Defending Your Biodata: The Right Approach
There are many aspects to be covered while facing the IAS interview board. Apart from brushing up on significant issues on governance, economic, environmental, national, international affairs, preparing for questions and remarks raised by the board on your bio data related information, known as ‘ Detailed Application Form’ (DAF), is an essential part of the interview process . The DAF is taken as a kind of horoscope by the board to predict what kind of personality you possess. Since a number of information has been asked in the columns of the DAF, it offers the board members a vast opportunity to interact with you on the information you have furnished therein. There is a real possibility that your entire interview session , or most part of it , which usually lasts for 30 minutes, is based on your DAF discussion. In fact , there can be 3- 4 different formats in which your interview can be conducted. One, it may be dominated by questions on information given by you in your DAF, two, it may just be on some current relevant issues of general interest, three, it may be based on your home state and four, it may be dominated by your subject of specialization in college or the optional paper you have chosen for the exam. No format is exclusive in nature. Other questions are also bound to be asked in each of these formats. One thing is, however, certain during the interview, i.e., DAF based questions irrespective of the main format. Thus, taking the DAF preparation seriously and in the right earnest is what needs to be done by the candidates.
DAF and the Interview board: A candidate submits a detailed DAF to UPSC before writing the main examination. The DAF contains even personal information regarding her/his caste, religion . However, all the board members are not given this detailed DAF. Except for the chairman of the interview board, no one will ever know about your caste or religion through DAF. This is done to avoid any bias in the minds of the board due to factors of caste, religion etc. In other words, only the chairman knows about your caste etc and not the other members. Thus, no discrimination is possible against you or prejudices shown in your favour based on your social, religious background. But, of course, your religion will be evident from your names, surnames and one can not do anything about it.
You and your DAF: All the information provided in the DAF has been furnished by you. This makes you fully accountable and answerable to those informations. The board will assume that you have made a conscious choice while revealing your details in the DAF and , therefore, expect you to defend, analyse and elaborate on every bit of information furnished by you. So, while the board may take it kindly if you do not answer other questions convincingly, but if you are not found convincing on DAF related questions, the board will take it seriously. The board is quite justified in expecting convincing answers on your DAF because you yourself have chosen to furnish those information and you should not look flustered about them.
Categorisation of DAF details: Put together, there are 28 columns in the DAF to be filled out by the candidate. They can be put under the following categories.
(1).Personal details like name, age and native place, parents’ name, profession and income, , choice of centre for main examination, optional subject offered. (column1 to 15)
(2).Educational qualifications (column16)
(3).Employment details (column 17)
(4).Details of extra curricular activities, distinctions, hobbies (column 18)
(5).Preference for IAS/IPS in state cadres (column 20)
(6).Order of preference for different services like IAS, IPS, IFS and allied services(column 21)
(7).Previous details of appearing in UPSC exam. and their results (column 22, 23, 24, 25and 26)
(8).Fee payment details( column 27 and 28)
Analysis of vital details asked and given in DAF: Except for the last category relating to fee details, all others are question/remark provoking columns . Let us take them up one by one.
Personal details related column: Starting with your name and its meaning, your date of birth and its historical importance or any other person born on that day, this column can raise a number of questions. The place you were born in, the areas around it, and the state to which you belong will be closely read by the board and questions will be raised on them. A few questions on your parental profession, your experiences from their jobs can also be asked. If you have chosen a centre of exam. which is unusual, you may have to justify it. Suppose, you have shown in your DAF that you belong to Delhi, studied in Delhi, did job in Delhi, but you have chosen Jammu as a centre, they will get curious about your choice and ask you for a convincing explanation. Finally, your optional subject may come under close scrutiny. The importance of this subject for civil services,( e.g. how Botany can be relevant for civil services), latest information about the subject, etc, can be asked.
Educational qualifications related column: This is a delicate column and the board is keenly interested in knowing about your educational achievements. They will watch for the educational institutions you have attended, and check your awareness level about these institutions. Secondly, they will see if you have any discontinuity in your educational career or any bad academic performances, and if yes, then they will look for reasons for the same. At the same time, if you have been a great achiever in academics, they will question you as to why you want to join civil services despite such a brilliant academic record. Also, if you are a professional, say , a doctor or engineer or lawyer, they will ask you why you want a change in career away from your core domain. You should always answer such questions with a fair degree of honesty. If you fabricate your answer, you are bound to be plunged into a helpless situation before the board.
Employment related columns: If you have been employed earlier , or, you continue to be employed at the time of the interview, there is no way you can escape being asked a lot on your job profile, your responsibilities, about your company, or the govt. department you are working with. The difficult part of the question on this area is going to be why you seek a job change in favour of civil services . Most of the candidates provide the same answer to this. Let us frame a question and see the standard answer offered by many.
Question: You are already employed in a higher post with good prospects. Why then you want to join civil services?
Answer: Yes sir, I do agree that I am already placed in a comfortable job. But the status, prestige, diversity and challenges offered by civil services attracts me. Or
Yes sir. True. But I want to serve the country and the society which has given me so much.
This question is a routine question at every board and these two answers, are also routine. The board gets fed up hearing the same logic from every candidate and wants to hear something different. By themselves, both these answers are good, but you should rephrase them to sound different from the crowd. I would suggest, you relate your answer to your inspiration derived from parents or, a role model in civil services or by account given by a dynamic, honest civil servant about the challenges and opportunities in the civil services. This will make for an interesting answer.
Hobby related columns: This column is the most sensitive zone of you bio data . You need to defend your hobbies and extra curricular activities in a such a manner that you can convince the board that you have a genuine interest in the hobbies mentioned by you and you are cultivating them well. Owing to inexperience about the interview, many candidates take this column rather easily and casually. They fill up this column with hobbies they have hardly pursued seriously and extracurricular activities they have ignored largely in real life. If you try to fake a hobby without genuine interest in it, your bluff will be called easily and you may get punished for it. For example, in a real IAS interview, a candidate had given as his hobby to teach villagers in a village in Haryana. The chairman of the board first declared it as a wonderful hobby and then started shooting questions. When asked about the time during which he would go and teach the villagers, he answered that he goes in the morning. Then the chairman countered him by telling him that how can he meet farmers in the morning time when most of them will be away in the fields or rearing their cattle or doing other farming activities. Then he tried to make another bluff and he got into a real awkward situation. He was given exceptionally low marks. So, whatever your hobby may be, you need to make a mark on the board by defending it in a most genuine way. Concocted answers about your hobbies must be avoided at all costs.
IAS/IPS preference related column: In this column, you are given a chance to state your preferences for the two prestigious jobs i.e. IAS and IPS in various states. For example, in Bihar, what will be your preference for IAS/IPS. Normally, a candidate, and quite rightly so, will give preference 1/1 for IAS/IPS for Bihar cadre if he belongs to Bihar. Then he may choose UP where IAS may be his 2nd preference but IPS his 3rd preference. Such variation in preference will invite probing questions. Generally , candidates have a subjective perception about the IAS/ IPS jobs. For example, in states affected by naxalism, IAS is given a higher choice and IPS is lowered down by the candidate. This will raise doubts about your willingness to take up challenges in trouble prone states. It is always better to offer the same choices for both the services i.e. IAS/IPS for every state. For example, if you have preference 11 for IAS in Nagaland, your preference for IPS in Nagaland must also be 11 and not 17 or 18. This will save you from explaining why you are choosing differently between the two services in the same state.
Column dealing with order of preferences for various jobs: The most standard practice to fill this column is to give 1st, 2nd. and 3rd. preferences to IAS, IPS and IFS respectively. Thereafter, IRS , Customs, Audit and Accounts and so on. The board is widely aware about the popularity level of the services and therefore, in a usual choice, they would not raise questions. But if you make some unusual preference, say, IPS over IAS or, IRS over IPS, then they will ask for a suitable reason. You must offer an explanation that the members can buy.
Details of previous attempts at UPSC exams: This is a cool column and you can very well defend it so long as you have given the real information without hiding anything. However, if you have been selected by UPSC for some job and you left it, or delayed joining its training program, then questions will arise asking you for justifications of your decision.
Some guidelines for defending your DAF:
i. Start preparing early: Don’t wait for the result. Concentrate on your DAF preparation quite early. It will require quite a lot of time to collect information about so many columns you have filled in there.
II.Prepare under expert guidance: Self preparation for interview whether on DAF or otherwise, amounts to just gathering facts and information. Unless you are interacting with knowledgeable people during your interview preparation, you are really not preparing well. So try and choose a real good mentor whose advice you can trust and follow him on day to day basis.
III. Always defend yourself with honesty: Honesty is the best policy at the interview. Be honest about what you have to say about your DAF. Only this can make your interview safe and scoring.
(S B Singh is a noted academician and IAS interview expert. He can be reached at his email: firstname.lastname@example.org) View expressed are personal.