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UPSC Interview – The Dividing Line. Or Probably Not.

UPSC Interview – The Dividing Line. Or Probably Not.

Hi everyone!

Before I go any further, I want to share a few links that might help everyone out here. I have
written extensively about Prelims and Mains and my optional which was Psychology. Many of
these articles were published here at Insights on India. For everyone’s benefit, I am putting up
all the links here so that it is easier for a new person to relate and understand the context of it

Let’s talk about the interview – the final stage now.

Huge congratulations to all of you who have cleared Mains and are on their way to experience
something that is scary yet exciting, terrifying yet adventurous, intimidating yet powerful. In my
opinion, something that is all of this must be first of all lived to its fullest extent possible without
worrying about the consequences. Live it with all your anxieties, goose bumps and the
unknowingness of future, but let it excite you more than it scares you. It is always a choice.

Mitali Sethi IAS
Mitali Sethi IAS

I got a mere 178 in my interview, which – considering last year’s lower marks – isn’t an exceptional score but is decent enough. Why I am writing this article is to tell you about my experiences and insights so that someone out there – with perhaps a similar background or a similar mindset – can relate and consequently benefit.

Let me first talk about the shortcomings of the process, so that we put things into perspective. UPSC interview marks are not an exactly accurate portrayal of who you are, and the process will seem more realistic if you understand that. It comes with its randomness and certain behavioural factors – both yours and the examiners’ that are not going to be under your control.

Now that we have established that, let me also state that since obviously humans and not robots are conducting interviews, and defining personality and its characteristics is difficult at best, the UPSC interview – to its credibility – is brilliantly designed and executed. They take every care on their part to minimize discrepancy across examiners and questions. So don’t waste your time contemplating and dreaming about various boards and times of interview.

Things that are not under your control are best left so – you don’t have the luxury of wasting
your time on them. If someone comes and tells you all of this, or you happen to read them in
community discussions, my sincere advice would be to brush it off and use your mind and time
for something that is actually productive.

I don’t want to state obvious things here – so the scheme of this article will be 5 insights that I
want to share from my experiences, followed by my own interview transcript in my next post.
Please feel free to derive your own learning from both the write up and the transcript. I will be, of
course, more than happy to answer your queries in comments.

1. The dividing line – many people told me and will tell you that Interview is very, very important.
That it forms the dividing line between you on that side and this side. My take – that’s not really
true. The human mind wants to find order in randomness and that’s quite natural. Actually, the
interview just is. The final score consists of an addition of 8 papers and interview is one of them.
What is true is that the range of marks is a lot, so that can change the ranks in a large spectrum.
But since you don’t know the marks of Mains, this information should not overwhelm you. I have
come across many people who haven’t cleared the exam despite good marks in interview, and
vice versa. So take it as something in which you have to do as well as you can, as well as you
should. Make that excellence a matter of habit, and then irrelevant things lose their importance
and you can focus on the relevant ones

2. Much has been said about DAF, and none of that is an exaggeration. If you were the
examiner, you would want the interviewee to be well acquainted with every word of what she/he
chose to write in her/his DAF, isn’t it? I hope you haven’t lied or written unrealistic things in your
DAF. If you have, for example, written tennis in your hobbies when you haven’t so much as
seen a racket in your life, time to put on some sports shoes. 😀 

3. Mock interviews – very personal, very contentious. I gave around 5 interviews and by the end
of them, I was so conflicted in my mind that I didn’t know what take to have on certain issues.
The point being, try and filter your feedback from all these interviews. Not everyone understands
you or your central purposes and opinions in entirety. If you don’t like a feedback, let it vanish in
thin air from your mind. You will make the best decisions for yourself, believe in that. There is nothing more important.

4. In the time that you have between the Mains result and the interview, newspapers are a must.
But reading them is not enough. Try and form an opinion in your mind that can be easily
retrieved if need be. Read multiple perspectives and then jot down a few points, good and bad,
about an issue. In the anxiety of exam, if you haven’t practised or thought about things, they
might not occur to you in the same clarity, hence this exercise and hard work. Preparing for the
battle is half the task, fighting it is another half. Do the first part well. Walk with and talk to
yourself – become your own examiner.

In one of my interviews, the chairperson suggested that I must give an interview every day. I
was shocked and said “That’s not possible, Sir.” Sir said “My dear, everyone around you, your
friends, parents are all your interviewers – find a table, tell 5 of them to sit and ask you
questions. That will do for an interview.”

I used this and found it to be surprisingly useful. Things that people around you can tell about
your body language and confidence are priceless. You can also use a mirror and talk with
yourself and practise. These things might seem unimportant but are actually the intangibles that
make the most difference. You must also be aware of your immediate or local surroundings,
etymologies of your schools or colleges and basic concepts of your graduation subjects.
5. In the interview. The dress doesn’t really matter as long as you look neat and un-shabby.
That’s all. Sari or suit, tie or no tie, coat or no coat – irrelevant if you are uncomfortable. If you
chose to wear something in which you will not be comfortable – bad choice.

But your body language in the hall is an absolutely relevant parameter. The one thing that I want
to point out here is that you must always go in interview knowing that you truly deserve it and
hence you are there in the room. Don’t be meek or subservient, be respectful – know the
difference. Smile, not laugh, not cringe – again, know the difference. People sitting there value
diversity and want you to be yourself – they are not really looking for someone who is going to
follow the herd. So, be you, in both agreements and disagreements. Respectfully disagree if you
have to. Stick to your point if you want to, but just make sure you present logical arguments for
it. The bottom line is to imagine the kind of administrator you would want to be in future. Before
you go in that room, you must be that person. Unadulterated and original.

There is something that I saw a day before my interview and it really helped; here is a link for it,
you can try it if it helps.

Before my interviews, I had been told that I laugh too much, that my answers aren’t really
specific, that I would do well and not do well almost equal number of times. On the day of my
interview, I had severe diarrhoea, and I went to it crying. But when I was sitting outside the hall,
I forgot all of it and only remembered how lucky I was. I have never regretted feeling that way,
neither will you. If there’s one thing , if at all, that can help you become a better person in such a
short time, it is gratitude. Try a little, perhaps? 🙂

Interview Transcript link: