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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

January 06, 2010

IMD Essays for January 2012 Admission

IMD (The Institute for Management Development), consistently ranked among the best MBA programs in the world, is a small intensive one-year program that starts in January.  IMD, along with Columbia January Term and INSEAD (INSEAD has both September and January start dates) are three of the best options for those who want to start in January 2012 at a top MBA program.

To learn about IMD, visit the website. You should download three PDFs from the website: "MBA Program Brochure," "MBA Class Profiles," and "Class and Placement Overview." I will refer to these below. In addition, if possible, I suggest either attending an information session or visiting. Getting an alumni perspective would also be particularly helpful. Review the website completely and by all means read the MBA Diary to get IMD students' perspectives. Japanese applicants should also look at IMD Japan Club 2012.  
To learn about IMD faculty perspectives, please visit Tomorrrow's Challenges.

7/6/09 UPDATE: I also suggest reading my Q&A with a former client who is a member of the Class of 2009. I think this interview will provide you with some key insights into IMD.

IMD's small size sets it apart from other top programs, as its brochure states: "90 Exceptional People Who Will Shape The Future of Business." While it is not easy to get into IMD, it has an acceptance rate of 28%, it has an 86% yield, one of the highest yields worldwide. (If you get into IMD, chances are quite high that you will go there.)

When you think about IMD, two keywords to focus on are "international" and "leadership." Based on my experience working with clients admitted there for the Class of 2011 (See here for a testimonial), Class of 2010 (See here for my client's testimonial),  and Class of 2009 (See here for my client's testimonial), I can say that IMD is looking for those individuals who both already have and aspire to increased capacity in both being international and being leaders. 

Like its bigger rival INSEAD, IMD is truly an international program with a very diverse student body and faculty. You can actually view all of the Class of 2009 as well as read a statistical summary of their backgrounds on PDFs found on the IMD site. Doing so will certainly help you understand that IMD students are incredibly diverse and multilingual.

The IMD program is focused on making leaders, not managers. It also is not designed for those who want to develop expertise in a business subfield. IMD makes the program's focus very clear on page 2 of the PDF version of their brochure:
Top executives of leading multinational companies tell us clearly: they need leaders, not managers. Leaders with the insight and ability to address issues and problems that are more complex and changing more quickly than ever before. Leaders who are confident, creating their own solutions to these emerging issues with integrity and high ethics. Leaders who understand themselves and how they interact with others. Leaders who understand the needs of their organizations and their business environments. Leaders who can drive change through innovation. Leaders who can move their businesses forward. The single aim of the IMD MBA program is to develop these leaders.

If you are not looking for an education focused on leadership, do not apply to IMD, but if you are, IMD offers a very intensive one-year leadership education:
The program starts with a foundation in the core business courses, e.g. accounting, finance, marketing and operations. This helps you to understand all of the functional areas of the organization and how they work together. It continues with real-world projects and additional courses that allow you to apply what you have learned in the classroom to real leadership situations

A review of the program structure makes it perfectly clear that it is not a degree for those wanting expertise in a particular business subfield (e.g. finance or marketing) because there is actually only one three-week period of study available for electives.

Considering the above, I will analyze IMD's 12  "essay questions." I have taken the questions from the online application.  While there are 10 questions that are called "Essays" in the application, there are actually 12 such questions. I think IMD's "essay" designation  is incredibly confusing for no particular reason.  As you will see the first two questions below are clearly essays, whereas some of IMD's "essays" are more administrative questions.

Position sought after graduation
Please give us your short term career goal post MBA (up to 5 years). Describe how the IMD MBA will help you achieve this goal and how you will approach your job search. 2000 Characters Maximum.

Curiously, the standard why MBA /Short term goal only is not called an essay, yet clearly it is. It is also the single longest essay in the entire set of IMD questions. THIS QUESTION DOES NOT FOCUS ON YOUR LONG TERM GOALS.  It is about a post-MBA plan and how IMD will help you carry out that plan. The focus should be on your plans and not your motivation for those plans.  Certainly mention the motivation, but conceptualize  this as a very practical question regarding your 5-year plan post-IMD and how IMD figures into that plan. Don't forget to answer "how you will approach your job search?" because this is an important part of your plan. IMD is looking for applicants who can take charge of their own careers and drive them, not people who expect a career services office to simply take care of them. Explain what resources you can leverage to launch your post-IMD career.
">If you are having trouble formulating your plan, you might want to go through a formal analysis of why you need an MBA.

You can use my GAP, SWOT, AND ROI TABLE FOR FORMULATING GRADUATE DEGREE GOALS for this purpose (see below). I think Gap, SWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it. (Click here for the Businessweek MBA ROI calculator. Click here for a GMAC report on MBA ROI. )

(To best view the following table, click on it. For a word version, please email me at adammarkus@gmail.com)

How to use this table:

Step 1.
Begin by analyzing your "Present Situation." What job(s) have you held? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?

Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. REMEMBER:WHEN YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESS DON'T ONLY THINK ABOUT WORK, THINK ABOUT OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them.
Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of?
Weakness: What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear?

, analyze the environment you work in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?

Step 2.
Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your "Post-Degree" future after you have earned your MBA. IF YOU CANNOT COMPLETE STEP 2, YOU HAVE NOT SUFFICIENTLY PLANNED FOR YOUR FUTURE and therefore you need to do more research and need to think more about it.

Step 3.
If you could complete step 2, than you should see the "Gap" between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?

Step 4. After completing Step 3, you need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient "ROI" for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4 than you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.

The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA (or other degree)? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals? Thinking about these issues now will help you to develop a fully worked-out strategy for how you will best present yourself both in the application and in an interview.

After going through this formal process, review what you know about IMD again. In your answer to the question, please focus on showing how IMD will help make your post-MBA future objectives a reality.  BOTTOM LINE: Conceptualize this as a business plan with IMD as a partner who will help enable that plan.

Most important achievement

What do you consider to be your single most important achievement and why? 1230 Characters Maximum

This question is not called an essay either, but it is.  Clearly you need to write on something different from the two topics you cover in Essay 1.  See my analysis of HBS Essay 1 as it applies to this question and also to Essay 1.  My analysis of HBS will also help you choose and differentiate between the topics in the this essay and in Essay 1.

The 10 Essays

Each essay answer is quite short, just a maximum of 1230 characters with spaces for each required answer. Essay 1 requires two separate answers. Each answer would be a maximum of about 200-300 words each.

Essay 1: Two situations of importance to you
Situation 1
Situation 2
You have 1230 characters for each Situation. On the online application they are treated as separate answers, so I suggest you treat them as separate essays.

I don't necessarily suggest answering this question first due to its open-ended nature. Instead, first determine what topics you will write about for Essays 2 through 5. Essay 1 is what I call a "balance question" because you can use it to make sure that you are emphasizing all of your most compelling personality characteristics, background, and strengths in your application. Given the limited space in Essay 4 to write about strengths, I think it is fine if you briefly mention a strength in Essay 4 that is substantially proven by one of the situations you write about in Essay 1.

While situations of importance to you may not be accomplishments, many applicants will use this essay for that purpose. If you write about accomplishments, please see my analysis of HBS Essay 1 as it would apply here. I think most applicants will consider it to their advantage to have at least one of these situations be an accomplishment. Of course, you will have already written about your "single most important achievement."

Essay 2: Failure to reach objective
Please comment on a situation where you failed to reach an objective and what you learned from it.
INSEAD asks almost the same question, so if you are applying to both, excepting for possible differences in word count, you could use the same topic.

This is a fairly standard failure question. That said, I think it is important to remember that the objective you fail to reach might very well be your own personal objective and not one imposed on you. You might very well succeed from the perspective of others, but fail from your own perspective.

It is critical that you learned something meaningful about yourself. And your learning about yourself should be important, otherwise why tell admissions about it? Therefore the key constraint of this question is that whatever the failure is, you have learned something important from it. While not stated, you may very well find that one way of showing what you learned is to discuss how you applied your lesson to a new situation.

I would, in fact, argue that the heart of any sort of "failure question," whether it is an essay question or an interview is what you learned. Also depending on what your role was, how you reacted is also very important.

The basic components of an answer:
1. Clearly state what the objective was.
2. Clearly state your role.
3. Clearly state your failure.
4. Explain what you learned.

The word count is limited, but, if you can, show how you applied what you learned to a new situation because the application of abstract learning to a new situation is a key indicator of real learning.

Essay 3: Leadership
Describe a situation where you had to demonstrate strong leadership skills. Explain how effective you were and what you learned.
Obviously, given the centrality of leadership to IMD, use your best (or one of your best) leadership story here. This should be a story where you demonstrate your strengths as leader, have a concrete result, and are able to provide IMD with an interpretation of your actions.

I have developed the following grid to help you outline leadership stories. The categories this grid employs may go beyond any particular school's essay requirements. Filling it out completely will help you write about your leadership in a way that will convince admissions of your leadership potential.
CLICK TO ENLARGE. EMAIL me at adammarkus@gmail.com if you want the original excel version.

How to use the grid:
1. Decide on a specific story.
2. Identify the most significant things you did in the situation, these are you action steps.
3. For each action step identify:

  • What skills or qualities you demonstrated to complete this step.
  • The strengths you demonstrated to complete this step.
  • The kind of leadership you demonstrated.
  • What you still need to learn about leadership.
4. Think about the results and identify how they relate to your action steps. So, at minimum, you should be able to state the impact on others and/or yourself.

5. After completing the chart you will see that some aspects of your action steps may be repeated. If there is a total duplication and nothing new is shown, either you need to redefine the action step or you may decide not to focus on it very much.

6. Once you think you have two to four fully worked-out action steps, start writing your essay.

7. Next, start re-writing. Eliminate duplicate points made between action steps. Make choices about what parts of each action to step to highlight. Given that there are usually word limits, you will have to make some decisions about what to include.

Simply providing a description of your actions, is not enough. Think about what it signifies about you. Think about what your actions reveals about your leadership potential. State what you learned.

Finally, thinking and writing about leadership is an important part of preparing for interviews because you can be certain that you will have to talk about leadership. So you might find that the parts of the outline you jettison now will become valuable when you will want to have alternative stories for your IMD interview.

Essay 4: Describe yourself
How do you imagine your superior would describe your strengths and weaknesses to someone who does not know you?
With a question like this I think it is important to understand that you are actually being asked to think about your strengths and weaknesses more objectively than you might otherwise. In particular, you need to judge yourself from the viewpoint of a hypothetical supervisor who is describing you to someone who does not know you.

My suggestion is to think about what your supervisors in the past have mentioned to you as both your strengths and weaknesses. Don't feel obligated to focus on that exclusively, but just make sure that your strengths and weaknesses are ones that your superior could recognize.

Obviously the strengths and weaknesses under consideration are mostly, though not necessarily exclusively, of a professional nature. Given the word count, I suggest focusing on no more than about two strengths and two weaknesses. I would try to give fairly equal consideration to both weaknesses and strengths.

I find that many applicants resist writing about their own weaknesses. Yet, to do so reveals self-awareness and maturity. While I think it is necessary to practice good judgment when writing about weakness, I think it is also important that you provide something beyond the routine.

One standard defensive strategy that many applicants seem drawn to is to write about knowledge areas where they are weak. While this can be OK in some cases, it tends to lack any real depth. One thing to avoid is to discuss a skill that you need for the future, but don't need now as a weakness. It is not a weakness because up till now you have not needed it.

Strengths are easier to write about, but do keep in mind that you want to be specific about them. Given the limited space here, you might find it helpful to write about a topic here that is discussed in greater detail in another essay.

Some questions to ask yourself:
1. Does the strength demonstrate one's potential for future academic and/or professional success? If so, it is a probably a good topic. If not, why does IMD need to know about it?
2. Is a weakness fixable? If you are writing about a weakness that cannot be improved upon through your program at IMD, why do they need to know about it?
3. If your strength or weakness is not related to leadership, why does IMD need to know about it?

Essay 5: International Exposure
Describe a situation where you successfully worked across cultures and/or nations.

A new question for 2010!

What this is not:  It is not a culture shock question, so chances are if you were thinking you could use your INSEAD culture shock essay here, you probably can't.  If you have absolutely no international experience, it will be impossible to answer this question. However, most everyone has international experience and it need not be outside of your home country: It just needs to involve dealing with a different nation or culture.  The point is that it has to be an accomplishment story involving an international component.  For many applicants to IMD, this will be easy because a significant percentage of their work will be international. Working across cultures or nations, may mean something professional, but if you don't have such a story, think of a successful experience you had that involved more than one culture or nation. For some applicants this essay will be about a major accomplishment, but for others it will simply be about being effective in an international setting.

Essay 6: Differentiators

IMD receives numerous applications per year. Give us four bullet points that clearly differentiate you from this applicant pool.
1230 Characters Maximum
In a Class of 90, there is no room for letting in someone who can't function well and does not have something distinct to contribute. I like this question because it forces applicants to really think about their core selling points.  Clearly, there will be significant overlap with other essays. Think of this as more than an executive summary because really it is a your "elevator pitch" to IMD.  What are the key statements that IMD really needs to know about you that will make them want to invite you for their interview?

Essay 7: Alternatives

If you are not admitted, what alternatives will you consider?
This question is designed to test both your real motivations and your ability to develop a plan for meeting your own professional objectives. Therefore I think it is important to consider it in relation to your answer to"Position sought after graduation" above.  How will you still work towards your five-year plan without an IMD MBA?

While a successful answer to this question can certainly include the fact that you have already been admitted elsewhere, that would not be a sufficient answer. You would also want to explain why IMD would be a better choice for you than that other school.

Some think about stating they would reapply. If you are not company-sponsored, that certainly is an option. If you are, it is probably not.That said, simply stating that you would reapply is not enough, instead you need to think about how you will move forward to accomplish what you would have tried to accomplish at IMD.

Essay 8: Finance
Please explain how you intend to finance your studies at IMD. What would be your budget?
This should be treated as more of an administrate rather than an evaluative topic. You just need to state your plan for financing your education. Stick to the facts and make sure what you write is easy to understand and will in no way be a source of concern to the admissions committee.

Essay 9: Disability / illness
Do you have a disability or illness that could affect your performance at IMD? If so, please explain.
If you have no disability or illness of significance, you need not answer this one. In that case, just write "Not Applicable" or words to that effect. If you do have a disability or illness, then I suggest taking the time to contact IMD first, so you can get a better idea about how to best answer this question. If some sort of special arrangement would be necessary for you, please contact IMD to make sure that they can provide it.

Essay 10: Additional Information Optional question: Is there any additional information that is critical for the Admissions Committee to know which has not been covered elsewhere in this application?
While I suppose it is possible to answer this question with "No," in most cases I would not recommend doing so.

For some applicants who have to discuss something negative such as a low GPA, the topic for this essay will be clear enough. Just make sure your answer is a clear and believable explanation and not an excuse.

For those who have nothing negative to write about, think about one or two topics that you believe would help admissions to understand you and support your admission. Be careful that you do not pick a trivial topic.

There is no MBA interview that compares to the day of trial that IMD puts potential applicants through.  Reading a report of an IMD interview makes me feel exhausted.  The particular style of group and individual interviewing and observation they do, is truly impressive and totally necessary given their class size and reputation.   The IMD interview eliminates those who will not be able to survive in a very intense program. From what I can gather, IMD appears to interview a very large percentage of those who apply and dings a large percentage of those it interviews. Given the unique nature of the program (Super small size, total focus on leadership, and location), I think it is likely that IMD is getting an extremely high percentage of qualified applicants.

-Adam Markus
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I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form, which is publicly available on google docs here, and then send your completed form to adammarkus@gmail.com.  You can also send me your resume if it is convenient for you.  Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. See here for why. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

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Knewton on "GMAT test day, minute by minute"

In the following post by Knewton's Grad School Verbal Lead, the GMAT test day is broken down minute by minute. Especially for anyone who has not actually sat for the GMAT before, I think the following is quite helpful.  Disclaimer: Knewton is both my content partner and a Linkshare advertising partner on my blog. 

GMAT test day, minute by minute
Alex Sarlin is the Grad School Verbal Lead at Knewton, where he focuses on GMAT prep.
In reality, test day is not that different from any other day of preparation—test-takers must be attentive, focused, and fully prepared to bring their A-game. But for many test-takers, the term “test day” brings a variety of symptoms: cold sweats, night terrors, the shakes, and so on. Knowing the nitty-gritty of what to expect when you get to the testing center can help relieve some of that unnecessary anxiety. Here’s Knewton’s minute-to-minute breakdown of a typical testing experience.
1. Arrive early, but don’t plan on studying at the testing center. 30 minutes before liftoff.
Show up to the test center 30 minutes before the official time, as the GMAC suggests. Although this may mean waking up even earlier than expected, avoiding any feeling of being rushed is priceless. However, many testing centers don’t allow studying in the waiting room, so don’t plan on getting there early and reviewing notes. Use the time before the test to relax and focus on the task at hand.
2. Locker Room. 10 minutes before liftoff.
After presenting your identification and test reservation, you may be given a key to a locker, into which you must put everything on your person other than your identification itself. This includes pens, paper, books, cell phones, house keys, lucky rabbit’s feet… everything. All you are allowed to bring in is your identification and the locker key itself. Think of this as a cleansing ritual, or a locker room warm-up. Although some centers may be more lax than others, in no circumstances expect to carry anything into the testing room.
3. Entering the Testing Room.2 minutes before liftoff
The testing room will be a room filled with computers. It will be shut off from the rest of the testing center and under constant video monitoring. You may feel like the subject of some strange scientific experiment entering this room, but fear not. No shocks will be administered, and you will be far too wrapped up in your computer screen to notice the cameras or the half-lidded gaze of the proctors. Also note that you will be not only starting the test on a different schedule than other test-takers, but that it is likely that the others in the room may be taking different tests altogether. Whispering or passing notes is neither an option nor a temptation; this is not high school.
4. Tools of the Trade. Seconds before liftoff.
You will be provided with several tools with which to conquer the GMAT. The scratch pad looks and feels like a laminated legal pad; it is lined, yellow and shiny, and you will be provided with a thin black dry-erase upon which to write. These both work well, and you are allowed at any time to raise your hand to get the proctor’s attention if you need replacement pads or pens. You may also be provided with noise-canceling headphones (like those used by jackhammer-using construction workers). These work like a charm, even though the noise you’ll be canceling is the clickity-clacking keyboards of a dozen other test-takers.
5. Liftoff. The argument essay (30 min).
After signing in (perhaps with the proctor’s input), you’re off! You begin with the argument essay, and are given a 30:00 ticking digital clock in the corner of the screen by which to measure your progress. Depending on your comfort with this time period, you may want to outline your essay on the pad before writing, especially noting which examples you expect to use and in what order.
6. Getting Personal. 30-60 minutes in. Issue Essay.
Same deal; you know the drill.
7. Eight is Enough. 60-68 minutes in. Break 1 (8 minutes).
You have the option to take an 8-minute break at this point. Keep in mind that the break starts the second you click “yes,” meaning that once you raise your hand to get the proctor, sign out by using your ID, and leave the room, you have less time than you might think to get back. This is enough time for a bathroom break or a breather, but no more. Up to this point, you have been at the test center for an hour and a half, and not yet seen one verbal or math question. So the first third of test day is all warming up and doing the essays; try to time your caffeine intake accordingly.
8. Test Day Begins. 68-143 minutes. Math  (75 minutes).
Test day begins in earnest. You cannot know which section will come first on the GMAT, but you will have 75 minutes either way. The math section is considered far more difficult to finish in this time period than is the verbal for most test-takers, so plan accordingly (and use timed practice to understand your own timing). The math section will have you using that scratch pad in earnest, and you may want to use it to virtually “eliminate” choices on the verbal section by writing out A, B, C, D and E and crossing out choices as you go. The number of each question (and how many are left) is provided at all times, as is the time.
9. Eight is Enough Part 2: 143 minutes-151 minutes. Break 2 (8 minutes).
Just like Break 1, except it’s likely that you will need this break even more. Take it to get a breather and prepare for the next section. Shift from math to verbal (or vice versa) mentally, with the different timing considerations in your mind.
10. The Home Stretch! 151- 226 minutes. Verbal (75 minutes).
Stay alert! You’ve been at the test center for almost 4 hours at this point, but your concentration and focus is as necessary as ever. Watch those questions count down as you go…
11. Getting Down to Business. Score Reporting Info. 226-234 minutes.
As your reward for finishing the test, you get to decide which schools get your (still unreported) score. Let visions of leafy campuses, whiteboards, and elbow-patched professors fill your mind as you enter the schools you’d like to receive your score reports.
12. Do or Die: Canceling Your Score. 234-236 minutes.
Last step: you have two minutes (with a ticking clock) to decide whether to cancel your score or report it. What’s your final answer? If you decide to report the score, you will immediately be informed of your scores and percentiles on the math and verbal reports. Either way, after four hours, almost half of which did not involve any math or verbal questions, test day has become history. It wasn’t so bad, was it?
Disclosure: See my earlier post regarding my Linkshare advertising agreement with Knewton.
-Adam Markus
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GMAT オンライン コース テスト情報 試験対策準備


Where is the love?

I hope that title got your attention.  The question is actually a reminder.   Fit with a school is all about answering "Where is the love?"  That is to say, your justification for attending a particular MBA program should very much include both justifications based on reason ("I a want to study finance because...") and passion ("I'm excited about the prospect of becoming part of your community because..").   Showing "love" is all about providing a comprehensive explanation for a why a particular school is right for you.

I find that many applicants can naturally express love when it comes to their top choice school(s), but especially when it comes their safety schools, the love starts to fade.  However, it is especially important with safety schools that you need to show love.  They have been jilted so many times before (Hence their low yield) by admits, that they will be sensitive to this.  Especially with schools that have a low rate of acceptance and a low yield (Haas for example), showing the love is critical.    You certainly want to make sure you get into your back-up(s), so take the steps to convince them that they really are your first choice (at least in theory).  Don't think for a moment that it is callous or dishonest to create such an impression because it may very much become the case that your backup becomes the love of your life.

Questions? Write comments, but do not send me emails asking me to advise you on your application strategy unless you are interested in my consulting services. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.

For information about my admissions consulting services, please see http://adammarkus.com/

Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see my post on "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant."
-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

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