Caroline Diarte Edwards: How to Shine in MBA Video Essays

Former admissions director of INSEAD explains how to make your MBA video essay count

Caroline Diarte Edwards, former admissions director of INSEAD, is co-founder and director of MBA consulting firm Fortuna Admissions. The firm helps candidates lift up their uniqueness, strengthen their profile, position their candidacy, and gain admission to the best business schools.  

Read more about Fortuna Admissions and other firms in our MBA Admissions Consultants section.

Why are schools using video essays as part of the MBA application process?

The MBA admissions committee wants a peek into who you are in an unscripted way – your motivations, your personality, your communication style. They want to know how you think on your feet (a vital skill in the MBA classroom). For non-native speakers, it’s also an assessment of your verbal communications skills. But the video essay is also a great opportunity for candidates – it gives you another way to express yourself and let your personality shine (some people struggle to bring their story to life in written essays).

What are your tips on how to prepare for the video essay? 

Practice. Record yourself, review critically, get someone you trust to review and offer feedback. Plan your set-up and appearance carefully. In most cases, business casual dress would be appropriate; don’t wear anything that could be too distracting for the reviewer (like big dangly earrings) – you want to be memorable for what you say, not what you wear.

Make sure your background is uncluttered (no piles of laundry or bed visible), your face is well lit, and your voice is clear and easy to hear. Best to use a plug-in or Bluetooth earphone and microphone device to ensure excellent sound quality. For lighting, facing a window can work well, or buy a ring light, to give your face a healthy glow.

If you’re using a laptop, I suggest standing it on a shoebox or a pile of books so that the camera is level with your eyes – you don’t want to be peering down at the viewer (and it’s rarely a flattering angle).   

What are the biggest mistakes you see made in video essays? 

Not managing your time. It can be stressful when you know the clock is ticking down: for example, with INSEAD you have just 60 seconds to respond to the question. I’ve seen candidates take half that time for their preamble, so inevitably they don’t manage to convey their full response. Get straight to the point, and don’t try to cram in too much – you have to keep things short and sweet.

Also, it’s all too common to speak mechanically because you are talking to a screen. While it’s awkward and somewhat artificial not having the real-time feedback of seeing a human face react to what you are saying, make the effort to be lively. You won’t have the benefit of seeing an interviewer’s eyes glaze over when you go off track, or light up when your response to their question really resonates with them — and this lack of interaction can be disorientating.

Another common pitfall is not smiling. When you enjoy yourself, it shines through and makes a connection with the viewer. It’s remarkable how a smile can animate your whole being – your face, your voice, and your message. Using your hands while you talk may also help you inject some liveliness into your delivery. We tend to speak in more of a monotone when we are still.

Finally, another mistake to avoid is regurgitating what you’ve already said in your essays – admissions reviewers want to learn something new. Your entire application should convey a coherent narrative and avoid duplication.

What does success look like in an MBA application video essay? 

Be yourself, be authentic, and avoid being overly scripted or rehearsed. While practice is essential for conveying your story in a powerful and concise way, you’ll want to maintain a conversational tone. 

Also, convey confident body language. While most candidates overfocus on what to say, in reality it is how to say it – along with other non-verbal cues ­– that can have an even greater influence on the impression you give in a video. 

Try adding two minutes of ‘power-posing’ to your prep ritual. Not only is it a set-up for a more effective interview experience, but research shows it boosts your internal state by making you feel more powerful. As you practice, inventory your visual rapport – from your posture and expression down to your breathing, gestures, and energy. As you do, visualize success.

How important are video essays relative to the other elements of the MBA application process? 

It’s just one piece of the puzzle that helps the adcom [admissions committee] put together a picture of who you are, and what you would bring to the school. So, while the video essay is important, remember that it doesn’t carry more weight than the other application elements, such as your essays, recommendations, or interview. Try to think of the videos not as just another hoop you have to jump through, but another opportunity to shine, and to communicate to the adcom something special about who you are and what you bring to the table.

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