GD & PI : Dos and Don’ts for companies

Someone asked me to write my views on the pluses and minuses of Group Discussions(GD) and Personal Interviews(PI) since I have been an HR person and a recruiter for most of my professional career spanning 34 years in Corporate India. After I penned my thoughts on what common foibles companies and their recruiters fall into, I was told that what I had been asked was to write on the topic from a candidate’s perspective. So my labor of love and effort of penning my thoughts was outright rejected.
I re-read what I had written and felt it still has some sense and sensibilities. So rather than throwing the paper away, I am reproducing it here. I stand by what views I had expressed and look forward to feedback from you all readers, who are my conscience keepers, on whether what I am saying is useful and makes sense. So here goes!!!

Views and experiences about the GD PI process

GD is an elimination round in campus recruitment or for entry level professionals: when time is limited and the no of applicants are large and you need to come down to a quick shortlist. The method in my opinion is fast, but fraught with risk. There are too many imponderables : the topic you are given; composition of the group you find yourself in and your own “mood” on that day, in the group that you are in and the topic you have drawn. All in all, if you look at the “reliability” and the “validity” of the GD as a method of selection it will be very low. Using GDs is only a matter of convenience for the panelists.

You will always find some people who find it difficult to express themselves in an un-natural group situation like he GD. They are unnecessarily put at a disadvantage in a GD. Even if in the wrap up, the selectors give chance for some quiet people to speak, some of them can’t build on that opportunity. Obviously because they did not speak they get rejected. And this fuels their negative self estimation.

I have seen many times people just remain silent and the GD is actually hijacked by a few loud mouths. Air time is never shared equally. And the GD process by its very nature may give you a large number of “false positives” (candidates who appear strong in GD but do not display the same potential in in-depth personal interactions) and also a larger number of “false negatives” (People you may reject in GD as they did not, or could not, speak but are actually very good and capable in one on one interactions) . Since GD samples behaviors which are not normal for the candidates and, more importantly, are not even required in the organizational context, I do not trust GD results at all and would rather take decisions based on PI.

PI gives you a chance to evaluate the candidate on solid data. PI samples genuine behavior of the candidate and gives you a greater opportunity to closely probe and judge their suitability. PI allows the candidate to be in a non stressful environment (relatively, compared to GD). Meeting one on one, and using that to observe and probe behaviors, similar to be used in the actual work situation, enables better decision making.

Unfortunately, in PIs I have also seen interviewers who are in love with the sound of their own voice, and expand on their own knowledge, and want to talk 2 times more than the candidate!! This is a sheer waste of time. We must ensure the candidate talks the most and give him/her a chance to demonstrate and showcase their knowledge and skills. For this the HR manager’s role is critical to moderate the process. I have had to tell interviewers “we are not here to show to the candidate what we know. We are here to judge what the candidate knows”.
In a similar vein if the candidate says he does not know an answer or is giving wrong answers, I have seen interviewers don the mantle of the teacher and start a lecture to correct and educate the candidate. An interview is not meant for this purpose. If answer is wrong, make your notes on the candidature and carry on.

We must have a mind set that we are here to select. Many times interviewers’ mindset is to find reasons and causes to reject. If we tell the candidate upfront that we would like to select him/her and so what evidence , what examples can he/she share that support the selection decision: we will reduce the stress levels of the candidates and give him a chance to put his/her the best foot forward.
I believe it is important to spend the last few minutes in an interview to debrief the candidate. This is the minimum courtesy we can show to candidates. This debrief also serves to build your company’s brand image also. And it fulfills a genuine desire on the part of the interviewee, who is quite keen to understand how s/he has fared.

Like the candidates, the interviewers must also prepare well for the interview. Some of the interviews go awry because the interviewers has not prepared himself or the panel has not co-ordinated their act. We must define the challenges of the job we are hiring for, and then evaluate the candidate against the requirements of the role. PI must also be used to evaluate cultural fit of the incumbent to the new company. This chief purpose of the interview is also mostly forgotten/glossed over.

Whenever we have planned a panel interview the panel must jointly decide on some ground rules for the interview. That makes the process more successful. Who will begin? Who will probe? Who will take notes? Who will fill the interview assessment sheet? How will we close the interview: all such matters need to be discussed and agreed. An interview is a ritualistic dance, and we must be prepared and planned for it to succeed.

I have seen many people asking factual data questions about things which are already in the application form. This is an absolute waste of candidate’s and interviewers’ time. Are you an MBA? Which college did you study in? are types of questions which are a no no. This is mentioned in the application form itself. Similarly conjectural questions are a waste of time. But many interviews go that way. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? What would you do if… is a sure invite to go down the dream path. Such pipe dreams help no one.

Interviews MUST be data based and specific. They must probe and get at the real diamond behind all the fluff. Interviewers must understand it is their job to allow and enable the candidate to shine and give his best impression. If we use this approach interviews will be pleasurable experiences for both candidates and interviewers.

Happy talent hunting: vikas