GROUP DISCUSSIONS (GD) and Personal Interviews (PI) are standard selection tools for admission into good business schools in India.
While your academic record, work experience (if any) and scores in the entrance test qualify you for an interview call, your final selection depends largely on your performance in the ‘last mile.’
I will talk about two things here - what the moderators/ interviewers are looking for, and how students should prepare for success.
We will also bust some myths while we address these questions. I have been a recruiter from prominent B-schools during my days in the corporate sector and am now part of the selection panel for Praxis. I also do some training in this area. So I have a fair idea of what it takes to win.
Let’s begin with GDs. A group of students is assigned a topic for discussion for 15–20 minutes. The panel is looking for an effective combination of knowledge and skills in the candidates. Knowledge comprises some understanding of the topic assigned, and also a good level of awareness of the world around us. Preparation – the only way to prepare is to read more, develop a keen interest in current affairs and seek opportunities to discuss these in groups. Knowledge gives the ‘content’ in a discussion – without good content you cannot score well.
MYTH: Candidates perform well because they are smooth talkers.
REALITY: Candidates perform well because they talk sense and there is sufficient ‘meat’ in what they say.
B-Schools seek a variety of skills in the aspirants. These comprise analytical skills, communication skills, team skills, ability to handle stress, decision-making skills etc. Let’s talk about the first three. Management is an applied discipline – students need to use their analytical skills to apply theory effectively to solve day-to-day problems. The panel wishes to see whether the candidate is able to think clearly about a situation, dig into his treasure of knowledge and apply it usefully in the short time he has to make his point. Preparation - students can train themselves to think analytically – it is an attitude that one can develop as opposed to not ‘think’ at all. Make it a habit to get to the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of issues – don’t take things at face value – think about them before you form an opinion.
MYTH: Academic brilliance equals analytical skills.
REALITY: Students with lower academic achievements sometimes demonstrate better capability to relate their learning to practical situations.
Communication skills are perhaps the most critical attribute of the modern manager. These include listening and articulation skills. Moderators look for the candidate’s keenness and ability to listen to others – mature managers are very good listeners because every time you listen, you learn.
Preparation - train yourself to be a good listener – develop the patience to listen attentively. Acknowledge that everyone has something valuable to say. When speaking in a GD, your job is to articulate your point of view in a way that is easy for others to comprehend. Preparation - inculcate the good habit of structuring your thoughts and presenting them logically. Writing essays on a variety of topics is good practice developing thought structure.
- Train your mind to think analytically
- Your GD arguments should have ‘meat’
- Respect other people’s views
- Listening is important. Practise patience
- Writing essays can improve thought structure
MYTH: Good communication is about speaking a lot, speaking in a stylish accent and using ‘big’ words.
REALITY: Good communication is about listening, speaking at the appropriate time, using easy-to-understand English and getting your point across in as simple a manner as possible.
B-Schools prepare you for jobs that involve being part of and managing teams. The GD is the first test of how good your team skills are. Do you listen to others? How do you handle points of view different from yours? Are you able to get across your point of view without appearing to be trying too hard?
Do you cross the line from being assertive to being aggressive? If you are a good team player, the other members of the group will tend to connect with you. This will be evident to a moderator even amidst the chaos that marks a typical GD.
Preparation – learn to respect others for what they are. Learn to be open-minded and recognize the fact that people think differently about issues. Seek opportunities to discuss topics of mutual interest in diverse groups.
MYTH 1: Candidates who try to ‘run’ the group and ensure everyone gets a chance to speak etc. demonstrate great team skills.
MYTH 2: People who dominate a discussion and reduce others to submission do well in GDs.
REALITY: Candidates who work with the group, accommodate diverse viewpoints and assert themselves without aggression score high.
- Starting with the phrase – Myself XYZ – there’s no better way to put the panel off.
- Getting into details about siblings and cousins – especially the ones who seem to have done well. We wish to know about you, not about your extended family.
- Citing –‘making friends’ or ‘meeting new people’ – as their hobby. Wonder how one pursues a hobby like ‘meeting new people’!
- Saying things like – I studied this in my first year – as an excuse for not knowing some basic stuff related to their subject of study. The panel members studied this about 20 years back – they still remember it!
- ‘I will get to learn how to manage people’ as an answer to the question – ‘What do you expect to learn in your business management education?’ An MBA is a technical course that teaches you the fundamentals of a number of functions of running a business.
In short, the GD panel is testing whether you know the topic well, are able to present your point of view in a logical manner, are interested in understanding what others feel about the same subject and are able to conduct yourself with grace in a group situation.
And now the very last phase of the selection process – the PI. Some of the GD attributes we have spoken about remain as important in a PI – knowledge, analytical skills, communication skills.
However, the PI is a little more predictable as there is a set of questions that is likely to be asked to a majority of the candidates. It makes sense to know what these questions are and to be prepared with the answers. Let’s look at some of these questions:
The most frequently asked first question is – Can you tell us something about yourself? It makes ample sense to prepare a comprehensive answer to this – the trick again being able to structure it effectively.
A necessary condition is to understand your own self – your strengths, weaknesses and nature – before attempting an answer. Other common questions relate to your reasons for doing an MBA, your career goals, reasons for switching streams or giving up a job etc. Students often ask me for help in answering these types of questions.
Please remember that these are questions about you and only you can give honest answers to them. A counsellor can at best help you structure the reply.
The candidate should be prepared to face questions on his areas of interest in academics and his area of work. He has to demonstrate the capability to think and present his thoughts cogently. Highlight your areas of strength – try to direct the interview towards your area of comfort.
A panelist looks at a candidate with two things in his mind – would I like to have him on campus for the next two years, and, will I be able to place him with a good organisation two years from now. The interviewee should thus come across as an honest, capable and sincere person.
Speak the truth while answering personal questions – nothing works quite as well as truth. Diligence, genuineness, maturity and an awareness of the environment around you are positive traits.
Cynicism, arrogance and indifference are negative traits. A seemingly innocuous question on who your role model is and why he is your role model can yield lots of information about you across these dimensions.
Highlight your learning from your academics and your job. Emphasise your interest in pursuing an MBA, and that too from that B-school. Avoid running down your college, your current area of study, your current job etc,. to justify your decision to pursue an MBA. Learn to say ‘I don’t know’ instead of making wild guesses!
There is no substitute to preparation. Listen attentively to each question asked and keep your answers brief and to the point. Hope you enjoy the GD/ PI process and get admission to the B-school of your choice
IMS Learning Resources Pvt. Ltd
A list of key parameters that you are evaluated upon
1. Introduction: The opening part of the student-panel interaction, which requires the ability to handle the vastness implicit in an open-ended question. Your ability to prioritise and lead the panel is tested.
2. Education: The challenge here is to demonstrate wholesome learning, with a mix of both academic and extra-curricular activities. Academic learning is validated in terms of basics and relevance of graduation, comfort level with reference to core/favourite subjects and projects and industrial training. The focus is on evaluating an empirical connect with the graduation stream and an ability to apply theory to practice. Extra-curricular activities are measured on a dual scale – versatility and achievement. While it helps to showcase learning from a range of activities beyond the rigours of the academic curriculum, a certified performance in them is further indicative of your passion to excel.
3. Current affairs: Key events in the political, economic, business and socio-cultural sectors need to be appreciated, with an ability to form opinions on issues of contemporary relevance.
4. Career planning: The “marketing challenge” here is to evaluate your time-bound plan and the relevance of an MBA. While answering questions on short and long-term goals, it is advisable to uphold a clear and logical pitch and to strike a balance between ambition and pragmatism. For example, starting your own venture is indicative of an entrepreneurial streak, but needs to be backed by an authentic business plan. Similarly, becoming the CEO of a company is wonderfully aspirational, but requires an elaborate detailing of a well-defined career path. Focus on career advancement and mention responsibility profiles, rather than job designations.
5. Personality-based questions: The focus should be on demonstrating examples showcasing your strengths, having a remedial plan for overcoming weaknesses and demonstrating learning from people/situations.
The author is Associate Dean, Praxis Business School, Kolkata