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Facing the UPSC Civil Services Interview

Until the Mains result is out, you can not focus completely on anything. You can’t study properly, you can’t make new notes, you can’t practice writing either. Your mind will be occupied with the thoughts of Mains result.

Once you pass Mains, your confidence level goes up and at the same time new worries about performing in the interview start percolating inside your mind. Your preparation actually starts now. Because it is now that you really start worrying about your personality. In this exam personality matters a lot.

This is why, it’s rather called ‘Personality Test’ than ‘Interview’ by the UPSC.

In this article, I will talk about what you should do and what you shouldn’t do in the interview hall.  Small things matter a lot here. Taking care of these small things, about which I will talk about in this article, is crucial in getting good marks in the Personality Test.

Before we move further, it’s imperative to read carefully why UPSC conducts  the personality test. In its own words:

1. The candidate will be interviewed by a Board who will have before them a record of his/her career. He/she will be asked  questions on matters of general interest. The object of the interview is to assess the personal suitability of the candidate for  a career in public service by a Board of competent and unbiased observers. The test is intended to judge the mental calibre  of a candidate. In broad terms this is really an assessment of not only his/her intellectual qualities but also social traits and  his/her interest in current affairs. Some of the qualities to be judged are mental alertness, critical powers of assimilation,  clear and logical exposition, balance of judgement, variety and depth of interest, ability for social cohesion and leadership,  intellectual and moral integrity.

2. The technique of the interview is not that of a strict cross-examination but of a natural, though directed and purposive  conversation which is intended to reveal the mental qualities of the candidate.

3. The interview test is not intended to be a test either of the specialised or general knowledge of the candidates which has  been already tested through their written papers. Candidates are expected to have taken an intelligent interest not only in  their special subjects of academic study but also in the events which are happening around them both within and outside  their own state or country as well as in modern currents of thought and in new discoveries which should rouse the curiosity  of well educated youth.

Here, the key words are:

  • Mental alertness
  • Critical powers of assimilation
  • Clear and logical exposition
  •  Balance of judgement
  • Variety and depth of interest
  • Ability for social cohesion and leadership
  •  Intellectual and moral integrity
  • Interest in current events
  • Personal suitability

The board tries to assess your personality by asking you general questions which are intended to test above mentioned traits. Every word you utter should be honest and should reflect  the traits mentioned above.

There are nine important things you must follow.

# One

When you are asked to go inside the interview hall, you should go with a confident, cheerful and calm mind. This is extremely important.


The very first trait the board observes is your mental alertness. If you go inside the hall with fear and confusion in your mind, you will be nervous and can not be alert mentally.

Always remember that when you go inside the hall, you are guaranteed an average marks.  Once you are inside it’s in your hands to either get good or bad marks. Every word you say in the hall is a reflection of your personality. Hence, a calm, cheerful and composed mind can think and answer better.

So, the first step is to enter the hall with a cheerful face. I know it appears like – said easy than done. But it’s easy to be done too. Just one question – why or what or whom should you be afraid of?

It’s not a battle where you are going to kill someone or get killed.

Think of it in this way: you are just going there to have a meaningful, intelligent and casual conversation with cordial, affable, intelligent old pals. That’s it. UPSC interview is actually an experience to be lived and remembered for good reasons. Go there to enjoy it.

# Two

Once you are inside the hall, first wish the person whom you see first. It can be a member or the chairman. You can’t snub them and wish the chairman first. It is not courtesy. Some say that you should wish the chairman first, next lady member (or first her and later the chairman) etc.

No, you should wish the one whom you see first as soon as you enter the hall. Then wish everyone with a cheerful face. If you are cheerful, the mood in the hall also become cheerful.

It’s always the chairman who first asks you questions.

Here comes the second part of your personality test i.e. testing of your critical powers of assimilation.

As you know, assimilation is an ability to understand things fully. If you are mentally alert, you will be better placed to assimilate the questions asked in the interview and then generate an honest and thoughtful answer.

The board might ask you 2-3 lengthy questions to check your ability to assimilate certain things. It will also check this ability through your answers. While reading newspapers, reports or textbooks, or while listening to news, we should cultivate this habit of assimilation. It’s a means to sensitization towards our society.

To display this trait, you must first completely listen to the full question. Never ever try to answer even before the question is fully asked. You will get negative marks. It’s also disrespect to them (even if it’s not your intention)

In the interview, listening is as important as answering. If you incorrectly comprehend a question, chances are more that you screw up whole interview.

# Three

Critical power of assimilation naturally brings out the trait of clear and logical exposition. You can clearly answer only if you know the demand of the question.

There would be a tendency to impress the board with your depth and grasp over issues. Avoid this unless the question specifically demands it. This interview is not about impressing the board. It is about reflection of your true personality.

While answering it’s important to be straight to the point. Beating around the bush exhibits your superficial knowledge. It’s better to politely say ‘I don’t know’ than trying to cook up an answer in an attempt to impress the board, or trying in vain to answer every question assuming each question carries certain weightage.

Clear exposition, or description of certain thought or an idea requires clear understanding of not only the demand of question, but also a character that is honest and simple.

Only honesty can bring out clear and logical answer from you.


Once you start answering, it should be unbiased and shouldn’t be judgmental. In Mains exam, already your ability to analyze many issues without bias has been checked. But that’s on paper. When it comes to express the same in words, it requires a lot of confidence.

Lot of confidence comes from an understanding of the demand of the interview i.e. it’s not about your result, it’s about you. Portray yourself as an individual fit to become a bureaucrat; and the battle is won.

# Five

While answering you should try to link various issues and analyze them critically. A biased view always reflects your shallowness. Instead, your answer should have depth of an understanding of various issues, especially current events.

If you have been selected for this interview, you already possess this depth to some extent. Right now you have to revise all important current events, form unbiased opinion on each one of them and try to express them in a group or in front of your friends.

Just reading at home is lethal at this point of time.  Don’t think that you can read everything and then just go there and answer all the questions. Many ideas can be refined through intelligent conversations. You should talk more now with more people. Try to teach students; try to address a group; if you are stubbornly introvert, then talk to mirror at least!

Talking to many people brings variety into your answer. And to your personality as well.

# Six

Most important part of the interview is this: testing your ability for social cohesion and leadership.

This is done through asking questions that demand an opinion from you on various socio-economic issues.  So, be thorough with issues related to education, health, weaker sections, etc

Your answers must reflect your concern. You concern will be reflected only if you answer from your own experiences instead of reproducing facts from the books.

Try to answer from your experiences. You might have visited schools, you might have know about bad teachers, traveled on bad roads, visited worst hospitals, or worst doctors, or might have been  a victim of police highhandedness, or seen for yourself police brutality against innocent people – quote these in your answers. If you really care about society, examples come on their own. The board likes you if your answers are genuine and borne out of your own experiences.

# Seven

Throughout the interview, one common trait that is being observed by the board is your intellectual and moral integrity. Every answer to their question carries an hint about this.

Integrity is so crucial that your whole interview depends on it. If you are dishonest with the board, if they come to know it, take it for granted that you would be given 75 to 115 marks.

Most people try to fool the board with their hobbies. They start preparing for their hobbies only after the mains result is out. Their hobbies actually start then.

# Eight

Interest in current events has already been amply checked in the Mains. But in interview, there will be one or two questions about it to check your consistency and depth of interest. Never give up reading newspapers. As this exam is an year long process, you must read newspapers every day.

Some people who get ranks stop reading newspapers. That’s pity.

# Nine

Finally, in the end all that matters to the board is your personality and its suitability to the job.

Let them know that you are suitable. It should be done humbly but assertively, in a simple manner but confidently and honestly.

The whole interview depends on one factor – whether the board LIKES you or not. If it likes you, you will come out cheerfully.

You will know in first five minutes if your interview would go well or not.

Go there with a happy face and come back happily.

Don’t worry about marks. They take you nowhere.

After your interview, don’t give up reading newspapers. Keep your preparation alive. Let it go on. Even after you get a rank. Somewhere, sometimes it all helps.