cartoon man in a suit thinking between strengths and weaknesses

Tips for INSEAD Motivation Essay 1

Give a candid description of yourself (who are you as a person), 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, maximum)

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 twice in the prompt. Then they added “who you are as a person” in more recent years after that didn’t fully get the point across. This is the top error that people make. The rest of the application is about work. Leave it alone on this one essay.


For example, one of my candidates has a strength of organizing groups or initiatives “on the cheap” that help others achieve a dream they felt was impossible 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.


Some helpful tools include the StrengthsFinder assessment. If you buy the book it comes with an assessment. 16 Personalities is a free and useful way to get in greater touch with your strengths and weaknesses, and to find language that will help describe you. And finally, there is a values quiz on MindTools. This last tool will help you use personal anecdotes to reverse engineer your strengths.


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 insights they bear 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.


Please don’t overtly brag in this essay. The best approach is to speak directly, from the heart and demonstrate self-awareness. With this question, you have the chance to build trust and 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 is widely underleveraged and can really make you memorable to adcom for that reason.



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