INSEAD’s Trickiest MBA Essay Question

Essay Tips

Tip #1: Highlight your strengths without bragging

Sometimes discussing a strength can seem too much like bragging. The best way to communicate effectively about your own abilities and talents is to show and not tell. Provide a very specific example of a time that you utilized this great quality, and your solid results. If you are still worried, create a reality check for your own ego by having a friend or family member read your essay and let you know if you are coming across as arrogant.

You’ll certainly want your reader to be impressed with your strengths, but you must walk a fine line between sharing your achievements and boasting. Early drafts from our clients often run the gamut from misplaced modesty to off-putting braggadocio. Achieving the right balance while touting one’s accomplishments is an accomplishment in its own right.

You’ll want your achievements to speak for themselves. If the underlying tone of your essays is “I’m clearly the most accomplished applicant who has ever applied to INSEAD,” you’re on the wrong track. Try to set aside ideas about one-upmanship and instead write from the heart.

Here are some more specific tips to help you to reduce the brag factor of your essay:

  • When possible share credit for achievements and acknowledge the contributions of your team/colleagues.
  • Be measured when it comes to espousing your strengths with a direct statement such as, “Through a combination of intelligent lobbying and shrewd analysis I caught the attention of my superiors.” Instead tell your story and describe your actions allowing your strengths to shine through.
  • Try to feature achievements in which your accomplishments added value to a team or an organization and benefited others versus simply furthering your career.

Tip #2:  Demonstrate specific ways you have addressed your weaknesses

The best way to discuss your personal development is to reflect on the times in which you struggled and even failed.  Ask yourself why you weren’t successful in those instances.  If you have trouble putting your finger on where you have had a development experience, ask your teammates and mentors to help you to identify a few.  As with other questions in which you are required to reveal a “weakness” this essay may be somewhat uncomfortable.  Certainly, you want to criticize yourself constructively, identifying areas that you can and will address while at INSEAD while avoiding character flaws that might be harder to fix.

Avoid generic messages such as “I need to learn to delegate more” or  “I am too much of a perfectionist.” One way to personalize your development needs is to connect them to your specific future career goals.  Write about the leadership challenges you must prepare for at INSEAD that are somewhat unique given your particular industry or desired role.

Finally, this essay is another opportunity to demonstrate that you have researched the program carefully and identified key connections between your learning agenda and what INSEAD has to offer.  Mention a few specific ways that you will address your leadership development needs given INSEAD’s wealth of classes, resources, and student organizations.

An MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Stacy Blackman founded Stacy Blackman Consulting in 2001 and has helped thousands of MBA applicants gain admission to the most selective business schools in the world. The Stacy Blackman team, comprised of MBA graduates, former admissions officers and expert writers, editors and marketers, helps clients develop and implement a winning marketing strategy. For more in-depth analysis and tips, check out Stacy Blackman Consulting’s MIT School of Management Essay Guide.

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