Any interview, more so an IAS interview, is mainly about questions being raised by board members and answers being offered by the candidates. Thus, anticipating questions and formulating their answers is an important part of the interview preparation. After acquainting oneself with the purpose and technique of the interview, one must turn one’s attention to creating a pool of probable questions on a variety of topics and formulate answers, and explanations that sound logical and acceptable to the interview board. This exercise will minimise the surprise element during the interview session in that most of the questions will appear to have been asked on expected topics.
1. Educational Background
In this section, questions will pertain to the name of the school, college, subjects studied there and performance in terms of marks or grades obtained. You must know what is the significance of the name of your school/college, when and by whom it was established, any alumni you can recall from the institution you have studied in etc. Say for example, if you have studied in a school called ‘ Navodaya Vidyalaya’ you should know the objectives of such school, your personal experience about it, and the values inculcated by you from your association with the school.
2. Parental Background
In some cases, they will also take interest in your parent's occupation by asking you what you have learnt from their professional experience, and if your parents are role models for you.
3. Work Experience
If you have worked in the private sector or under the government, they will definitely ask you a couple of questions related to your job description. You are expected to know what your organisation is all about, details of tasks performed by you, why you want to leave that job and want to join civil services, and how your job experience can help you in your career in civil services.
4. State to which you belong
A wide range of questions will be raised about your state. Its cultural, and historical importance, law and order situation, governance, performance on various economic indicators, state of agriculture, industrialisation, resources available and solutions to various problems of your state, will constitute areas on which questions will be asked.
5. Hobbies, Extracurricular activities
On your hobbies, questions are meant to assess your genuine interest in what you pursue as your hobby. If reading is your hobby, whether you read fiction or non-fiction, who is your favourite author, and which books you have read recently, are going to be likely questions. Similarly, if watching documentaries or photography is your hobby, they will delve deep in the subject to find out your level of commitment and interest in the stated hobby. Say, for example, you have mentioned watching wildlife documentaries as your hobby, you will be asked to name a few famous Indian and foreign documentary makers, whether you have watched their documentaries or not. If you are not able to recall any famous wildlife documentary maker’s name, then it is going to leave a poor impression before the board. Similarly, if you have mentioned yoga or meditation as your hobby, expect both theoretical and practical questions on these hobbies. For example, what is the underlying philosophy of yoga, who was its main proponent, what books you have read on yoga, and who are leading yoga experts, will be areas of interest for the board members to ask questions. This way, you should frame likely questions on your different hobbies and fortify your knowledge of them.
6. Why do you want to join Civil Services
During the interview session, the common refrain is - “Why do you want to join civil services.” Almost every candidate is asked this question by one or another member of the board. Though this question is common, it does not mean the answer to it should be common too. Rather than sounding idealistic, you should offer a realistic answer to this question. Answers like - I want to serve the nation, I want to serve the society, or, It offers a diverse, challenging career, look like an old, repetitive cliche used by every candidate. A more realistic answer to this should be: “I want to join civil services for a number of reasons. First, it offers job security. Second, it offers some of the most coveted jobs under the government. Third, I
will derive higher job satisfaction in civil services because of its diverse nature. Fourth, I consider civil services not just a job but a service with a deep public interface. Finally, it will provide me with an opportunity to be a part of the governing architecture of the country which will allow me to contribute meaningfully to public service. If you phrase your answer like this, you will sound more realistic about the civil services.
Another related question here can be: how your knowledge of your discipline of study (engineering, medicine, agriculture, botany etc.), can be used in administration? To this, you should say that such domain knowledge will help you understand the issues better and will be handy to make better policies and decisions. You can substantiate this answer with some examples. For example, If you are from a medical background, you can say that it will help you formulate more practical health policies with your first-hand knowledge of medical issues. Like this, find the relevance of your educational discipline in civil services before you face the interview board.
Similarly, there will be some questions whose answers you may not know. There are two ways to tackle them. First, if you don’t know anything about the question, just politely accept it and say you don’t know the answer. Second, if you have some vague idea about the question, ask the board if you can try to attempt it with some guessing. If allowed, make an intelligent guess and answer it.
7. Situation-based questions
Not always, but in many cases, one of the board members may raise situation-based questions. This can be either in a real situation that has appeared in the news or a hypothetical one. In both types of situations, real or hypothetical, your answer must weigh in all factors and then provide a solution that sounds implementable on the ground, beneficial to the country or citizens and innovative in thinking.
For example, consider this situation: A conflict situation is getting out of hand between two countries in some part of the world. The country’s interest is firmly embedded in both the conflicting parties involving multiple dimensions like the economy, defence, diaspora etc. You as part of The Ministry of External Affairs team have been asked to draft a statement explaining India’s position. Now, as part of the team, your yardstick to draft a statement should be India’s interest. In a situation like this, the first thing is the need to coordinate with both parties to safely evacuate non-combatants. Hence, favouring one over the other is outrightly out of question, at least publically, no matter whether questions of human rights and aggression are still there. The larger picture involves defence cooperation on one hand, which is vital as India is placed in a hostile neighbourhood, and the economy is important for growth and development. Hence, a balanced response is needed which calls for dialogue over conflict and the use of India’s effort to build a humanitarian corridor.
8. Current Affairs
Since the Ukraine-Russia conflict is in the news along with the United Nations, its relevance, European union, zone of influence, etc along with topics related to geopolitics like a quad, and rules-based order, are issues at hand now that can be framed as questions. The conflict has laid bare the effect of sanctions on the global order. So, questions on new global order, etc are likely, to touch on various dimensions of globalization.
As regards international issues, India’s G20 Presidency and Opportunities, India’s balancing act with the West viz-a-viz East and especially among P5, India’s disputes with neighbours like China, China’s Wolf-Warrior Diplomacy, India’ Advancement in Defence Technology and its Impact on “Act East Policy”, NATO and India’s strategic autonomy, War crimes and the rules of war will surface during the interview. Quad, Indo-Pacific policy, and India’s relations with China, Russia, USA could be areas of interest to the interview board. In particular, read in detail about the recent development between India and China and the expected impacts.
The best way to prepare for these topics is to read the editorial comments on related issues in good newspapers and formulate your answers.
9. Questions on Social Issues
There are a host of issues that relate to our society, for example, nutritional issues in children, women and the poor, inequality in online education, issues of mental health of citizens during the pandemic, rising domestic violence during the lockdown and so on. You must embrace these topics with compassion and offer solutions from both your heart and mind.
10. Controversial Questions
There are many sensitive issues on which taking the right stand may look difficult to a candidate without guidance. My suggestion here would be not to take an extreme stand on them. You should present both sides of the argument, assess their respective merits and present a middle ground. You should not take a stand that sounds anti-government. But you are free to point out to failures of the government and suggest better policy measures. Some criticism is always welcome, but you need not appear like an opposition party or like a newspaper article in criticizing the government vehemently. To take an example, on the controversial Hijab row, rather than opposing or defending the issue, take a stand that encapsulates both perspectives, that of the legal and religious. Then, suggest a conciliatory approach to solve the issue.
Thus, by following the above advice, you can reasonably hope to get many questions on expected lines with prior preparation so that you are not taken by surprise during your interview.
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