Dear Mentor:

How should I prepare for group discussion and interviews?

My query relates to an MBA program. I hope you are aware of the Narsee Monjee Institute Of Management Studies - Mumbai. The college offers a 2 year Post Graduate diploma in business administration in 2 other fields: 1) Advertising and Communication Management, 2) Rural Marketing. I have cleared the written test, which is mandatory to qualify for the Group Discussion and Personal Interview session. I would like to know how I should approach the Group Discussion and Personal Interview session and what preparations I should undertake. Could you also please guide me, if you don't mind, to other sites that would be able to offer me help. Also, are you aware of the above mentioned programs? If so, could you also let me know your opinion, especially on Rural Marketing?

Group-Interview, Mumbai, India

Dear Group-Interview:

Let us deal with the quick and easy parts first, before we get to Group Discussions. iMahal has a complete section on Job Interviews. Although this information and guidance is on job interviews, it applies equally well to your situation. We are not aware of other websites that would offer relevant information; however, it does not mean they don't exist. We are not particularly familiar with Narsee Monjee Institute Of Management Studies, so we shall refrain from making any comments on the quality of its programs.

We know that an interview is a one-on-one discussion, and the Group Discussion is many-on-many discussion. If the many-on-many discussion is not managed to make it one-on-many, the results are less than stellar. Sometimes the group discussion is moderated (for example, in news programs on television) and sometimes it is not moderated (for example, in jury deliberations, in class team projects).

The advantage of a moderated group discussion is that the participant knows what to talk about and when to talk about it - obviously, when prompted by the moderator. The challenge to the participant is to know the subject matter thoroughly and be articulate in responding to questions and arguments. One must become a good listener and be able to support or rebut the arguments from others in the group. Thus, preparation for the participant involves learning the subject matter, anticipating as many questions and arguments as possible. Acquiring content knowledge is a necessary step but not a sufficient step. You have to practice applying the knowledge to various real and imaginary situations/scenarios. It is the combination of acquisition and application of knowledge that is paramount.

Group discussions, that are not moderated, pose additional challenges. In additional to subject knowledge, one also has to be careful about what to say and when to say it. In such a discussion, just as in jury deliberations, a quasi-leader (that is, moderator) often emerges as the discussion progresses. So what are the appropriate rules of engagement in a group discussion? Since only one person may emerge as the group leader, and that too only after the discussion progresses, here are some guidelines that may be helpful to all participants.

Guidelines for Non-Moderated Group Discussions

  1. Stay focused on the topic. You share the responsibility to make the group as productive as possible. Do not go off on tangents, and if someone else does, try to bring the discussion back on track.
  2. Talk only when you have something useful to say. Avoid the waste of "air time." Just because one talks a lot does not mean one contributes a lot. Strike a careful balance between the quantity and quality of talk. Your speaking contribution should either move the discussion forward or change the direction of the discussion.
  3. Listen, Listen Listen. Do not get caught up with what great things you can say. Recognize other people's contribution, before you expect them to recognize yours. Continuity of discussion, and thus progress, can be achieved only when participants "build on" other's contributions. It does not mean you have to accept what others say - challenge that by all means, if necessary - but listen first.
  4. One at a time, please! Only one person should talk at any time, while all others listen carefully.
  5. No side meetings. Do not talk to others, outloud or whispering softly, when someone is talking to the group. If you have questions or comments, ask the group.
  6. Be polite, yet confident. No matter how right you think you are, others' ideas at least deserve due consideration. Never utter phrases such as: "You are wrong!" "That is so stupid!" "Dumbest thing I have ever heard!" - even when you are 100% sure. Present an alternative way of looking at the situation and let the group support the right path forward.
  7. Strive to become the group leader, BUT within reason. Sure, being unofficially recognized by your peers in the group shows your leadership qualities. Only one person can become that. Typically, the group consensus emerges over time. One does not need to be labeled a leader explicitly to acquire and discharge the expected role. Most often, the group, through its behavior, implicitly grants the role without verbally articulating it.
  8. Leader, DON'T push it. Remember, the group had elected you, whether implicitly or explicitly, the leader/moderator. The group expects you to be fair to all participants while making progress. Give everybody a fair chance to speak. Do not let anyone dominate the air time. Draw out people who are quiet. Make it a dynamic group.

Since you would be in an assessment environment, you will be observed for not only what you contribute but also on how and when you contribute.

One more item. Group discussions are typically on a topic or on a scenario. You may not know the topic or scenario until the discussion is actually set to begin. Acquire content knowledge for all potential areas. As mentioned early, it the application of the acquired knowledge that would prove useful. Practice, Practice, Practice!

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