INSEAD MBA Essay Writing Tips & Winning Sample Essays

The INSEAD MBA application is the longest among leading B-schools, with 7 mandatory and 1 optional essay question. For an INSEAD MBA, it is important to know your story. In fact, the art of storytelling is so well integrated into the INSEAD curriculum that some of the most popular courses at INSEAD MBA are storytelling courses (that’s right!). The INSEAD  MBA application essays allow you to tell your story and make a compelling case for your application better than any other business school application.

Unlike other B-school applications where you may have to skimp on details, the INSEAD MBA  essays provide enough space to cover all aspects and more. The application is divided into two parts, the career essays and the motivational essays, where you can outline your career choices, your vision for post-MBA, and your personal qualities and experiences. Here are some insider tips for responding to the INSEAD essays based on my experience with INSEAD MBA applicants and reading the applications of INSEAD MBA applicants as an alumni interviewer for three years.

INSEAD MBA Motivation Essays: Question Prompts

A. Career Essays

CAREER ESSAY 1. Briefly summarize 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. (200 words, max)

This question is intended to give the reader a snapshot of where you are right now in your career.

In this 200-word question, it is crucial to connect the dots and showcase only the responsibilities or skill sets that set you apart. Highlight team management skills, especially if you have supervised employees. If you work for a startup, adding a brief phrase that highlights the company hierarchy could make you stand out. However, it is best to limit storytelling elements in the job description essay. Focus on demonstrating how you achieved the project’s goals and the impact you had on different aspects of the project. Remember to be concise and avoid overdoing your response. This will ensure that your unique edge shines through and helps you stand out as a candidate.

EXPERT TIPS: INSEAD expects its students to have worked in highly complex environments, therefore bringing out your ability to manage technical logjams, bureaucratic hurdles, international stakeholders, and other complex phenomena in your day-to-day job will fetch you high points in this essay. Try not to get too technical; do not use industry jargon and keep your language simple as your readers may not be familiar with your industry or function. In brief, keep your language simple but the content high impact.

CAREER ESSAY 2. What would be your next step in terms of position if you were to remain in the same company? (200 words max)

This is a tricky one!

Remember that the AdCom uses this question for two objectives-

1. To see how your company perceives you (are you someone who is set up for bigger better opportunities if you stay with your employer? Or are you someone who is struggling with stagnation and merely looking for an existing path through an MBA?)

2. To see how an INSEAD MBA would add value to your career

While this question may sound simple, the admissions team wants to assess how valuable the MBA program would be to you if you were to take on a role similar to your current position after the MBA. If the program does not significantly improve your career prospects, it may impact alumni satisfaction and post-MBA salary increases – both important factors in business school rankings.

This does not mean that you should downplay YOUR POTENTIAL! However, if your current roles and post-MBA roles in a large organization are similar, you should clearly highlight other motivations for pursuing the MBA in your essay. The admissions team will use this essay to evaluate your goals, strengths, and weaknesses (in addition to your motivational essays).

CAREER ESSAY 3.Please give a full description of your career since graduating from university. Describe your career path with the rationale behind your choices. (300 words max)

This is the classic “Career Progression” Essay.

Typically, strong candidates for the INSEAD MBA program have already gone through two or three career transitions. These transitions can include moving from a core engineering or technology role to consulting, or from one specialization within a function to another (e.g., corporate finance to investment banking, audit advisory to management consulting). This is just the space where you could talk about your career progressions in the same industry or career transitions across industries. It is important to note that having exposure to international cultures and work environments is highly valued by the program, and applicants with no such experience may not be as competitive at INSEAD.

Although travel has been restricted for many people during the pandemic period, the admissions team will still assess the international composition of your team to gauge your experience in working with people from diverse backgrounds. If you have worked remotely and collaborated with an international team spread across multiple geographies, this can be an advantage when applying to INSEAD. Overall, this essay is an opportunity for you to showcase the decisions you have made in your career and how they have prepared you for the next step.

EXPERT TIPS: If you look at the “International Engagement” section of an INSEAD application, you’ll notice that INSEAD provides a variety of options to describe your engagement with global stakeholders in a professional setting. This emphasizes the importance INSEAD places on such experiences for its students. If you lack a formal expatriation stint, strategically build seemingly insignificant events into your narrative. This could include organizing workshops, seminars, meetings, and training sessions for global stakeholders at different career stages to guide project plans and foster collaboration.

CAREER ESSAY 4. Discuss your short- and long-term career aspirations with an MBA from INSEAD. (100 words max)

In just 100 words, there’s not much wiggle room to add context to your essay on classical goals. It is important that you are able to state the vision behind your goals (briefly, but strategically) in this essay. Due to limited space, focus on your desired post-MBA industry, function and location. Indicate the preferred size of the company, e.g. Fortune 500, mid-size or boutique. Be specific about your goal and avoid general statements. This will show that you have researched thoroughly and are committed to your desired career.

At INSEAD, there is no long essay about your goals. However, be prepared for a detailed discussion during the alumni interviews.

CAREER ESSAY 5. (Optional) 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. (No word limit but we suggest 300 max)

This MBA optional essay question is particularly relevant for applicants who transition from a job to a startup. Many incoming INSEAD students opt for short internships before they join INSEAD, especially if they are transitioning into a new industry. Speaking about this experience helps the school understand their motivation and employability in the short term. If you have faced a layoff or other circumstances that led you to apply for an MBA program, be sure to provide a clear and honest explanation. One useful skill set to develop during the transition period is language proficiency. INSEAD requires fluency in English, practical knowledge in a second language, and basic knowledge in a third language. Therefore, if you have been working on developing your language skills, it is worth highlighting those efforts in your response.

B. Motivation Essays

MOTIVATION ESSAY 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. (500 words max)

As an alumni INSEAD interviewer, whenever I received an invitation to interview, I instinctively wanted to first read the motivation essay 1 in the interviewee’s application(although it is not mandatory to send the motivational essays to the interviewer but many applicants do that). This essay is critical in determining your fit for the program. The questionnaire that INSEAD interviewers complete after an interview is also a comprehensive document that is primarily used to assess the suitability or “the fit” of the applicant.

This essay provides important insight into the applicant’s personality, values and character traits.

The key theme of this essay is “self-awareness.”

People who lack self-awareness have a hard time developing and improving, which makes them stagnant or resistant to change. In contrast, people who are self-aware are often seen as more authentic, empathetic, and open to learning and growth, which makes them more likeable and respected.

With this question, the committee is trying to understand who you are as a person. Your response to the essay prompt should focus on your values and how you acquired unique personality traits. Events in childhood, moments of triumph or experiences that reinforced a particular value, or the passing on of values by a mentor or role model are good sources for imbibing values into your personality. A common mistake I have observed is that applicants make their role models the focus of their essays. Instead, move quickly to yourself.

The second part of the question, asking about weaknesses, should be carefully considered, and it should be something you are aware of. Avoid highlighting weaknesses in communication or understanding of international cultures (these are important to INSEAD), and instead focus on weaknesses in specific skills that may have resulted from your access to opportunities, socio-economic background, etc. But ideally, nothing that you cannot improve over time. When answering the question, stress the personal characteristics you feel are your strengths and weaknesses, and the main factors that have influenced your personal development. It should not be an isolated trait, and you should demonstrate how you are currently working to improve or have already overcome it. Remember to carefully read and understand this question.

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. (400 words max)

The theme of this essay is also “self-awareness”. Some individuals gauge their success through their professional accomplishments, while others place more significance on overcoming personal challenges. Which of these two types are you ?

There is no one-way answer to this question. The AdCom expects you to elucidate why you hold a value or “proud achievement” label for this example. Additionally, it is important to provide context on the obstacles and struggles, whether personal or professional, leading to the eventual victory.

Discuss your efforts in overcoming human problems — remember that they don’t have to be monumental. Whether it’s listening carefully to a colleague or adjusting your approach to accommodate cultural, functional, gender, age or racial differences, these examples are valuable to share. Highlight the smaller, human actions you took to express your appreciation, move others forward, and present the finer details that, along with lessons learned, increase the effectiveness of anecdotes about leadership and teamwork.

In the case of a failure, contemplate instances when you confront your weaknesses head-on. The failure could have also been a moment of introspection in which the result could have arisen from external circumstances or issues with group dynamics or decision-making processes that you had not fully comprehended.

Remember to reflect on the latter part of the question as well. It may seem like a tall order to do so within 400 words, but INSEAD also wants to see how you perceive your interpersonal relationships with others who were involved in these isolated incidents. Demonstrate what you gained from each experience and how you intend to apply these insights retrospectively as you embark on the INSEAD journey.

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?(300 words max)

The purpose of this essay is twofold:

1. to assess whether you possess a well-rounded personality and

2. to determine whether you can handle the demanding INSEAD program, which combines a rigorous academic curriculum with extensive networking obligations. INSEAD is seeking individuals who can multitask and juggle a hectic schedule with ease.

Note that extra professional activities and volunteering experiences are not the same. While highlighting your volunteer work is admirable, you should also include experiences from clubs, sports, music, arts, and languages, ideally showcasing a time in your life when you invested in developing a skill. This activity does not necessarily have to be a current one or something you recently participated in; it could be an engagement from several years ago that you spent a considerable amount of time on.

Pro-tip: This is an excellent opportunity to discuss if you’ve dedicated time and effort to learning a second or third language.

If given a choice, it would be best to choose a recent engagement, as it would demonstrate your ability to manage work with extracurricular activities, and the experience’s intensity would be similar to what you’ll encounter at INSEAD.

Essay 4 (Optional): Is there anything else that was not covered in your application that you would like to share with the Admissions Committee? (maximum 300 words)

Also Read: How To Tackle Optional Essay In MBA Application

INSEAD MBA Essays – Successful INSEAD Sample Essays

Sample Motivational 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 (maximum 500 words).

During my early years, my father’s transferable job in the hydropower sector kept us in the remote corners of the Himalayas. Observing his unparalleled commitment towards his profession, I learnt the two biggest virtues of my life- perseverance and diligence. Working abroad for three years, there were times when I felt homesick and vulnerable to work pressure. My urge to overcome every hurdle and rebound to my stronger self symbolizes the person I am.

Living in the harsh conditions of Himalayan towns made me tough. I changed nine schools by age 15. Although shy, I made conscious efforts to befriend new people and gradually learnt to adapt to my constantly changing surroundings. Later when I moved countries for work, cultural differences never posed a problem. Living my American dream at 23, I was deeply influenced by American principles of mutual respect and independence. In France, though I initially faced language problems, a little effort from me was all it took to see the beauty of French philosophy in everyday life at work.

Interacting with people who were culturally and geographically diverse, I discovered my ability to bring them together on a common platform. The Company ABC Group moved its R&D centre from Thailand to India three years ago. Soon various disagreements erupted between the new R&D team and the factory management in China, due to conflicting positions and interests, jeopardizing the entire design-to-production cycle. With support from Company ABC’s Technical director, I organized a week-long workshop, where I brought all the major stakeholders from China and India to the same table. I facilitated intensive discussions among all the participants to iron out their differences, resulting in a jointly prepared action plan for production, design and supply chain teams – which everybody has followed since. Following the workshop, our relations have greatly improved and Company ABC’s growth in both India and China has reached new heights.

In pursuit of perfectionism, I develop anxiety from the fear that I may not succeed. Under such circumstances, I tend to be impatient with my team or friends. In the past, I have borne the brunt of being blunt to a team member when I did not see him giving his hundred per cent to accomplish team goals. This not only negatively impacted my relationship with him, but also created uneasiness within the team. Noticing the discomfort, my mentor in the USA counselled me, giving me the very precious life lesson of prudence and forbearance. Overcoming this weakness has been a life lesson as a team leader. I now try to respect my team member’s inner clock for self-realization.

My acceptance of the fact that I may not always accomplish my goals with my team, but my perseverance to stay true to my efforts and make my comrades understand the goal we are trying to achieve, bringing the team to a consensus, is what brings me inner peace each day after work.

Sample Job Essay :  Please give a full description of your career since graduating from university. Describe your career path with the rationale behind your choices. (300 words maximum)

During campus recruitment, I was highly impressed by Company ABC’s international focus, emphasis on employee development and potential leadership opportunities it offered. I joined Company ABC as a Product design and industrialization Trainee in the R&D division in July 20XX.

In October 2013, I expatriated to Company ABC, South Carolina, USA, where I studied XYZ design and industrial risk management techniques in tyre production. Initially, I experienced inadequacies in the training material and stepped up to develop a learning module that challenged the trainees through exercises and examples. This module has become the de-facto module helping subsequent trainees in R&D.

Following the rigorous nine months’ training, I took the technical leadership and quality management responsibilities of four Company ABC tyre lines at Company ABC’s factory in Edinburg. I led a project to identify the impact of rubber quantity variation on the cost of products in the long run. We Implemented cost-cutting measures by tightening threshold limits for product quantity variation in tyre’s tread- saving an additional 20% on tyre tread costs.

In July 2015, I went on an assignment to Company ABC HQ in France as I wanted to experience the action in the head office where the highest level decisions are taken. Working with colleagues from over 10 nationalities, I led three projects to transfer production from European factories to China. I modified and standardized designs for five tyres into one casing which led to an additional $100K in annual savings.

In August 20XX, I moved back to India to be in the proximity of Company ABC’s factories. I lead the Industrial risk management for tyre development projects in Asia. Because of my good reputation with the factory personnel, I was also appointed the official Company ABC coordinator between the China factory and the R&D team in India, ensuring the smooth progress of Company ABC’s projects in China.

In my journey from a trainee engineer to a technical leader, I developed my leadership abilities, people management skills and international outlook – essential tools that will contribute to my future roles as a global leader.

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