How to prepare for UPSC IAS Interview

Its time now to tighten reins for the third and final stage of UPSC Civil Services Exam which is known as Personality Test (PT) commonly called as Interview. UPSC IAS Interview is the decisive stage of a yearlong Civil Services Exam process and is indeed the final rank decider. The competition gets stronger and stiffer at this stage as aspirants contest vigorously to make their place in the final merit.

Conducting Interview as part of Civil Service Examination (CSE) selection methodology has been one of the original features of the recruitment system for the higher Civil Services. Initially it was called as Viva Voce and later rechristened to Personality Test without much change in its structure and conduct.

Generally, duration of interview is about half-an-hour. A good score in interview can create a substantial difference of marks with the fellow candidates in just under 30 minutes. Being the last round, this could give one an unassailable lead. Though the final rank list is prepared by taking the sum of UPSC Mains marks (1750) and UPSC Interview marks (275), very often it is seen that those who have scored high in interview are in the top of the final selection list too.

Considering the importance and weightage of PT in the final merit, we will be covering this blog in two parts. In the part one, here, we will be discussing about why and how PT is conducted and will discuss some sample questions which are generally asked by the Boards conducting the interview.

Why the need for PT?  This debate keeps surfacing every now and then. Those against it, the Naysayers, support their argument on the grounds of inherent subjectivity and fear of human biases creeping in the process. Those in favour however state that the requirement of PT is necessitated by the special job requirements of civil services. Any selection/ recruitment methodology based purely on written tests would be inadequate since written tests primarily give evidence of the intellectual calibre (Intelligence quotient, IQ) of the candidate but it does not give an insight to his/her emotional quotient (EQ), beliefs and values, motivational level, general attitude, character, integrity and many other personality attributes. PT, if scientifically organised and conducted can reveal a lot about the candidate and has been found to be quite successful in understanding deep-seated human traits. This argument of Aye-Sayers is further buttressed by the fact that that suitable measures have been built-in in the process to safeguard against any void.

It is important to understand that the UPSC Interview is conducted to uncover your true personality and identify whether you have the traits and qualities that can make you a good civil servant. Board conducting the PT thus focuses on and test specific attributes/qualities. Some of the general attributes a candidate is expected to possess can be broadly divided into six categories, i.e. personality related, motivational aspects, interpersonal skills, intellectual abilities, specific skills and values.  These are: –

1. Moral Integrity

2. Ability to grasp essentials of the problem quickly

3. Ability to utilise conceptual knowledge to general situation

4. Planning and utilisation of resources

5. Confidence and Communication skills

6. Tactfulness

7. Team spirit

8. Empathy/ Compassion

9. Ability for behavioral adjustment

10. Commitment to goals

11. Ability to rise above one’s self interests

12. Secular attitude

13. Receptivity to the needs of the people

14. Patriotic attitude

15. Openness

16. Initiative

17. Innovativeness

18. Ability to guide

19. Decision making

20. Emotional stability

21. Courage

22. Commitment to rules/law

Do remember, that IAS Personality Test (PT) is not the test of your knowledge (would have been called KT otherwise) but it is a test of your personality, as your knowledge has already been tested in the presaging two stages of selection. Notwithstanding, it is important for a candidate to keep abreast with the happenings of national and global importance and to be aware of current socio-economic problems. Anyways, we will cover the aspect of preparations for PT in the later part of this Blog.

Let us now get an insight on how PT is planned and conducted by the UPSC. Usually, 5 to 7 Interview Boards simultaneously conduct the interviews, each headed by a UPSC Member and assisted by four experts (total 5 interviewers) who are retired civil servants, academicians, scientists and others. These experts are drawn from a large panel of names assembled after careful scrutiny by the Commission and the list is constantly updated.

Before the commencement of PT, all the board members (Experts/Advisors) are briefed by Chairman and Members of the UPSC on the purpose and manner of conducting the test. The Boards are asked to follow some common standards towards maintaining uniformity in assessment. Experts are also rotated among different Boards almost every week.

Each of the interview panel member will spend approximately 5 minutes on each candidate. Thus average duration of an interview is about 25 to 30 minutes. About 10-11 candidates are interviewed by each Board per day. The total number of candidates interviewed is approximately two point five times the number of vacancies every year.

Marks scored by the candidates in the Mains are not known to the Board, but a short summary of candidates’ bio-data, hobbies and interests is provided. This short summary of the candidates is prepared confidentially and organised session-wise for each Board on a daily basis and made available to the Board Members only 5-10 minutes before the commencement of the interview. It is said that this system works very well as neither the candidates nor the Chairpersons or the Advisors of the Board get any idea regarding which candidate goes to which Board. In fact, the Chairman, UPSC, marks the name of Board number on the cover of these sealed packets containing profiles of the candidates, randomly, before the commencement of the Board in each session. Quite obviously, influence and recommendation are difficult to operate in such a fair and transparent system.

Members of the Board individually rate intellectual and personal qualities of candidates and their overall performance. The final assessment by the Board is based on discussion of individual assessments made by the Members.

Candidates who have taken the Main Examination in any one of the Indian languages can use the same language for PT, in which case the Board is assisted by language experts, but strictly for the purpose of interpretation.

There are no minimum qualifying marks in the Personality Test, though at one stage in the 1950s minimum qualifying marks were prescribed for selection. Earlier, the Commission had, in fact, adopted 35% marks as the minimum threshold level in the personality test which was meant to be used as a negative screen to weed out those candidates who in the opinion of the Board were unsuitable for public service. However, this was given up in 1957 as it was felt that it would give scope to arbitrariness and the candidates from the weaker sections would be at a disadvantage in such a scheme.

What to prepare for PT?

The answer to this question will flow from the knowledge of areas normally covered by the board. Following merit attention: –

a)  Detailed Application Form (DAF):  Those candidates who clear Mains exams are required to fill up DAF. Personality Test requires first and foremost self-introspection. The same is a much desirable exercise before filling up DAF. A candidate should be sure of and should have a firm sense of conviction of what he or she writes in the DAF. This application form contains information about candidate’s educational back ground; work experience, native place, extra-curricular activities; optional papers etc. In fact, this detailed form serves as a sort of CV of the candidate for the panel members. Hence, it is imperative that many questions in the interview will be based on the details filled up by the candidate in the form.  Hence, it is extremely important that candidate has in depth knowledge about all the details mentioned in the DAF. Thorough preparation of various aspects and the possible questions that could emerge from the DAF must be done. DAF Analysis is thus an obligatory exercise for all candidates.

b) Current issues of interest, primarily national and international.

c) Good knowledge of the candidate’s own state and district.

d) Whenever required, you may have to bring into focus the knowledge of your own specialized field of study while talking on current problems.

e) Also be prepared for probing questions on your own special field of study, including the papers that you have offered for the Main Examination – only the fundamentals of the subjects studied; momentous developments of today, if any; and a lively panoramic grasp of the optional subjects.

Although it is difficult to summarise or quantify the questions which can be asked in PT however, some of the most commonly asked questions in the UPSC Interview are: –

a) Questions pertaining to Civil Services

  • Why do you want to be a civil servant?
  • Why do you want to switch the job to IAS / civil services, if already employed?
  • Having done engineering/ medical – reasons for switching over to an administrative / generalist role
  • How your technical /professional qualifications will be helpful in your job in Civil Services
  • Reason/Justification for your preferences in Civil Service categories and among Cadre/Zones
  • How you will adjust if allotted a State other than your native State: language / cultural adjustment etc.

(b) Questions  pertaining to your Native City / City of Education / City of work/ State / Region

  • Geography & History of State / Region
  • Places of historical and cultural importance
  • Agriculture / Soil / Biodiversity / Forestry
  • Economic & Industrial Scenario

(c) Questions pertaining to educational background

  • About College / University
  • Stream in graduation/ post-graduation and reason for choosing
  • Subjects Studied: adequate knowledge would be expected
  • Any current developments/ news on the subjects studied by you, which are current
  • Application / utility of the subjects studied in the proposed job / civil services.

(d) Questions on Optional Subject

  • Reasons for choosing the Optional Subject, especially if the chosen subject is different from what has been studied by the candidate in UG/PG
  • Questions based on your understanding of optional subjects (Concepts, important topics etc.)

(e) Questions on work experience

  • Nature of work; functions and responsibilities
  • Knowledge about Organization

(f) Questions pertaining to Extracurricular Activities/ hobbies

  • What are your Hobbies? Reason for pursuing such a hobby- one needs to be careful in filling up details about hobbies. Do not bluff or exaggerate, you will have to ensure that you have good knowledge about the chosen hobby
  • What exactly is your role in the NGO / voluntary organization where you contribute
  • Details of the prizes / certificates won in Extracurricular activities, if any

(g) Situational questions: Now this is something for which there are no boundaries. Anything can be asked from a candidate by giving him a situation. Most commonly asked situational question starts with something like…….…you are a DM/DC/SP of a district, how will you implement ABCD government scheme………how will you handle law and order situation………how will you handle problem of terrorism/ naxalism …..what actions will you take to address the environmental degradation being caused by ….and so on and so forth.

(h) Miscellaneous questions (which has the potential to put candidates in a spin)

  • Give your strengths and weaknesses
  • What is the meaning of your name?
  • Describe yourself
  • Name five attributes of your Sun Sign

In part II of this blog we will be talking about Dos and Don’ts, tips on what is to be done before the PT and on the day of the PT, tips on how to respond and interact with the Board, tips on what to wear and not to wear and many such like queries which generally candidates have but are apprehensive to ask.

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