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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).

Three months ago, when I was looking for bridesmaids for my wedding, I reconnected with a friend. She told me: “You’re my role model. When I met you, I told myself to become a woman like you: strong-willed and open-minded”. But I was not always this way.

I was born as an ethnic minority in a mountainous rural area of Southwest China, where poverty prevailed, and educational opportunities were rare for girls. As a kid, I asked my mom whether boys were smarter because teachers said so. But she, a college educated woman, told me they are not. She took me to Beijing for a short trip, encouraging me to cross those mountains that surrounded us. This inspired me to grow from a girl who led other girls to play wildly in playgrounds, to a woman capable of leading a global team to overcome the most challenging projects. In university, I was bullied because I could not speak English; at work, people questioned my ability to lead big projects because I am not a German male. It has been joyful to surmount these obstacles. I have even passed determination to others as when I coached another female peer to become a successful project leader or when I guided a team of inexperienced members to collaborate effectively.

These experiences shaped me to feel naturally comfortable in international settings and built up my ability to alleviate cultural conflicts.

I only started to work with Western coworkers when I was 25, and set my feet outside of China for the first time in 2013. Since then, numerous international trips to various countries grew my curiosity for different cultures. A strong affinity opened my heart to express respect and care for people from different backgrounds and to bridge us with universal values. As a result, not only am I currently enjoying life in a country as different to China as Germany, but I am married to a French, and I combine professional career in Germany with continuous trips to France. These experiences shaped me to feel naturally comfortable in international settings and built up my ability to alleviate cultural conflicts.

Thomas - the best boss I have ever met – gave me complete autonomy to leverage my problem-solving skills in order to discover issues and search for solutions. I, therefore, created processes to close gaps in change management after I observed changes were not tracked systematically. I organised resources to modify designs inherited from past products in Germany when I saw they no longer fulfilled new requirements.

As a female leader, I am always proving myself to be as capable as men. Therefore, I tend to carry others’ workload all by myself without asking for help when needed, which puts unnecessary pressure on myself. I am just concerned that I will be judged as a woman who cannot honour commitments. My husband is helping me to discover that it is okay to properly show my struggles and seek support. INSEAD Gender Initiatives will bring me to an international community of female leaders who have experiences to share on how to position ourselves in men-dominated industries.



Probably the most important essay in INSEAD’s application, this is not a straightforward strengths and weaknesses essay since INSEAD also wants applicants to describe themselves as a person and highlight the factors that influenced their development.

Caroline was very concerned about her profile. By the time she applied, she was about to turn 35 whereas the age range of INSEAD’s class is 26 to 32. Her GMAT score was on par with INSEAD’s average (710), which as a Chinese applicant would be considered on the lower side. She also believed her international exposure was somewhat limited compared to a “typical” INSEAD student, and her industry (automotive manufacturing) was not the most attractive of industries for business schools.

With this in mind, we decided to approach the essay with simple language and with a very positive tone and vibe, while touching upon strengths that could be connected to all four INSEAD's admissions criteria...

Therefore, this essay was the perfect opportunity to highlight those aspects of her profile that could help offset these vulnerabilities. Thus, we decided to present herself as “An international mature female leader who has succeeded in a male-dominated industry while challenging the status quo”.

With this in mind, we decided to approach the essay with simple language and with a very positive tone and vibe, while touching upon strengths that could be connected to all four INSEAD’s admissions criteria: (1) Academic Capacity, (2) Leadership Potential, (3) International Motivation and (4) Ability to Contribute.

Caroline begins the essay with a novelist style paragraph. She puts us in a recent situation where she is conversing with a friend who shares with us right away two of Caroline's strengths (“strong-willed and open-minded”). She closes the paragraph with a sentence (“But I was not always this way”) that makes us wonder about her personal story and want to keep reading.

She then walks us through her childhood, and we understand that she does not come from an affluent background. She touches upon her mother influencing her to overcome obstacles as a kid and later as a project leader because of the simple fact of being a woman. In this paragraph, we understand she is connecting her strengths to two of the admissions criteria: Leadership Potential and Ability to Contribute.

Then she moves on to a paragraph that highlights her international experiences to date and how these have made her be more adaptable in international settings, and curious, respectful and caring for other cultures. Her reference to being married to a French man is a clear indication of this, and it is very easy to derive from this that she definitely meets the International Motivation criterion.

She uses the next paragraph to emphasize her problem-solving skills and her ability to think outside the box. Both strengths are connected to the Academic Capacity criterion. She also briefly mentions that Thomas is the best boss she’s ever had and gave her a great degree of autonomy. This indicates that Thomas had a great influence in her development, and it also shows that she is an appreciative and grateful person, which could also be linked to the Ability to Contribute criterion.

She concludes with one weakness. While she has chosen a cliché, I like her choice because this weakness doesn’t go against any of the admissions criteria nor against her career goals. Furthermore, she has approached it from the female angle, which makes it less of a cliché.

In short, she has been able to capture the reader’s attention from the very beginning and has connected all her strengths to INSEAD’s four admissions criteria in a very clear and straightforward way, while keeping a very positive tone and vibe throughout the entire essay.

Disclaimer: With exception of the removal of identifying details, essays are reproduced as originally submitted in applications; any errors in submissions are maintained to preserve the integrity of the piece.

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