Cracking Civil Services (CSE) Interview – Part 1

I have appeared in three Civil Services Examination (CSE) interviews. Each interview has been a learning experience. My first interview was in CSE 2013 by Rajni Razdan Madam board. It was a disaster and I scored a poor 140. Next interview was by David Dewan Sir board in CSE 2014. My performance was average and I scored 160. Next I appeared for the interview in CSE 2015 in Arvind Saxena Sir board. Whatever mistakes I made in my previous interviews I tried to avoid that and implemented learnings to improve my score. CSE 2015 interview was dream interview. I was passionate, excited, confident and smiling all the time in the interview. I scored 190 in CSE 2015 interview. So I am sharing my insights for the interview which worked for me and will help all those who will appear for CSE interview.

Before The Interview

1. Filling DAF – Less is More

Detailed Application Form (DAF) is filled much before the actual interview. It is filled after the prelims result announcement. Therefore extra care should be taken while filling the DAF. Details put by you on DAF is useless if you cannot defend it. For example, some people would put everything in hobbies. Such as football, cricket, music, reading etc. If you can answer all the questions in interview emanating from these points then it’s all good. But you need to remember that you are giving more ammunition to board members to gun you down by writing more. Also, you have to prepare much more. Board members are not going to be impressed by what is written on the paper but whether you can answer their questions. If you think it will portray your multi-faceted personality then it’s a mistake. It doesn’t mean anything if you can not answer their questions. In my CSE 2013 DAF I had written that I had participated one time in Hindi drama in college which won 3rd prize in the IITK’s cultural festival. During interview preparation phase I searched everything about the Hindi drama. It’s evolution, history, famous personalities , famous Hindi plays, famous dramatics schools etc. In the interview the first question asked to me was “Tell me ten tragedies and comedies of Shakespeare.” I was not prepared for this. I froze and my confidence level tanked. It feels much worse when you know that you should have known this and now its too late. On the hindsight I see it as a mistake why I didn’t prepared english plays. And if I had prepared then Shakespeare plays would have been the first thing that I would have prepared. Probable reason for missing this most probably could be that this play was one off thing and probably not one of the prominent things which I wanted to project about myself.
So write in DAF which you can defend. Because if you make blunder in questions arisen from DAF it does two things. First, it affects your confidence level because you would have certainly prepared your DAF and you found yourself still unable to answer. Second, if the question was very basic, fundamental and you failed to answer then it raises question in the mind of interviewer whether you are genuine or not. It undermines your credibility.

2. Declutter and prioritize DAF

Every candidate would have some strong zones in his personality which he or she wants to project which sets you apart from others and want the interviewer to ask from that area so he or she is comfortable in answering and present his or her best self. For me it was weightlifting. I was captain of the institute weightlifting team and had won medals at district level. In my CSE 2013 interview not a single question was asked on this. In CSE 2014 one question was asked but I was not able to answer it satisfactorily. This time I made changes in my DAF to present in a way that catches the interviewer’s attention. I saw the results in CSE 2015. Questions were asked. Appreciated my physique and were happy that I pusued something unconventional. Below is a snapshot of CSE 2014 and CSE 2015 DAF. Observe the changes and uncluttered look.

2014 DAF
2014 DAF
2015 DAF
2015 DAF

3. How to prepare questions related to DAF

Previous two points are things which you do before the Mains exam. This would start after Mains exam. You will have 2-3 months for preparing for the interview. You should know everything written about yourself in DAF. Mistakes in answering questions asked from outside the DAF is pardonable but not from DAF. DAF is replica of your personality. Mistakes in DAF amounts to not knowing about yourself or worse faking it.
The best thing to do would be to identify keypoints in your DAF such as your name, school, home town, graduation subject, hobbies, job etc and on each key point try to generate 20 questions. By the time you reach 20th question maximum dimension would have been covered, If you are confident about your DAF it will boost your confidence for performing better.

4. When to Start preparing – Peak at the right time

Mains exam is over in December and interviews are held from April to June. It is very important to peak at the right time. Because if you start early you will be exhausted and lose enthusiasm by the time you will appear for interview. That’s what happened with me in CSE 2014. And if you start too late you will panic that’s what happened with me in CSE 2013. On the day of interview your preparation should be on the cusp of peak so that you make that extra effort to achieve your best on the D-Day. This is applicable everywhere. In December 2008, I went to IIT Madras for Inter IIT sports meet. I was participating in weightlifting event. A day before my event I went to gym to practice. Players from other IIT’s were also practicing there. To show off I started lifting more and more weight and reached my maximum that day and my coach also encouraged me to do the same. (In the hindsight he should have stopped me.) I lifted weight which I had never lifted before. So what happened next day. I could not lift the weight I had lifted just yesterday and lost Bronze medal by 1kg. So it’s very important to save your that little extra push for the D-Day and peak at the right time. Not before not after. So what is the right time to start preparation? This may vary person to person but 20-30 days before your interview is good time to go in intensive preparation mode. Anything more than that could exhaust you. Preparation period can be divided into two parts “Lazy period” and “Intensive period”. Lazy period is from Mains to 20-30 days before your scheduled interview. i.e. 3-4 months. This much time is enough to prepare background material for intensive preparation mode and work on your personality. In this time prepare every possible question related to your DAF. Write answers to those questions. Indulge in extra curricular activities. Enjoy life and be happy. Next, your intensive period of preparation would start 20-30 days before your interview date. In this period memorize best answers to DAF related questions which you have prepared. Give mock interviews in institutes, give mock interviews with friends and have discussions.

5. Mock Interviews

Mock interviews play very important role in gauging your performance. For candidates appearing for the first time in interview if they feel that 20-30 days time is too less time for mock interviews then one may give one mock interview early to just get the feel but schedule rest in the intensive period of interview preparation.
Next question is how many mock interviews are sufficient. In CSE 2013 I gave around 14 mock interviews. It had the effect of exhaustion and panic. Since it was my first interview I was already anxious and in mock interview I was asked a lot questions to which I didn’t knew the answers. I felt inadequate. Many of the questions asked to me were irrelevant to my personality. Probably those questions were asked because interviewer had knowledge in that area but it had detrimental effect on my confidence. So it’s very important to appear in good mock interviews. In CSE 2015 I gave 4 mock interviews only. Two at Vajiram and two at Samkalp. I skipped the Ravindran Sir session at Vajiram. In my previous interviews he had given me average reviews. This time I didn’t wanted to hear bad things just before my interview otherwise who knows it may become self-fulfilling prophecy.
It doesn’t matter how many mock interviews you give. What matters is how you felt. If you feel you don’t need to give any mock interviews so be it or after just one interview you feel that you got the hang of it so be it. In my various mock interviews I have realized that each mock interview is unique and is totally different from that years CSE interview. In mocks instead of focussing on what you said and not said focus on how you said it. Whether you were confident, loud, stressfree, fluent etc.

6. Discussions

Discussions are the best way to prepare for interview. You not only prepare your content but at the same time you come to know about other people ideas which you may too use. Friends around you who are also appearing for interview are good for discussions and mock interview. Advantage of giving mock interview with friends is that you are stress free and if you don’t know the answer to some question you can immediately check the right answer or both of you can come up with a better answer. While preparing for CSE 2015 interview I was having mock interview with one of my friend. He asked me to tell some weightlifters from India. I told him Sonia Chanu and K Ravi Kumar. Next question he asked me to tell the states from which they belong. While preparing my DAF I had prepared list of weightlifters but didn’t thought of checking to what states they belong. I checked that out later. And my CSE 2015 interview I asked to tell a weightlifter from Manipur. I immediately told Sonia Chanu from Manipur. Maybe if I had similar discussions during CSE 2013 I may not have fumbled on naming plays of Shakespeare.
Another thing which helped me alot was discussions with Sri Ram Sir of Sri Ram IAS coaching. He used to have discussions with group of aspirants appearing for interview in the evening in a park in New Rajinder Nagar. No charges. I used to go there and attend it. The discussions were very fruitful. Improved my quality of responses. And I have used ditto lines told by Sir in some of my responses in the interview. It would be good if you had discussions with some a person who has wide experience and can give broader perspective on various issues.

7. Talk, Talk, Talk

Your performance in interview will also depend on your oratorical skills. At this point three challenges are infront of the candidate. First, talking. Person who is preparing for CSE has most probably devoted his time in honing his writing skills and memorizing material for the exam. Additionally, if he/she is living in some PG in Rajinder Nagar, Karol Bagh etc. then he would be having very limited conversation with othes. I remember there would be days where I would not have talked to anybody or only one word replies e.g Yes, No, Haan bhaiya, wo dena etc.In interview you have to explain complex ideas in few simple words. So if you don’t come out of this silent mode you will have tough time. To be fluent without umms and ahhs in conversation it is necessary to talk as much as possible. If you are with somebody don’t be silent. Talk, talk and talk. You have accumulated enough knowledge and you have interesting things to tell the world. It doesn’t matter what are you talking. It could be CSE related or random stuff. Important thing is you are bringing your speaking skills back to normal which may have dulled during preparation phase.
Second, speaking in English (For those whose mother tongue is not English and have opted English as medium of interview). Aspirants whose mother tongue is not English would not be using English in there daily conversations would find fluency in English tricky. You may be good in conversational day to day English but I am talking of giving succinct CSE interview answer where conversational English may lead to superfluous answers. Best way to improve is to use English in your conversation regularly. Your CSE friends would understand why you have suddenly gone all English. Your conversation needs to be 100% in English. This way you can internalize English. You may be writing good English but if you are not speaking those words in your regular conversation then they are not coming out of your mouth in the interview room and then you would look for substitute words and the your answer will become superfluous. You may go in Hinglish or Regional language + English with non CSE related people in your life so it doesn’t become awkward.
Third challenge is to improving your spoken vocabulary. Problem is that the words which we write in CSE are not regularly used while speaking. It affects fluency when these words didn’t click on time. To overcome this trick is to read English newspaper aloud. Words like Democratic, secularism, integrated service delivery mechanisms etc. are not used in our daily usual conversations. By reading newspaper aloud you would be speaking these words even if you are not able to say them with other people. Gradually such words will become part of your spoken vocabulary and will improve quality of your answers.

8. Decide what you are going to leave

Preparing for CSE interview is tough. Because there is no end to what to prepare. It’s endless. So you have to decide what are you going to prepare and leave everything else. I focused on my DAF and some of the current issues which I thought were important. Once you have decided what are you going to prepare you need to forget everything else and need not worry. I was in a mode “Whatever I need to know I know. I am adequate.” And if there is a question of which I have no Idea then I am going to say “I don’t know”. “I don’t know” is also a perfect legitimate answer. You can’t be expected to know everything. You are not encyclopedia. Once you have the frame of mind that “You are adequate” it will boost your confidence. For CSE 2014 interview I started preparing early. First I completed what I thought was important. Then from that point I went to I need to know this, I need to know that. I felt how much I don’t know. What if they asked me that. How I am going to respond to that. With this frame of mind you would not be able to give your best. You have fear inside which will be observed by board members.

9. Be happy

Appearing for interview is a great opportunity. An opportunity available to only 2500-3000 candidates out of lakhs of candidates who appeared for the exam. This creates anxiousness and performance pressure in candidates. They want to give their best. After preparing for over a year you don’t want to mess up now. You will become extra serious and extra studious. This is exactly opposite of what interviewers are looking for. They are looking for a bureaucrat who is confident, jovial and humorous. Anxiousness and performance pressure would make you unhappy, sad and timid personality. So it is important to keep oneself happy. So watch a movie if you feel like it. You want to binge watch youtube videos then just do it. You want to travel. Do it. Bottomline is to keep oneself happy. No need to feel regret thinking why I am watching a movie, playing etc. instead of preparing for interview. All of your preparation would go down the drain if you are not happy as you would not be able to achieve your full potential. I was equally prepared for CSE 2014 and CSE 2014 interview contentwise. In CSE 2014 interview I scored 160 and in CSE 2015 interview I scored 190. Only diffrence was the mindset. I was more relaxed, less anxious and happy in 2015.

10. Surround yourself with positive people

Surround yourself with people who make you happy. It may be your friends, parents, boyfriend or girlfriend whoever fulfills the purpose. Try to have some people who are outside your CSE circle. Who are not constantly asking about prepration. People with whom you can have normal conversation. It’s a good time to increase your friend circle and include some exciting passionate people in your life. Few days before my interview for a brief period of time I came in contact of a girl whose passion, exhuburence, point of view towards life was amazing. Interacting with her immediately put me in good mood. Bottom line is to surround yourself with people who make you happy. If you are happy in outside world then you would be happy in the interview room. If you are anxious, not confident outside then you would be the same person inside the interview room.

11. Exercise

I used to daily go for gym during CSE 2015. I could see remarkable change in my mood compared to before when I used not to go gym. Doing exercise releases endorphines which releases stress and keeps you happy. You are motivated. Do whatever works for you. Gym, running, cycling, yoga etc. Anything but do something physical. It changes the way you look towards things and the way you feel. Also, its very important for the people who has BMI over 30. You would not be allocated service if your BMI is above 30 as you will be termed temporarily unfit. You will be allocated service only when your BMI is less than 30. It’s true. It has happened with me. I qualified CSE 2014 but was not allocated service because my BMI was 34. Once I bought it down to less then 30 after losing 17 Kgs I was allocated IPoS in April 2016. Your lazy period of prepration is perfect time to work on your body if your BMI is above 30. Even if this is not the case exercise is a good stress buster.

Click for Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

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