15 things you shouldn’t be caught dead doing at an MBA admissions Group Discussion


Editor’s note: The first part of the two-part series warns you about the common goof-ups at a GD. Basically, now you would know how to crack it in a crowd, and stand out. (Part two here).

Photo credit: SHK

You are done with the Common Admission Test (CAT) and are probably lining up yourself for some of the other admission tests. This is a good time to brush up your skills for the last mile of selection group discussion and interview (GD-PI).

Interestingly, there are lot of speculations and confusions among aspirants regarding GD-PI. Having been a part of selection panels representing both the corporate and institutional recruiters for several years, I have witnessed, moderated and assessed performance in innumerable GD-PIs. It is fascinating to see students trying really hard, but ending up doing things that they should rather avoid.

Here is a list of things candidates need to stay clear off if they wish to make the right impression on the interview panel. Avoiding the donts will help recognise the real differentiators, and the direct preparation towards improving ability to score higher on them.

Lets begin with GD. A group of students is assigned a topic for discussion for 1520 minutes. The panel is looking for an effective combination of knowledge and skills in the candidates. Some serious donts.

1. Arriving just-in-time, or worse still, arriving late for the selection process: Being punctual shows you value time and respect the institutes time as well. Arriving early gives you a chance to familiarise yourself with the environment, meet your competitors and become a little easy about the whole thing. Less stress equals better performance.

2. Not having a crisp, simple and effective speech prepared for the introduction: Often moderators ask the participants to introduce themselves. It sounds simple so candidates dont give this part much thought. Consequently, we see poorly-structured, fumbling introductions, making a negative impression on the panel and participants.

3. Clarifying the topic with the moderator: If you do not know much about or do not understand the topic, the worst thing you can do is ask the moderator. It shows you in poor light, either in terms of knowledge or analytical ability, or both. You need to keep quiet and listen to your peers; as the discussion unfolds, you will know what to say.

4. Scrapping to start the discussion without having anything useful to say: Starting the discussion does not by itself necessarily give you extra points; it does, however, give you some visibility. So, if you do manage to start, make sure you make a positive impact. Its better not to start the discussion than to make an average or poor start.

5. Failing to recognise that a GD is not a debate: Majority of candidates start the discussion by voicing their own opinion thats typically the debate situation. In GDs, moderators look for candidates who can create a framework for discussion or help widen its scope by guiding the group to explore its different aspects. If all you have to say is whether you agree with the topic or not, and that too before you get a chance to discuss it with the group, you have made a poor start.

6. Showing aggression: Many candidates believe that the corporate world is seeking aggressive managers. The industry, on the contrary, is looking for managers who can work in and with teams and who are assertive without being aggressive. To be aggressive is to impinge on others space and time and thats not how a professional is expected to conduct him/her self. So, dont come across as a smoke-spouting matador; you need to come across as an effective team-player who works with the group, accommodates diverse viewpoints and asserts him/ her-self without aggression.

7. Trying to be the leader of the group: Leadership cannot be demanded, it is bestowed by the group and you have to earn it on the basis of the quality of your performance. Candidates often try very hard to assume a leadership position in the group obviously in the belief that the moderator is assessing them on leadership potential. The effort shows – and, almost always, with disastrous results. If you add value to the discussion by demonstrating knowledge and analytical ability and conduct yourself with dignity, you may emerge as a leader.

8. Trying to play moderator: You are an equal among other equals in the group thus no divine power has given you the right to decide how others in the group should conduct themselves. This is usually misconstrued as team skills by the participants but is actually unnecessary policing. There is no one more irritating for the moderator than a member making inane statements like we must allow everyone to speak and we are digressing from the subject. You are assessed on your ability to make compelling points on the subject assigned just do a good job of that and the assessment will take care of itself.

9. Grabbing airtime: Most people love to hear themselves speak. Most also believe that they have the most earth-shattering perspectives to share and that everyone else should just shut up and listen to them. Armed with these beliefs, some candidates talk themselves to the proverbial death in GDs. People who insist on talking a lot end up talking nonsense and repeating themselves ad-nauseum. These students are prime candidates for rejection no B-school wants to fill up its campus with people who dont let others talk.

10. Playing judge: I have mentioned that a wannabe moderator is the most irritating species in a GD. A very close second is the self-appointed judge, who spends his/ her time in the GD making incisive statements like you made a good point, he did not make sense to me, I agree with her, etc. Good to know who all are blessed with your approval, but what about making a contribution to the discussion with some valid, well-thought-out points?

11. Failing to listen to others: The hallmark of good communication is effective listening. Assessors actively seek superior listening skills in candidates. Your body language and the content of your speech have to, therefore, demonstrate attentive listening. Listening would automatically improve the quality of your content, and moderators are acutely aware of this. Interrupting others, trying to dominate the discussion, ignoring group dynamics are all examples of poor listening skills.

12. Showing lack of respect for other peoples views: A subject is bound to evoke diverse responses from the group members, in fact it is this diversity that makes for a rich discussion. I have seen candidates shut out other points of view, ridicule the comments or ideas of others and expend their energies in trying to prove others wrong. That is exactly what you should not do you need to learn to accept others opinions and carry them in the group while putting your own perspective forward in a pleasant yet assertive manner. Its about different ways of looking at things, not about right and wrong. Also, you need to be sensitive enough not to make comments that are likely to hurt the sentiments of any section or group of people.

13. Being closed-minded about issues: This is related to the earlier point. Managers need to be open minded about issues and have the capability of managing conflicting opinions. If you come across as a person with strong, extreme, non-negotiable views, you would be doing yourself disfavour in the selection process. The assumption would be that you are either unaware of the complexities of the issue or too closed minded to accommodate positions different from your own. This becomes even more obvious in sensitive issues like reservation, terrorism, etc.

14. Engaging in one-on-one arguments: A group discussion needs to involve the entire group, but students often indulge in parallel conversations with other members. This is more evident when two members get caught up in trying to win an argument. Neither is likely to relent so you end up not winning the argument and losing the opportunity to get selected. Avoid getting into long arguments agree to disagree and move the discussion forward.

15. Repeating or rephrasing points: You get credit for making new, valid points not for repeating or rephrasing points already made earlier in the discussion. If you have nothing new to say, keep mum and think analyse the knowledge you have and try to apply it to the given situation. Bring a new perspective or build and develop on points made by others.

Added later: The author has sent the following response to reader comments about there being contradictions in points 3, 8 and 10.

Thanks for taking the time to read my views on GDs. This article was a summary of my experiences as a moderator and recruiter for institutions like Tata Steel, PwC, HP and Praxis Business School. I am glad that some of you have expressed differences of opinion thats what enriches a discussion, whether its a formal GD or an article on a website.

Some of you have asked me to clarify certain points. I certainly dont wish to defend what I have said as; however, I think I owe it to you all to clear some of the confusion that some of my writing may inadvertently have created. The points in question are 3, 8 and 10, so I will address them in that order.

3. Clarifying the topic with the moderator: In response to a topic like Euthanasia should be legalised, I have had candidates asking me (the moderator) the meaning of the word euthanasia. These candidates immediately get a negative, and, more often than not, the moderator does not reveal the meaning anyway — you are supposed to know what euthanasia means as it is one of the hotly debated issues in the globe. If, for some reason, you are unaware, a better way to deal with the situation is to let the GD start and listen to your peers it takes a couple of minutes to get the hang of the topic and to start contributing. Some moderators may give candidates an opportunity to clarify please go ahead and use the opportunity.

8 and 10. Assuming the role of a moderator or a judge: I am addressing these together as they belong to the same family of topics in a group of peers, should I (and can I) assume the role of a moderator or a judge? Some readers have said that it depends on the situation in a GD as each GD is unique I could not agree more. But I cannot cover all possible cases that may arise generally, for me, a candidate who attempts to run the group usually ends up looking a little silly because the group is under no obligation to be run by a peer. Every fish market has a couple of do-gooders screaming that the group is turning into one (fish market) and that everyone should be allowed to speak. The group usually chooses to ignore them and carry on so all they manage is to add to the general noise. No harm in making an attempt but you need to be smart enough to figure out if its likely to work. If the group is fiercely competitive, you are likely to face an uphill task. Comments like we, or, worse still, you, are digressing, etc are likely to be met with an under-the-breath who are you to decide what is digression I think I am making a very relevant point. Instead, make a point that brings the group back to the topic! Whom would you guys select someone who says You are digressing from the topic, (a judgement) or someone who says, Coming back to the topic, I would like to look at the social impact of this development (a contribution toward bringing the group back to the topic). Take your pick.

Successful GD candidates spend their effort in making compelling points the group automatically listens to them. Candidates who repeatedly complain that I had great points but no one listened to me need to get another opinion on the brilliance of their points they would be surprised! If the moderator himself asks candidates to moderate the GD, you obviously go ahead and do that. I would be seriously concerned if your understanding of my writing suggests anything different. The specific situation you face in a GD and the instructions, if any, of the moderator would clearly override whatever I have said.

Part two of this article: 14 more things to avoid like the plague at an MBA admissions GD.

The author is Charanpreet Singh, Associate Dean, Praxis Business School, Kolkata . Educated at IIT Kanpur and University of Iowa, he was earlier Country Manager, Marketing at Hewlett Packard.