changed you as a person. How you now look at things in a new light. And how you hope this adds value to the class at ISB. It is important to reflect upon this incident and showcase yourself in a better light.

ISB Essay 3


What are your post ISB career plans and how will your past experiences and the Post Graduate Programme in Management (PGP) contribute to taking you there?


(word limit: 300 words)

This is a classic Goals essay. So what you need to do is create a start, a middle-part, and an end.

The Start (100 words):

Clearly state your post ISB Career plans in black and white. Don’t use obscure statements such as “get into general management” or “want a leadership position”. That is code for “I have no clue what I want to do but want to surely boss around a lot of people”. If you are unable to put your career goals in unambiguous terms then perhaps you can get some professional help.
After that you need to say why are you the best person to get there. Here is where you talk about where you currently are, in your career. What you have learned at work (not too technical) and what makes you so special.

The Middle (100 words):

Next you need to talk about the opportunities to grow. Someone from a technical background might want to understand the business side of things to get a fuller context. Someone from an operational perspective might want to grow into a role that involves more people management. Someone who is an analyst might want a more client-facing role by becoming a consultant.
For every job there is some growth, or some career “next steps” that are possible. If you are in a role that has no such career progression then either you are not thinking hard or you don’t need an MBA.
Note here: Avoid references to how you hate your job or how your manager is a tyrant. Anything negative would go against you. Focus on the positives. Talk about how you are eager to take up opportunities that will help you grow in life. Show them the ambition, not the frustration.
Now talk about the 2 or 3 absolute “must haves” for you to get into that role. It could be the brand credentials of a top MBA for consulting. It could be the general management aspect of looking at things for someone in a finance career stream. It could be the wider perspective your teammates offer,that might make you a well-rounded Product Manager. It could be all of these.

The End (100 words):

Here is where you need to talk about why an MBA from ISB is going to help you get those skills. By this point, if your writing is clear and crisp, it should be a no-brainer on WHY you should be doing an MBA. It should focus on WHY ISB.
Steer clear of generic stuff. You don’t want an MBA because it has “world class infrastructure” and “renowned faculty”. That is stuff even IIPM could claim!
Do research. Talk to current students/alumni. Attend info sessions. Read up as much as you can about the school. If possible make a trip to the ISB campus! In short – pull out all the stops to ensure you understand why ISB is a good fit. Don’t do this to impress the Admission Committee.
Do this because your decision is going to cost you the next 1 year, and over 30+ lakhs (including lost opportunity costs). You better be sure  🙂

ISB Essay 4 ( optional)


Please use this space to explain any career breaks / provide any other information not covered elsewhere in the application that could significantly impact your candidature at ISB.


(word limit: 200 words)

There are 3 categories of people who would benefit from this:
If you applied previously then this essay should focus just on what has changed in your application. You should talk about what else has happened in this time (GMAT score improvement or taking up a new project). You should also write about the additional responsibilities at work that you might have undertaken.
If you received feedback on your previous application, then do mention a couple of things that you have done to understand it better. Maybe you spent time talking to some alumni from that school. Maybe you took up a course in Coursera to know more about your chosen post-MBA career.
Don’t focus on the minor details and get too tactical. Think of the bigger picture – what were their main concerns last time and how can you best address them in this essay.
Break in education or employment
If you got poor grades in college or have a gap in employment then this is the best place to address it. Tell them when the break happened and the reasons for it.
A big danger sign is when people start writing a sob story about how they fell ill or how fate played a treacherous game. Steer clear of that version. Tell them the reason but quickly shift gears to talk about how the experience has made you stronger/better and why ISB shouldn’t really worry about this gap.
Also a month’s break in employment or slipping beyond the top 25% of your class is not that big a deal so don’t bring the spotlight to things that you think area problem, that ISB may not consider a problem.
Include another Wow Factor
Remember the other 800-pound gorilla has a higher GMAT, better work-experience and in general – better pedigree than you have. So here is where you show ISB that “you are who you are”and that you are better in many other ways.
You can talk about your family background or something unique about something that could NOT have been covered in the earlier essays. I see a lot of applicants using this to talk about one more project at work or one more detail that they could not fit in anywhere else. Wrong approach.
Instead tell them about your dream, your passions – about what has made you who you are today. After reading the essay, the person should say “Wow! I didn’t know that”.
I have written this so anyone applying for ISB this year has a clear idea of what to write. Now the only thing left is to start writing.

So here are the deadlines:

ISB Round 1 deadline is 15 Oct 2015
ISB Round 2 deadline is 15 Jan 2016
If you have any feedback,do let us know in the comments section below. I would also encourage you to share it with others who might benefit from this.
If you want us to have a look at your ISB essays or even discuss whether your stories make sense then let us know by filling the form below.

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