ABC of Civil Services | Keep hobbies simple

The result of the civil service main examination came out recently and around 2,000 candidates will be facing the last hurdle shortly. As part of the initial proceedings before the beginning of personality test, candidates are requested to submit their biodata along with service and cadre preferences. Since nobody wants to give a wrong impression to the interview board, the columns related to one’s achievements and hobbies are filled with utmost care. Sometimes, this pressure to make a favourable impression can backfire because of certain common mistakes.

Don't bluff

Some people put a lot of things as their hobbies. This may range from reading to sports. The idea is to paint a picture of an all-rounder who has a variety of interest. The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has mentioned about “variety and depth of interests” as one of the criteria in their notification regarding interview. For a person who genuinely does a lot of things, this is fine. But for someone who wants to exaggerate, the problem starts during mock interviews.

Usually, during the mock interviews people ask detailed questions from the biodata and sometimes the candidate may not be able to answer all of them. Then the candidate will be advised to read and revise things related to their hobbies so that they are ready with perfect answers on the D-day. So, the candidate will be busy memorising the data. Many such candidates will find it difficult to answer practical questions related to hobbies as they are just mugging facts.

There are people who are too specific about their hobbies. They want to specify their level of interest and want to put “amateur singing” instead of singing. Some narrow down their interest as “listening to A R Rahman’s songs”. The idea in both the cases is to avoid unnecessary questions. But it may be considered by the board as an attempt of an anticipatory bail; the candidate in a way pleading not to ask anything beyond the narrow realm.

Take extra care

People sometimes put unnecessary words while describing their hobbies. I still remember someone who mentioned “cherishing Bharatanatyam” as a hobby. To a person who put “following wildlife” as his hobby, the interview board asked:” Whom do you follow; a bear or an elephant?” and everybody in the board roared with laughter. A person who wrote crooning instead of singing obviously was not aware about the subtle difference between the two.

The most dangerous thing is when someone invents a hobby just to catch the attention of the interview board. “Following the political development”, “Spending time with elderly” etc are some such things. This could be viewed as an attempt to divert the attention of the board to a particular area. Additionally, the very words may sound artificial and the board could suspect the candidate’s integrity. This could lead to serious trouble.

The whole problem starts when candidates do not understand that hobby is a leisure time activity one does in order to unwind and relax. So, it is not a vocation and one is not a professional. As it is an activity one does during spare time, one should keep things at that level and need not be an encyclopedia on it. Make sure that you keep doing your hobbies so that you will be able to answer the practical questions. Remember, there is ample difference between “listening to music” and “doing research on music”. If you do the former, keep listening and if at all you have the latter as a hobby, keep researching as a priority.

The UPSC can ask about books, movies or music to anyone even if you have not mentioned it as hobby. Almost everybody reads, listens to music and watch movies nowadays. So, anyone who puts these things as hobbies is expected to devote a little bit extra time to pursue them.

Certain seniors who run institutes even try to give a gender angle to the hobbies. I have heard of boys being ridiculed for putting cooking and girls being advised to put dancing. These gender stereotypes are very much against the basic principles of Indian administration. The term “Officer like behaviour” emphasised in the training academies is a very gender-neutral term. Terming cooking and dancing as a female domain does not gel with the tenets of a modern society. Projecting an ultra-masculine or feminine image can be severely counter-productive in a personality test for a general administrator.

To sum up, my advice is to keep it simple. Do not make a statement with hobbies. Enjoy doing them and you will make a favourable impression.

(The author is a former IPS officer and a trainer for civil service aspirants.)

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