Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Civil Services Interview

Date: 17th April, 2014
Session: Afternoon
Time: 2:35 PM – 2:55 PM
Duration: 20 minutes
Chairman of the Interview Board: Vice Admiral D.K.Dewan

I am ushered into the interview room, so I don’t have to knock. I excuse myself inside and when I am near the chair, the Chairman asks me to sit down. I was conscious about looking each member in the eye, wishing them “Good Afternoon” and sat comfortably, keeping my arms on the arm-rest of the chair and interlocking my fingers of both my hands in front of me, visible to the board.
·         Chairman
1.       What is your name, roll number?
Sir – **********

2.       So what are you doing/where do you work now?
Sir, I am working in a company called ******* based out of Chennai.

3.       What does your company do?
Sir we deal in data analytics. We look at customer data and advise the company on how to improve their earnings/profits, after analysing the data.

4.       What is your responsibility in your company?
Sir, I am a Senior Analyst in the company. I have a semi-technical, semi-managerial role. On the managerial front, I mentor 2 entry-level analysts and help them do their daily tasks. On the technical front, I look at the sales data of companies and give them recommendations about how to improve their business.

5.       Ok, what is the meaning of “Avadi”? (From the profile since I had interned at DRDO in Avadi, Chennai. The Chairman pronounced the word as “Avaadi” and was corrected by the Tamilian-looking board member who, I think, told him that this was the name of the place, but the Chairman ignored it)
Sir, I interned in DRDO at Avadi, which is the name of the place. I am not aware of the meaning.

6.       You have a Post-Graduate degree in Computer Science and have travelled all over the world, why do you want to join the Civil Services?
Sir, can I answer this from the perspective of foreign services, since IFS is my first option?
Chairman (and 1-2 other board members too, if I am not wrong): Yes yes, please do.
Me: Sir, ever since I landed in the US, I felt like I was a representative of India. I felt a sense of pride and carried myself off as a representative of India. While doing my Master’s, I got the opportunity to interact with students from different countries & cultures and I really enjoyed these interactions. When in the US, I started following international affairs more closely. I believe these are some of the essential qualities of a diplomat. Moreover, I started following the development happening in India and wanted to be part of it. This is why I want to join the Services.

Follow Up Question 1: So is it because of the development in America that you want to join the Services in India?
Yes sir. The US was quite developed when I went there and India had just started on its growth story. I thought there was great potential for it to grow and hence, I myself wanted to be part of the India Development Story.

Follow Up Question 2: You can contribute to the “India Development Story” even by being a Software Engineer, why do you want to become a Civil Servant for that?
Yes sir, I agree that I can contribute to the India Growth Story even being a Software Engineer, however, the contribution I will be able to make to India’s growth will be much more immense if I am a civil servant.

7.       How many countries does India have diplomatic missions in?
Sir, if I am not wrong, we have missions in about 180 countries.
Chairman, in a surprised tone: Are you sure? Do you know how many countries are there?
Sir, I am sorry, I was mistaken. We have about 180 overseas missions overall, not in all the countries.

Follow up Question 2: What do you think are the functions of a diplomatic mission abroad?
Sir, our diplomatic mission in any country is our government’s official representative in that country. Any dealings between the 2 countries are handled through the missions. It is also the duty of our diplomats posted in these countries to closely analyze developments happening in the host country and report back to our government on a regular basis. Our diplomatic offices also play a part in trade relations between the 2 countries.

Follow up Question 3: In this age of Internet & Google, we can have information about events happening in one place anywhere else in the world. Still, why do we need to have diplomatic missions abroad?
Sir, I agree that the internet has made it possible to access information anywhere; however, ground reality is often different. And our diplomatic offices keep an ear on the ground to report the actual ground scenario in the host countries.

·         Board Member 1 (Sardarji)
1.       You were born in Vizag. Can you tell me about the causes for the creation of Telengana?
Sir, Telengana was initially never a part of what is now Andhra Pradesh. It became a part only around 1960. The people of Telengana have highly regionalistic feelings about Telengana and identity themselves more with T than Andhra. Besides, apart from Hyderabad, there has not been much development in the Telengana region. Owing to all this, Telengana was created.
Follow up Question 1: What is your opinion about this?
Me: Sir, would you like to know about my opinion on the Telengana split or state splits in general?
Member 1: Please answer about smaller states in general.
Me: Ok sir. In general, there is a perception that smaller states are better administered . . .
Member 1 interrupts: No no, tell me *your* opinion.
Me: Ok sir. It is easier to administer smaller states in general. However, this cannot be the only rationale to go about splitting bigger states. We need to consider other factors like development level of the state, sentiments of the local people, demands, etc. before we decide to split states. Hence, we need to deal with the issue of smaller states on a case-by-case basis.

2.       What is the reason of the dispute between North Korea and South Korea?
[Momentarily flustered since this wasn’t something I knew much about nor
Sir, North & South Korea have been historically antagonistic towards each other. North Korea has an autocratic government that has been led for many years by a single family. Sorry, I’m not able to recall the name of the current ruler. South Korea, on the other hand, is a democracy.
Board Member: That is fine, but what is the root cause of their problem?
Me: [I kind of repeat the above answer, but cannot proceed further. Realize this and
tell him that I am not sure of the actual historical reason for this

·         Board Member 2 (possibly Tamilian)
1.       What is the Sahara scam all about? What is the issue with the SC?
Sir, the issue with Sahara is that they have so far not refunded about Rs.24,000 crores of money to the investors, as per SC directives. The case itself is that the supposed investors are fictitious and don’t exist at all. However, till date, Sahara has not refunded the money.
Follow up Question 1: Can you explain SEBI’s role in the scam?
Sir, the SEBI is involved because of OFCD’s – Optionally Fully Convertible Debentures. I am not sure beyond this sir.

2.       What was the recent controversy about the Lok Pal appointment?
Sir, I faintly remember a retired Justice was part of this controversy.
Member: Yes yes you are right. It is Justice K.T.Thomas.
Me: Sir, Justice K.T.Thomas was offered the post of Lok Pal but refused.
Member: Is it? Are you sure? I thought it had to do with the selection committee.
Me: I am sorry sir, I am not sure of this.

3.       Can you explain about the Green Tribunal?
Sir, the Green Tribunal is a Govt-organization, sorry Govt-body . . .
Member: Are you sure?
Me: Yes sir, the Green Tribunal is a govt-organization that looks into projects and their environmental compliance. It checks to see what kind of impact projects have on the environment.
Member: But the name “tribunal” suggests that it has some judicial functions to do as well, right? Like adjudicating on issues between 2 parties?
Me (smiling): Sir, yes sir. I think that is also one of their responsibilities.
Member: So what else do they do?
Me: Sir, I’m not aware beyond this.

·         Chairman
1.       Recently, there is a high-profile court case going on in South Africa about an athlete. What is it about?
Sir, the name of the athlete is Oscar Pistorius and he is a double-amputee. He is an athletics champion and runs on prosthetic legs. The case relates to the murder of his girlfriend, Reena (I don’t know the last name sir) whom he shot in the bathroom. His contention is that he shot her mistaking her for an intruder, but the case that has been made out is that he shot her after an argument between them.
Follow up Question 1: So is the case over?
Sir, no sir, it is still going on.

·         Board Member 3
1.       You have mentioned about “Empowerment” in your profile. What is the difference between Emancipation and Empowerment?
Sir, “Emancipation” refers to us improving the lives of a set of people and uplifting their condition. “Empowerment” refers to helping people help themselves and taking care of their own lives.
Follow Up Question 1: Which is better?
Sir, in my opinion, Empowerment is better since it makes them independent and self-reliant.
Follow Up Question 2: Isn’t emancipation a part of empowerment?
Yes sir, emancipation is part of empowerment. However, viewing the 2 separately, I would say empowerment is better because it makes people independent.

2.       In the past 6 years, you have been working in so many jobs and have not been in one job for more than 1 year. What is the reason for this?
Sir, ever since my return to India, I have been seriously preparing for the Civil services. My first job since I came to India – I had to satisfy my parents’ concerns for my future and so wanted to establish a credible backup. So I joined a start-up. I started as a Software Engineer and became a Project Lead in 2 years. Then I wanted to prepare full-time for the Services and so joined a public-sector bank as a Probationary Officer.
Member: Yes yes, I can see you worked in ***** Bank . . .
Me: Yes sir, I joined ****** Bank as a PO so I could prepare better for the services and also wanted good rural exposure. I stayed here for about 10 months after which I thought I had prepared enough and then joined my current company which will be my backup in case civil services don’t work out. I did not quit any company out of boredom or lack of interest sir, and all my changes were to enable me to prepare for the services only.

Follow Up Question 1: So you have used these companies as a springboard. If you get selected into the services tomorrow, will you use it as a springboard to achieve something else?
Me (smiling): Sir, Civil Services is my lifetime ambition and I will not leave this if I get into it.

·         Board Member 4 (Lady)
1.       With regard to Indo-Pak relations, do you think diplomats have failed? Why has diplomacy not been able to take the relationship forward?
Mam, diplomacy can play a part only up to a certain point. Beyond this, it is up to the concerned governments to take it forward. In the case of Indo-Pak relations, I would say it is the Pakistan government which is to be blamed for not cooperating with us and helping take forward the relationship.

Follow up Question 1: What do you think is the ideal way to deal with Pakistan?
(Momentarily flustered since this was a very broad-based question)
Mam, I think we need to deal with Pakistan using a carrot-and-stick strategy. On the one hand, we need to increase our engagements with them. But on the other, in case any adverse events like November 26 happen again, we need to deal with them with an iron hand, strictly.

Follow Up Question 2: What about Kashmir is that an issue?
Yes mam, Kashmir is a core issue.

Follow up Question 3: Do you think Kashmir should be given away? Should the plebiscite be held?
No mam, Kashmir should not be given away at all. The Kashmiri people, in spite of any grievances they may have against India, have enjoyed democratic privileges all this while. Tomorrow, if Kashmir goes to Pakistan or becomes independent, we can never be sure that they will continue to enjoy their democratic rights and privileges. Moreover, from a security-perspective, we will be in more danger if Kashmir is given away than what is there now. Hence, I don’t think Kashmir should be given away.

2.       You have written in your profile that you advise students wishing to pursue higher studies in the US. Why is that so? Do you want to encourage students to leave India and go to US?
Mam, I advise students who have already decided that they want to go to the US to pursue their higher education. I don’t advise students to go to the US. My advice to the students is purely because I have been there and my knowledge about life there, so I just want to make their journey to the US easier. I do not particularly encourage them to go to the US.

3.       What is Silicon Valley?
Silicon Valley is a region in California which is considered to be the global home of the Information Technology industry worldwide.
(I thought of explaining further, but stop short, thinking it would be best to answer only if she asked further)

Lady Member to Chairman: I am done.

Chairman looks up at me as if to ask me a question, then says “Thank you”. I am unsure for a moment, but the Chairman I think said “your interview is over”. I thank all of them and leave.

My take on the Interview

I think I handled the first few questions fairly okay – about my company, what I do, etc. Maybe a little bit more finesse and practice would’ve helped in the answers, but reasonably okay.
  • Avadi – after my friend told me, I realized I’d read somewhere that it is actually an acronym for “Armoured Vehicles & Ammunition Depot of India”, but Wiki says the name precedes the acronym. Anyhow, this was okay I guess. 
  • Despite the missions-in-180-countries error, I think I handled the rest of the Chairman’s questions well, particularly the “Why Civil services” question. 
  • Oh and lest I forget - totally missed one of the most important functions of our missions abroad - handling Indian expats in that country. Not sure how big a blunder, but a major miss nevertheless. 
  • Telengana – reasonably done. 
  • North Vs South Korea – 1st major hiccup. As an IFS-aspirant, should’ve known this. I think he was expecting “Capitalism Vs Communism” in the answer – a simple point I missed out. 
  • Sahara scam – Started well, but lost out at SEBI. I knew where SEBI came in and what OFCD’s are about, but I guess I panicked there. Didn’t want to be seen beating around the bush so thought better off to stop with whatever I’d said. 
  • Lok Pal appointment – Controversy was that K.T.Thomas rejected the post of Lok Pal Appointment Committee member because he thought their decisions were not binding. One more hiccup. 
  • Green Tribunal – Biggest hiccup so far. I described a quasi-judicial body as a government organization. Again came across as unsure. 
  • Oscar Pistorius – Full-toss dispatched for six IMO. Only issue might be the possibility that I over-answered, i.e. spoken more than was expected but given the Chair followed up with a question on this, guess I did well. 
  • Empowerment Vs Emancipation – Should’ve included “sustainable” as one of the reasons for empowerment. Maybe greater clarity in saying emancipation part of empowerment, but again, overall okay I guess. 
  • Job-switching – well-handled IMO. Basically it was the plain truth. Hopefully, honesty works. 
  • Indo-Pak Diplomacy – Can’t think of how I could’ve answered something better for an interview. 
  • Kashmir – I particularly thought the “democracy” bit was a great point. Hopefully the board will concur. 
  • Higher Studies/Silicon Valley – reasonably okay.
But for the 3-4 factual questions about Lok Pal, Green Tribunal, etc. I think the rest of the interview was quite smooth. There wasn’t a single question to which I had *no* idea about. On the other hand, the board could think I had superficial knowledge – considering I couldn’t go deep on those 4 questions.
Over and above, I was brutally honest all through the interview. I spoke with conviction and (I’d like to think) calmness. I sincerely hope my conviction and honesty gets me across the board.

About the Board: The board was cordial – neither friendly nor rude. Except the Chairman, nobody smiled. Even the Chairman’s smile – I am not sure if it was this warmth-giving smile or one of those condescending smiles, specifically because I think he smiled when asking me about my post-graduate degree and joining the services. The lady member could very well be a psychologist, given she kept looking away when I was answering her. I smiled from time to time during the interview, and halfway through the interview, I realized I was using my hands. Tried reigning them in.

Prediction: Assuming I never miscommunicated any arrogance or over-confidence during the interview (I can never be sure of this), I don’t think I’ll go below 160. My sir and some of my friends have said 190-200 and I’d be thrilled at anything in the region of 200, but will just close my eyes and pray for it to happen.


As it turns out, my interview was a washout going by the marks. I got 151/275 in the Interview which effectively killed my hopes of a sub-150 rank. A lot of people I know have got in the region of 170-200. Had I got even 40 more in the interview, I would've most likely ended up in the top 100/top 150. Anyway, no regrets. Let's see what the future holds. :-)
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