It’s going to be a huge post so I have divided the strategy for UPSC interview into 4 sections:
1) Before the mains result and after the mains examination
This phase of the civil services preparation is the most relaxed period but at the same time it can be the most frustrating too. Most of the time devoted to “interview preparation” goes in mulling over the mains exams, anticipating mains marks and brooding over what could have been done better. Some good days we feel that the hurdle of mains would be easily cleared in this attempt but on other days when the chips are down, the thoughts of quitting this vicious circle hover in our minds. Therefore, it’s very important to pull up our socks during this difficult phase and get hold over our lives. Some suggestions for this phase include:
It’s very important to devote 1 to 2 hours daily on newspapers during this period. Should the interview call come, current affairs should be on your tips. Otherwise, this part is often neglected during the preparation of Detailed Application Form for the interview.
For the reading of newspaper during this phase, I would like to suggest two special techniques:
- Since most of the topics of general awareness you already know by this time, you can read the paper very effectively by this technique. Before jumping to read any newspaper article, just read the title of the article. Brood over the topic and jot down all the points that you already know about the topic on the side of the article. Now quickly read and search through the article whether you have left any point. If yes, quickly add the point to your already remembered points.
- After reading the article, try to place the topic of the article in a broader context. For example, after reading an article on ‘Increase in the number of Indian billionaires in Forbes list’, you should try to place it in the context of ‘Effects of Neoliberal Policies in the last two decades’ or ‘Rising levels of Inequality in Indian society’. After placing it within a broad topic, try to think of other examples of that broad topic and link them with the original article. It’s a real engaging exercise.
These two techniques help to produce answers on those topics that are relatively new and unprepared.
Since there is actually no dedicated study to do in this phase, try to join some start-up, coaching institute or some NGO to keep yourself engaged. Some financial help is always confidence boosting. But besides the financial gains, it helps to divert the mind away from the drudgery of daily preparation of one whole year and assists you to make yourself mentally ready for the next attempt, if the need arises.
This might be the best time to finish off those good books that you always wanted to read. But the question that is asked commonly is why should I read books?
1) First reason, just for the sake of reading books. The following anecdote explains this point beautifully.
An old farmer lived on a farm in the mountains with his young grandson. Each morning Grandpa was up early sitting at the kitchen table reading his holy book. One day the grandson asked, “Grandpa! I try to read the holy book just like you but I don’t understand it, and what I do understand I forget as soon as I close the book. What good does reading the book do?”
The grandfather quietly turned from putting coal in the stove and replied, “Take this coal basket down to the river and bring me back a basket of water.”
The boy did as he was told, but all the water leaked out before he got back to the house. The grandfather laughed and said, “You’ll have to move a little faster next time,” and sent him back to the river with the basket to try again. This time the boy ran faster, but again the basket was empty before he returned home. Out of breath, he told his grandfather that it was impossible to carry water in a basket, and he went to get a bucket instead. The old man said, “I don’t want a bucket of water; I want a basket of water. You’re just not trying hard enough,” and he went out the door to watch the boy try again. At this point, the boy knew it was impossible, but he wanted to show his grandfather that even if he ran as fast as he could, the water would leak out before he got back to the house. The boy again dipped the basket into the river and ran hard, but when he reached his grandfather the basket was again empty. Out of breath, he said, “See Grandpa, it’s useless!”
“So you think it is useless?” the old man said, “Look at the basket.” The boy looked at the basket and for the first time realized that the basket was different. It had been transformed from a dirty old coal basket and was now clean, inside and out.
Son, that’s what happens when you read the book. You might not understand or remember everything, but when you read it, you will be changed, inside and out!!!
This story above uses a holy book as example, but applies to any book you read. This is the implicit, quiet effect of reading books. Books help to refine your though process gradually. Remember that there are no shortcuts to success and modes of instant gratification like YouTube or Quora can never replace books.
2) Direct benefits in interview. Although it is very coincidental, but the answers in the interview can be directly given with the help of knowledge gained through the books read during this period. I was lucky enough that I gave 1 answer directly from “7 habits of highly effective people” by Steven Covey , 2 answers from “Demon Haunted World” by Carl Sagan and 1 answer from “Argumentative Indian” by Amartya Sen.
3) Since you are preparing for civil services, it’s assumed that you have a non-existent social life. To get back into social discussions, read some bestsellers to again participate in ‘normal’ conversations that do not involve Democracy, Fundamental Rights or Marx vs Market issues.
2) Few days before the interview
Congrats for getting the interview call. It’s time to take out that Detailed Application Form that you carelessly filled post the prelims results. Get some 5-6 printouts/ copies of this application form since now you would need this form a lot. You would definitely be amazed to look at the hobbies and games filled in the summary sheet. As Kashish Mittal (2011 batch IAS Officer, AGMUT Cadre) points out, the topics to prepare for interview can be subdivided into two, viz.
- Must Know Topics (education background, issues of your locality, reasons for joining services, graduation subject broad topics, optional broad topics, work experience details, broader topics of your hobbies and games, achievements, family background etc.). “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer to such questions like “What’s the meaning of your name?” These topics you must know and not answering on these topics would invoke negative marks.
- Should know topics (all the happenings going on in the country and the world in the recent times, micro level topics involving your graduation, job, state and hobby). As I often say, UPSC personality test is one of the only interviews in the world where “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer. Since the scope of interview is very wide, you are not expected to know each and every thing happening under the sun. Hence, not answering such question does not invoke penalty, however it’s a bonus if you can answer these questions.As a corollary to this point, it would be appropriate to say that you do not need to delve into micro details of each and every topic that you can think of. UPSC interview board does not expect you to be a supercomputer know-it-all.
The topics that you need to specifically cover for your interview preparation include:
You need to be thorough with your state’s major topics: Demography, Challenges, Inter-State conflicts, Agriculture, Industry, Culture, History, Major tourist spots, Weaknesses, Unique Opportunities, Resources etc. State Development Reports (SDRs) published by the government are available for each state. They are quite comprehensive. State Government websites are also useful. If no other resource is available, then you can also go for NBT books available for each state.
- Hobbies and games
This is the most feared part of UPSC interview. It’s advisable to write one or at maximum 2 hobbies. You should be clear with broader contours of your hobby. Let us take Sketching as an example. Types of sketching, Techniques of sketching, Some famous painters/ cartoonists, How sketching would help you in IAS, Issues related to Right to Freedom of expression, M.F. Hussain issue, Khajuraho Paintings, what is your inspiration are some of the must know questions. At the same time, some should-know questions may include comparison of various forms of paintings, paintings in temple architecture of India, Photography vs Painting, Schools of Painting etc.
You should be thoroughly familiar with your Schools, Colleges and Employers on a broader level. Again, do not explore into detailed history but a cursory knowledge over important topics like meaning of the school name should be there. The important peripheral issues related to your background should be adequately addressed. Let us take IIT as an example of your college. Questions like Change in standards of Alumnus, Brain drain, Loss of engineer if you join IAS, Entrepreneurship culture, Why IAS after IIT, Opening up of new IITs, Autonomy of IITs etc. should be prepared with diligence.
Details like significance of date of birth, significance of your name, family background, service order, cadre order, giving other exams etc. should be looked into.
- Achievements and Positions of Responsibility
Again falls into the must know topics. Should be thorough with these things. Peripheral questions like how they have impacted your personality, key learning for life etc. should be prepared.
- Current Affairs
Continue reading newspaper. This time of the phase demands two newspapers, one a bit right of centre and other a bit left of centre. The two techniques stated above will be more than helpful in this phase.
- Optional and Graduation
Basic topics related to your graduation subject are expected but they are less likely to be asked if you have a prior work experience. You should be thorough with your optional as many questions will be related to the optional directly or indirectly.
Groups for Interview
It’s a good practice to form groups for interview preparation. Form a group of around 3-5 friends (group of 3-, too less diversity while group of 5+, too much time pass). Take mock interviews of each other once a day. Blatant and explicit flaws will be easily pointed out and the basic common questions will be practiced. Also, you come into the flow of giving the interview.
The correlation of mock interviews with scoring high marks in the interview is a debatable topic. Yet, I would suggest that if you have never given a mock interview, then giving 1 or 2 mocks would be helpful to get some unambiguous and clear-cut errors pointed out to you. However, the feedback of the mock interviewers should not be taken very seriously. Different mock boards may give contradicting feedbacks. You should not try to modify your personality too much before the interview. Be yourself.
3) Just before the interview
“Be cool, this too shall pass” …….. Buddha
This time you will be entering UPSC through the main gate unlike the Mains exam. Remember to carry the invitation letter of UPSC Interview and an I-Card.
Upon entering the UPSC, your mobiles will be deposited and you will be made to sit in the main hall on the tables distributed board wise. Water, Tea etc. is available in the hall. Have some friendly conversation with people sharing the same board. Some of them may become friends for life. Once the documentation verification is done, the interviews will start.
Remember that concerns like whether the interview is first, in the middle, at the fag end, before or after the tea/lunch break are really immaterial. The interview board is daily taking some 10 odd interviews for many years. These things are really immaterial as compared to what happens during the interview. Similarly who goes before you or after you may have some effect but it is negligible as compared to the blunders committed during the interview. Also, no board is good or bad. Every board has the history of giving good and bad marks. Do not prepare your interview aiming to press a board member, just be yourself.
So, look forward to your interview without any prejudices.
Newspapers are placed on the table where you are seated. Do read the headlines and if possible, the editorials too. Discuss the issues with the other board candidates as it will help you to come into flow of interview.
Freshen up before your name is to be announced. You need to wait in front of board room for some time after your name is announced.
4) During the interview
Entry and Stance
Upon entering the room, politely wish all the members starting from Board Chairman or the lady board member. Note that there are no hard and fast rules for these things. Similarly, upon taking permission for sitting, you should sit comfortably and there is no one particular stance of sitting. While conversing, you can move your hands a few times (there are no strict rules against it) but it should not come out as an obsessive habit. Rather this is true for each component of the personality test, do not overdo anything.
One thing that should be avoided at all costs during the interview is lying. Lying may offer you a little benefit but if the lie is caught, then the whole interview is over then and there. There is nothing more appalling to the UPSC board than a candidate without integrity.
Tendency to make guesses should be subsided. Wrong guess reduces the credibility of the person. Everyone candidate knows this fact but as soon as the candidate fails to answer two-three questions, urge to make a guess increases. Firstly, avoid making a guess but in case you cannot control it, ask for permission to take a guess and only then take an informed guess.
“I don’t know” is acceptable
As I wrote before, UPSC Personality Test is one of the rare interviews where “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer. Use this freedom fully. In a stress interview, the board may ask more than 5-10 such questions to whom you can safely give “I don’t know” as the answer. The board may also go a step further and taunt, “You don’t even know this”. Simply, avoid the urge to lie or guess. Just smile, say sorry and carry on with the interview.
Smile and take no stress
Remember that personality test is not a test of your knowledge but your personality. So just be yourself, smile and face the interview board with full confidence.
Also, one important point to be noted is that this might be the most crucial day of your life and you rightfully expect full attention from the board. However, thinking from their perspective, you are one of many candidates who appear before them daily. So, it’s not a big deal if the Chairman is doodling or getting up for a break. Just be cool, smile, and carry on.
Avoid taking stress during the interview. However, in you feel stresses, with the permission of the board, get a sip of water placed in front of you.
Always take a pause of around 5 seconds before answering any question. It has a triple-fold purpose:
- Helps you to frame your answer.
- Assures the board that candidate is thinking on his/her feet.
- Gives time to the questioner to re-frame his question in a simpler format allowing him to give you a hint as to what answer he expects.
If you want more time beyond 5 to 10 seconds, you can always ask for some time to think from the questioner. It is considered a good habit (but do not overdo it). Also it boosts the ego of the questioner that he has asked a brilliant question, which would go in your favour when marks are awarded.
Take a stand
This is a common confusion among many candidates whether to take stand in interview on any issue or be diplomatic by giving both pros and cons and avoiding the stand. Always remember that they are looking for decision makers. You have to take a stand. There is no other option. But the only caveat is that your stand should not be fundamentalist or too radical.
Command over English
What should be the expected level of command over English? Well, that depends on your background. If a person is convent educated or has studied in a good institution like IIT, then a good command of English is the bare minimum expectation of the interview board. But if you come from a rural background, then very good command over English is not expected and if you present one, then it works as a bonus.
Best of luck.