Approaching the INSEAD Strengths and Weaknesses Essay

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MOTIVATION ESSAY 1. Give a candid description of yourself, stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (500 words max)

At first glance, this prompt seems simple enough, but it’s actually harder than it looks and you should prioritize it in your efforts. The key is doing the proper introspection. Think about past experiences that point to specific strengths – and weaknesses.

My #1 message about this essay is DO NOT TALK ABOUT WORK. They mention *personal* like 9 times in the prompt. This is the top error that people make. There are so many opportunities to talk about work elsewhere in the INSEAD application.

For example, one of my candidates has a past history of organizing groups or initiatives that help others achieve a dream they felt was impossible “on the cheap” and provided 2 quick anecdotes to support that. The mantra is ‘show, don’t tell’. Make your claims, but make sure to illustrate them with examples (for both strengths and weaknesses.)

If you don’t have a lot of clarity around your strengths and weaknesses, survey your friends and family and ask for their input. I use this tool; it is free for 15 days. Make sure to let everyone know you need feedback rather quickly.

The StrengthFinders assessment is also very useful, if you can support the results it gives with personal anecdotes. If you buy the book it comes with an assessment.

And finally, there is a values quiz on MindTools

There’s a good chance you’ll get asked about your strengths and weaknesses in the course of any MBA application, and introspection is key to a compelling story. These tools and the insight they can give you will be useful across the board.

The key here is to reflect on past times in your life when you did well – and not so well – and trace back the strengths and weaknesses they point to. The objective of this question is to give adcom insight into who you are, not just what you have done. From this, they can discern your level of self-awareness. With this question, you want to make an emotional connection with the adcom. So often, applicants spend all their time discussing accomplishments but are afraid to open up and describe who they really are as a person.

When someone is candid about their failings, it opens our heart to them, and we feel more connected to them. The importance of making an emotional, heartfelt connection to make you memorable cannot be overstated.
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