ABC of Civil Services | Be a-jack-of-all-trades and master of some

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With more than two weeks to go for this year’s personality test for the civil service examination to get over, candidates are still attending mock interviews to fine-tune their presentation as well as knowledge. Last week, while interviewing the candidates, I realised the importance in the direction given by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) regarding the variety and depth of interest. Because during a conversation, this one trait can make a lot of difference. This could be the determining factor in getting a good mark in a personality test as opposed to an average mark.

Before I narrate the importance of this in detail, let us recall the directions of the UPSC once more. The commission states that “Candidates are expected to have taken an intelligent interest not only in their special subjects of academic study but also in the events which are happening around them both within and outside their own state or country as well as in modern currents of thought and in new discoveries which should rouse the curiosity of a well-educated youth.” So, the picture given is that of a well-informed person.

As civil service examination intends to find people suitable for general administration who will be posted in a variety of departments, someone who is updated with things happening around is a natural choice. One is expected to be a keen follower of political and administrative developments across the globe. This quality is important in general administration because one needs to pick up new information in every new assignment. Many a time, there will be problems to solve which require out-of-the-box thinking. Someone who just keeps to oneself and comfortable with only routine task cannot take such effective decisions.

Apart from this, one has to keep the eyes and ears open to work in a huge system like the Government of India. There could be a lot of people with vested interests who can create difficulties for an officer. So, it is important to keep an eye on the people around. On should not even ignore the casual gossips in the office which may be practically useful in some way.

Surprise element

Unlike the earlier stages of the examination, the personality test does not have a syllabus and it is an on the spot two-way communication. For the interview panel it is a routine exercise but it will be way too boring for them to repeat the same question to every candidate. So, the questions may include lighter ones related to some curious happenings in news etc. As the idea is to check general awareness and alertness, these kinds of questions are perfectly fine. But many candidates who are way too serious will find these questions irrelevant. They may even complain that the board has not asked them serious questions related to their background or current happenings. These are the people who are happy to have a syllabus and expected set of questions for everything. But civil service though with elements of routine, is about surprises too which one needs to handle.

A person who is curious will be able to converse about sports or movies as well as governance. I recently asked a candidate about TikTok app and he answered it quite comfortably. A young person who does not follow the technological development will not make a good impression in a personality test for future administrators. Another major advantage to have an active interest in things around is that one can always bring in interesting examples to make the conversation livelier. This will be helpful to project an image of a well-informed person.

So, while preparing for the personality test, do read upon everything happening in different fields so that one has a fair idea about things. Ideally, this habit of keeping track of things in general should be there since school days. Better late than never. Start from today, and not be too selective with your areas of preparation when you are about to go for a personality test which selects a general administrator. Be a-jack-of-all-trades and try to be master of some.

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

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