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Post-CAT GD and interviews: The last hurdle
Rahul Reddy
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January 09, 2008

It's that time of the year again. CAT results are out and IIMs will soon send out their call letters.

Students who have slogged their brains out for the last year or so can stop biting their nails and maybe get a manicure. Soon, many other B-schools will announce their results. While some celebration is certainly called for, it is not yet the time to pop the champagne corks. There are still battles to be fought, victories to be won.

Of course, when the final admission offer is made from IIM-A and you regretfully inform other IIMs and sundry B-schools that you will not be joining them, you can tell the fat lady to sing her guts out.

First let me tell you the odds are much better at the GD and Interview stage than they were at the CAT stage. IIM-A is giving out roughly 3x calls for every x. And if you have more calls the chances are even better. However, GD and Interview is not a walk in the park, however confident you may be of your gift of the gab. There is more to it than just English speaking.

By now the B-schools have tested you on your aptitude skills (sic) and have selected you for further consideration. Let's look at what their interest would be in selecting you.

~ Ability to do justice to the course (read 'will s/he pass the course?').

~ Employability after the MBA program.

~ Career prospects (will s/he rise to her/his level of incompetence and become the second assistant vice president at Novella Nail Varnishes Amalgamated?).  

Group Discussions

Group Discussions involve putting 8-12 students together in a group and giving them a topic and getting them to yell at each other for about 10-15 minutes. Alternately, these students may be given a situation, a one-page story (called a case study) and asked to discuss the same. But let's look at what the B schools expect to test in such a scenario. The following are the parameters of selection:

Content: General awareness, the ability to convert knowledge into logical arguments. It is relatively easy to memorise facts; students have been doing it over years of schooling and college. Memory is compulsory, comprehension is optional. But, to participate meaningfully in a Group Discussion you need to have a clear understanding of what the facts mean.

So spend your time reading up newspapers, magazines and browsing the net catching up on important topics. You could try to acquire a list of past topics from any of the CAT training centres.

Communication: The next step is to communicate the arguments built with clarity. It is the ability to make yourself understood. Students worried about fluency in English and/or accents need not worry. You are aiming at a 'She makes sense' kinda response, not a 'He speaks so well, but what exactly does he mean.' Use simple language and short sweet sentences. Do understand that GDs tend to be extremely chaotic with 6 word average sentences. So come to the point directly before you get interrupted.

However, certain tactics are important. For one, getting a chance to speak is critical. Don't wait for complete silence for you to start speaking. You have to interrupt somebody and grab your chances, but how and when you do it is very important

Time your interruption towards the end of someone's point.

Speak loud and clear (but don't speak fast). Make sure you start with some power behind your voice.

Make eye contact with different students; don't speak only to one person.

Group Dynamics: Remember that a GD is a formal occasion and make sure your behaviour is appropriate. The B-schools are testing your attitude, maturity etc. The way you handle pressure in a chaotic situations, handling disagreements, listening skills are all tested. Take a balanced view of the topic and be willing to look at different points of view.

Wild allegations (all politicians are corrupt), impractical suggestions (a war on Pakistan will settle all issues), personal attacks (if your brother was killed by terrorists you would know) etc clearly highlight your lack of maturity.

Leadership: Leadership in GDs is about intellectual leadership. Can you guide the GD towards a meaningful discussion of the topic? It's about introducing new ways of looking at the topic, and leading a group towards a consensus. Remember, GDs, rarely, if ever, reach a consensus. However, the process of going towards a consensus is all important. Remember Leadership is a not a choice that you make. You become a leader, if the group voluntarily chooses to follow you.


Interviews bring about a fear of being brutalised by an essentially hostile panel looking to rip you apart, proverbial lambs to slaughter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Except for a relatively rare case of 'stress interview' where the student is deliberately put under stress, most interviews are friendly affairs where the panel seeks to put the student at ease. This is done to ensure that they are able to elicit natural responses and best evaluate the student. The questioning and evaluation is done on these parameters:

Let me end this article with a few tips on how to prepare:

~ An Interview is about 'YOU'. So don't look at ready made answers to questions. Please remember that the panel wishes to know you better, so start with knowing yourself better.

~ Understand the fact that preparation is required and that it will take time. So don't leave it for the last minute. Most importantly question yourself. Understand that any answer looks good unless it is tested. Most trouble is caused by supplementary questions. For example let's look at a possible scenario.

Q. Mr. Rohit, as a software engineer with some experience, why would you like to study management?

A. Sir, while I have a strong background as a technical person, I feel that my career prospects would be better if can add management skills and be a techno MBA. (applause; good answer).

Q. Define 'Techno MBA'? (Bong!).

A. Sir, a person having technical skills as well as management skills.

Q. But, Rohit, would you need all these skills? If it is simply a case of more the merrier, why not add, medical, firefighting and culinary skills as well.

And so on�

-- The author is Director, T.I.M.E., Kolkata.

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