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IMD Essay Tips & Strategy for Career Questions

IMD offers a one-year MBA program located in Lausanne, Switzerland, on the shores of Lake Geneva.

The program places strong emphasis on entrepreneurship, leadership development, and sustainability while fostering a close-knit, collaborative community across a highly international class. A project with a Swiss firm early in the program provides practical experience in business development. The school stresses project-based, peer group learning along with one-on-one coaching.

The intense, fast-paced nature of this international MBA program means that successful candidates must be prepared to hit the ground running, and the career focused questions within the MBA application reflect this awareness. IMD’s required and optional essays —plus two short open-ended questions in the application form — require you to be both succinct and self-reflective. Read on for my advice on what IMD is looking for and how to craft a narrative that positions your application to stand out.

Responding to IMD’s Required Essay

  • Essay 1. What is the most difficult decision you have had to make as a leader? (Word limit 300)

IMD is a leadership program and as such, they are looking for bright individuals with the potential to become global visionaries. Use this question to demonstrate that you’ve been in a leadership position and that you have learned and grown from experience. You might choose an experience from reasonably early in your career and use the essay to show how it changed you and shaped the way you now lead (and possibly how it influenced your decision to apply for an MBA program). 

You also might consider using an example from outside of work. Think about your extra-curricular activities (by doing this, you also give the admissions team a little more insight into you as a person and it allows you to show the breadth of your profile and your potential contribution to the program and school).

Self-awareness and self-reflection are important characteristics, so show that you have used these traits to move forward. As with all such ‘failure’ questions, try to explain the situation as clearly and succinctly as you can —including what you learned and how you grew from the experience.

The fact that IMD seeks candidates with leadership ‘potential’ means it is ok to imply you still have much to learn (after all, that’s likely to be a major factor driving your MBA application).

Think of it this way: your leadership story is also the opportunity to convey your uniqueness and distinguish yourself from others with a similar background or job title. Leadership is conveyed in an array of contexts and venues, so get creative about the one that best expresses both your potential and growth.

Optional Essay 2: 

Is there any additional information that is critical for the Admissions Committee which has not been covered elsewhere in this application? (i.e., re-application, health, grades, etc.) (Word limit 50, optional)

This essay should only be answered if there is critical information that isn’t included anywhere else. Use this if you have something that truly requires explanation. For example, you might use this to explain extenuating circumstances in your academic record or your test score, any additional learning support you need (relating to disabilities for example), or explanation of a redundancy/change of job.

The Financial Planning Question

How do you intend to finance your MBA at IMD? How much of your total budget estimate will you be able to provide without loans or scholarships? (Word limit 50​)

This question is designed to ensure that you’ve planned carefully for the financial commitment that the MBA entails. Explain the various funding streams that you have access to and the rough split between them. IMD asks this question because they consider every applicant for financial aid and scholarships. Be clear and transparent about your financial realities so that the school can link you in with support and/or opportunities if appropriate.

The school will understand that everyone’s personal/financial situation is very different and that some may need to rely on loans and scholarships more than others. IMD is committed to diversity in its student body, and this means that they are keen to provide assistance to applicants who have the profile but not the financial means to undertake the program.

Where else are you applying? 

Under “Sources of Information,” the application also asks:
What other programs are you considering? (Word limit 100)

Every school wants to know that they are your first choice. But underneath this question is a subtle test of your deep understanding of this school’s culture, values and unique offerings. Of course, they also know that you’re likely applying to other programs — it’s a sensible thing to do. But to win their acceptance, show them the love. This means going the extra mile to prove you understand a school’s unique culture and values, and that you’ve considered both how you’ll contribute to their community and what you hope to gain from it.

How to Tackle IMD’S Career Development Questions

  • List your top three target companies. Do you already have a network in place? (Word limit 50)

This is your opportunity to demonstrate the planning, preparation, and thought that you’ve already undertaken. The IMD MBA is a one-year program so you need to start with a plan already in place so that you can make the most of the experience. Be clear about both the sector and the job role you’re looking for and show how you’ve started to build a strong network to make that a reality. 

If you have several options, it’s okay to state that here – but you only have 50 words, so take care that you don’t sound too uncertain (you won’t have space to fully explain any ambiguity). IMD is focused on global leadership, so be clear about the location you’d like to target as well as the role. The program labels itself as ‘transformational’ – so be bold… but balance that boldness with clear research and preparation.

  • What skills and experience do you think you already possess that will help you with your post MBA career plans and will make you stand out in front of potential employers? (Word limit 100)

Take care not to repeat your CV here. Focus on the skills that you have developed as a result of the experiences/roles that you’ve had (rather than detailing company names, dates, and job titles). Think about the key strengths you’re going to ask your recommenders to comment on and build in consistency across your application by touching on some of those here. It’s okay to talk about technical/industry-specific skills, but also think about the softer management/leadership skills such as communication, building a strong team, inspiring commitment from others, decision-making, problem solving, influencing, and coaching, among others. Again, you can use extracurricular examples as well as work/career examples if it helps to showcase your unique skill set.

  • What is your plan B if you are not able to secure your ideal job post MBA? (Word limit 50)

While it is important to be focused on your career goal, flexibility is also essential. If you have a Plan B, detail it here, but if not, you could demonstrate your awareness of the opportunities/networks that you will have access to on the program and your openness to being influenced and guided by these. Ultimately, the school will want you to be employable at the end of the program (as this will feed into their career statistics and ultimately their rankings) – so strike that balance between having a clear goal and being able to re-adjust and re-focus if this becomes necessary.


For more insider essay advice for the schools on your target list, view Fortuna’s MBA Essay Tips.

karen ponte

Fortuna Admissions expert coach Karen Ponte is former Senior Program Manager at London Business School. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation

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