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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 23, 2014


My analysis of the INSEAD admissions application essays for September 2014 is here and for January 2015 is here.

Since 2001, when I began doing MBA admissions counseling, I have had an opportunity to work with a large number of clients admitted to INSEAD. Since establishing my own consulting practice in 2007, I've worked with 27 clients admitted to INSEAD. Annual breakdowns and testimonials from clients admitted to INSEAD can be found here. My report on my 2011 visit to the Singapore campus is here.

INSEAD alumni interviews, of which most applicants will have two of, are not necessarily that hard in any obvious way. The INSEAD website states that the majority of applicants will have two such interviews. These interviews are about fit as determined by alumni "gatekeepers." My analysis of INSEAD interviews based on my own personal knowledge as well as reviewing the reports of INSEAD interviews found at accepted.com and clearadmit.com.

Based on what I can see, aside from issues of availability, there is no specific pattern for who interviews you. Like most schools that use alumni interviewers, it is not necessarily the case that the schol has put any significant time into selecting who will interview you. Also, don't be surprised if INSEAD has to change one or both of the interviewers that they initially assign to you because of the potential interviewer's availability. I get the impression that is frequent. It can result in having slightly longer to prep for the interview, which is not a bad thing.

During a Q&A I conducted with an INSEAD representatative, she discussed the whole issue of the two interviewers:

ADAM: Sometimes when I read or hear about INSEAD interviews, it almost seems like one interviewer is being intentionally aggressive and the other much less so. Sometimes I think this is probably just a kind of post-facto perception, but is there some real distinction between the two interviewers?
DEBORAH: The interviewers are given the same instructions. We don’t tell one to be more aggressive than the other. However, when possible, we do try to have applicants interview with one older alum and one more junior alum. We expect the more senior alum to have a stronger perspective on the overall leadership potential of the applicant and the future contributions one might make as part of the alumni community. We would expect a junior alum to assess the applicant from the perspective of a peer. i.e. Will this applicant be happy in the INSEAD programme?"

You may not necessarily find that more senior of the two interviewers is the more difficult one. It is also possible that you might have two interviewers who are not necessarily that different in terms of their age. Depending on where you are located, INSEAD may or may not have many local alumni to choose from. You should treat each of these interviews as separate experiences and if the first one does not go as well as you expected, don't give up. What matters is what both interviewers say about you.
You can provide your interviewers with either a resume or the application form information (non-essay pages) of the application. Some applicants just provide the entire application. I have not really detected any difference in outcomes between sending the application and sending a resume.

My colleague, H. Steven Green, has put the following organized list of INSEAD questions together by reviewing interview reports:

BACKGROUND (Expect answers to be probed for details.)
  • Walk me through your resume. (Assumes applicant provided the interviewers with a resume, which is not required).
  • What is rewarding about your current role?
  • Tell me about yourself. / How did you get to where you are now?
  • Tell me about your career progression to-date.
  • How does one become CEO in your firm?
  • Why did you choose your current firm / current position?
  • Tell me about your current work responsibilities.
  • Tell me, in detail, about one project in your current job.
  • Tell me about your international experience(s) - both work and personal.
  • Tell me about the major milestones in you life since university graduation.
  • What do you do in your free time?

  • What are your goals?
  • What are your career goals after INSEAD
  • What will you do if you do not get the job you want after graduation?
  • Why an MBA?
  • Why now?
  • Why INSEAD?
  • Where else did you apply? How would you prioritize your decision if admitted to two or more?

  • What is special about you that will make me recommend you?
  • Tell me 3 strengths
  • Tell me 3 weaknesses
  • What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
  • When you are in a gathering, what attracts your attention first?
  • What makes you angry?
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What do you find intolerable?
  • Where are your peers that started in the same class with you at your consulting firm?

  • What is your style of negotiation?
  • How do you deal with a boss who is not as smart as you?
  • How do you deal with a person who’s determined not to listen to you even though he/ she knows you are right?

  • Tell me about a time when you were in control of a project.
  • Tell me about a time when you were in a leadership position?
  • What is your leadership style?

  • What THREE things would you if a team member at INSEAD were not pulling his own weight?
  • Tell me about your teamwork experience.
  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a team.
  • Tell me about time when you had to deal with conflict on a team.
  • How do you handle cultural differences on an international team?

  • Tell me your opinion about (CURRENT EVENT) (FOLLOW UP)
  • How has the economic crisis affected your company/your industry?
  • What is the main challenge your industry/company is facing?

You need to be able to explain in-depth why you should be admitted to INSEAD, what you can contribute, and what you want to learn. Be willing to openly discuss what soft and hard skills you need to improve/acquire. Show yourself to be open, dynamic, change oriented, and a highly motivated person because the alum will be.

Since there will be time for you to ask questions to the alumnus, you need to give some significant thought to formulating those. Consider what year the alumnus graduated and any other background information if you can determine that through Linkedin or other sources of information. Develop at least four or more questions to ask.

Whoever you interview with, they are likely to be quite friendly and the style of the interview is conversational. Just because your interviewer is friendly, it does not mean that you are doing well. Don't assume a friendly interviewer is not actually a super critical one. Take nothing for granted. Also keep in mind that the admissions process at INSEAD is holistic and a great interview is no absolute guarantee of success.

Reported interview length for interviews is from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. It is a good idea to make sure that your own schedule is free for about 2 hours in the event that your interviewer wants to keep on talking. The setting for these interviews is typically the interviewer's office or a cafe.

-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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