How to get through Group Discussion with practial use case – Keep it simple

I’m a Lead software engineer working for a MNC, we’re expanding at more than 50% head count every year and I visit major colleges in India for recruitment to do group discussions tests and technical interviews. The reason that we do group discussion ahead of interview is simple. We can test more candidates by spending short period of the recruitment team’s time.

Group discussion is one of the filtering criteria we use to filter the students who are not good at soft skills. I usually see candidates’ doing quite few mistakes even those who are good at communication skills because of unawareness of what is being really tested at this round of screening.

On the other hand, I also see candidates who are average at communication skills but do well in group discussions with their clarity of thought, involving others more and most importantly listening to others ideas, I’ll talk more about these two categories below.



Preparation for the Group Discussion:

By the time campus recruitments are started in your college, you need to keep track of the current affairs i.e. follow media so that you’ll have the context of the group discussion topic that will be given and that helps presenting your views as part of discussion. Not all times a topic from the current affairs will be given but most of the times that is what companies choose the topic from. 

We’re done with what you need to do before campus placements. Now consider you’re through the written test and have to do group discussion in one of the campus placement or you may be filling in some other job screening and you’re about to involve in a group discussion round. Keep a pen and paper with you for the group discussion.

Keep yourself cool, that is the most important thing that you need to make sure so that you can involve in the discussion better with better presence of mind. Prepare few sentences on how you want to introduce yourself to the judge group; just be honest don’t try to be over smart, probably the guys sitting as judges are smart enough to find if you’re overacting.

I don’t like mentioning these things as part of this article, but trust me, few people do these things and judges will have negative impressions on these guys already even before actual discussion is initiated. 

On the group discussion day:

Now that introductions are over, someone from the judges team will announce the rules of the discussion like how long discussion is going to be, and if you would get time to write down or prepare yourself your points or any other rules, that would depend on the particular company’s rules but most probably these would be told to the candidates.  Then the topic of the discussion would be revealed. 

I want to explain what you need to do after this with an example group discussion topic or scenario. 

Topic: Is China a threat to Indian software industry?

Start noting down your points:

You need to write down two things here. Number one, which side you want to stay on the topic. Number two, what are the supporting points that you want to mention for the side you’ve chosen. Remember if ten persons are participating in the group discussion, few of them are going to choose one side and rest will choose the other side. 

Consider there are two candidates Candidate A and Candidate B. I want to give an example of how one would write down the points and what is good and what is not so good. 

Candidate A: 

  1. India has proven record on the software projects delivery and customer satisfaction. Indians have the matured software delivery processes and experience people who can deliver better quality projects, and this experience is built over the years so they can carry on the good work and take opportunities and move forward.
  2. Most importantly India has the talent pool or to say directly more young percentage of people compared to China. This talent is the biggest positive for it to continue deliver the good work.
  3. Indian companies can compete with any other country in the world when it comes to pricing. It’s still pretty cost effective the reason that will keep driving interests of many or all software clients that they currently have.
  4. India has more young people who are good at English and that will not change much. China is catching up on this but next generation of Indians will continue to improve in this area. 

Candidate B: 

  1. Chinese are hard workers than Indians.  They have better growth than India.
  2. If you take example of Olympics, they won in more events than India. India is at the end of the points table and China is at the top. This is an example that Chinese can win big way in whatever that they will concentrate on.
  3. They have strong roots in foreign countries than Indians and can take most or complete percentage of market.
  4. They’re just best. 

Consider Candidate A, his points are close to the topic and have supporting facts for each of the point why the candidate is thinking the way she/he is thinking. Where is Candidate B has some irrelevant facts to the topic and little one sided on the topic where Candidate A admits the few facts about the other side. This example outlines how you want to write down the points. 

Though writing down and content and relevance of the candidate about the topic is most important, candidate B can still do few good things and improve chances of getting through this round. 

Actual discussion:

I’ll discuss below about what to do and what not to do in the actual discussion. 

Consider the judges asked the candidates to start the discussion. Try to initiate the discussion. You’ll listen this everywhere, but it’s not always easy as one of the candidates will quickly pick up and start the discussion. If you can initiate then it’s well and good.

If you could not don’t worry about it. If you did not initiate, the candidate who initiated will be either at the side you chose or at the other side. When the voice of the guy or the pitch goes little down, pick up from there and start with either you agree or disagree with what that candidate chose and explain why did you choose the option that you chose, mention all the points that you’ve wrote down.

Feel free to look at the paper while talking about it where you listed down your points; try to look at all the other candidates at the same time. Mention your points. Now if you did not get chance for that also and three or four candidates have started discussion and they’re only discussing with out giving a chance to you and others, you can raise your hand to give an indication that you want to explain the points that you’ve briefly.

Once you get chance, mention your points. Now that you’re involved in the discussion, listen to others politely, give your points. That’s what is required when you’re really executing a project when you’re an employee. Everyone will have different thoughts on an issue and different ideas. The team’s aim it to arrive at the best idea at the end of the meeting, not defending your idea. As long as you agree with others points, acknowledge them.

If you don’t agree with them at all, try to convince them politely and with good facts that you know about that particular point. Remember that if you speak for three to four times, then that is normally fine in a 10 minutes group discussion when 10 people are doing it. Don’t stretch yourself so much and defend your thoughts completely. 

In between care for the other candidates, if you see someone is trying to say a point and others are not allowing it, if you think you can involve and get a chance for that guy, do it. Use words like Sorry, I apologize to intervene to grab the opportunity with less damage to their discussion. 

When candidates are asked to conclude by the judges, try to grab the opportunity if there is no big competition from others to do it. Sometimes a candidate won’t get chance to give his point till the end from the start of the discussion, then judges might want that candidate to conclude.

In that case, judges are giving that candidate a chance to tell his point and at the same time testing him briefly. May be that candidate did not get chance because all other candidates are overly aggressive and ignored to give chance to other candidates.

In the conclusion, if you got the opportunity, try to consolidate all other candidates’ points briefly. Try not to repeat the points that you mentioned from your points list. Just explain team’s points briefly, mentioning them briefly is very important, try not to prolong the conclusion itself. 

So far we discussed about what to do in the group discussion and how to overcome the odds that you would generally face in the group discussion. Now I’ll talk about what not to do. Consider there is a candidate who is pretty good at communication skills. But if he tries to over involve in the discussion, and defend his point in a rigid style, it won’t work out. It’s not a speech. You’re not the leader or superior of the group. You’re expected to tell your point and listen to others points and acknowledge them.

I’ve seen many candidates who think the more you talk in the discussion, you’re displaying your skill of communication more and the chance of getting through the group discussion is high. No, that is not true. You’re expected to listen to others ideas, if you’re defending your idea, try to listen to others and then take one or two points in what they’re saying and explain why it could be probably not the case in the real world, stuff like that is more important than blindly arguing and mentioning your point one sided.

This is about the candidates who are over involved. To keep it simple, keep the discussion as discussion. On the other hand, few candidates won’t talk at all or would not try to give their point. They’ll just talk for once and sit idle. Try to talk at least three to four times and show confidence, clarity of thought, be concerned about others expressions etc. 

All this stuff came out of my experience.  I involved in group discussions myself and also acted as a judge for many group discussions. The above mentioned challenges and solutions will help one to improve in doing the group discussions. You can probably come across many suggestions on how to do a group discussion on the internet, but these points help you to do better in the practical scenarios, I hope it helps. Finally, keep it simple, and you’ll get through it. All the best.

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