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

December 19, 2012

IMD MBA Admissions Essays for January 2014 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 2014 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.

I high recommend  reading my 2012 interview with Lisa Piguet and also 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. My  report on my visit to IMD can be found here.

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.” 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 Class of 2013, 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 internation al and being leaders. Visiting the program in 2012 and through conversations with Lisa Piguet and my former clients who attended IMD has only further convinced me that international and leadership are key to INSEAD.

In any given year, I work with only a few people applying to IMD because this is most certainly a very unique program.  For the Class of 2012, I had two clients who were offered interview, but one was admitted to his first choice school and did not interview and the other, was unfortunately dinged after interview.  Getting dinged after an IMD interview, especially for candidates without solid English ability, effective presentation skills, and the perceived potential to work well in a small group is common enough. For the Class of 2013, I had two clients who who were offered interview, one was admitted.

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 admissions does, 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. IMD interviews  a rather high percentage of those who apply, but again, the program is rather self-selecting so this percentage makes sense. Consider that IMD is trying to fill a class of 90 and received 441 applications.  They are working with limited numbers and based on my 2010 conversation with the admissions director, I know that they are being highly selective when it comes to making final decisions.  As I mentioned in my school visit post,  I visited on an inte rview day and saw the candidates “relaxing” at lunch, when in fact they were being observed by the students they were having lunch with.  That is how much IMD cares about fit!  Finding the right 90 who will come together is what this process about. The application serves as the basis to determine whether you should be considered for their interview, but based on what I understand the application can’t mitigate a bad interview day.

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.  I think it also important to keep in mind that being international is about being open-minded to diversity and to having mental flexibility.  Both through the essays and interview you will be assessed for capacity to be an open-minded person.

The IMD program is focused on making leaders, not managers. It also is not designed for those who primarily 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.

The questions have been greatly revised for 2014 admission.  The overall spirit of the questions is the same and most have actually had an increase in character count from 1230 to 1500 characters.  Only the MBA goals essay was reduced from 2000 to 1500.
You have 1500 characters including spaces for each answer, which would be approximately 300-375 words.  With 7 questions, that totals somewhere between approximately 2100 and 2500 words, making IMD longer than most US school applications, but of approximately the same length as its biggest rivals, INSEAD and LBS.

Essay 1: Important achievement
What do you consider to be your single most important achievement and why?

Some key things to keep in mind when answering this question:
-Achievements reveal your potential to succeed at IMD and afterwords.
-Achievements reveal your potential for contributing to your classmates.
-Everyone has had achievements, so make your single most important achievement really stand out.
-What you consider to be an achievement is a real test of your self-awareness and judgment.
Think about which achievement to use
The first thing you need to do is brainstorm possible achievements to use here. Your achievement may relate to your professional experience, academics, volunteer activities, hobbies, community engagement, personal matters.  The possibilities are quite endless. Whatever it is, you should explain why it is so important.
Next, think about the following issues in determining which achievement to use and how to present it. 
Think about what skill(s), value(s), or unique experience is/are being showcased
Your achievement needs to reveal valuable thing(s) about you. Some will call these selling points, but more specifically they consist of skills, values, or unique experiences. One might use a specific achievement to emphasize one’s leadership skills,  one’s ethical values, and to explain a significant barrier that was overcome. If you breakdown the meaning of an achievement it might easily reveal multiple important things about you.
Think about what potential for success in the MBA program or afterwords is being demonstrated by your achievement
You may or may not be directly stating this in the essay, but you should think about what how your achievement  reveals in terms of your potential. IMD will most certainly be considering how your achievement demonstrates your potential to succeed in their program and afterwords, so you should as well.
Think about how your achievement could become a contribution to others in the MBA program
Just as with potential, think about whether your achievement demonstrates your ability to add value to other students at IMD.  IMD is very focused on understanding your ability to function as part of a group of 90 people. This is very much at the center of the education they offer and how how they differentiate their program.
Think about why does IMD needs to know about this achievement
If your achievement has made it this far, chances are it is substantial. That said, I have three simple tests for determining whether achievement really belongs in this essay.
1. Does IMD really need to know about this achievement? After all, you might consider getting the love of your life to marry you to be one of your greatest achievement, but will Lisa and her colleagues care? If an achievement does not reveal (whether stated or implied) potential and/or contribution, chances are likely that it is not significant enough.
2. Is the story totally obvious from reviewing other parts of your application?
If the story is simply a very cause-effect based one such as “I studied hard to get a 4.0 in university ” that could ber very dull and rather obvious.  On the other hand if you overcome great challenges to get such an academic result, you could have a great story.  Obvious stories are dull.  Reveal something important about yourself that goes beyond the surface level and could not be easily assumed from reviewing other aspects of your application.
3. Is the achievement really your most important one?
It is critical that you explain clearly why it is important. Is the importance because of its significance to you or to an impact you had or to both?   Really make sure the importance is stated clearly.
Finally, as I mentioned above what you include here is a real test of your judgment, so don’t just write about an obvious achievement. Think deeply and come up with a unique achievement that will compel IMD to want to interview you.

Essay 2: Self Development
Please comment on a situation where your leadership skills proved to be inadequate and what you learned.

This is a new question for this year, replacing a more standard failure question. Beyond being about failure (it  may only be partial failure), this essay is about the development of your leadership skills.  You may not have completely failed because the question simply requires that your leadership skills were not sufficient.  You may have partially succeeded. It is even possible that others perceived you as succeeding, but you did not see it that way.
It is critical that you learned something meaningful about yourself as a leader. And your insights should be important, otherwise why tell admissions about it? Therefore the key constraint of this question is that whatever the leadership 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 situation was.
2. Clearly state your role. Especially in a leadership related question, a clear statement about your role in terms of leadership is important.
3. Clearly state how your leadership skills were insufficient.
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.

Keep in mind that a core part of the IMD experience is becoming very aware about your strengths and weaknesses as a leader in order to enhance your skills.  Over lunch with one of my former clients earlier this year,  I heard about just how intense and personal leadership development at IMD can be.  To that extent, this question really tests your openness and self-awareness for an exploration into your personality at IMD.

Essay 3: Global leadership
IMD develops global leaders…what does global leadership mean to you?

Given what I have previously mentioned about both leadership and international in regards to IMD, this question is no surprise. IMD wants your insight into global leadership.  I suggest you provide an answer that both clearly has a global leadership concept and also focuses on how you have demonstrated global leadership or at least the potential for it.  While it is possible to write this essay without reference to your experiences, I think most applicants will find it far more effective to write about some form of global leadership that they have experience. There are a number of ways to write this essay:

You might concentrate on a single concept and one example supporting that concept, which given the word count is the easiest thing to do:
Global Leadership Means to me:
An example of that leadership:
 What does your answer reveal about  you?
One Concept
A single example

You might concentrate on  one concept and multiple examples supporting that concept, but this only makes sense if each of the examples is revealing something important about you:
Global Leadership Means to me:
Examples of that leadership:
What does your answer reveal about  you?
One Concept
Example 1
Example 2

You might concentrate on a multiple concepts each backed-up by an example, but getting this into the word count available could prove very challenging.  I think the only way this works is if the examples are actually specific aspects of one leadership story. In other words,  you do two different things in the same situation that relate to  two different global leadership concepts:
Global Leadership Means to me:
Examples of that leadership:
What does your answer reveal about  you?
Concept 1
Concept 2
Example 1
Example 2

Example 1
Example 2
I think each of the above structures can make for a good essay.
Keep in mind that simply providing a description of your actions, is not enough.  Just writing abstractly is not good either. Make sure your reader understands what your concept is by stating it clearly and connecting it to an example(s). If you use multiple concepts

Essay 4: Key Differentiators
Give us four bullet points that clearly differentiate you, that identify your unique contributions to the program.

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?

Some Questions to get you brainstorming:
1. What do you want IMD to know about you that would positively impact your chances for admission?
2. What major positive aspects of your life have not been effectively INTERPRETED to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?
3. If you were going to tell admissions 4 things about you that would not be obvious from rest of the application, what would they be? Why should IMD care?
4.  What could you discuss about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and want to admit you?
As you can see, these questions would lead to very different kinds of responses. There is no one way to answer this question, but I believe there are right ways for every applicant to do so.

Essay 5: Reflection
Give an example of the most unexpected thing that you’ve ever learned.

Instead of asking a culture shock question, IMD is making you consider something really valuable that you learned.
THE RELEVANCE TEST: A great answer here will be on something relevant to why IMD should admit you:
- A concept or value that has influenced a major decision(s) you have made in your life
-An important aspect of the way you view an issue critical to your goals
-Your commitment to something greater than your own personal interest
-Your inner intellectual life
-Your ethical values
-Some other aspect of who you are that will compel admissions to want to interview you
The structure for answering this question is likely to be something like the following:
1. Discussion of the unexpected thing (person, place, event, book, situation) that you learned.
2. Explanation of the significance of what you learned
3.  Perhaps a specific example of how your thinking was changed from learning this.

Ultimately, I think this is way for IMD to understand what makes your thinking distinct, get a sense of  your self-reflectivity (Obvious from the question’s title), and your mental flexibility.

Essay 6: Position sought after graduation
Please answer either (A) or (B), depending on your career situation.
A. For people who are planning to consider new jobs and/or organizations after the MBA: Please give us your short term career goal post-MBA. Which function, industry and geography do you see yourself working in? Are these changes for you, and, if so, why? How will you approach your job search?
B. For people who are company-sponsored, confirmed going back to their previous company, entrepreneurs planning to go back to their own firm, and/or members of a family who are planning to work for the family business after graduation: Please let us know your short-term career goals and plans after your MBA.

Whether you are answering A or B,  THIS QUESTION DOES NOT FOCUS ON YOUR LONG TERM GOALS! It is about a post-MBA plan.
In a program with 90 students, making sure that they all actually have clear post-MBA plans is highly rational (and very Swiss!).  The two different variations of the question reflect the different kinds of people who apply to and attend IMD. The B version of this question is new and is especially helpful for applicants who fit within the categories indicated.

Do not freak out about whether you should answer A or B.  It really is a fact-based issue and there is no hidden agenda here.

A. IMD has very intensive career services for its students who need it and career services gives input into applicants who will be seeking employment after their MBA. A. is for such applicants, who are the majority of applicants to IMD.  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.

B. On the other hand, if you don’t need career services because you will be returning to a business or starting your own, just do B.
If you are having trouble formulating your post-MBA 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 GapSWOT, 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.)
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?
Next, 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.

Essay 7: Additional Information
Is there any additional information that is critical for the Admissions Committee to know which has not been covered elsewhere in this application? (Optional essay).

While I suppose it is possible to answer this question with “No,” in most cases I would not recommend doing so.  I always tell my clients to write at least one positive thing in this essay even if they must deal with a negative subject as well.
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.
In terns of writing something positive, 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 or one that really has been handled in another essay.

Finally, best of luck with your IMD application.

-Adam Markus
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. 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. 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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