Clearing CAT hurdles

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STANDING OUT IN A GROUP: Your performance in the group discussion has a bearing on your final selection.
STANDING OUT IN A GROUP: Your performance in the group discussion has a bearing on your final selection.

Group discussions are an important stage in the MBA selection process. Here are some tips on how to handle them.

The Indian Institutes of Management have declared the results of CAT 2005. Many other MBA institutes that make the preliminary selection through this test are expected to announce their results in the coming weeks. So, congratulations to those who have cleared the first step. What lies ahead also will have a large bearing on your final selection - the group discussions and the personal interview.In this issue, we will take a look at group discussions (GD) in the context of admission to MBA colleges. Usually the number of students called for GDs is three to five times the number of seats available in a particular institute. The final selection is based on the combined score assigned to the candidate after the written test, GD and personal interview. Having said that, you need to look at the GD and PI as the most critical elements now. Because your performance in the test is irreversible now.

Travel early

You are most likely to travel to a new city for your GD. Make sure that you arrive the previous day. Get a grip on the exact location where the process is scheduled. Formal dressing is essential. Men should wear a tie. Women need to wear a sari only if they are comfortable with the attire. Arrive at least 30 minutes before the reporting time specified in the call letter. It is always better to have a little buffer for any traffic delays and unforeseen hurdles. On arrival at the venue, you will meet other candidates also. While it is a perfectly rational thing to exchange pleasantries and continue talking, do ensure that the content of your discussion does not distract you from the tests ahead.


Now, let us size up the task ahead of you - you need to make an impression in the minds of the board through a string of attributes, which we will call Manager-Like Qualities (MLQ). Remember, the board will be assessing about 30 or even more candidates in a day. The challenge is to leave a positive opinion about your candidature at the end of your interactions. The actual exercise of GD usually contains between eight to 15 participants seated in a semicircular/oval/ circular arrangement. The participants will be given a topic that could be classified into any of the following three - Knowledge Based, Non-Knowledge Based or Case Studies. About two to three minutes could be given to arrange your thoughts before the GD becomes live.

Facts are the key

To participate well in the first variety of GDs, you need to be aware of the facts relating to the topic. An example of the topic of the first variety of GD could be "India rightly deserves a permanent seat in the UN." Reading the editorials of the past issues of a good newspaper is highly recommended. You should be able to make some good contribution in terms of facts, events and then finally make specific points based on these.

Essence matters

In the second variety of GDs, the topic could be slightly abstract - "Small is beautiful." Here, there are no specific road signs to move forward. The candidates are free to explore the topic from as many different viewpoints as applicable. There is no need to take a `for' or `against' stance straight away. You could explore the topic from both sides, give examples and then rest your case. For example, the Sony Walkman is an example where the essence of the topic is captured. On the other hand, companies like HLL, etc. have clear advantage in the marketplace because they are huge - they bring along extensive distribution network, sales force to reach large masses, big advertising budgets etc that can stifle the efforts of smaller companies. On a totally different platform, remember the caption of the movie "Godzilla"? - Size does matter! The key here is to bring different viewpoints to the discussion table.

Case studies

Case Studies are actually small situations that are presented to the group. These situations are likely to be drawn from a work environment where the actions of one or more persons cause conflict or tension among the other members of the group. Managing group dynamics is one of the important tasks of any manager, hence this variety of testing. In case studies, it is important to be "embedded" in the situation. This means that you cannot examine the case detached from the situation or view this as a third party. Your group might be given a case that calls for a discussion on the issue relating to an otherwise highly productive employee who has been found drinking at the workplace on two occasions recently. Here again, examining the case in terms of different possibilities is the key. While final decisions seem easy to comprehend and implement, the process of arriving at a decision is vital. It is not always a binary decision making as in a `Yes' or `No'. There are a lot of those grey areas that need to be addressed and discussed. This will also depend on other information given in the actual case. AJAY ANTONY

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