There is a lot of talk about starting and concluding a GD. Does an aspirant actually earn brownie points if she/he starts or concludes a GD?
Sumit (XLRI): Yes, and, No. An aspirant can earn brownie points if s/he starts a GD well. But, rather than jumping the gun and beginning to blabber whatever comes to mind, it is a better idea to make sure that the topic is clear, first.
The same goes for concluding a GD. If the moderator wants only a summary of the discussion, then, it is pointless to add new points that one was unable to make during the discussion. Similarly, it would be negative if other people want to talk, but one person is hell-bent on wanting to conclude.
My personal strategy was always to aim to be the second speaker. So, if the first speaker did a good job, I could build on it. And if s/he made a mess of the introduction, I could convey my disagreement and fulfill the role of the first speaker.
Ayaz (FMS): Like everyone tells you, starting a GD is a high risk/high return game. When you start a GD, you are noticed by the panel. When you chip in between, the chances of getting noticed depend on what you speak, and if you are unable to come up with something new, chances of being forgotten by the panel go up.
What is the best approach in a “fish market” GD?
Sumit (XLRI): The most important rule here is: “do not try to out-shout anyone”. By doing so, you will only succeed in raising the decibel level of the discussion. However, you must display a positive body language and not appear like a helpless observer. Keep trying to interject and to show reason to all others, but do not let your body language or expressions show that you are frustrated or irritated. All these things are difficult to do, but they help!
Ayaz (FMS): A fish market GD is a common phenomenon, especially in cases where the time given is less. You can try and ask everyone to ensure discipline and decorum; if no one is ready to comply, I’d suggest being very attentive but a little quiet during the GD so that you do not appear to be a part of the fish market. Often I’ve seen that one or two good points are enough to make the panel notice you.
What if the topic of the GD is abstract or an aspirant is not able to comprehend the topic?
Sumit (XLRI): The best thing about abstract topics is that there is no fixed route to the discussion. One can talk about one’s own interpretation of the topic. However, if you are a little uncomfortable, try to listen to 1-2 people first, and then build your own views on the topic. After 2-3 minutes of listening carefully, you should be able to talk.
Ayaz (FMS): The best strategy in such a case is to listen to 4-5 entries and try to grasp what is being spoken in the GD. Once it is a little clear which way the GD is headed, you can try and contribute, making sure that you do not go way off the content that was being discussed.
What all should an aspirant keep in mind for a GD?
Sumit (XLRI): Focus on quality, not quantity; do not be rude to others; make sure your body language is friendly and positive; do not rush through your points; say them slowly and confidently; maintain eye contact with everyone in the group; avoid writing too much.
Ayaz (FMS): For a GD, the aspirant needs to first of all take care of the way s/he is sitting. Then, they should ensure that they are not holding a pen while speaking. It is important to maintain eye-contact with everyone in the group. It should never appear that you’re speaking to just one person. You should never interrupt a girl, especially if she is the only girl in the group. You should not appear over enthusiastic by making too many entries.
What should an aspirant keep in mind for an interview?
Sumit (XLRI): Do not fidget with your pen, sleeve or anything else. Maintain eye contact with the interviewer(s), but do not stare. Speak confidently. The table belongs to the interviewer, keep your hands away from it. Be honest if you are not aware of an answer. Do not try to bluff.
Ayaz (FMS): For an interview, an aspirant should have a well prepared answer for “Tell me about yourself”. It should include points with which the aspirant is comfortable and would like to be asked questions about. You should always sit straight, and show enthusiasm during the interview. You should not appear dull and boring. Never try to bluff the panel. They would know. Be honest and sincere.
In case an aspirant is making a shift from, say, Engineering to HR or Finance, how does s/he justify the transition?
Sumit (XLRI): One can be honest and say that one is looking for a steeper growth curve. Or, if one is changing streams, one can also talk about using MBA as a ladder for switching to a different profile altogether.
Ayaz (FMS): This is an important question and the honest truth is that each individual will have to do some deep thinking and come up with their own answer. They can say that after school, engineering was the best avenue that we have in India, and they went for it, and now they want to make more difference in the organization they work for, and a study of business is essential for that.
In case an aspirant has a gap year, how does s/he justify the break?
Sumit (XLRI): If the aspirant has done something worthwhile like learning dance, working for an NGO, or pursuing some other worthwhile venture, this question becomes easy to answer. However, if the gap year has been utilized only for studying, even that is a good answer. One can justify it by saying that, “I was very serious about this attempt, and I wanted to give it my best shot. Hence, I only pursued my topmost goal this year –wanting to do an MBA from a good institute”
Ayaz (FMS): One needs to be honest about the reason behind the break, but also be able to show that they were doing something constructive during it. Panels hate people who sit idle.
What should an aspirant keep in mind while answering “why a Particular Institute”?
Sumit (XLRI): Before the interview, you should have done enough research to find out some unique features of the institute. Structure your answer so that it sounds genuine, and not a random collection of facts about the institute. For example, “I want to join XYZ institute because of its awesomely green campus, great gym, library with 12,587 books, neat classrooms, a faculty-student ratio of 1:6.723” sounds daft. On the other hand, saying “I am extremely keen to join XYZ institute because of the focus on theoretical learning as well as learning through experiences. I feel I will be able to improve my perspective by being a part of the student crowd at XYZ institute” is much better, because it shows your keenness, and also the fact that you have done a bit of research.
Ayaz (FMS): This is the part of the interview where you can really show the panel that you want to be a part of that institute. The best way to prepare for this is to go through the website/brochures of the institute and look for key words that they have mentioned in “About Us” or the kind of people they look for. Then, prepare an answer using those words and telling the panel that this is common between you and the institute.
What does the panel look for, when they ask, “Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?”
Sumit (XLRI): In my opinion, they don’t want to hear that you want to be the CEO or the Head of HR/Finance/Marketing. And saying, “I want to be on the other side of this table” is equally stupid. What they want is to hear the kind of responsibilities and challenges that you would like to handle. Even if you want to be the CEO, don’t name the designation. Do enough research to find out what the responsibilities of a CEO are, and name them. Also, be realistic. Do some research before the interview so that your expectations are realistic, and not like a dream.
Ayaz (FMS): They want to see if you have a goal, or just doing an MBA for the sake of it. MBA is a degree which should have an important reason behind it when a candidate wants to pursue it.
How to handle a stress interview?
Sumit (XLRI): The simple answer is ‘Don’t get stressed’. Easier said than done! Try to have some rationale for each thing you say. In case you need to think before answering, just take a deep breath before speaking. That will calm you down, as well as give you a few extra seconds. If the interviewer is constantly bombarding you with questions, and your previous answer is incomplete, you can even politely ask for permission to continue with the last answer.
Ayaz (FMS): Once you have a feeling that you might be a part of a stress interview, ensure that the smile never leaves your face. Be earnest and be genuine. Enthusiasm and a smile are your best weapons in any interview. If you are unable to answer questions, you can ask them for a few seconds to think or say politely that you don’t know the answer, instead of playing a guessing game.
What are some of the areas that one must prepare for an MBA interview?
Sumit (XLRI): Current affairs, about the institute, Basic facts about your hometown or the city you live in, Why MBA? Why HR/Finance/Marketing?
Ayaz (FMS): Current affairs and basic knowledge of economics can go a long way in letting the panel form a good impression of you. They will know that you’re a person who is aware of the surroundings and the environment. However, you can make a huge impact if you can show the interviewers that you know yourself. This requires some deep thinking over a long period of time (at least a month) to become really aware of what you want, your strengths and weaknesses. Once you are aware of these things and when the interviewer sees you answering earnestly, more often than not, you would have cracked the interview.
A lot is said about hand gestures and body language. What should an aspirant do on that front, in a GD and in a PI?
Sumit (XLRI): Yes, body language is extremely important. And it is not something that can be changed overnight. So, you need to focus on your gestures and body language right from today. Practice beforehand in front of a mirror. Or try and get someone to make a video of a conversation/mock GD. When you observe yourself, you will be able to give feedback on your own mistakes and improve.
Ayaz (FMS): Hand gestures and body language are quite important, and most panels are adept at reading them. A lot of coaching institutes hold sessions to tell aspirants how to master hand gestures and body language. A lot of material on the internet is also available. A few points that an aspirant can keep in mind: Never ever appear lazy in a GD or PI, enthusiasm is the single most important factor; ensure that you are sitting straight. Hand movements are useful in a GD to emphasize your point and in ensuring no one cuts you too soon. Ensure that your hands remain in your zone, and do not end up in front of people sitting next to you.
In the GD/PI process, do people from metropolitan cities have an edge over people from other cities ?
Sumit (XLRI): Not really. Earlier, it might have been true, but not any more. Thanks to internet, TV and other media, people in smaller cities are equally aware, and sometimes better candidates than people from metros. In fact, you can also look at it the other way round, and say that people in metros have more distractions and might be likely to be less focused.
Ayaz (FMS): People from metropolitan cities may appear more polished than others, but interviewers want good and honest content over anything else. The way you say something matters only if what you are saying is worth listening. You can not crack an interview speaking fluent English but not making sense. You can definitely crack an interview speaking not-so-fluent English but making logical statements. Also, interviewers like to give those people a chance, who have struggled more to come to the same level. So, what matters is how hard you have worked to get where you are.
Do personality development classes help a student?
Sumit (XLRI): To an extent, yes. You can learn what to do and also what not to do. It is vital to be aware of your strengths so that you can leverage on them in an interview/GD. Also, by interacting with others and talking to them, you can pick up some feedback points for yourself. In addition, some current topics discussed at such classes can improve your general knowledge and help you in an interview.
Ayaz (FMS): Personality development classes make a student practice, and are extremely beneficial in that sense, if not more. You tend to come out of your shell and gain confidence, and, also, get to know about various intricacies involved in GDs and PIs. These can be of immense help.
(As told to NNE’s Utsav Sharma)
Sumit Singla is an alumnus of XLRI (PM & IR), Class of 2010. He has over 7 years of work experience.
Ayaz Matin is a second year student at FMS, Delhi (Batch 2009-2011)
In part 2 (to be published next week), NNE plans to present the views of teachers who have helped many aspirants live their MBA dream.