Continued from the previous article Bell the CAT (2011)
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going”; no matter how clichéd this quote is, it is very applicable to all those candidates who will qualify the 1st stage (CBT) of CAT: and thereby, appear for the next: GD(Group Discussion) and PI(Personal Interview), because this is when one transforms from a roll number to a “Potential Candidate” who has to prove himself worthy of the esteemed education on offer in front of a discerning Panel. As a logical succession of my previous article on “Cracking the CAT”, here, I share a few guidelines on the GD/PI(next article) process, which is the next and final leg of CAT selection procedure.
A Group Discussion or GD as it is typically called, is a simulated exercise wherein a group of candidates (normally not more than 10) are given a topic/situation/case study, which they are to discuss and analyze within a specified time limit. The group is expected to come up with a potential solution of the same/ reach a logical conclusion. A panel of experts observes the proceedings and evaluates the members of the group. It is a test of the following:
a) Candidate’s Knowledge and Content
b) Candidate’s Communication skills: BOTH LISTENING and Speaking
c) As a Future Manager, his People Skills (Team Member/Group Leader, etc)
Before we discuss the “Do’s”, let us see what should not be done during the course of a GD:
1) Keeping absolutely quiet/ murmuring to self/waiting for the group members to give you a chance to speak.
2) Inappropriate Body Language: Raising your voice excessively/ pointing a finger or touching a candidate to quieten him/her.
3) Getting carried away emotionally/ not letting others to speak at all/ not LISTENING to others.
4) Assuming unwarranted leadership: directing the members to speak/ keep quiet.
5) Straying the group in a different direction with irrelevant points.
6) Contradicting one’s own stand at a later point of time during the course of the discussion.
7) Not Timing oneself: A candidate should be aware of the time limit of both the GD, and his individual speaking, keeping his responses curt and relevant (the avg retention of the human mind is 2 mins or so).
Now here are some “Do’s” or things that should necessarily be done/taken care of during a GD:
1) Meaningful Contribution: In an attempt to be NOTICED and Acknowledged both by the group and panel , a candidate should make his contribution in following ways:
a) Be among the first 4-5 speakers and/or try to initiate the GD. Remember, initiating a GD can be quite risky and should be attempted only when one has full confidence on:- his Knowledge on the topic, Communication skills and the fact that his points shall take the GD forward. Always try to take a Stand-for/against the issue; here again, opposition of the issue, if at the onset, needs to be handled very tactfully, and ensure you have enough points in your kitty to maintain your stand till the end.
b) Be assertive (not aggressive): Try to take chances to speak whenever you feel you have a valid point to make.
c) If you have not been able to speak for the first few minutes of the GD, try to take an alternative approach either by a) opposing the topic or b) making a point which is “different” from the group. In either of the 2 cases, ensure that your points are apt and logical, and you are prepared for the counter arguments that may come from the group. Irrelevant points in the attempt to get “noticed” may earn you negative points!!
d) Try to make the most of a situation when the group gets stuck at a point or there is Redundancy of ideas/ repetition of points – by redirecting it in a fresh and relevant direction - this can win you some Brownie points over others in addition to exhibiting your Leadership skills in a very subtle way.
2) Knowledge Base/ Content: In order to speak, one should know WHAT TO SPEAK!!! Remember, with knowledge comes confidence to speak and tell the others:”Bring it on”!!! It also helps you form an individual opinion on various issues which makes you stand out from the group. Acquiring knowledge does not happen overnight, and requires a lot of the following:
a) READING: CAT is all about reading: Magazines (Sports/Current Affairs /Finance & Money Matters), Autobiographies of CEOs of big organizations/Business/Spiritual gurus, Factual novels, Reports of companies (even Film Magazines once in a while for their superb vocabulary) should be read before, during and after the first round of the CAT exam.
b) Watching news: Be the child who learns to speak after he hears. In addition to improving your knowledge, it will help you with your accent, vocabulary, body language and etiquette of speaking in presence of people.
c) Stay Connected: through Social-Networking sites, online groups, etc for exchange of ideas, learning new things, tracking one’s own preparation.
d) Mock GD: Pardon me for my use of clichéd quotes but “Practice does make a man perfect”. Join a reputed MBA Preparatory Institute; almost all of them provide Mock GDs both on a full-time/ crash course basis. This will help you get over your inhibitions and fears, instil confidence of public speaking, your negatives will be pointed out and improvements suggested.
e) Gathering information on previous years’ GD topics in IIMs/present year’s in Allied Institutes. This will give you an idea of the type of topics that are generally presented.
f) Jotting down crisp points on a piece of paper (very quickly!) at the onset of the GD, will help you channelize your thoughts, and ensure that you don’t miss out speaking a key point that you may have thought initially.(Is okay to give a cursory glance to your paper once in a while, but reading and speaking is an absolute no-no!!)
3) Reaching a Logical Consensus/ Conclusion: A discussion among Directors and Executives in a boardroom is similar to the gossip of ladies over a Pot lunch, if it does not end with a logical consensus. This is how you can successfully show your Team skills in a GD:
a) Try to build a general consensus: as said earlier, you can demonstrate leadership skills very subtly by influencing people and gaining support from the group.
b) Try to conclude the GD: by revisiting the key points that were discussed by the group (both for and against), and if possible end it by giving “your opinion”. This again, if done smartly, can earn you an edge over others. If someone else has taken this initiative, try to support him by reminding some key points that he may have missed or lastly making one yourself, for you never know my clichéd quote may get reversed here: “First impression is the Last impression”, and the Last may become the first.
‘Rome was not built in a day’ and so the preparation for the GD/PI(discussed in the next article) evaluation leg of IIMs cannot be mastered overnight. With the competition getting tougher every year, both with candidates’ performance and the judgement parameters getting a notch higher, the 3 Must-Do’s for a Manager-in-the-making are: Excessive Reading, Participating in as many Mock GDs as possible and learning to be a good Listener.