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A debate about the debate

Six new IIMs announced last week that they have scrapped the group discussion round in favour of a written test. We debate whether the group discussion is an effective method of selecting candidates

education Updated: Aug 17, 2011 10:11 IST
Pankti Mehta

Of the 13 Indian Institute of Management (IIM) branches, the six new ones, namely those in Raipur, Rohtak, Ranchi, Udaipur, Tiruchirappalli and Kashipur, have veered from tradition in eliminating the group discussion (GD) round entirely from their admission procedure, as announced on August 9. Ordinarily, students who fared well in the CAT are broken up into groups of 6 – 10 and given a particular topic to discuss. On the basis of this discussion, some students are selected to go on into the next round, the personal interview.



The topics in a group discussion range from current affairs to ethical and moral issues, and include a case study analysis. Each group discussion lasts between 10 to 20 minutes.


The new IIMs will now introduce a second written test instead of the group discussion, which they believe will help in bringing in a more diverse student body. We asked academics, corporates and human resource experts about whether the group discussion format is a suitable one, which resulted in a difference of opinion. Here are the key arguments made, broken up into a debate style for easier analysis.



What constitutes a good group discussion?

A small group, no more than 10 people


A selection panel that asks for everyone to speak, and knows to separate the coherent from the aggressive


Enough time given to candidates to collect and present their thoughts



Against:

1. “The group discussion format is past its prime, and doesn't deliver what it promises,” says Debasis Chatterjee, director, IIM Kozhikode. “While Kozhikode has not yet formally scrapped the system, I do believe that it allows very little time for deep thinking.”



2.

The directors of the new IIMs believe that the group discussion format brings in a certain type of candidate – aggressive, dominating, and mostly male. “Our research has shown that boys are more vociferous and tend to perform better in group discussion scenarios,” says MJ Xavier, director, IIM-Ranchi.



3.

“Additionally, the classes at the new IIMs are predominantly constituted of engineering students. We're hoping an added written test component, along with the emphasis placed on the language component in the new CAT format, will give us more arts and commerce graduates, to move away from a homogenous classroom setting,” says Xavier.



4.

“We are also afraid that candidates are coached extensively for the group discussion, which makes them project personalities different from themselves. The point is to evaluate who they are, not who they are pretending to be,” says Chatterjee. “Most people who do well in the GD are those that are programmed to do so. Coaching classes teach them how to appear sophisticated and as team players – it's easy to pretend for 15 minutes. It is not possible to evaluate 10 candidates precisely in 15 minutes.”



5.

“Low-key candidates are at a disadvantage, since everyone in the group wants to make their mark in the stipulated time-frame. The GD largely works on the formula that might is right,” says Xavier. “We don't want entrepreneurs who only talk but don't act. Some people are quiet, but get their work done. Those people don't perform well in the GD setting, which is very intimidating to a shy person.”



For:
1.

“Originally, the group discussion round was added to look at interpersonal communication skills, leadership abilities and substantiation of arguments. A written test doesn't allow you to judge how the person can think on his feet,” says Janakiraman Moorthy, CAT convener. “Companies use group discussions to recruit candidates as well, since it shows you a person's general knowledge and his interpretation of it.”



2.

According to Moorthy, the scrapping of the GD will answer a logistical problem for the new IIMs more than bettering the selection process. “They are inundated with a large number of applications, which makes it very difficult to organise physical group discussions for all the candidates. This process may therefore work better for them.”



3.

For Pradosh Biswas, alumni member of IIM Calcutta, the group discussion is an imperative part of the admissions process. “You can't have leaders that are unable to express their ideas. You don't need the loudest voice in the room, but what you say should reflect your collection of thoughts, analysis based on what others are saying and your listening skills. While you can project yourself to be more sophisticated than you are via coaching classes, the raw material has to come from within yourself.”



4.

Nirav Mehta, graduate of IIM Bangalore, agrees, “The group discussion is a better parameter to gauge behavioural skills than the personal interview. It's a dynamic situation where you have to interact, analyse, form an opinion and articulate in a limited time-frame – essential skills for a managerial role. However, a lot depends on your selection panel. The panel has to be clear about what they're looking for, and ensure that they pick the most sensible candidates, not the loudest.”



5.

For Mehta, leadership abilities are reflected in the group discussion best in the way a candidate can steer the debate towards a coherent solution.



Expert speak

“No method is foolproof. You have to layer your admissions process with a number of different combinations for successful recruitment. A written test allows you to test a person's intellect, but the group discussion tells you whether he or she is a team player. Both are equally important. I would suggest a combination is used.”


Dr PN Singh

, director, Dr PN Singh Centre for Human Resource Development



“It is important to create a situation where everyone is given the chance to talk in a group discussion. It is effective in that the candidate is more off-guard than he would be in the personal interview. In that sense, it's a quasi-natural setting – even though the candidate may have been coached, to observe him or her in a group is a better way of guaging his personality than in a one-on-one interview.”


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Zubin Mulla

, professor of organisational behaviour, Tata Institute of Social Sciences