Before I begin, I’d like to take a moment to congratulate and thank my friend – Mohammad Roshan for his stupendous success on bagging an all India rank of 44 in the Civil Services Examination, 2014 and for the insightful and amazing discussions that we had during the interview preparation stage. His inputs to me during the interview preparation stage were unparalleled.
Interview is the most important and probably the easiest phase in the whole process, provided you are well prepared. The range of marks in interview is very high – as high as 100 marks. No other paper in mains has such a high range of marks. So, interview can either make you or break you. Get over 200 marks in the interview, you’ll surely find your name in the final list and the marks in your mains will decide your rank (and service) that you’d get.
You would have about 6 months after mains to prepare for the interview. So one can leisurely prepare for the interview during this period.
Most people think that the interview doesn’t need any preparation as it is an assessment of your personality and not a test of knowledge. I do not agree with this view. Interview is indeed a test of personality, but you must be prepared to expose your true personality. For example, if the Chairman asks you a question on what needs to be done to improve India’s performance w.r.t environment, it would be almost impossible for you to think originally there and give a solution that you believe in, inside the interview room within those few seconds of time (not to forget the pressure you would be under). As a result you will not be able to show your true personality to the board. So preparation is a must and should and in fact, the board expects you to come prepared. That itself shows how much you value that interview.
How to present yourself for the Interview?
I believe that one must walk in as a civil servant to walk out as one. For this, I used to pay special attention to how the bureaucrats and diplomats talk, form opinions and carry themselves when I watch the discussions on RSTV like State of the Economy, India’s World and Big Picture and I tried to emulate them. I think one must always maintain a pleasant and smiling face during the interview even when he/she is having a hard time. One should be transparent before the board and try to show them his/her best. Honesty is extremely important whenever you’re facing the interview board. Never try to fake anything, accept that you don’t know something if you don’t know. One of the senior civil servants said – “A smart person is not someone who knows everything, but someone who knows clearly what he knows and what he doesn’t know”. So whenever you face a question that you don’t know, don’t take time to think about it but respond immediately that you don’t know the answer. Always think rationally and give rational arguments to show them that you’re free from any bias. Be open to take criticism and when you face counter arguments acknowledge them and respect their opinions also. Then support your stance again arguing rationally in a soft tone. Don’t be adamant or rude while arguing, it is just an opinion.
How to prepare for the Interview?
The strategy that has been mentioned below is a well framed and a well tested one. Last year by following this strategy one of the aspirants scored 215/275 and got a rank below 100. This year, myself and my friend Mohammad Roshan (AIR 44) also thoroughly followed the same strategy to prepare for the interview and we both scored over 200 in our interviews.
The questions asked in the interview can be classified into 2 categories.
The interview starts from the moment you start filling up your Detailed Application Form (DAF). A well thought of and a well filled in DAF can occupy 80-90% of the board’s time. This will be a huge success because you will have a lot of time to prepare on your DAF after mains. So you have to make your DAF very attractive. You need to write some interesting things in your DAF that the board members cannot resist themselves from asking questions from these areas. For example, I have mentioned “Reading about Ethical Hacking” as one of my interests and the second member was excited from the moment he saw that in my DAF. That was his first question, however I got over excited and wasted this chance (see my interview transcript). If I had to write the exam again, I would write more such interesting things in my DAF so that I can control the tone of the interview. So please think adequately while filling in the DAF – don’t just stay true to the facts (which you must), but highlight some unique and eye-catching things that you might have done.
After mains, one must not wait until the results are out, but must start preparing for interview starting with DAF. Do a thorough research about each and every word/letter mentioned in the DAF starting with your name. Do a thorough and deep research and try to contemplate what could be the follow up questions. For example, I have mentioned in my DAF that I stay in Hyderabad. Hyderabad is famous for pearls and it is called the Pearl City. Then I researched about what are the bazaars that are famous for pearls in the city. From where the city imports these pearls, what the different types of pearls are, how they are cultured, how they are processed, etc. Prepare that way for each a every word that has been mentioned in the DAF.
Opinions on various Topics
This is the second most important area. You should have a “pre-semi-cooked answer” on each and every topic that you can possibly think of. You are not supposed to say all that you know about a particular topic in the interview, but instead frame 3-4 solid and important points which will make your stance clear to the board and give only these points while answering. For example, take the topic, “Ways to control pollution in the cities”, then I would answer it saying that “The recent initiative of launching AQI, if implemented is a significant step as it promotes public awareness and make them amenable to any initiative by the government to reduce the pollution. Other mechanisms include strengthening public transport systems, regulating licences for private vehicles, withdrawal of diesel subsidies, campaigns to promote green cover, enforcement of high fuel standards like Bharat V and VI and innovative apps to encourage car pooling, etc”.
One must prepare this way for all the topics, and the list of such topics can indeed be covered exhaustively. For the list of all such topics, I have gone through my current affairs notes. I tried to form opinions and such answers on each and every topic. In this regard, me and Roshan used to have discussions on such topics and then come up interesting points on those topics.
One must also focus on preparing for the traditional set of questions, which are being asked by the board members every year like “Why should India be given a permanent set in UNSC?”, “Should we move from first past the post to proportional representation”, “Should we adopt Presidential form of government?”, etc.
To get an idea on what kind of questions would be asked, try to go through the interview transcripts, especially of those who scored high marks in the interview and then prepare accordingly.