IMD Essay Tips & Strategy for Career Questions

March 24, 2021 | by Karen Ponte

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

The program places strong emphasis on entrepreneurship, globalization, and digitalization while fostering a close-knit, collaborative community. The school cultivates leadership skills from day one through the Leadership Stream and encourages peer- and experiential learning alongside one-to-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. In addition, IMD’s four required essays 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.

Decoding IMD’s Required Essays

Essay 1. Describe a situation in which you failed as a leader. What did you learn from it? (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’ve learnt and grown from the 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 on 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 forwards. As with all such ‘failure’ questions, try to explain the situation as clearly and succinctly as you can – leaving the majority of the words to focus on the learning/positive elements.

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

Karla Cohen says it well in her article related to the HBS Essay: “Some of the best essays I have ever read open with the story of a failure and how that shaped them. From my perspective, if you are never making mistakes, you aren’t working hard enough. Besides, there is something so powerful about the truth when you read it – it hits you and tunes up your curiosity. And that’s what you want to inspire – enough enthusiasm and curiosity for the admissions committee to want to meet you and learn more. Always remember – this is a search for authenticity.”

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.

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)

It is very clear here that this section should only be used if there is critical information that isn’t included anywhere else – so only 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.

Essay 3: 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 these. 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 programme. So, be clear and transparent so that the school can link you in with support and/or opportunities if appropriate.

Essay 4: What other programs are you considering? Of the programs you are considering, what can IMD bring to you as a differentiator? (Word limit 100)

Every school wants to know they’re 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 applying to other programs – they expect that and it’s a sensible thing to do. But to win their acceptance, show them the love,” says Fortuna’s Amy Hugo. “This means going the extra mile to prove you understand a school’s unique culture and values, and that you’ve given considered thought both to how you’ll contribute to their community what you hope to gain from it.”

At the same time, notes Karen, you want to show reasoning for why you’re applying to other programs in the context of why this school is still number one for you. If you’re interviewing with Columbia, for example, Karen advises to contextualize in this way: “Given my interest in doing my MBA in NYC, I am also applying to Stern. While Stern could also provide me with a strong finance education, CBS remains my #1 choice due to its unique value investing program.” This helps to set up your thinking as well as cement your choice in your interviewer’s mind.

How to Tackle IMD’S Career Development Questions

What specific companies do you want to target? What kind of responsibilities you are looking for? 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 (as there aren’t enough words 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)

Whilst 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.

Want more advice?

View our exclusive webinar with IMD’s Admissions Director (below), hosted by Fortuna’s Matt Symonds, business education industry expert & columnist for Forbes, The Economist, BusinessWeek, the BBC.

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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