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How to handle group discussions

Group discussions tell an employer how a prospective employee can function in a team; whether the candidate is a leader; and how the candidate is able to handle groups. Here, Ms. Hemamalini, an HR practitioner, shares her views and experiences of group discussions - both as a candidate and as an employer.

"Some years ago, I had applied to an MNC for a job in their HR team. I was called to attend a group discussion. I was part of an 8-member group, and found that most of the other group members were from premier business schools, with a couple of years of experience more than mine. In comparison I was only a fresher. As the discussion began I soon realised that they seemed to go by the book, as far as preparations for the discussion went!

Theoretically, the person who takes the lead in a group discussion is supposed to have an edge over the others. However, I have found that taking the lead and speaking first is a two-edged sword: You can either be a fantastic success and win the confidence of the group as well as the evaluating panel, or your attempt could make you the laughing-stock of the group.

In this particular instance, two of the participants were straining at the leash, and both wanted to begin first! One got in ahead by a few seconds, but the second made up for his delay in volume. As a result, there was utter chaos for a couple of minutes, with each trying to out-shout the other. A few other members, realising what the matter was, tried to join the fray. I was aghast but decided not to add to the noise!

After a few minutes, when there was a pause, I asked: `Now with all your support can we all get together to discuss the matter at hand? Perhaps we could start by speaking in turn, so that everyone's opinion can be heard?' The others looked blank for a moment, but realised what they were doing and spoke one after the other! By not joining the racket and by getting the group to follow some discipline, I was acknowledged as the team leader. Later, I was told that my calm and sensible behaviour had also impressed the evaluating panel. An unexpected outcome, as I only wanted to get the discussion on track!

Another thing employers rely upon to learn more about you is your body language. A candidate who appears professional (or is not too overbearing) is more likely to be noticed favourably by the panel. And, of course, language skills are vital. Speaking fluently and clearly is an asset, but you must be able to organise your thoughts before you speak. Your ability to conceptualise, throw new insights into the discussion are being evaluated.

Be polite - it never hurts to say `Please' or `Excuse me' - and it creates a good impression! Avoid phrases like `I strongly disagree' or `Definitely not'. As an employer, I am more impressed by candidates who are able to lead subtly than by those who get their way by being loud and abrasive. The candidate's knowledge of the field may be sound, but a certain degree of maturity and wisdom are essential to effectively implement any task.

In my experience, employers are more impressed by a candidate whose analytical skills are sharp, who is focussed on the matter at hand, and who is astute. Candidates who are receptive to others' opinions, and whose own opinions are flexible enough to accommodate someone else's suggestions, are more likely to make it to the interview stage. I have found that being assertive without being aggressive is an invaluable skill during group discussions.

While preparing for the group discussion, read as much as you can - there are plenty of books and magazines that provide hints on how to handle group discussions. But remember these books and magazines are not any substitute for your common sense and even instinct. My own personal experience only at the group discussion I mentioned earlier reconfirms the same. …. While I made it to the interview stage, the initiators of the discussion did not make it!

So as I wish you good luck I encourage each one of you to be your natural self… for banking on your own various strengths and common sense will surely help you do well."

Also Checkout

Group discussion: Winners' skills

Group discussion tips

Group discussions: Learning from mistakes


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