Monday, January 5, 2009

Season's Greetings and gear up for Interview

Preparation for Personality Test has to be done as seriously as if appearing for Prelims or Mains exam. It is not possible to judge somebody’s suitability/unsuitability for Civil Services within a period of 30 minutes (my own interviews have not been more than 16-18 minutes). That’s where preparation comes in handy. Be prepared with answers for some of the expected questions on CV (from Mains form), background, optional subjects, Civil Services as a career option, current affairs etc.

Regarding Current Affairs, it is time to voice you opinions – yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is finally time to air your voice on issues as you see them and not as D.D. Basu or Supreme Court sees it. Take 26/11 as an example. What went wrong? What should be done to prevent further such calamities? Can we do an Iraq to Pakistan? Should we or should we not? Get your brain cells working on any matter that makes news. To get an in depth understanding of issue, EPW (Economic and Political Weekly) is an excellent source. It’s time to consult it. Regular reading of The Hindu along Mains pattern should be continued. But have your opinions on issues and be ready to supplement them if facts as and when required.

Questions on CV have to be guessed and prepared on your own. Be thorough with areas of interests, hobbies, your Home State and choice of Services. I had read Geography of Punjab, its history and culture especially related to Sikhism (3 books of BA syllabus), Human Development Report of Punjab (available on internet) to cover topics related to my home state (no question was asked on these, but it’s always good to be prepared).

My areas of interests and hobbies included Bird Watching, Skating, work with NGOs. Since I had pursued these interests quite seriously I didn’t have to work up much on these except revising my work experiences and learnings from these activities. I was asked nearly 8-10 questions on bird watching (difference between falcon and hawk, name of bird kept by Guru Gobind Singh, famous Congressman who was also a bird watcher, latest books about Indian birds, which species of vultures are dying and why, which community would suffer the most if vultures were to get extinct), though none on other interest areas.

Be thorough with basic principles of your optionals. Preparation should not be as thorough as Mains preparation, but basics must be quite clear. Moreover, their application to governance/administration must be done. For example, I had Electrical Engineering as an optional. I consulted Ministry of Power website for latest developments/schemes, role of regulatory commissions, non-conventional energy sources in India etc. from it. During both my interviews, nearly half the questions have been from background topics.

Personality Test is an interesting exercise because it allows your own style to show. Some like to answer a question in 20 seconds, others answer the same question in 2 minutes. No problem with any style as long as you hit nail on the head. I remember answering my opinion on liberalization in India in 2 sentences i.e. around 20-25 seconds (many candidates can speak on it for 3-4 minutes), and a friend of mine answered a most basic equation in Physics in 10 sentences (I would have answered it in a single sentence). Both of us had good marks. All that matters is whether your content was relevant or not.

To improve spoken skills and expand your horizons, sit in group discussions with friends/fellow competitors. It is a must as it brings differing opinions to the fore and increases ability to tackle different point of views. Take mock interviews after getting interview call. Not more that 2-3 mock interviews – any more practice will take way your spontaneity.

Learn to say “I don’t know” to questions on which you know nothing about. It is safest reply to factual questions about which one has no idea. If many questions are going “I don’t know” way, try to hazard a guess but after saying “I don’t remember the answer, but I think, it is …..”. It is quite normal not to know answers especially in pressure cooker situation. However, try to answer opinion/situation based questions (that do not require prior memorization) to the best of your ability. Keep thinking!!

There will be tricky moments; there will be some serious moments. And if lucky, some humorous moments too in the interview. Just try to give a good account of yourself. Don’t show arrogance. If questioned on opinion, state facts to prove it. If questioned on fact, state your reference source or humbly say “I have forgotten the source, but I will check it up”

Lastly, be true to yourself during the interview and believe in God. It’s gonna be just fine.

Questions faced during CSE 2007 personality test:

What is your Roll No. and Date of Birth?
What is your work experience till date?
Why do you want to shift from Engineering to Civil Services?
1st Member:
How does a Hydro electric generator start?
What are the various ways of generating residual flux in hydro-electric generator?
What are the energy sources from ocean?
What is the status of Tidal energy and wave energy in India?
2nd Member:
What is your opinion on increasing inequalities due to liberalization in India?
What are the demands of rebels in Nagaland and why cannot State give in to these demands?
3rd Member:
· “Democracy is against law of nature. Explain”
4th Member: Questions on bird watching as described earlier
· Delhi Police writes its motto “With you, for you, always” on its vans. Somebody wrote underneath it “That’s the problem”. What will you do to correct image of Delhi Police?

My interview lasted for 17-18 minutes and was filled with “I don’t know answers”. Especially in the question “Democracy is against….”, my interaction was somewhat like this.

Board Member (BM): Democracy is against law of nature. Explain.
Myself (C): According to Darwin, stronger survive at the expense of weaker while democracy tries to protect all.

BM: I am not interested in Darwin. You have a background in Physics, think along those lines.

C: (After a pause of about 10 seconds) I cannot think of an explanation right now, Sir.

BM: You have done Physics, you have studied Engineering. Think along these lines. I give you more time.

C: (Again after a pause). I am sorry Sir.

BM: What do you know about “State of Entropy”

C: I don’t know, Sir.

BM: You don’t know what entropy is?

C: Sir, entropy is state of disorder of system. But I don’t know the term “State of Entropy”

BM: Ok, water flows from high altitude to lower altitude; current flows high potential to low potential. Can you think now?

C: Sir, a natural process goes from low entropy to high entropy.

BM: Now can you answer the question?

C: Sir, Democracy tries to bring equality –a state of low disorder or entropy. Hence it is not a natural process.

BM: Yes, now we understand why Communism failed!

This interaction lasted about 3-4 minutes. Needless to say, I was at my wits end and trying best to extricate myself from the situation, but to no avail. In retrospect, what probably helped me was that I did not panic and secondly, took questions after this one in right frame of mind. It is easy to think after a bad phase in interview that all is over. Avoid that. A few good answers can dramatically alter the scenario. KEEP YOUR COOL. TREAT QUESTIONS ON MERIT.

My conversation on “your opinion on increasing inequalities due to liberalization in India”: Sir, when a new system comes in place it is quite natural that people who are ready for it will benefit while others will lag behind. It is the role of government to make sure that all people benefit from the new system.

BM: Then where has government faltered because inequalities are rising in India?
C: Sir, I believe we have policies in place but they are not being implemented properly due to various factors.
BM: So, you are positioning yourself to become a bureaucrat?
C: (At this I could have said that above was true and various factors are so and so. But question was “Am I placing myself to become a bureaucrat”. I coolly decided to say:) Yes, Sir. (All the members laughed at this, and I was thankful for it. It was a double edged answer that was taken in good spirit by the Board).