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MBA success mantra: Testing your social quotient

Last updated on: February 07, 2011 17:00 IST
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T Raghunath, course director at TIME, Chennai, shares his views on how to crack the group discussion and personal interview.

An MBA aspirant moves from a process of elimination to a process of selection. The written test is about elimination; the group discussion (GD) and personal interview (PI) is about selection. Having cleared the first stage, the later GD and PI round may feel like an enigma to you. Can you actually prepare for it or is it something innate that you either have or don't? How does one at all prepare for it and is it possible to do so? To answer these questions, it is necessary to understand what is expected during the group discussion. Primarily, at this stage, those are involved who have already exhibited their mettle and competency in the first stage -- the written test. Evidently, this is a highly competitive stage, and needs enormous self belief.

The group discussion round should not to be mistaken for public speaking -- where one's grasp of the topic or fluency of language is scrutinised. Group discussions explore subjects of general interest and concern, case studies, or excerpts from articles, newspapers and periodicals. Some b-schools also use the method of testing how a group task is completed within a certain time frame.

In a group discussion, you are generally evaluated on your:

  • Content (the different ideas that you can generate)
  • Clarity of expression
  • Ability to listen and reason out issues
  • Group behaviour
  • Stewardship qualities

In any typical group discussion, the strength of students is between 8 and 18 (different for different B schools). You will usually be assigned a topic, or a case study, or an article, and a preparation time of two minutes. The time for discussion ranges between 15 to 20 minutes. One is not expected to come to a conclusion at all (in some cases it may not even be possible to come to a conclusion).

To perform well, you must come out with as many ideas as possible, each idea bringing out a new dimension and angle, and presenting it in a simple but formal language. Snubbing fellow participants or ridiculing an idea is a strict no-no. Pleasant group behaviour is very important. Avoid steering the group to any specific conclusion.

Of course, the content is the most important. It means that one should be well read and prepared on a wide range of topics and issues. The ability to react to new ideas and the ability to build onto these ideas are additional traits that you must practice. All these attributes can be developed by regularly participating in GDs. Learn to break down complex topics into simple discussion threads, and in the process, allow a new fabric to emerge from these original threads. This is almost akin to preparing for a written test, but the only difference is that every single person will be eager to pitch in at an early stage, and there will be very little room or space for yourself. It is a competitive and collaborative process.

B-schools also require you to summarise the discussion in a written or oral form. While summarising the discussion, one must write what was discussed and should not add new points (that were not discussed) of their own. It should be a faithful recollection of the existing points. All this requires regular practice.

During preparations, you should consider various topics, case studies, articles -- and start trying to generate ideas. Your expression should be clear and precise. There should be no beating about the bush. Familiarity with the topic and with the process makes it easy to create an impact on the panel.

Some b-schools also use essay writing instead of, or in addition to, the group discussion. The basic approach does not change, except that there is no interference in the thought flow while writing an essay, and the flip side being that you cannot depend on other participants to proceed further if you do not get any ideas of your own. In a group discussion, the advantage is that you can pick up clues as you go along from fellow participants.

Preparing for the interview:

The interview process takes place between two unequal parties. The panel generally comprises of 2-3 members. Candidates are girlled through a series of questions on a wide variety of topics. The process aims to understand the candidate, and assess his/her suitability for an MBA programme. The questions could be personal, academic, or related to your general awareness. The panel tries to understand your belief systems, value systems, ambitions, and the clarity of your goals. They will assess your perspective on different issues. Revise on your basics. If you have been working, it is important that you know as much as possible about your organisation and its competitors.

A good preparation for the interview starts with understanding yourself. Ponder over what you want to be and how you propose to achieve that. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Chart out your goals and outline a path for achieving the same. This will throw up points about why one wants to study further and how it fits in with your scheme of things. This will also help you to draw up contingency plans and answer any questions on alternate careers. Talk to your friends, well-wishers, and mentors, and get a feedback on your goals, clarity and vision. Attending one or two mock interviews will help. Some interviews can also be 'stress interviews', where you will be judged on how you cope with stressful situations.

Fluency of language is not the best indicator of your performance. It is the content that will throw up your potential. Nor is the length of an interview any indication of your success in it. Any process has to be cracked with a systematic and structured approach. It must be developed – and is not something you are born with.

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