Cracking GDs and PIs in MBA Admissions

Growing up, I was often encouraged to read ‘How to win friends and influence people’. And then the 7 Habits (of highly effective people) happened “ which was the next big thing. In its wake spawned a new genre: self-help.

That’s when a strange kind of mutation began. From being prescribed ‘Chicken soup for the soul’ to being asked, ‘Who will cry when you die’ to being advised on ‘fifty ways to get rich’, the focus changed to the malaise, moving farther and farther away from what caused it.

What the first two books primarily, albeit imperfectly, and at least now controversially (how to win…) address are communication issues. Great leaders are good communicators. Great negotiators are good communicators. A good, successful movie or an ad campaign is an exercise in communicating successfully. So is a story told so well it changes your life. The big word is communication.

Communication, that area which also encompasses one of the greatest fears to plague mankind: Among the fear of WMDs and the fear of death, is the fear of speaking in public claiming its pride of place. Also, as it happens to be, it is a subject near which engineers and accountants alike go week-kneed. I have seen this fear at play, strike at the best in their fields and leave them cowering. I find this especially unfortunate when at the other end of the sword is a meritorious student facing a CAT/GMAT/CMAT panel.

Communication is crucial to our success in any walk of life, but particularly so in front of a CAT/GMAT/CMAT panel, and that too after near-perfect scores.

I hope the points I have detailed below will help aspirants get through their GDs and PIs.

For GDs:

Tips: Usually institutes test you on your:

1) Analytical ability: ability to understand the subject up for discussion, your ability to justify your stand if necessary.

2) Communication skills: Your ability to put across your view in a coherent manner; your timing for tabling your point, issuing clarifications, questioning or challenging some viewpoint, and finally, your presence of mind.

3) Ability to participate in a group: Your sense of civility when dealing with a group of people, politeness in not cutting another’s words or statement, fairness in not hogging the limelight, your forthrightness in admitting to lack of knowledge about certain weak areas, etc. Please bear in mind that the observers are observing not just the intellectual worth of your statements and analyses as well as the delivery, but also about how your carry yourself through the GD, even whether your verbal input and non-verbal cues match.

What to do during a GD:
Take the head count and calculate your time based on averages
Take a few deep breaths and a glass of water before you sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Acknowledge your moderators/supervisors.
No special points are awarded for starting first if you do not have a solid viewpoint or a contribution to make that would steer the GD into the right direction. So, do lead but only when you have something truly worthy to lead with.
Dissect the topic thoroughly in your mind, consider all possible angles that come to your mind
If you don’t know much about the topic, wait till some people have spoken. If need be, admit to what you did not know in case you have to ask questions. Also, thank the one who offers a useful explanation.
In case you feel someone going on a tangent while responding to something, especially because of having misunderstood the subject, you could point out the difference while not being patronizing.
When you talk, try to stick to the most solid points; also, don’t try to put in several points simultaneously.
Look at everyone turn by turn, when you speak
If you differ with someone, express your differences politely.
Understand that it is a GD, not elocution. You are to understand one another well, respond accordingly, and try to attain an outcome in a constructive manner. A GD is neither a contest, nor a showdown. Pay attention to what others are saying.
If you find yourself leading the GD, don’t play the part too actively that you end up crowding out genuine responses. Step in only if you see the quality of discussion deteriorating or if it is going wayward.
Do not prompt someone else to speak. Stick to your own agenda.
Address people respectfully. If you know the names of co-participants, call them by their names but also make it clear whom do you mean at the time.

Personal Interviews
PIs as these are referred to as, are a different ball game. Here, the spotlight is solely on you -any apparent strength may be probed, any apparent weakness might be looked at closely.

Interviewers will likely evaluate you on the following four criteria:

Academic and work career: The breadth and depth of your educational background and your fundamentals regarding your subjects, your accomplishments, evidence of claims made in resume, and leadership qualities to name a few.

Mental acuity: Your intelligence, presence of mind, ability to gauge the tone of the interview, your understanding of questions and concepts being put on the table, creativity, and so on.

Manner and personal traits: Your poise, sense of humour, confidence, the way you relate to your interviewers in moments that are not your strongest, how you handle stress, disbelief, your assertiveness, enthusiasm, ambition, motivation, interests, hobbies, work philosophy, educational philosophy, including, your ability to maintain eye contact.

Appearance: Grooming, dress, posture, cleanliness, and apparent health.

Tips for presentation (for both GDs and PIs):

Dress formally: A lot of us truly miss the point here. This is important because how your present yourself is a statement on how you wish to be seen. Your appearance too is part of non-verbal communication, however dystopian that may sound.
Let me elucidate “
For men: Basic suits (wear ties, goes without saying) in monochromes are best. Go for something simple, elegant, and practical. Focus on neatness and cleanliness. Match your socks, shine your shoes, settle your hair. Make sure you are well-groomed “ no five o’clock shadow or spade-like nails.
Best avoided: Funky shirts of the party-casual type, open collar, top shirt button left open, brown shoes with black pants or vice versa, extra-strong fragrance, sparkly cufflinks, to name a few.
Women: Indian formals include saris and salwar kameez dresses, just that both should be extremely sober-looking. Western formals are considered on par with Indian formals. If going for western formals, do wear a blazer. Try to stick to monochromes “ avoid sequinned, flamboyantly coloured motifs, too much jewellery or even make-up that stands out, basically, stay away from all extremes. Your thumb rule should be to err on the conservative side. The aim is to be well-dressed enough to not draw attention to the highs and lows of your dressing and instead to focus on your person.

Some typical questions asked during PIs:
Tell me about yourself.
How would you describe yourself?
Tell me something about yourself that I won’t find on your resume.
What do you take real pride in?
Why would you like to study here?
Why should we take you?
What are your long “ term career objectives?
Which accomplishment of yours would you say has given you the greatest satisfaction?
If you could go back into the past to change something, what would it be?

Sometimes, however, interviewers may pose more difficult questions- ones that seemingly have no œright answer:
What do you consider your major weakness?

Sometimes, they even try to create a stressful situation by asking pointed questions, interrupting,or feigning disbelief in an attempt to gauge your behavior under stress
The strategy to use in such a circumstance is to keep the desired institute firmly in mind & to formulate each answer- no matter what the question so it highlights your ability to be fit for the institute.
Also, politely and simply keep to your stand, if you really believe in it. For example, you are asked to show how you demonstrated your leadership skills in a particular situation and the interviewer presents a counterpoint, pointing a flaw in your basic premise of believing that you contributed constructively to the situation. You remain unflappable, hear the issue out completely. Then, politely assert that well, this is what you thought at the time was the right thing on account of so and so reasons and motivations, and that the interviewer’s view, while having made you think about it, has also made it apparent to you why your approach worked towards the results you desired. Say that you will keep that point in mind and think some more about it but for now, you count this experience as a positive one for yourself as well as the situation “ and then go on to enumerate the positive outcomes.
You can ask the interviewer to be more specific or to rephrase the question
Observe the organizational environment very carefully
Treat everyone you meet, including the receptionist & interviewer’s staff, with scrupulous courtesy
Maintain an air of formality “ understand that you are not there to make friends or to apply for someone’s kindness
In the interview room, greet the interviewers with a firm handshake, direct eye contact & a smile
Show interest in what the interviewer is saying
Recognize that you are expected to go beyond mere yes-and-no answers.
When you feel nervous tell yourself how much you need it to go right and how far you have come. Don’t think of the results, just be there in the moment, just give it your best.
Practice until you’re confident that you can face whatever the interviewer throws your way
Follow the interviewer’s lead, letting him or her determine which question to ask, when to move to a new area of discussion, & when to end the interview
Answer with honesty
Don’t try to oversell yourself
Always round up your interview on your side with at least a polite thank you. You may add a good bye!

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