Changing trends in Group Discussions and Personal Interview


There is a romantic notion about Group Discussions (GD); much of it harbored by under performers and self-proclaimed charmers. In this notion, the said individual sashays into the room filled with under-confident geeks and nerds, and by the power of his vocal chords, deep baritone and verbal dexterity – the latter two more imagined than real – blows the competition away; in one fell swoop rendering all his bad marks and worthless performances inconsequential. In the real world, however, this is wishful thinking and those in love with their incessant chatter are not going to make it to any of the top-notch B-schools.

The Indian B-school selection process has matured over the years. Gone are the days when a GD represented the ‘Survival of the Loudest’ syndrome. On the contrary, excessive domination of the GD is viewed poorly. The top B-schools nowadays allow ample opportunities to showcase your skills. So, don’t be surprised if the panel for your Personal Interview poses a question on the same subject as your GD; it’s not because they don’t know what your GD was all about… it’s because you might not have been given the right opportunity to speak.

“Most good B Schools have multiple criteria for the evaluation and selection of candidates,” Prof. Neeraj Kumar of FORE School of Management says. “A candidate nowadays should not get unduly worried about his/her performance in either GD or PI, since in the overall scheme of things there are other factors at play right from performances in Class 12 to Graduation to CAT. Having said that, most good institutions do provide an opportunity to a candidate who has not been able to make her point during the no-holds-barred discussions. It is very crucial to listen to the instructions very carefully – it may give you clues if there is an opportunity to sum up towards the end.”

GDs are traditionally organised around current affairs and contentious issues. The reasoning is to generate discussions, discern the awareness of the participants, and to measure an individual’s ability to analyse the issues. However, with every passing year, the inclination of the elite B-schools to ‘push the limits’ is on the rise.

“The format might change now,” says Prof. Neeraj Kumar, Chairperson – Admissions, FORE School of Management. “GD is a rich opportunity to assess managerial potential; especially aspects like clarity of thought, analytical ability, assertiveness and tact, listening skills,and most important of all, the depth and breath of knowledge on contemporary issues.”

To candidates who are hesitant, nothing works better than honing this critical skill of influencing a group. Making interventions and putting one’s point across in a group situation is a competence that can be learned. However, if even after practicing, one is not able to perform to one’s satisfaction, it is best to get rid of any feeling of disappointment as quickly as possible, since:
a) The selection committee members do not normally transfer their assessment from one component to another, and
b) GD is only one of the many components.
“I am surprised at the number of times that I have seen candidates who did not perform well in GD, but who did exceptionally well in PI….and finally made the cut,” recalls the Chairperson of Admissions at FORE School of Management.“To sum it up, yes, it would be nice to do well in GD, but don’t become disheartened if things do not go as well as you had hoped for. Selection is based on a holistic assessment in multiple areas.”

The other big change that elite B-schools are conscientiously building into the framework of the GD & PI is the ability to listen… ‘Right Impact’ is NOT created by using maximum air time or by ‘outshouting’ others. Right impression is also not created if one is unable to speak at all.Right impact is made whenyou raise queries from within the discussion – when you question a particularly lopsided argument, and assimilate multiple arguments.“When one is able to listen, make points backed by data or examples, is civil and makes orderly interjections, and assists in structuring the discussion, that contribution is priceless,” says Prof. Neeraj Kumar, FORE School of Management.

As far as PI is concerned, general awareness helps, but it is hardly everything. How well and consistently has one applied oneself in life can be gauged through the depth of knowledge and application in subjects studied during graduation or earlier. For those with prior work experience, the application is also gauged through knowing about the business functions, role and environment of the organization one has worked in. For the selectors, these are effective predictors of success - both in the rigorous MBA course and placements thereafter. Sincerity and honesty in replies are also valued and any seasoned interviewer can sense this.

“As panelists, we value depth of knowledge,” says Prof. Neeraj Kumar, FORE School of Management. “This may of course vary, but possessing a wide range of knowledge in a chosen educational or professional field, along with sincerity, would carry the day.”Hence the essential question: what do you do when you just go blank? If even a subject you are well-versed in seems beyond recollection? “Yes, this happens,” acknowledges the Admissions Chairperson of FORE School of Management.“In such a ‘black-out’moment, remind yourself that this is not fatal. Interviewers are aware of occasional tripping and allow for that. Tell yourself, this is momentary and will pass.”

All said and done, a good GD-PI process must provide an opportunity for even the least expressive individual to make their points. There are numerous examples of candidates who do exceedingly well in GDs but not so well in PI. And, it is possible for both types of candidates to make the cut. Group situations overwhelm a few, especially those who are temperamentally inhibited. There could be personality differences, and it is not implied that one kind of personality is preferable over the other. The group of candidates who are inhibited in a group situation could also behave less assertively if they either don’t understand the topic or have not been keeping in touch with issues affecting the nation and the world. The trick is to prepare well, give it your best shot and then focus on what lies ahead!