In-Depth Jobs

Career 42

Let Your Personality Shine with Natural-Self

S.B. Singh

The Concept and purpose of IAS interview is to determine your suitability for the job you are aspiring for.  Thus, there are  differently designed interview sessions depending on  which  post you are being recruited for and what are its prime requirements. A panel of experts during a short session of half an hour or so,  will interact with you with this objective: how suitable a candidate you are  for the job you have applied for. The concept of IAS interview is to place you physically before a panel of experts and its purpose is to assess your true , authentic self. The focus of this article is to familiarize you with how the IAS interview session is conducted, what the interviewers expect from you, how they make an assessment of your personality and based on this assessment , how they allot marks for your performance.

Significance of IAS interview: To begin with, let us be clear that IAS interview constitutes only a minor part of the whole  selection process in relation to marks allocation. It accounts for only 275 marks as compared to the main examination which accounts for the bulk of marks , i.e.  a total of 1750 marks, which is a sum total of  GS, Optional and the Essay papers.  However, interview  does play a crucial role in determining your final rank in the merit list. In interview, you get an opportunity to  obtain exceptionally high marks which is rarely possible in the mains written papers. Conversely, if your interview performance turns out to be poor, you will either go lower down in the merit list or maybe, eliminated from the list altogether. In this sense, the interview marks, though  accounting for a small percentage of the total marks,  have a great bearing on the rank, job, and cadre you are going to get.   

Qualities to be assessed during the interview: UPSC, everytime in its notification,   outlines  the broad qualities that will be assessed during the interview session. These are as follows. 

*Mental alertness: It implies mental readiness to receive and respond to a given issue or situation. It also entails a curious, inquisitive mind.

*Critical powers of assimilation: It implies the quality of   putting together facts not the way they come to you but after examining them  critically.

*Clear and logical exposition:  It is your ability to describe something with clarity and logic.

*Balance of judgment:  It is about judging issues by balancing   its various facets  and avoiding being radical and intemperate or being biased.

*Variety and depth of interest: As an IAS aspirant,  you should reflect your genuine interest in a variety of issues which have a bearing on public life.

*Ability for social cohesion and leadership: It is a prime quality for delivering results in public services. It implies a  capacity to lead human resources and factor in  societal expectations in decision making.

*Intellectual and moral integrity: It implies consistent and public adherence to a moral code by displaying integrity of character in all circumstances.

The above qualities may  appear to be distinct from each other which  indeed they are, but the UPSC interview board will not judge them one by one, so to say.    IAS interview is conducted in such a manner that all these qualities  are monitored through an interlocking chain of conversation in a question-answer format.

 Many interview sessions follow a well structured pattern , but IAS interview is an exception to this. Far from being conducted under a structured format, it is an exercise in which an engaging conversation takes place between the board and the candidate. Thus, contrary to the popular perception of interview being a question answer session, it is much more than that. In a setting which is formal but undirected one ( undirected means a natural course is followed at the interview rather than a  pre-determined session) , the interview session seeks to evaluate a candidate on the above given qualities. A proper understanding of what he is going to be tested for will make a candidate’s preparation close to its needs.

 IAS interview is NOT about:
*A mere question answer session
*A test of knowledge or  plethora of information
*A deliberate attempt to pin you down by difficult questions
*Having extraordinary expectations from you
IAS interview is about:
*Judging your authentic self
*An interactive, friendly session
*Extracting your opinion and stand on vital issues
*Exploring the quality of honesty, integrity, commitment, leadership etc.
*Testing you  more on where you know rather than where you do not know

It  should be fairly clear  from the above that the character of the interview is an engaging conversation with the board on a host of issues   in  a positive setting where you are  encouraged to express yourself naturally without fear or pressure. This description of the attitude of  board should dispel your fears about facing the board.  For most of the candidates , it is a frightening scenario to face the board and an unknown fear descends on them just before entering the venue of the interview . The reality is quite to the contrary. The board is usually very friendly and encouraging. If they find that you are not able to answer questions from one area, they will ask you different questions from those areas where you are supposed to be strong. In other words, they will provide you  full opportunity to bring the best in you during the session.

Composition of the Board

There are 8-9 separate UPSC  interview boards. Each board consists of a chairman and four members. The chairman of each board is a UPSC member. The other four members are external members invited by UPSC. They  are bureaucrats, academicians, scientists, armed forces officers etc. They are known as domain experts. They all are very experienced, seasoned persons with wide exposure in public life. This gives them the ability to frame very diverse questions and evaluate your responses accurately. It should be noted that there is no professional psychologist sitting among the members.

The beginning of the interview

As you enter the board and occupy your place after greeting the board members, the chairman will initiate your interview by asking a few questions. Usually he begins with reading your bio data and asking questions relating to information provided by you in your bio data. The initial few minutes of the interview is an attempt to make you feel at ease with the board and settle down by asking simple questions The chairman may ask  few more  questions or   signal  other members to ask questions. This is how the  interview gets to a start  and in the next 30 minutes, you will be engaged in a conversation during which questions, counter questions, opinions, counter opinions are exchanged between you and the board. You may also experience some lighter moments during the session to keep you at ease. While you are answering the question of a particular member, others will not usually interrupt, though sometimes, they may chip in to add something to what you are saying.

Method of allocating marks

The chairman is the key person to allocate marks on the basis of your performance. He will propose a certain percentage of marks to be given to you to  other members. If a member or more members advise the chairman that  you deserve less or more marks, he may consider the advice and propose new marks. Sometimes, the board marks you in comparison to what marks  other candidates before you got based on a certain performance. But it is generally the chairman who has a final say in marking you. But he also goes by consensus.

Preparing for the interview

Though in a strict sense, no specific preparation for the interview is required because it is a personality test and what you have accumulated and assimilated through your learnings  experiences, exposures so far  in life will be judged during the interview. Yet, some amount of grooming for the interview is definitely required.  The ingredients of interview preparation are:

1. Learning manners and etiquettes of interview:
*Be polite and respectful
*Greet the members with warmth
*Wear a decent, sober dress which is formal and suits the weather
*No fanciful accessories on your body
*Do not interrupt a member while he/ she is asking a question or explaining a point
*An agreeable voice with the right pitch
*No frequent hand movement or neck movement while you are responding
*A body language which transmits self-confidence, resolve, determination under the frame of humility

2. Covering up your bio data i.e. DAF ( Detailed Application Form)

You have provided a wide range of information in your DAF which is before each member of the board. This  contains information furnished by you relating to your educational, family, professional background, your state, your hobbies, your achievements, your present occupations, your choice of service, cadre preference etc. A thorough preparation is required on each aspect of the information you have provided in DAF. For example, they may ask you to justify your preference of jobs.  Or say, about the choices of states as your cadre. You must have a convincing answer about all these. You will have to defend all that you have mentioned in your DAF  because you can not retract on  facts supplied by yourself. So I recommend  a serious thought on all aspects of DAF before entering the board.

3. Covering expected current issues : There is no way to anticipate what among the current topics they will be framing questions on, however, it is wise to cover recent current affairs and form your considered opinion on it. These type of recent topics must be thoroughly covered. Apart from knowing about these topics, you need to take a stand or form a firm opinion on these issues.

4. Covering your own state: The state to which you belong may be a likely area of discussion   during the interview. You should be fairly aware about the history, culture, society, economy, industries of the state. Also, you should have a critical knowledge of recent developments going on in your state e.g. some policies like reservation, attracting investments, transforming agriculture etc.  India Year Book covers briefly about every state. You may refer to it for some basic knowledge. Then, you should visit the state website for gathering current information on your state. 

5.Defending your hobbies: Almost every candidate  mentions one or more hobbies in the DAF. It needs to be defended and justified by showing adequate knowledge about it to the board. They will watch you for your earnestness with which you have nurtured your mentioned hobby. However, there is no need to become an academic master of your hobbies. You should just be able to prove that your hobbies are genuine and you have tried to pursue them in your real life as much as  possible.

6.Governance issues : Since you are being tested for a job in civil services, some questions on  emerging issues of governance are quite natural to be asked. This will include questions on present governance patterns as well as situational questions like: if  you are the District Magistrate or Superinten-dent of Police or something then what will you do in a particular situation. So practice on some situational questions and articulate your stand on them.

Some important tips

*Start interview preparation in advance: Unsure about the outcome of the mains exam. majority of candidates start preparing for the interview only after the publications of results. This leaves them with little time to go through a vast pool of information  required to handle the diverse questions raised during the interview. If you are optimistic about getting a call, you should not wait for results and start early on.

*Be your ‘ natural- self’ before the board:  You are supposed to carry your true self before the board. No need to wear a mask in order to appear what you are not. They are not expecting you to be an  extraordinary person with extraordinary capabilities. All the board is looking for is your commitment to certain values, certain personality traits and how suitable you will be for a job offered to you in the civil services. You should therefore never project what you really are not .There should be no gap between your ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’.

*Never bluff. Be honest before the board: The board is looking for these two prime qualities in you . Therefore, you must depict a sense of realism so that you are assessed by the board as a performer and not just a dreamer. Honesty is the best policy before the board. If you try to bluff, they are bound to catch it and punish you heavily for bluffing. It is very common that when a candidate is asked why he wants to join civil services , he replies in terms of being patriotic and doing great things for the  society and nation. Such superlatives should be avoided. It is better to accept the fact that the job security, status, prestige attracts you to the civil services. You  can however add further that civil services offer challenges and a dynamic career and you like  diverse job challenges which makes civil services your choice.

*Do not blindly follow tips and advice of shady mock boards:  I would like to caution the interview aspirants to guard themselves against many myths surrounding the interview manufactured  by  ill informed mentors who have no clue  about the actual process of  the interview. A large number of self- appointed experts are in the market to distort your vision and confuse your mind about the interview. The actual interview is very different from what the inexperienced mock interview experts will have you believe! Take only reliable, expert advice from people of high standing.

*Practice before mirror:  For few days before the interview, stand up  before a mirror in your room for 10-20 minutes and read from a newspaper. This will help you have a better command over your voice modulation. You may record your own conversation for self analysis.

(The author is  a noted academician and  IAS interview expert. He can be reached at his email: Views expressed are personal.)