[GYAN] 13 Things for your Civils Interview Preparation + Sample Transcript

13 Things for Interview Preparation - CSE 2019
I met a really studious girl sometime in 2019. She was a doctor. Ambitious. A little competitive, I said to myself.

When she spoke her spectacles fell to her nose.

She was supposed to appear for the Civil Services Interview a month and a half later. When I pointed out, with childlike simplicity, she said -

Sir, I will get new spectacles made for the Interview.

She wasn’t exactly prepared. When I asked a question, she answered endlessly. 

“She is not going to make it”, I said to myself. But let me just try.

Honestly, I was tired. But over and above that, I wasn’t sure if she was up for working further for her Interview preparation. But ME being ME, I thought let me just give her a piece of my mind, even if she does not like it. Saying what I feel rightly, is my job. Liking or disliking ME or what I sayis her job.

Sometimes, when I sense that the person is not going to listen or take a feedback, I ask them to have a second and third opinion. When more than one person says the same thing, and then I repeat it, it usually makes more sense, and people absorb it.


We worked on some vital inputs for the Interview. I had never seem someone so massively transform in the next one month. She came a month later. And a little emotional, I said - This is all we need to do. There is no further mocks you need to take. All you have to do is stay sane till and in your actual Interview. I have nothing else for you. 

Aparajita scored 201 marks. So did Kajal Jawla. 201 Marks. And Ankita, scored 182. And secured 14th Rank. And if you ask me what has been one of the biggest achievements last year, it is this picture. [2]


This is the 3 women candidates - all selected in the IAS, from Haryana, Aparajita, Ankita and Kajal

But thats not why I am writing this.

In the past decade ( yes I am that old into preparation, but not antiquated  ), and having interviewed a few hundred people, I can fairly say that there are some best practices for the Interview.

It also has some of the good advice I wish I had when I was younger.

#1 Simplicity of personality 

There is nothing that beats simplicity of personality.  One of the key personality traits which I have observed in people who are awarded good marks in the Interview. Some people are just simple and straightforward. 

They are usually the ones who are more suited for civil service, and who are also granted good marks in the Interview. 

Childlike simplicity can do more for you in the personality test of Civil Services Examination, than a degree from Harvard. 

#2 Simplicity of Answers

Simplicity of personality, you may argue is something inferred. How does the board know our personality in those twenty minutes.

They infer too.

Simplicity of personality is inferred.

It is inferred from your answers. What you say. And how you say it.

--
“Is this your first attempt?”

“This is my last attempt.”
--


This is an example of an attempt to conceal a fact. First it does not directly answer the question. Secondly, it doesn’t tell me your number of attempts.

Perhaps the person is afraid to admit that this is his/her sixth attempt.  

The truth is, while you may feel stigmatised by such things, a man in his sixties knows that it does not matter  on a long scale of events that life unfolds. He is not judging you. He is simply wanting to know you.

You are judging you.

Simple, straightforward answers are always rewarded.

I can tell you that Forumias members who have secured ranks in the past decade often come to see me[4]. I have noted that while the most vocal ones occupy the centerstage, the ones who are the quietest  ( and often the cutest , simple ones ) don’t say much. They just sit

And when I tell them , why don’t you say something. They don’t have much to say compared to their more vocal batchmates, who have not generally been awarded as high marks. They also say something important.

"Sir, I was listening."

#3 Be a good listener. Patience is a virtue.

A key to being a good speaker is to be a good listener.[5] You will require a LOT of patience to be a good listener. But that is a quality that is being sought out. Do not be the guy who blurts the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear a keyword, without listening to the actual question.

If you interrupt a board members, and jump in even before he / she has finished asking a question, you are an idiot. If you are an idiot thrice, you are not only an idiot, but also a Prelims 2020 aspirant from that point onwards.

Be patient. Listen to the questions fully. Let them finish. And if you fear that you will forget the answer by the time the member finishes the question[6], you can always ask them at the end of it that Sir I could not follow the question. It is not penalised. 


#4 You must be the person you are on the paper.

A test of integrity is that you are what you say. In your case, you are are what your papers say.

Look, a bureaucrat has made it to the position of the Commission by safely navigating a career without any major allegations against him. It is not easy thing to achieve. If you have parents or uncles in Civil Service, you will appreciate this better [7]

He has done this, not only by practising probity in public life ( which is often, but not always the case ), but by his ability to do due diligence ( which basically means to read a document and verify its authenticity ) in cases or issues brought before him.

This also means that he must be able to establish the veracity of a document or the person in front of him. So if you say your hobby is to read books, and he smilingly asks you which is the last book you have read.

You can’t say Sir I haven’t read a book in last five years because I was preparing. Then you are not the book lover you claim to be. ( Because somehow book lovers read books even when they prepare. And they are there as your peers in the Interview )

If you say I like to work with NGOs in your hobbies, I am going to ask you a very basic question which anyone who has worked in an NGO ( not who thinks he has worked in an NGO ) would know.

If you say, I spend my weekends with old age homes in your hobby, I am not going to believe you unless there are compelling evidences by way of your personality that tells me so. 

You may have gone on two occasions while you were in college, but that does not count as a hobby. And with 2 days you have no way of knowing the challenges therein.

Moreover, if so many people who claim to work for NGOs actually did so, the Nation would be a different place. But it is not.

#4 They are not looking for a Social Activist / Samaj sewak 

A lot of people think that like our “The US B-School Applications” , there must be a social angle to our profile. 

True, when you will grow older, you will realise that there must be a social angle to our lives, not just our profiles. That is, we should be a net giver instead of a net taker.

I have seen that people who have often gotten good marks, do not have anything “social” in their profiles. 

And if you are a good social activist, or you have worked at the grassroots level, there is a certain shine to you. It shows. It can’t be faked. And such people are also awarded marks. But there is a difference between an actual social worker and a person who thinks he is a social worker.[8]

I met Mittali , my student of 2016 last month. I have myself worked in rural areas for 2 years myself before I realised it was easier  ( and definitely more enjoyable ) to write articles  help people to crack Civils or get what they want, who would go on to work in those rural areas than to do it yourself. 

She was only 1 out of the 100 or so people from forum who are in IAS whom I have met in past 3 years , who actually was enthusiastic about grassroots level work. It shows in what you say, how you say and the ideas you have. The things you talk about. [9]

Moreover, I also know that Mittali, like all other people enthusiastic about their work, would be doing what she is doing even if she was not in Civil Services. You don’t need a sarkari car, or a police bodyguard to do that. Most people’s officers do not travel with police force even in their role as Collector.

#5 But why “Social” is such a big deal.

Imagine you getting a Magistrates duty ( Law & Order ) , and you come to know there is a law and order situation and there is a man creating ruckus asking people to do some mischief, who do you expect to the trouble maker?

And as a civilian bureaucrat if you goto meet them ( “the leader of the group” ) asking him - Sir, “who" are you / what is your locus standi ?  ( and why YOU are protesting, doing Dharna, causing traffic Jam, breaking buses).

What do you think, he is going to tell you who he is?

He is going to tell you that he is a “social activist”. “Samajik Karyakarta”.

See this video here. I asked Prajit, again my student of 2016 ( and LouisLitt on the Forum ) who the man was .

He said I thought it was some Samajik Karyakarta

Later , ( as is always is the case ) he found out he was a former MLA.  

And if you ask your BDO / SHO who the man is. They will tell you - Sir he is a Purva ( Ex ) Mukhiya/ MLA / Contractor. He has not been awarded a contract / elections are coming so he is doing this.

This is what anyone who has been in public service grows up seeing. Except in Metro Towns, where you may actually have some social activists ( who are fighting for a cause and not for themselves ) , it is difficult to find a Social Activist without a Political / Business Interest at hand. 

So when you project yourself as a “Social Activist”, I am likely to put you in this category in the absence of compelling evidence.[10]

Further, real social activists are so charged with the cause they are fighting for, they don’t feel the need to be part of the Civil Service. And those who do, end up leaving the Service for Social Activism. Like Harsh Mander or Aruna Roy.

#6 How can people in the Board be all Geniuses? Even in MY area of work?

A common thing we all hear is that people who are in the Board are so experienced that they will be able to catch any lies.

Isn't it superhuman?


There are two dimensions to it.

First, sometimes it is likely that there could be some questions from your area of expertise. You know that area best. And board members may not have full knowledge of that. It is your job to satisfy them. 

Second, let us say the Board members have some incorrect / insufficient information with respect to your area of work where you have better domain knowledge. And you are cross questioned. Even in such a case, you must ensure that you do not get into an argument with the board.[11]

#7 Humility is the second best policy

A question arises as to what is humility in front of the board.

Aren’t we all humble?

Who would such be such an arse as to be rude to the board?

I mean WHO in earth would NOT be humble before the board?

Humility means different things to different people.


Let me explain.

Some of us have the habit of saying 

"Okay, Okay.”
“Right.”
“Yes.” ( nodding head )

Now, if you are in the habit of doing this, or if you are a confident person ( there is a thin Line between confidence and over-confidence ), you may sound like arrogant.

That is because everyone else says 

Yes Sir
Okay, Sir

( And no-one says Right Sir. Thats because they are always right. Even if they are wrong. )

So when like a super chilled dude or dudette say "Right Sir or Cool Sir", you should better Watch Article 15, the movie.[12]

In your mocks if you get this as a comment, you can quickly resolve this by starting answers with "Sir…” and by using Yes Sir instead of just Yes.[13]

#8 Your speed of speaking must be normal

Tim Urban has a brilliant theory as to why we are screwed (a) if there is intelligent life else where in the universe, and (b) if there is NO intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

He also argues that we may not be able to detect other species outside of earth because our frequency and their frequency does not match. ( Like they Hello in a timespan  equivalent to 12 years on our planet, and we think its just some random cosmic / white noise. )

My point is if your speed of speaking is too fast ( or too slow, though rare ) compared to the Board’s understanding speed, then you are going to lose marks.

Fast speakers are conventionally not awarded well. So if you speak fast, it is a good idea to slow down now.

Two years back, I had a candidate, selected in the IPS, appearing for the exam to upgrade to IAS, just a week before the Interview. 

I hated to tell him that he had missed the IAS just because of the speaking speed. He was a good candidate otherwise. Worse, if he did not slow down, he would miss it again.

“But then that’s not me”, he rebelled.

If the board does not fully follow what you say, you won’t get marks. Here is why.

#9 The Interview is a Rejection Round, Not a Selection Round.

Believe me you, the board is not looking for the perfect candidate. Google, Microsoft, Facebook ( and ForumIAS[14] ) would kill to hire someone who meets their requirement. They are seeking candidates meeting a certain requirement. Usually technical.And if they find the right match, remuneration is always negotiable. 

But it won’t happen in the UPSC Interview that you have given fantastic answers, and the Board has the "Eureka Moment” - the feeling that we have found the right candidate / right District Magistrate. Now we can leave the country is safe hands. 

Thats not how people interviewing thousands of people  feel. The Board is known to award less marks to more people whom they deem not to be appropriate for the job, than to people whom they find nice.

The people who have been awarded the highest marks, are usually people, who are simple, honest, succinct, have precise content with respect to answers, and generally leave the board not agitated. You can Watch Krishnan’s talk here ( the second video ) and see the simplicity, and yet rigour  of his preparation.  He scored 204 marks last year.

#10 Nothing beats good preparation.

The second best way to guarantee a loss is not have a good preparation. While some people will get good marks without much preparation, I have often seen that on an average out of the 10 people who scored above 190 marks 8 people had a very robust preparation. Their  interview went as per the preparation.

#11 Don’t say fancy stuff that you don’t mean.

“How will you use your Industrial Production Engineering” knowledge in administration?”

“Sir, as an engineer in industrial production, our job is to increase the efficiency of the system to near 100%.” Similarly in administration, I will use my expertise to improve the administrative efficacy to 100%”

Sounds cool?[15]

Maybe at ONGC. Or IOCL. But not at UPSC? Why?

Because right before you ( and by that I mean, before you that day, that year, or the years before ), a simple candidate from rural background, when asked this questions is flabbergasted. He cannot think of what you are saying. So he says - 

“Honestly Sir, I will not be able to use my Industrial Production Knowledge in day to day administration as they are two different kinds of jobs.”

And honest answer like this has ruined this all fancy answers in the future for you.

#12 Make Friends with Benefits

As I breach the 3000+ word limit I had set for my article today, writing since 4AM with breaks and back aches, I have one last advice - make friends with benefits.

Do not get me wrong here.

Right now, you should be forming groups with people of

  • same Home State,
  • Same Engineering Degree,
  • Same Optional Subject and
  • Same Hobby / Interest

and so on. And do brainstorming on the same. Meet them actually. Discuss. Listen to others answers. Observe how others are answering questions on topics from your DAF. Learn from your peers.

Because I can tell you with a decade of experience now, that you can never learn more from anyone that your peers. And this has also been at the foundation of ForumIAS community.


Disclaimer : The views expressed are personal in nature, and not of the organisation. It suffers from the same biases that afflicts all human opinions. 
___________

[1] I have also been not MAN enough, pardon me for it, to not give an brutal feedback, if I sense the person is a little aggressive or will simply be mad at me. I  let them have their way THAT year, and do it their way THAT year. Then if it does not work out, and they come back to me a year later, we work together and clear the exam. I remember one guy in particular, who said he wanted to go home and prepare and asked me. I felt it was a terrible idea. He flunked two times and exhausted 2 attempts, before I asked him to come to delhi and prepare with peers and not with family. He came, he saw and secured Rank 1 in BPSC this year.

One would argue that why waste someone’s precious year in doing this. My defence is that even if I stuck to a good advice or a frank opinion, it does not work unless the person has a fertile mind to adopt the idea. Worse, it makes them a rebel, and makes me look like their foster parent trying to impose things.

The argument is akin to one of the explanations of why we cannot see alien life. One idea is that because we may not be as advanced as them to see them. We are transmitting radio signals in space, which is an outdated technology. Its like carrying a walkie talkie in an office trying to detect and connect to other people on it, drawing a blank not because there is no-one, but because everyone is using text messages and no-one is using a radio device any longer to communicate. Frequencies must match for ideas, suggestions and opinions to be adopted even as partial truths. 

[2] Picture Courtesy : Aparajita Sinsinwar. Due permission taken from all three people in the picture.

[3] 


[4] After Bharat Darshan every year when candidates who are training in the IAS come down to Delhi and when we meet, I happen to note that the people who have been awarded high marks are often not the ones who have an opinion on everything. They are generally the quieter ones, often more objective. But may have more depth in the personality.


[7] Take the case of H C Gupta, former Coal Secy. A man on unimpeachable integrity.  He has done no wrong and not personally befitted form any graft, and yet he was tried as an accused in the Coal Scam. 

[8] Moore in his defense of common sense argued that having the idea of a five dollar bill in my pocket is not the same as actual money in my pocket. We all have illusions. We have no way of knowing ourselves, truly. We merely know ourselves through our minds, and minds are tricky things.

[9] Not judging anyone here, so if you have met me, are in Civils, and you are reading this,(  this isn't about you! )

[10] I am emphasising this because last year we had created a group for Interview Prep. Sumit Rai, Nitya, Vijay and many people were active on it last year and one chap said that if they ask me why you chose sociology, I will say I was a social activist in college. Those are not good things to say to a future Prajit

[11] Getting into an argument with the board is like getting into an argument with a woman. You lose both ways. ( Minal Karanwal forgive me for saying this, despite you having making me read a full book on "Why everyone must be a feminist". :P )
  
[12] In the feature film Article 15, the protagonist, who is an IPS Probationer and also the son of an IPS Officer, gets a remote area posting simply because he said "Cool Sir" to the Home Secretary. Note that the Home Secretary did help him later. But the bureaucracy does not fail to ensure that you know what is acceptable and what is not.
 
[13] People have been been very grateful to me when they first came to me saying Samkalp and Chanakya Mock Panel said that you are a little arrogant/over confident, and when I suggested this subtle change, and when they went again for the mocks, the boards never said a thing on arrogance. I am telling you this, right away so that you do not have to come to me :P

[14] Grin :D . I worked for one of those companies before I worked with ForumIAS. I can tell, its a bad paymaster, but has good hygiene factors. 

[15] That answer is the interview equivalent of saying "Cool Sir" to your Secretary.











jack_Sparrow , root and 23 others like this
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8 comments

This article is very helpful sir... :)

Most of the tips  were fresh .The article was really helpful sir.

It's a great article....with simplicity &  integrity...one can win both mind & heart....wl help in preparation....


Thanks for this helpful article with good suggestions for interview .

@Neyawn Thanks for the very useful article.

How honest should I be in interview, because many things might be reflective of a trait not desired in a Civil Servant? Like choosing optional - on the basis of small syllabus, overlap with GS syllabus. Should I tell this thing as it is?

How will you use your Industrial Production Engineering” knowledge in administration?”

“Sir, as an engineer in industrial production, our job is to increase the efficiency of the system to near 100%.” Similarly in administration, I will use my expertise to improve the administrative efficacy to 100%”

I was preparing same answer in my mind for over some days now . Think it will benefit if I would call the bluff and admit that technical education wont be much of use in day to day job of civil services 
How will you use your Industrial Production Engineering” knowledge in administration?”

“Sir, as an engineer in industrial production, our job is to increase the efficiency of the system to near 100%.” Similarly in administration, I will use my expertise to improve the administrative efficacy to 100%”

I was preparing same answer in my mind for over some days now . Think it will benefit if I would call the bluff and admit that technical education wont be much of use in day to day job of civil services 

I am so glad. You can actually say a few good things. I would recommend you to do some group mocks with friends . It works a lot. Day before yesterday I was sitting with about 7-8 people in a group mock, and the value addition was substantial.


Remember nothing beats a good peer discussion. All you need is patience to listen.

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