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IAS Interview a Test of Your Authentic Self 

S. B. Singh

Interview test is the last leg of a long race towards IAS. After crossing two major hurdles namely, the prelims and main examination, a candidate sets himself up for the D-day (interview day)  which would finally determine whether he is going to be selected for the coveted Civil Services or not. It will also determine his rank and service he is allotted as per his rank in the merit list. In other words, if interview creates a sense of fear, it also offers the final opportunity to boost success chances in the civil services. In terms of marks, the interview carries 25 marks more than any single paper of the main examination ( each mains paper carries 250 marks while interview carries 275 marks).

As stated by Union Public Service Commission,  the purpose of the interview  is to ‘ assess the personal suitability of the candidate for a career in public service.’   It follows from this that the interview process is geared towards judging the personal suitability of the candidate for civil services. The process of interview which roughly lasts 25- 30 minutes, aims to judge the qualities like mental alertness, critical powers of assimilation, clear and logical exposition, balance of judgement,  variety and depth of interest, ability for social cohesion and leadership and intellectual and moral integrity.

These qualities, to be judged during the interview session, can not be understood as separate traits of personality. Rather, together, they present a sum total of qualities a candidate is expected to possess. When you are being interviewed, you are simultaneously being judged for your wide interests, leadership qualities, clarity of mind, a balanced approach etc.

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 structured 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) a mere question answer session (b) a test of knowledge or  plethora of information(c) a deliberate attempt to pin you down by difficult questions (d) having extraordinary expectations from you.

IAS interview is about (a) judging your authentic self (b) an interactive, friendly session (c) extracting your opinion and stand on vital issues (d) exploring the quality of honesty, integrity, commitment, leadership etc  and (e) 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 is a UPSC member. The other four members are external members invited by UPSC. They are bureaucrats, academicians, scientists, armed forces officers etc. 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. He may also ask other questions or else, he will prompt 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.

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: (a)Be polite and respectful (b)Greet the members with warmth(c)Wear a decent, sober dress which is formal and suits the weather No fanciful accessories on your body(d)Do not interrupt a member while he/ she is asking a question or explaining a point(e)An agreeable voice with the right pitch (f)No frequent hand movement or neck movement while you are responding(g)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 cannot 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. For example, some likely current issues  could be:  Yoga and its role in health and India’ image building as a soft power, smart cities,  sedition law, student politics in universities, intolerance incidents, crisis in Arunachal Pradesh, Zika virus, India’s current issues with its neighbours etc. 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 DM or SP or PM 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

*Present your normal, authentic 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’.

*Be realistic and 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 rely on myths built around IAS interview:  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. 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 articulation. You may record your own conversation for self analysis.

(The author is  an academician and  a  civil services expert. He can be reached at his email: sb_singh2003@yahoo.com)