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Special Content

volume-37,15-21 December 2018


Civil services INTERVIEW



The myth and aura surrounding Civil Services inter-views make it look like a glorious event in an aspirant's life and rightly so. It is taken as the D- day by the candidate because, being the last leg of the civil services examination process, the interview is going to either elevate him to the famed heights of glory and prestige, or, putting him back to square one. For many candidates, who are appearing before the UPSC   interview board for the first time, it amounts to sailing in uncharted waters .  They are overawed by   the fear of the unknown. This emotional state, if allowed to continue, can severely hamper a candidate's prospects in the interview.  It is, therefore, important to know the basics and fundamentals of the entire interview process in order to dispel the myths surrounding it and take it as it is rather nurturing unrealistic perceptions   about it.

As we all know, the civil services examination is a three   stage process, each designed with a specific purpose. The first stage, the prelims, exam.,  serves the  purpose of screening candidates for the main examination  and seeks to allow only those candidates to write the main exam.  who have been found to possess the requisite basic knowledge and talent tested through the papers on GS  as well as CSAT. The second stage, the main  exam. is  what constitutes the bulk of the Civil Services exam process and through  four GS papers, one essay paper and one optional paper, a candidate's intellectual strengths are examined through rigorous writing of answers in limited time available. In all, the main exam accounts for a total of 1750 marks which constitutes the bulk of the overall marks. Given the marks it carries, the main exam  really is the most decisive stage of the civil services examination. The third stage, known as personality test, or popularly known as  Civil Services Interview,  is designed to test the suitability of a candidate for a career in civil services. Thus, Civil Services interview follows the universal objective behind any job interview, viz; suitability of the candidate for the job he has applied for.  However, one must understand that one is not competing just for a job in civil services. It is essentially a public service and not just a job.  The civil servants need to perform services to the public under the mandate of the Constitution and provide a democratic governance to the country. This makes the  Civil Services interview different from other job interviews. While in a general job interview, you will be assessed only in terms of your  specific domain knowledge, the Civil Services interview will assess your entire personality on certain defined parameters.

Qualities to be tested during Civil Services interview: The best way to understand what qualities are going to be tested during the interview session,  is to follow the UPSC notification on  Personality test. These qualities, as per UPSC guidelines, include:

  1. Mental alertness
  2. Critical power of assimilation
  3. Clear, logical exposition
  4. Balance of judgement
  5. Variety and depth of interest
  6. Ability for social cohesion and leadership
  7. Intellectual, moral integrity

Thus, while a candidate is interacting with the Civil Services interview board, the above mentioned qualities will be observed by the board members to assess his suitability. If he possesses most of these qualities, he will be given high marks. If he is found to be average on these parameters, he will get average marks, and in case he is in poor possession of these qualities, he will get below average marks. In simple words, other than your intellectual calibre, certain vital personality traits like articulation, self- confidence, ability to work as part of a team, integrity and character, clarity of thought, will also be tested by the board.

The composition of the interview board: Since around 2500-3000 candidates appear in the Civil Services interviews, UPSC constitutes  a number of boards, usually 7-8 different boards  to conduct interviews every day. Each board consists of five members. It is headed by a chairman, who has to be a member of UPSC. The chairman could be a person from civil services or even  from academic background (a retired university professor, VC etc). Of the rest four members, who all are called "domain experts", two are from  civil services. They are usually retired Civil Services, IPS, or IFS officers. The other two are non- civil servants , and likely to be academic experts. The composition of the board ensures that it is a well balanced board which possesses the required expertise to ask questions from all probable areas  during the interview.  Between them, they share expertise in humanities, science and engineering subjects, medical sciences, management etc. This ensures that relevant questions can be raised before candidates coming from diverse academic disciplines. On the whole, it is a well-balanced board capable of judging your qualities in an impartial, just manner.

How the session is conducted? Civil Services interview is not a question- answer session. It is also not  a knowledge testing session. It is also not a GS or current affairs based session. Rather, it is a conversational session during which you will be engaged by the board for 30-35 minutes in a friendly two way conversation in a directed environment. Thus, a conversation with a group of experienced, senior persons on a range of topics is what goes on inside the interview chamber. It is not a fight between  your knowledge and the experience of the members. It is like a conversation with persons who have views on subjects of public interest and would like to know your views on the same. This engaging conversation will give you opportunity to bring out the personal, social qualities you possess, the virtues of probity, integrity, honesty you have inculcated. Some administrative qualities like leadership, team work, decision making capacity are also going to be tested during  engagement with the board.

The interview board is truly impartial and fair: Impartiality of the board is ensured through a number of measures. First, the compo-sition of the board is a tightly guarded secret and  it is difficult to know as to who is sitting in which board in advance. Secondly, which candidate will be facing which board is also  done secretly so that neither the candidate, nor the board can have any advance clue about it. Thirdly, to remove caste bias, the members of the board, except the chairman, will not know about the caste of a candidate because the caste details are not furnished to the members.

How mark allocation  is done: After the session is over and the candidate makes an exit from the room, the chairman and members briefly comment on  his performance and highlight his weaknesses and strengths. Thereafter, the chairman proposes a certain marks, expressed in percentage terms and not in absolute numbers. Usually, other members agree with his proposal, but if some members argue that he deserves a little more or less marks  based on his particular performance, the chairman accommodates their views and allots a few more or less marks to him accordingly.

The beginning of the interview session:  When a candidate enters the interview chamber, he is asked to sit in his chair by the chairman. Once he is seated, the chairman reads some information from his DAF (Detailed Application Form). This usually relates to his name,  his native place, his educational qualifications or his work experiences, if he has any. The idea is to make the candidate attain a comfort level with the board by asking some general questions from his personal background. The chairman, usually, asks 4-5 different questions and then hints at another member to ask questions. This is how it gets started. Slowly, the candidate feels engaged with the board and gives natural responses to the topics, issues, subjects raised before him.  There is absolutely nothing to fear from the board. They are quite a friendly lot and they do not intend to stress on your weaknesses, rather, they would be interested in  testing you where you know and not where you do not know. Suppose they ask you about how the CRISPR Cas9 technology works, and you do not  know much about biotechnology, they will not pester you for long on this topic. Instead they will change the topic to an area where you would probably know.

DAF  based questions: There are over  twenty columns in DAF in which you have furnished information about your name, place of birth, state, educational institutions attended by you alongwith your academic performance, your  previous jobs and their work profiles,  your hobbies and extra- curricular activities, choice of services if you get selected, preference of cadres etc. Thus, DAF  itself is a major source of raising interesting, probing questions by the board members. Since you have yourself furnished all the information sought in your DAF, you are expected to defend those information in a credible manner. If you fumble on being asked something about your DAF, it will carry a negative impression  of not being honest in furnishing those information. Therefore, you need extra care and attention while preparing for your DAF related questions.

Probable areas of questions besides DAF: It is difficult to grasp the range of questions raised during the interview and  much depends how the session evolves. However, it is safe to predict some areas on which questions are more likely to come. These areas could be: your subjects in college, your optional paper in Civil Services mains exam, problems and challenges in your own district or province, your understanding of and  stand on important national and international issues, current events like G 20 meet, COP24, US-China trade war, INF Treaty, H1b and H4 visa issue, S 400 missiles, COMCASA etc.

How to prepare for interview: The ideal way to prepare for Civil Services interview is to keep yourself always in interview mode. This is to imply that  by keeping in mind the requirements of the interview, you should always spare time to learn how to develop the qualities that are being tested at the interview. You should engage in discussions, take up relevant topics, formulate your stand on those topics in  small  circles of friends, relatives, mentors and so on. By doing this, you get an opportunity to get yourself assessed in real time and you can make required changes. Also, in  big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore etc, there are seminars, workshops organised on burning issues which are open to all. You should participate in them to learn about the issue, and if allowed, make your own presentation on the issue in the seminar. This will connect you with issues in a much better way and boost your confidence. In other words, you should not wait for the mains results and then start interview preparations. Rather, just after mains exam is over, you should begin interview preparations in the right earnest.

Present your true, original self before the board: Always remember, they are looking for your own authentic self at the interview. Therefore,  don't  project what you are not. Project with emphasis what you are. No one expects you to be a superman endowed with mythical   qualities  in order to be selected in the civil services. Instead, what they are looking for in you is  a sincere, humble person who has a sense of commitment, honesty to his work and who possesses a pleasing personality. Therefore, even if you are not able to answer some of the questions, it does not matter as long as you earn   the goodwill of the board by a positive personality projection.

Some important tips:

  1. Be honest. Honesty is the best policy.
  2. Be polite and humble before the board.
  3. Never try to either please or offend the board.
  4. Give short answers of 4-5 minutes duration.
  5. Always sound an optimist and a problem solver

(S.B. Singh is a well-known academician and Civil Services mentor. He can be reached at his email: sb_ singh2003 @yahoo.com)