Essay Writing Tips for ISB Young Leaders Programme

Last updated on March 21st, 2016

Reading Time: 8 minutes

If you have not heard about it already – ISB has a Young Leaders Program for students in their pre-final or final year of college. (You could graduate by 2020!)

Details of the course can be found here.

As part of the screening process, you will be required to submit an online application that includes an Essay and your personal and educational details in Stage-1. Once short-listed, you will be required to submit your GMAT or GRE scores in Stage-2, and appear for an on-campus selection process in Stage-3.


In this blog we will focus on how to answer 2016’s essay topics for the Young Leadership Program – ISB.



How to Tackle Essay 1

Write about an incident or set of incidents in your life that had the most profound influence on you. While writing this essay briefly mention the incident and the impact it has had on your life.

Remember that you have a maximum of 300 words to write this essay.

If you follow the structure given below, you should be on your way to getting to the next round.

This structure (or framework) is called START. It stands for:

1. Situation
2. Task
3. Action
4. Result
5 Takeaways

Let us take an example so it is easier for us to work through this framework. Let us say you want to talk about your experience of organizing your college cultural event.

1. Situation:


Give the reader a background so he/she can better understand the scale involved, how many people were going to turn up, how big were the stakes, what was the reputation of the event, and what impact it was going to have.

As part of the core organizing committee at Vibrant 2013, our annual college fest that attracts over 5000 students from over 50 colleges in the region, I knew I had a very important role to play. However, in the days that followed, little did I realize that I would be taught lessons of leadership and management that changed my perspective completely.”

Now you have given them a strong introduction. There are other ways to make a similar impact such as starting with a quote, or with a line someone said to you, or with a situation. However, the important point is that the introduction should give the reader the context.

2. Task:


This is where you need to explain what specific role you had to play in the larger objective. Don’t try to play “Rambo” by saying you did everything single-handedly. Instead, focus on your role within the larger context of things.

It was decided that I would be in charge of the all-important function of getting corporate sponsorship worth Rs. 10 lakhs. This was partly because of my communication skills, and partly due to my enterprising nature. I knew this was a big role and was thinking of how to ensure we meet our budget through sponsorships. I knew the market was not very cheerful and on top of that our college fest was the last in the season, so perhaps they had exhausted their sponsorship quote.

You have given a good idea about the challenges you faced. This should be the point that should whet their appetite for more. As mentioned earlier, try to be as specific as possible, including putting out figures, numbers, etc.

3. Action:


Here is where you need to say WHAT you did and also WHY you did so. The idea is to show how you executed the task assigned. Focus on the details that show how you handled challenges. This is where you showcase your leadership abilities.

I did an analysis of the companies that had sponsored similar fests in the city and found that most of them were traditional companies with fixed (and now depleted) budgets. So I decided to approach the startups through a list of the 50-fastest-growing startups I found in XYZ publication. I made an email (followed by a telephone) pitch for our college fest which focused on how they could benefit from participating. I showed how they could attract good talent (programmers, marketers, etc.), how they could benefit from brand recognition and lead generation, and how they could also get early adopters for their apps/services.”

If you notice, the above paragraph touches upon both the points (a) said WHAT was done, and (b) HOW it was done. A mistake here is to get into the details. Since there are only 300 words overall try to keep it as short as possible. More details can be given, if asked, at the interview stage.

4. Result:


Here, focus on the result of the action performed above. You should focus on the success (or even the failure) of the action. What is important is you give a very clear idea of outcome through data rather than any perceived reasons for success/failure.

By trying to talk in their language, i.e., how they could succeed in partnering, I was able to engage 20+ initial prospects for sponsorship. Post our meeting, I was able to convince 14 such startups to take up one of the various sponsorship options that ranged from Rs.25,000 to Rs.1,00,000. Not only had I exceeded the quota by 30% but we also had a new set of companies that we could approach the next year.

In the paragraph above, there is a clear success story but it is articulated using numbers, as well as intangibles, i.e., a new set of companies. This is an important point that many people miss out when writing such essays.

5. Takeaways:


The difference between a good and a great essay is how you are able to show your own learnings. If you don’t mention this, you have not answered the initial question. It is time to get personal by reflecting on self-growth.

This experience has had a profound effect on my confidence level. I can say that I am a different person from who I was three years ago. When faced with a challenge, I tell myself “I have done this before, I can do it again“. This perhaps is the same feeling an Indian batsman feels when he hits century on foreign soil. More than the accomplishment itself, it is the sense of confidence it gives him. I think the human mind works best when we are in a positive and happy state of mind. Whenever I feel stress, I go back to this time and I suddenly feel a gush of energy and a sense of accomplishment. In no time I feel renewed.

The second way it has helped me is by underscoring the belief to think out of the box. As the famous line by Shiv Khera goes, “Winners don’t do different things, they do things differently”. I have realized that we need to think through any problem to its logical conclusion. There is no challenge so unsurmountable that the human brain cannot think of finding a solution. If admitted to the ISB Class of 2019 through the ISB Young Leaders Program then this is the self-belief and unconventional approach that I would bring to the class”

If you notice, this is the longest of the 5 points in our structure/framework. That is because this essay merits more focus and attention to the learnings. The biggest mistake that candidates make is not focusing on their PERSONAL journey. It is YOUR story, so make sure YOU are the hero in it! 🙂


How to Tackle Essay 2

How would you describe yourself as a person and what are the two qualities / skills / attributes that you wish to further develop in yourself through the ISB Young Leaders Programme? (300 words)

If you’re comfortable talking about yourself and have a moderate level of self-awareness, this is an essay prompt you’ll find very easy to answer!

On the other hand, if introspection is not really your thing, you could be losing sleep over this essay. Don’t worry if you belong to this lot – once you get past your initial block and get into the groove, this can be a very enjoyable essay to write!

Read on to structure your thoughts before you tackle this essay!

Your answer to this essay should broadly contain the below sections –

1. A catchy intro (less than 50 words)

2. A description of who you are (about 120-150 words)

3. A description of who you wish to become post-YLP (about 100 – 130 words)

1. Introduction:

Remember that what they say about first impressions being the best impressions applies to the written word as well. Make sure you start your essay with a few sentences that can ‘hook in’ your reader. For example –

‘I was 12 when I first stood in front of a large audience and delivered an impromptu debate. I felt exhilaration course through my body as I spoke with gusto and passion and felt the audience respond. When I look back, I think that this was when I realized how much I loved influencing people through communication’.

‘The first time I sat down to seriously introspect my strengths and weaknesses was when I took a ‘StrengthsFinder’ test last year.’

‘I’ve always been curious about people, and the motivations and experiences that drive different people. This curiosity is directed inwards too – I have often wondered about what makes me tick!’

2. Who you are:

Before you begin writing this section, list down five to ten characteristics you’d like to communicate about yourself to the ISB AdCom. These traits could be a mix of personal qualities (for example, diligence, ambition, resourcefulness) and interpersonal behavior (for example, empathy and the ability to influence others).

Next, carefully examine the list and narrow it down to the top three things you wish to say. Why three traits? Because you have roughly 120-150 words at your disposal – if you write about too many things, you may end up saying too little about individual traits. If you write too few, you may come across as someone who doesn’t have much to say about himself/herself.

Three sounds just about right. 🙂

Now, substantiate these three traits with corresponding actions you have undertaken. If you have stated persistence as one of your key traits, this would be the place to talk about how you got better at martial arts in spite of being sickly and low on stamina for many years. If a strongly developed civic and social consciousness is a key trait of yours, here is where you talk about your involvement with a local NGO or civic body.
Get the drift?

Here’s a neat way to round off this section – explain how these traits have led you to your career goals (if you do not have a very decisive goal yet, a general career direction) and thereby your decision of pursuing the ISB YLP program.

3. Who you wish to become:

Now, here is where you display your awareness of your current limitations, and your game-plan to overcome them!

Ask yourself these questions –

Who do you wish to become in the next 3-4 years? What is stopping you from already being that person?

What skills do you think you will need to develop in order to succeed?

What personal attributes do you feel are holding you back?

Again, make a list, and taper it down to two traits/skills. When you narrow it down, keep in mind that there ought to be specific traits that you can really learn from the ISB YLP program.

For example, if you want to learn how to build a professional network… this is a good skill to put down because it is something the YLP can actually teach you through a variety of experiences.

However, if you’re looking for life lessons on how to become a happier person or a more focused person, even the best MBA program in the world won’t teach you that. Be optimistic, but realistic!

Once you have fixed on the traits that you wish to develop, it is important that you tell the AdCom how you think you will learn each of these lessons. What experiences does the YLP offer that could possibly shape you? Think about all aspects of the program… the people you will get to meet and share experiences with, the professors you will learn from, the clubs and initiatives you will participate in and the seminars you will gain insights from.

Once you’ve written this, conclude your essay with a powerful sentence summing up the impact the ISB YLP will have on your life and career… and you’re good to go to the next round! 🙂


Hear From CrackVerbal’s Successful Students


Rijul Jain, batch of 2014-15


“Do NOT bluff on your essays. Also, do NOT exaggerate either. Remember that the people reading your essays are veterans and can easily see through these things”, says Rijul Jain, who graduated from the ISB YLP program last year. Click here to know more about how he got his admit.


Darshana Sivakumar, batch of 2016-17


Darshana Sivakumar says, “After taking up the GMAT, I penned down my essays. That’s when I decided to approach CrackVerbal, to see if I was moving in the right direction. It’s very important to be original in the essays and not let other people influence what you have to say in them. However, it is also important to get feedback on what you are missing and how to improve. The CrackVerbal team did a great job at that!” Read more about Darshana’s journey here.


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