Cracking IPS: The PI edge

Mock interview  

The Union Public Service Commission will soon conduct the personal interview for one of the most prestigious and competitive examinations in the country — the civil services exam. Approximately 2,000 candidates will attend the personality test, competing for around 1,000 vacancies in the services included in the civil services category. Though the personal interview carries only 275 marks out of the total 2025, the stakes are very high here as the students can gain decisive edge over others in a relatively short span of twenty to twenty-five minutes. Ideally, the candidates should aim for a score of around 60 to 65 per cent to come out in flying colours in the exam.

The entire civil services exam’s personal interview can be summarised in one question of the board to the candidate — to explain who he is. The panel conducts the interview to identify the intellectual and attitudinal attributes of the candidates, such as grasp of narratives and arguments, reasoning ability, appreciation of different perspectives, range and depth of interests and personal attributes that are relevant for interaction with people.

The interviewees ought to prepare exhaustively about their name, educational subjects and institutions, native district, town and State along with national and international issues. Each word they fill in the data sheet, along with main application form, is a micro reservoir of potential questions that may be asked in the actual interview. Therefore, the candidates should pay meticulous attention to all of them.


The panel asks lots of questions on the hobbies and extracurricular activities of the candidates as mentioned by them in the data summary sheet. When candidates prepare for the civil services exam they have to undergo a rigorous work schedule often for months leading to the main examination.

In this gruelling phase, they need appropriate rest. Hobbies become important here as they provide for the rejuvenation of mind, soul and body. Moreover, the candidates, through productive and profound hobbies, can manoeuvre the course of the interview into their own areas of strength by discussing their hobbies and interests. The students in the past have chosen many hobbies ranging from the mundane ones to extraordinary ones. For example, reading about aliens, interests in wildlife and yoga and meditation were some of the hobbies cited by candidates in the past.

In one instance, a candidate attended the personality interview with an interest in alien life as hobby and the interview panel posed him a cascade of questions that included – Who are aliens? What is the SETI project? What are UFOs and flying saucers? What is the necessity of missions like the Mars Orbiter Mission of ISRO and Curiosity mission of NASA? How would life have evolved on this planet? As he had anticipated these questions, he was thoroughly prepared and therefore answered them impressively.

Educational institutions

The personal interview panel also focuses on the almamater of the candidates. If the candidates have completed their studies in prestigious institutions, the panel invariably questions them comprehensively about the motto, vision, origin, emblem, alumni, distinguished faculty, academic rigour, intra-campus politics and democracy, cultural activities, research contributions, sources and nature of funding, major problems and lacunae etc.


As the civil services personal interview panel adopts a holistic perspective towards judging the personality of the candidates, it consciously poses questions on sports and games, especially if the candidates have pursued some game or sport in their schools and colleges. Once, a candidate attended the civil services personality test stating that hockey was his hobby and panel spent a considerable portion of the personal interview asking him questions on hockey. He was asked to explain the causes and factors that precipitated the stultification and marginalisation of Indian hockey. As a past player of the game, he explained the multiple factors such as the vertical split in the hockey powerhouse of Punjab due to partition in 1947, emergence of a new breed of hockey called continental hockey or total hockey where stamina and speed are more important than skills and magic of oriental tradition, introduction of artificial and synthetic turf, major alterations in the rules and regulations and architecture of the game that inevitably favoured the western style of hockey. As it was a thoroughgoing analysis of the numerous forces and factors, the board was greatly impressed and the candidate cornered a lion’s share of the interview marks, which enabled him to enter the coveted Indian Administrative Service.


The interview panel is likely to ask a plethora of questions on the native town, city and district of the individual candidates. A thorough understanding of politics, economy, society, culture, art and architecture of the domicile of the candidates constitutes a fulcrum of any successful strategy. For example, when a candidate hailing from Bengaluru attended the personal interview a few years back, the panel posed umpteen questions on the contemporary and historical events of the city.

An ideal preparation should cover in a comprehensive manner the multifarious aspects such as salubrious climate, status as IT hub of India, performance of major information technology companies, place of Bengaluru in the cricket landscape of India, various educational institutions of national repute like IISc and IIM, national industrial giants like BEL, scientific institutions like ISRO and problems and challenges in urban governance and Deccan plateau. Similarly, the students hailing from Karnataka in general and Mysuru in particular should prepare on the nomenclature, Mysuru as cultural capital of Karnataka, Cauvery river water dispute, Chamundeswari Temple, Woodaiyar Dynasty, Hyder Ali, Tippu Sultan etc.

General suggestions

Candidates should study objectively their strengths and weakness so that necessary measures for progress can be designed and implemented. They should apply SWOC analysis to test their personality and to identify their strength, weakness, opportunities and challenges and formulate remedial measures in consultation with experts so that the ultimate hurdle of personal interview in the civil services exam can be conquered.


The interview panel believes that honesty is an intrinsic and indispensable ingredient for a career in civil services, and, therefore, it looks for a morally clean personality. Students should not indulge in dodging, pretending or vacillating tactics in the personal interview of the civil services exam. Dissembling personalities are just not desirable for a career in civil services. The panel always believes in the maxim that trustworthy personalities will become praiseworthy bureaucrats in the future.

Stress management

During the course of the personality test, the interview panel may begin to fire cumbersome questions and put the candidates under enormous unremitting pressure to see how they handle unfamiliar, embarrassing and psychologically disruptive circumstances. On such occasions, the aspirants should maintain their composure and not succumb to pressure. The interviewee must remember that adversity holds many opportunities and that achievers in all walks of life reached their glorious destinations only in spite of pain and not because of its absence. They need to cultivate a positive outlook and progressive mindset and their strategy should be to hope for the best and be prepared to face the worst.


There are certain fortuitous circumstances that influence the course and final outcome of the personality test, and any amount of scientific planning and systematic preparation may come to nought if fortune decides to desert us. We have not developed a technology or a philosophy or a methodology that will enable us to achieve mastery over the luck factor, and, therefore, the candidates should be positive and focused without worrying about unforeseen circumstances. Remember that luck is nothing but a fortuitous rendezvous between thorough preparation and tantalising opportunity. Be yourself and be the best of your self.

Dr.P.Kanagaraj is associate professor of Political Science in Government Arts College, Coimbatore. He provides free coaching for civil services exam and conducts mock interviews. Email:

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 12:12:09 AM |

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