The stress interview for the Civil Services aims to test the candidates in tough, crisis situations. The first in a series on preparing for the UPSC exams.

The candidates of the civil services exam consider the stress interview as the most dreaded part and pray earnestly not to become a victim of this nightmare. It seeks to subject them to continuous dismay and distress to find out how they think, react and behave when faced with unusual, tense situations. The panel fires a fusillade of questions to evaluate their personality traits. A career in the civil services is not a bed of roses but is more akin to a crown of thorns. Stress is a ubiquitous and overpowering companion in the life of civil servants. It emanates from a multitude of sources like the democratic political system, administrative system, disaster management system, time management imperatives. The stress interview tests the inner physical, intellectual and psychological wherewithal of candidates for a career of perennial stress.

Testing tactics

There is a method in this madness of stress interview. The interview panel packs the interview with the numerous disconcerting strategies that include caustic remarks, conspicuous demonstration of indifference, decidedly conformational outlook, lackadaisical approach, lukewarm engagement, condescending outlook, meddlesome behaviour, annoying sarcasm, demoralising gestures. The board employs these tactics to eliminate candidates with feeble, combustible and quick-silver temperaments.

The panel may launch a blitzkrieg of cumbersome questions to unnerve the candidates. It may consist of an unremitting cascade of questions on a single source or a random assortment of issues. For example, last year the panel asked a candidate numerous questions on a bewildering variety of areas like what is the blue baby syndrome. What is launch vehicle technology? What is call in attention motion? What is cloud computing? What is the God particle? What is Human Development Index and where does India stand in the rankings? What are mango showers?

Another important tactic of the panel lies in the strategy of consistent interruptions after a question so that the flow of thoughts is derailed leading to the slipping away of concentration and seeping in of consternation. These interruptions are deliberately rude, negative, intimidating.

In one case, the board after finding out that the candidate has cricket as his hobby dropped a bombshell by recalling the famous quote of Bernard Shaw that it is a game in which eleven fools are playing and eleven thousand fools are watching and asked him why he wastes his precious time in playing and watching cricket. It further added that cricket causes a colossal waste of national resources and impedes national development as millions of people watch it. The candidate kept his composure and replied that the emergence of Twenty Twenty cricket has shortened the duration of cricket matches and cricket has contributed marvellously to nation building in independent India as the entire country irrespective of caste, creed, language, religion and race becomes united.

Interview strategies

Whenever a candidate is subjected to pressure situations, he should be happy as it indicates that the panel is judging him for a score of around 200 marks. So the candidates need to keep the following points in mind for the interview.

1. Don’t show any signs of bewilderment. Maintain professional demeanour throughout.

2. Don’t take umbrage at the words, actions and attitude of the board. They always ask questions that are probing in nature and provocative in tone and tenor.

3. Presence of mind is indispensable in the course of stress interview. It basically refers to the ability to remain calm and act calmly, constructively during times of crisis. The difficulties can be converted into opportunities if candidates demonstrate presence of mind.

4. Be steadfast in your convictions, arguments and answers. Don’t allow either fluctuations or vacillations in your stands as you are subjected to intense stress.

5. Create impressions in the minds of panellists that you cherish challenges and thrive in crisis situations. Convince them that you don’t lose focus when stressed.

6. Present your special calibre in the domains of multi-tasking, prioritisation of work, planning and execution of work as they empower you to handle stress and unusual circumstances.

7. Be clear and direct in your answers. Never present convoluted answers, obfuscation of statistics and equivocal answers.

8. Be spontaneous and innovative when faced with unusual questions.

A simple and straightforward solution to stress interview is not to succumb and get stressed. Prepare for the best. Be prepared for the worst too.

The writer is a free IAS Exam Coach and Associate Professor of political science, Government Arts College, Coimbatore. Email: