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A Beginner's Guide to Focus Group Discussion

Few weeks ago, one of my junior at college reached out to me. She asked some suggestions for facing Focus Group Discussion (FGD) as part of selection process. I have never done any FGD for 4 years so I tried my best to tell her some some lesson learned I had. Few days ago, she told me that she passed and found that the suggestions were helpful. Therefore I write some of the tips I gave her during our quick phone call. Hope it helps you as well :)

Before I start, I just want to set several things upfront. Firstly, I’m not an expert / scientist in FGD, I’m just a person who faced multiple FGDs in the past and tried to share my learning. Secondly, companies have different ways to assess people during FGD so there is a chance the company you are applying for may find my writing does not make any sense. Lastly, like other activities, FGD is best learned by practicing it. You will not be an FGD expert just by reading this. To be comfortable in an FGD, you need to do it multiple times and face a lot of rejections.

Ok let’s get started

First thing first, what is FGD?

In context of job selection, it’s a setup where a group of participants is solving a given problem together. In most FGDs I went to, participants were given a reading material to set the context. After that we were given some time to discuss and come up with solution of a problem. Some companies had different ways of conducting FGD. In another FGD, our team was asked to choose to pick 1 out of 3 options that could save more life in times of war. In my last FGD, our team was given a task to rank 10 items in order of importance (from most to least) assuming we’re stranded in the middle of the sea.

Tips #1: If possible, find out what case is usually used by that company

The reason why I write “If possible” is if you apply for startup, then most likely you can’t find the pattern since we are usually still trying out which case is most suitable lol

Why do we have FGD?

FGD, like other selection tools, helps companies to filter the people for the interview. In my opinion, it gives mutual benefit to companies and candidates. It allows companies to trim significant number of people with minimum resources. It also allows candidates to be assessed based on qualities that are not observable through online test including but not limited to communication, collaboration, and contextual problem solving. In short, FGD gives candidates opportunity to show their unwritten skills while allowing companies to allocate minimum resources.

Tips #2: Understand what is assessed during FGD will help you to be more mindful

During heated discussion, it’s very easy to get lost in argumentation and forget the goal of this process. Being aware on what we are assessed help us to set the tone for the process.

What should we do to nail the FGD?

I tried to get to know the people who were on the same group with me before it started. There were two reasons for that. Firstly, to establish relationship so we can collaborate better during the actual FGD. Secondly, to know who you should watch out during the discussion. Lastly, building relationship is fun! Who knows that you both end up not getting the job so you have a friend to mourn together (instead of alone).

One of the most common question I get is “When should we give up and when should we push our opinion?” In my opinion it’s very important to be aware of the situation such as who is the most dominant, least dominant, our allies, and our opponents. I would still state my opinion but whether or not I’m pushing it really depends on my probability to win. If I know that I only have 1 ally and 5 opponents then it’s way too obvious that I should drop the gun.

Tips #3: Know your environment and apply a principle of “strong opinion weakly held”

Companies are usually more attracted to people who can put himself/herself in a strategic situation to persuade. They also admire people who held the ground but willing to compromise for greater good.

FGD gives us an opportunity to earn the title as the leader. Being a leader is not about title but how we earn people’s respect. In FGD, there are several ways I’m trying to apply this. I really try to be the first to talk when moderator allows us to start the discussion. I usually start with short talk (15-20 seconds) about how I would encourage each of us to collaborate, state where we should start, and give my opinion about it.

When other people start talking, I listen carefully and take notes about the content and the speaker. After 3-4 speakers, I usually try to enter the discussion again. Mostly I get this chance to endorse people who stated similar opinion with me. I really tried my best to mention his/her name and quote what he/she said. When the discussion was going nowhere, I took the initiative to drive it back by suggesting framework or different approach.

Tips #4: Take initiative to collaborate

Companies appreciate people who are proactive to fill the gap

There are three ways to disagree. The first one, stay silent and disagree in our mind. The second one, be aggressive and rude. This habit is harmful because it creates a perception that disagreement is painful and hurting others. As a society that favours harmony over conflict, hurting other people’s feeling should be the last option. The alternative for that, which is the third option is to disagree gracefully.

We can do it by (1) addressing the idea not the person (2) using soft instead of harsh word (3) offer alternatives. Instead of saying ‘X does not make any sense because of …. *criticism 1* *criticism 2* *criticism 3*’ we can say ‘ X’s idea can achieve its maximum benefit if we do … *alternative 1* *alternative 2* *alternative 3*. It definitely did not come naturally (at least for me), but after offending some people and being eliminated in selection, I learned a better way to disagree.

Tips #5: Be polite to disagree

Disagreement is not easy to handle because it makes people feel uncomfortable. Doing it politely will make it slightly more comfortable.

From my point of view, that’s all I can share for now. This writing is far from perfect so let me know if you have any suggestions for make this more helpful :)

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