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

April 12, 2016

IMD MBA Application Essays for 2017 Admission

In this post, I discuss the application essays for 2017 admission to IMD.  There have been changes to the short goals questions, but the three main essay questions have not changed from 2016. While IMD had rather significant staff turnover in 2014, which I discuss here, I still highly recommend reading my February 2014 and September 2012 interviews with IMD’s former Associate Director of MBA Admissions and Marketing as it is unclear that changes in admissions policy would result in that information no longer being accurate.  You might also want to read my Q&A with a fo rmer 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 challenges 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 Business School 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 2017 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 2015, 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 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 admitted to another school in 2013). For the Class of 2015. I had two admitted with five being interviewed (One client was admitted directly.  But the rest who interviewed were Indian males, two were waitlisted and only one of them got off the waitlist, but is going to INSEAD. Indian males face an uphill battle to get into IMD because the number of highly qualified male Indian candidates far exceed the school’s capacity).

THE ESSAYS ARE THE EASY PART OF THE IMD APPLICATION PROCESS. 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 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.


Essay 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 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  admissions  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.

Essay 2:
Describe a time in your life where you faced an unrecoverable event. How did it affect you and what were your greatest learnings? (300 words)
An unrecoverable event could be a total complete failure with no upside.  At the extreme (and  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.

An unrecoverable event is not 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.   If  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 something trivial 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).

Essay 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 able 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?
Keep in mind that is an achievement question. Just one focused on your future achievements. 
THIS IS ABOUT THE FUTURE! You must project yourself into that future. This is science fiction. If they wanted to know about what you had done so far they would have asked about it. Instead, they are asking you to imagine the next 40-50+ years of your life.  Image what that future will look like.  This is a test of your ability to think of your future, your ambition, and the impact you want to have on the world.
Think about what skill(s), value(s), or unique experience are being showcased: Your achievements need 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 afterward 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 afterward, 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 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  500  characters each (NOT 500 WORDS!) to answer the following:
1. What is your career goal : right after IMD / in 5 years / in 10 years ?
2. In order to reach your goals, what do you foresee as your top 3 challenges?
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.
While my table is focused on short-term (right after MBA) and long-term, for purposes of answering IMD’s question, you need to distinguish between  right after IMD, 5 years, and 10 years, so alter my table as needed for that purpose.
The GAP and SWOT analysis should help you identify the challenges to your goals in order to answer the second question.

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, then 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 then 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.

Your responses to these questions will not be taken into consideration in the admissions process.”
I never trust such statements. As the late great, Andrew Groove of Intel said, “Only the Paranoid Survive.” After all INSEAD is a school that invites applicants for a full day of interviewing and monitors their performance at lunch so really if you want to trust such an administrative claim, feel free but I would suggest giving careful responses to these two questions:
1. How do you intend to finance your MBA at IMD? What would your budget be? 
I suggest you provide and a direct and realistic answer to this question. It need not be so long.
2. What other programs are you considering? Of the programs you are considering, what can IMD bring to you as a differentiator? 
It is so odd to treat this as an administrative question. Is it really only for marketing? This is what I was quoted as saying about it in Poets and Quants when the question came out in 2014:
Markus then finds fault with an IMD application question. He notes, for example, that IMD states, Your responses to these questions will not be taken into consideration in the admissions process. And then asks, Why are you applying to IMD? What other programs have you considered / are you considering?

“How can any applicant believe that this is merely information being gathered for marketing purposes?,” asks Markus. “If someone is reading the applicant’s file and it includes such information what actually guarantees that it will not be taken into account? Sorry, but if IMD or any school wants this sort of information for marketing purposes, they should collect it anonymously. Does IMD think they are getting honest unfiltered marketing information here? I always read what my clients write for this answer and they always take great care in making sure that it shows big IMD love and refrains from mentioning anything that could, even at the margins, jeopardize their chances of getting an interview invite and subsequent offer of admission.”

My opinion on this issue has not changed.

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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