Joining the prestigious Indian civil-services is a cherished dream for millions of young aspirants. The year-long, three-stage selection process called the Civil-Services examination conducted by the UPSC culminates with the personality test or the interview. This year, it began in March and will continue till May.
With nearly 275 marks (out of 2025), the personality test represents the make or break stage for the nearly 3,000 aspirants who are able to reach this final gateway. Understandably, every candidate endeavours to do his or her best because of the arduous effort to pass the preliminary exam and the prospect of joining an esteemed service with a promising career.
However, preparation for the personality test and particularly for the personal profile, remains a perplexing issue for many. The questions you ask yourself are: How prepared is well prepared? Do I also need to revise my optional subject/the subject of graduation? Can I be asked about my last job, where I only had a short stint of less than a year? Being an engineering graduate from IIT, will my switch to the generalist stream be perceived negatively? What more should I know about the state of my domicile? What questions are they going to ask about my hobby? If singing/dancing is my hobby then would they ask me to actually sing/dance? What should I say if they ask me as to what have I been doing in the past five years since graduation - when all I have been doing is preparing for this examination and reaching the interview stage for the first time?
These are some befuddling doubts and queries which repeatedly nag candidates so we hare giving some pointers here which will help you make a great personal profile and also tackle any fears you might have.
Now what does a personal profile have? This includes information furnished by the candidate in the detailed application form (DAF) submitted to the UPSC. This would range from one’s name and date of birth to the state of domicile, from current job to educational profile, from hobbies, interests and achievements to the family background and from the optional subject to the subjects of graduation.
The DAF is the only document about the candidate before the Board Members. Understandably, some interesting points in it are quite likely to catch their attention and culminate into a reasonable number of questions. Being akin to the home turf of an aspirant, there is a justifiable expectation of the Board that the aspirants would be prepared well for it. The queries from personal profile could initially be factual or ice breaking type questions, pertaining to hobbies and interest or even one’s name (particularly if it is uncommon). But later, questions to gauge critical thinking, analytical ability, views and opinion and thoughts of the candidates are invariably asked. The latter type of queries are often from the job experience of the candidates, challenges before the dtate of domicile, concurrent issues emanating/relating to one’s optional/graduation subject, reasons for switch from a technical/well paying job, or even from hobbies, interests and achievements section.
Be well prepared to answer questions on previous job experience (if any). It has the potential to engage the interview panel in a discussion for a reasonable part of the interview. Of course, if the association is greater than a year, then the expectations are more and mere superficial knowledge does not suffice. To begin with, understand the objectives and functions of the organisation, its structure and hierarchy, its strengths and weaknesses, challenges and how to surmount them. More specifically, the focus would be on one’s role, job content and its demand. The probability of questions emanating from this area become higher if the organisation/its functioning has been in the news in the recent past.
Regarding the issue of switch over from a technical stream (viz, IIT/AIIMS, engineering field) or a high paying job (post an MBA); do remember that such candidates are not debarred from joining the civil-services. The oft cited argument of ‘waste’ of knowledge or social resource due to joining of a generalist service by such specialists, is merely a clichéd argument. Many professionals and technical personnel have joined the civil services in the past and are likely to continue to do so in the future. Any expression of guilt could be perceived negatively. Similarly, your reaching the interview stage after many failed attempts is a reflection of your hard work and perseverance and not a cause for self-reproach.
State of domicile is also an essential constituent of the personal profile and includes within its ambit information about the state, district, city/town of domicile or residence where you have stayed for a reasonable period in the recent past. Questions are more likely to emanate from here if the state/district/city has been in the news of late, has some poignant aspect, is known for its developmental work, or for lack of it, or for its unrealised potential. Questions can be factual viz. from social and cultural profile, geographical/historical aspects as well as analytical ones regarding uniqueness of the region, its strengths and weaknesses, challenges, problems and solutions. Go through publications of National Book Trust (www.nbtindia.org) on different states and the state gazetteers which contain a wealth of information. Latest information on the state/district websites is also pretty helpful.
Hobby, interests and achievements also need attention. Candidates must not shy away from indicating a hobby. Rather, they should be very specific when talking about it. Thus, instead of merely mentioning reading as a hobby, indicate your preferences: novels, magazines, short stories, fiction, etc. Such a description captures the attention of the reader.
If you have an interesting hobby, ask yourself what questions can be asked about it. Try to second-guess the interviewer and ask a person who has expertise or experience in that field to help you frame questions likely to be asked. Jot down 10 to 12 questions and prepare your answers. Also prepare for questions likely to arise from your responses to the interviewers. Do remember that the Board is not likely to ask you to showcase your talent (viz. sing, dance or display your philately collection etc). They are there to test your awareness and depth of understanding about the subject. As such read books and articles related to your hobbies and interests. You are not just gathering information, you are also developing an analytical and holistic understanding of the hobby that interests you.
Then comes the optional/graduation subject. You need not go in for extensive revision as you have already been tested on it in the main examination. Make sure, however, that you revise the fundamentals and latest developments (if any) particularly of the topics which are related to concurrent issues.
Last but not the least, your answers must be sincere and honest. A fake veil of idealism (say; the reason for aspiring for civil services) will not see you through. But in case your idealism is genuine then your self-belief and sincerity will be your testimony.
And yes, do not try to bluff the Board - because then you’ll only be bluffing yourself.
The author is an IRS officer and the author of the book Civil Services Interview : How to Excel, published by M/s McGraw Hill