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

March 04, 2014

IMD MBA Admissions Essays for January 2015 Admission (R2-R5)

As IMD completely changed its essay questions for Rounds 2-5 for January 2015 Admission, this post replaces my prior post on 2015 Admission. It also serves as an update and expansion on what I have previously written about the new R2-R5 essay questions.  By the way, unless it is for curiosity’s sake, there is not much point in reading those earlier posts. 

I highly recommend reading my February 2014 and September 2012 interviews with Lisa Piguet, IMD’s Associate Director of MBA Admissions and Marketing.  You might also want to read my Q&A with a former client who is a member of the Class of 2009. I think these interviews will provide you with some key insights into IMD. My report on my visit to IMD can be found here. You may also be interested in my report on my May 2012 visit to IMD.

In this post, I  first discuss IMD and then the three essays, the short questions on short-term goals and skills required to reach them, and the optional essay.

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 2015 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.”  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.  To learn about IMD faculty perspectives, please visit Tomorrow’s Challenges.

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 2014,  Class of 2013, the Class of 2011, Class of 2010,  and Class of 2009, 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. 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 IMD.

In any given year, I work with only a few people applying to IMD because this is most certainly a very unique program.  Almost all of my clients who applied to IMD have been interviewed.  Even for the Class of 2012, when I had no admits, the two clients I worked with on IMD were offered interviews, but one was admitted to his/her 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/or the perceived potential to work well in a small group is common enough.  In some cases, the candidate is indeed solid, but in the process of building the right class of 90 students simply does not fit. For the Class of 2013, I had two clients who who were offered interview, one was admitted. For the Class of 2014, I had two clients apply and both were admitted (one is listed as 2013 result because he/she was admit ted to another school in 2013).

Even though the new essays are in some sense more challenging (though fewer in number) than the previous essay set, 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.  They are working with limited numbers and based on my conversations with Lisa Piguet since 2010 as well as what the program states in public, 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 interview 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 the IMD admissions process is 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 current class 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 just managers or experts in a particular business field. It is therefore 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 were greatly revised for R2-R5 2015 admission. In February 2014, Lisa Piguet and I discussed the changes to the essay set.
ADAM: Regarding the changes to the application essay questions, what is the overall intention of changing them so extensively?

LISA: We wanted greater concision in our essay set. Due to our interview process we can ask much more intensively and extensively about the applicant's background.  What we want from the essays is to know who the person really is.  The essays should bring us closer to understanding the applicant.

ADAM: Should this be interpreted as a change in what IMD is looking for from applicants?

LISA: No, the same basic criteria apply.

ADAM: Do the changes in questions relate to other changes to the MBA program?

LISA: No, we just really wanted to revise our essay set.


1.       Describe yourself in two hundred words or less.
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.   What are the key aspects that IMD really needs to know about you that will make them want to invite you for their interview?

The question is straightforward, but keep in mind the third question below.  They relate to each other. Essay 1 is about who you are now, while Essay 3  is about who you will become.

Think of this as a your "elevator pitch" to IMD.  Given the limited space I suggest you think very carefully about what to include. I suggest trying to focus more an analytical description of yourself rather than a life story.

Some Questions to get you brainstorming:
1. What do you want IMD to know about you that would positively impact your chances for admission? After all, you might consider getting the love of your life to marry you to be something really important to know about you, but will Lisa and her colleagues care? If what you write does not reveal (whether stated or implied) potential and/or contribution, chances are likely that it is not significant enough.
2. What major positive aspects of your life have not been effectively INTERPRETED to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?
3. Through the application form they will have learned quite a bit about your employment experience, so remember to focus here on who you are and not simply on what you have done.
4.  What could you discuss about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and want to admit you?
5. How can you make the most effective first impression?
6.  Are you being dull? Don’t be! Mentioning ”I studied hard to get a 4.0 in university ” is most likely 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.

2.       Give an example of a time when you were confronted with an unrecoverable event. How did it affect you and what were your greatest learnings?
(300 words)
ADAM: Regarding Essay Question 2, which I frankly love because it really requires a genuine response, it strikes me that beyond any considerations about an applicant's ability to respond to total failure (A possible way of responding to the question), IMD is really asking about the resilience of the applicant.  Would you care to comment on my opinion?

LISA: What we are testing is resilience, coping skills, attitude and self-awareness.

The extent of the failure need not be catastrophic.  Above all, it has to be honest.

We want to know how the applicant overcame the situation.  What did they do about it?   How did they think about it?  How did they respond to it?
An unrecoverable event could be a total complete failure with no upside.  At the extreme (and remember Lisa states above the extreme is not necessary), this could be losing a client who you will never get back, getting rejected from an academic program, losing a job, making a terrible investment decision, being responsible for destroying a friendship or relationship with someone else, being the source of damage or harm to others, experiencing something tragic (death of a loved one), losing something personally valuable to.  
What an unrecoverable event is not is a situation that one can overcome. Therefore a setback situation is unlikely to work well here if you were able to overcome the setback (hence recover from it). For instance, you provide an initial draft of a presentation to a supervisor who rejects it, tells you why, and then you provide a revision which she accepts. This situation is recoverable and hence out of bounds.  For your supervisor rejected your presentation, kicked you off the project, and reassigned the presentation to a colleague, that would surely be an unrecoverable event.

They are looking to see how you deal with the worst in life.  They want insights into your resilience and self-awareness.  Don’t write about some trivial bullshit here, real pain, tragedy, and failure are just what the doctor ordered.

A key question requirement is real learning because without that, you will not be answering the question. What is real learning?  Real learning means the insights gained during and after the experience are not obviously things you knew before your unrecoverable event took place. What learn might have helped you subsequently and ideally should have because the best demonstration of learning is application. 

The basic components of an answer:
1. Clearly state what the situation was.
2. Clearly state your role.
3. Clearly state what was unrecoverable.
4. Explain what you learned (and, if possible, how you applied it).

3.       On your 75th birthday someone close to you presents your 
laudatio (tribute). It can be a friend, colleague, family member  etc. Please describe in detail what this person would say about you and your life. 
(300 words)
I think it is particularly interesting to use the word “laudatio” when it will be perfectly meaningless to many applicants unless they have studied Latin.  At least, based on my search of both the British and American English Oxford dictionaries, it is not even a Latin word that has been incorporated into English.  Hence only those with a background in Latin will even have an idea of what this is.    If you try Google, you will not find a actual description of laudatio in English very easily. The first English listing a found was for “”Laudatio Turiae”, where “Laudatio” refers to an epitaph, which is a fine word in English.  I am glad that IMD choose to include “tribute” in parenthesis so that those without a Latin education will be ab le to understand the question.  Still I think the question could have been stated more simply.
Therefore, to restate this question in English and in way that will be, hopefully, easy for anyone to understand, I give you the following: On your 75th birthday someone of your choosing makes a speech in praise of your life from their perspective. 
Hence this question is asking you to imagine your future.  IMD wants to test your ambition and long-term vision.  What kind of life do you want to lead?  What will your future look like? This is quite a departure for an MBA program that has not emphasized long-term vision before:
——————————————————————————————————————-ADAM: Regarding Question 3, I was struck by the fact that IMD was now asking applicants to consider themselves in the long-term.  The long-term has long been absent from IMD's written application process, though certainly common at most MBA programs.  Care to comment?LISA: What we are looking for is how you project yourself into the future.  I would suggest considering the following when writing this: 
-What mark do you want to leave on the planet?

-What would you tell your children/grand kids?

-What kind of person would you like to be?

-What kind of accomplishments would you like to make in the future?

- What do you want out of your life?

-Where are you going?

While surely focused on long-term vision, it is an achievement question in a way because it is testing drive, passion, and possibly altruism.
Keep in mind that is an achievement question. Just one focused on your future achievements. 
Think about what skill(s), value(s), or unique experience 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 afterwards is being demonstrated by your future 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 afterwards, so you should as well.
Think about how your achievement could become a contribution to others in the MBA program: 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. What you write about your future potential long-term also reflects on your potential to contribute at IMD.
Finally, this is also a test of your ability to see things from someone else’s perspective.  After all, if IMD simply wanted to know about what you think you will accomplish by the end of your life, they could have asked the question in a much more direct way. Instead you have to imagine yourself from the perspective of the person who is speaking about you.

Two Short Questions in the Employment Section
You have 200 characters each (NOT 200 WORDS!) to answer the following:
What is your career goal post IMD?
What are the skills you need to develop in order to achieve your goal?

These are very simple questions, which should require more time to think about than to write.  Given the limited space, you really need to provide as direct of an answer as possible to both questions.

While this might seem excessive, if you are not clear on the answers to the above questions,  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.

The following image may not work for all browsers. If so, see here. Click to enlarge 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.

Is there any additional information that is critical for the Admissions Committee to know which has not been covered elsewhere in this application?
If you would like to comment on career gaps, education, GMAT/GRE, a disability or illness, please use this space. (Optional)

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.  Whatever you do, make sure what you put here does not look like it came from another school.

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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