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Cracking the UPSC Interview: A holistic approach to prepare for India’s most prestigious examination

The UPSC Interview is the third and final stage of the UPSC exam, a journey undertaken by over 10 lakh aspirants every year aiming to join the prestigious Indian Civil Services.

The UPSC interview is the final stage of the UPSC exam which focuses on the holistic evaluation of a candidate’s suitability for a leadership role in civil services, transcending beyond a mere personality test. (Representational image)(Unsplash)

This interview is dreaded as the toughest interview to crack, with a pass percentage (the chances of an applicant becoming a Civil Services officer) of around 0.2%. The candidate’s knowledge has already been thoroughly tried and tested in the Prelims and Mains; the interview stage does not focus on it. Rather, it focuses on the holistic evaluation of a candidate’s suitability for a leadership role in civil services, transcending beyond a mere personality test. The questions range from governance to polity, international trade, and domestic economy, among others.

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Key Traits Sought by the Interview Board

The interview board comprising of experienced, respected intellectuals, gauge a candidate’s calibre to become a civil servant. They also look out for any blatant blind spots in the candidate’s points of view.

The interview board looks for candidates who exhibit a comprehensive set of qualities. These include an ability to consider the needs of all stakeholders, a collaborative leadership style, practical problem-solving skills, and a deep sense of empathy.

Moreover, a candidate’s maturity, reflecting their life experiences as a common citizen and understanding of societal issues at large, plays a critical role in the evaluation process.

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Developing a Leader’s Perspective

There is no shortcut to gaining maturity, but an aspirant can gain perspective, the point of view of a country. Aspirants must cultivate the ability to think beyond their personal experiences, considering the broader implications of policy and governance on the nation and its citizens.

This requires a deliberate effort to engage with diverse viewpoints, fostering an appreciation for the complexity of social issues. Gaining knowledge is important, but developing a nuanced understanding of multifaceted problems is paramount.

Additionally, an acceptance and appreciation of multiple perspectives that may not align with one’s thoughts helps in solving contradictions and avoiding unnecessary heated discussions.

The Art of Expression

The focus of the interview board is on having intelligent conversations. The verbalisation of thoughts can happen if enough time is spent in refining one’s perspective and being honestly vocal about it.

One should be able to vocalise their thoughts impromptu. Authenticity and clarity in communication are key, as the board’s seasoned members can easily discern rehearsed responses from genuine insights. Engaging in group discussions and mock interviews can significantly enhance one’s ability to convincingly express complex ideas, as seen in past selection results.

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The candidate’s 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.

The candidate also must understand that the judgement is subjective and there’s a level of relative understanding. Thus, one must be open to counter thoughts. Analyse the potential counter thoughts and prepare the answers well in advance.

Common Questions and Fear about DAF (Detailed Application Form)

Notice that the UPSC notification verifies that the focus will be on the general mental qualities of the candidate and not on knowledge. The candidate’s emotional intelligence during the interview will be reflected when talking about a sensitive topic and the empathy shown for the stakeholders. It may also be reflected when one wishes to argue and how well one controls their impulse. For the same, a mentor focusing on strategy and psychological grooming can become the differentiator in one’s preparation journey.

The Detailed Application Form (DAF), which outlines a candidate’s background, preferences, and achievements, often serves as a basis for initiating conversations. Contrary to common fears, discussions around the DAF are not meant to be interrogative. Therefore, candidates should practice talking about their hobbies, past achievements and other areas of their DAF which stand out. It will work out best if the candidates mention things of genuine interest to them. Candidates are advised to relate all their answers to the current requirements of becoming a civil servant.

The UPSC Interview demands a holistic approach, combining self-awareness, empathy, and articulate expression underpinned by a deep understanding of national affairs. Success in this final stage requires not just preparation but a genuine commitment to serving the public and a readiness to embrace the challenges and responsibilities of a civil servant.

(Ravi Kapoor is a Chief Mentor of UPSC at Testbook. The views are personal.)


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