The IAS Interview is one of the most dreamt about and feared event in the minds of UPSC aspirants and for good reason. Aspirants either fantasize about it or get nightmares about it but what is undeniable is that the UPSC interview is a make or break experience where the candidate’s overall personality is judged by an interview board of eminent persons.
I have been interviewed thrice by the UPSC and have helped hundreds of students prepare themselves over the years. I have committed many mistakes and have learned a lot about the interview process.
What I learned from 3 UPSC Interviews
- The board was always cordial and polite
- Questions in the interview were well-rounded and covered a large variety of topics
- I was never made to feel uncomfortable or interrogated
- The board consisted of very sophisticated, respectable and senior people
- The focus of the board was on having intelligent conversations
- The interview(s) lasted 20-40 minutes
- All Board members asked questions by turn
- My score in the UPSC interviews was what I deserved
My scores in the 3 UPSC interviews- 135/300 , 165/300 , 180/300
What you need to know about the UPSC Interview
The UPSC Notification makes it clear what to expect from the interview-
It is a test of your Emotional Intelligence more than knowledge
Your knowledge has been thoroughly tried and tested in the Prelims and Mains and the Interview stage does not focus upon it. Notice that the UPSC Notification verifies that the focus will be on general mental qualities of the candidate and not on knowledge. Emotional Intelligence(EI) is how well you read the feelings of the other person as well as how aware you are of your own.
Your EI during the IAS Interview will be reflected when you talk about a sensitive topic and the empathy you show for the stakeholders. It may also be reflected when you may wish to argue and how well you control your impulses.
Treat your DAF as a list of conversation-starter topics
Your DAF contains details of your service preference, background, hobbies, achievements etc. Most candidates assume that the DAF exposes their secrets and they will be grilled on the claims they mention therein. Everyone is embarrassed or worried about some aspect of their pasts. The good news is that the Interview board will treat what you mention in the DAF as a list of topics to begin conversation with you. They may or may not focus on the DAF much but if they do, it will not be to interrogate you but to get you talking.
Your interview preparation should focus on this aspect instead of obsessing about details of subjects which you may have studied in your past. Therefore, practice talking about your hobbies, past achievements and other areas of your DAF which stand out. It will work out best if you mention things which are of genuine interest to you.
Your communication should be polite, natural and clear
There is no need to sounds like Wikipedia while answering questions in the IAS Interview. Your responses should be clear even if you use simple language. You should be able to express your thought in a simple and organized manner. Your tone should be formal but not mechanical. Make eye-contact but do not stare. Make a genuine effort to understand the question asked and try your best to answer it without feeling guilty or ashamed if you do not know too much about it.
Good oration and speech delivery is something everyone can learn. There are many ways to do it but the best way to get better at it is available to everyone for free and that is to simply have intelligent conversations with people who are smarter than you.
Body Language matters
The way you handle yourself and how you communicate with the use of gestures, body language, intonation is important. It helps the board get a glimpse inside your psyche and might reveal things about you which are relevant for their assessment. A overly-anxious body language will manifest in upright posture, rigidity, eye-contact and perhaps sweating, racing heart, elevated pitch etc. Most candidates are very nervous before the interview and this can inhibit their positive body language. This is not a good look for you.
This video is an excellent description and explanation of how body language can be changed to manage how others perceive you-
Never argue with the IAS Interview board
The idea of the conversation is to exchange ideas to and fro and display your insight about the issue. It is not a good idea to take a stand and defend it no matter what. You must admit the possibility that you might be wrong and show a willingness to learn, if such a situation arises during the UPSC interview. You may show a polite insistence if the question is such but never argue with the board member with the objective of proving them wrong.
This too, is a factor of your Emotional Intelligence and how well you read and make quick conversation with someone much older and wiser than you.
Download Most Common Questions and BEST Answers for Job Interviews Infographic .
Practice a LOT
To do well in the interview you will need to polish yourself. Your verbal communication muscles will require a lot of work and you will have to TALK. It is a good idea to record yourself while doing so and to playback videos of yourself to judge where there are obvious red-flags.
You should also take as many mock interviews as possible and get comfortable with the social environment in the IAS interview. The more you put yourself in front of others, the more comfortable you will be in your own skin and the more confidence you will exude.
I hope you will learn from my mistakes as much as from the other insights shared above. I wish that you shine through and have a brilliant IAS interview !
Ravi Kapoor, IRS