“What will be your priorities as a District Collector of Central Delhi ?” I asked
“Sir, as District Collector, my priorities will be to focus on skill development, women empowerment, and bringing in transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government. I will also ensure that law and order is maintained to inspire confidence of women in the system” She said.
“Perfect”, I said. Educated, corporate bred, and fluent English.
She was preparing for her second Interview , after clearing Mains 2017. The kind of daughter that would make parents proud, and colleagues jealous. Dressed in an immaculate and impeccable Kameez Salwar.
She was ME when I was younger.
Except that I wore pants.
Let me turn the tables, I said. Let us call some people who actually live here. So I called in three candidates, ( who will be writing their Prelims in 2018). I asked them,” What are the top three problems you face ?”
Sir, the congestion is very high, with no parking, there is filth on the roads, and walking pavements have been encroached by shopkeepers, forcing us to walk on the road. They said in unison.
They were young, unadulterated and did not have any bias as to why I was asking them this question in the first place.
“Would you be happy if I offered you women empowerment, skill development, transparency instead?”
They looked shocked.
“Shalini, I said – You are the 200 th candidate who has told me women-empowerment-health-education-skill-develoment as priorities as a DC.” In the past 3 years when I have been taking a few mocks.”
Public administration/GS 2 answers may not be the best answer. Other candidate are much better prepared.
The one thing , I learned as a development practitioner / semi -bureaucrat in my last government “job” was to unlearn a lot of things I had learned in my last private job – which paid me a six figure salary and 10,000 American Dollars in shares , at the age of 22.
And that was – being practical, precise, and meaningful in what you say. Do not say things that add no value to the conversation.
Least of all, in front of senior bureaucrat.
It wasn’t easy. I once spoke out of turn in front of a Principle Secy and multiple times before a District Collector.
When my district collector asked me to monitor 3 blocks and call meetings of three BDOs, he asked me – So Neyawn ( okay, he called me by my real name ), what will be your priorities overseeing the three blocks?
Having just appeared for the UPSC interview, I sang like a bird – Sir, Skill Development, Poverty Alleviation and some-random-stuff.
“Don’t be an idiot from Delhi, who only speaks English”, the Collector rued. You will do three things
First, make sure that all government schemes are properly being implemented, specially Mukhyamantri Kanya Vivah Yojana – just take a look at the file, you will know all the issues.
Second, see that if any Dalit Tolas are still without pucca house. If any, get a list made and get them expedited and ensure that we don’t have mud houses in the three blocks allocated to you.
Third, account opening is mandatory for receiving MNREGS and IAY from this fiscal as central government has sent circular that wages and funds will be given directly to beneficiary and not to Panchayat.
“Sir!” I said. And walked out.
I became what I am when I served as a Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow almost half a decade ago, in a Naxalite infested area.
( A few years later, a young woman would meet me in New Delhi, for the ForumIAS Community Meet, who would tell me – Sir, I am from the same place you worked as PMRDF. I am the first women candidate to qualify for IPS from that district. And I would said ,Wow, thats nice! )
The work was both awesome and challenging.
This is how my early meetings with Self Help Groups were
But the point of this story is to tell you a few things – especially those of you appearing for your Interview – is to be simple, realistic and not shallow in your answers. This is what I learned in my job. And experience.
And I passed this on to at least a hundred people I interviewed last year
And here it is.
#1 What will be your priorities as a District Collector?
A fairly common question.
Please do not stereotype your answer with what you think is the problem of the District.
A fairly common answer is
= random* ( skill development, women empowerment, transparency and accountability, poverty alleviation, citizen charter, law and order, women empowerment, employment generation, citizen charter, women safety,2-3)
Be realistic in your answer.
And if you do not know, ask your parents who are at home, and ask them what is the problem of your district – and trust me – you will be surprised by the wisdom of your parents.
Simplicity is the key. Always.
# Case Studies show who you are and where you come from
“A girl child has been assaulted and killed by some elements. The family of the child along with other villagers has blocked the National Highway leading to traffic jams. Ambulances are stuck. They are not willing to listen to anyone and have created a ruckus. There are chances of violence. What will you course of action?”
“Sir, I will make sure that first the road jam is cleared and people are not inconvenienced. Secondly I will make sure that ambulance , if any, is not stuck in the traffick as any innocent lives should not be……….”
Except that there could be some elements of cultural bias in it.
I thought they were perfect answers, until I asked this to Sudha Kar, what will be your course of action?
He said “Sir, first I will request the Police to register a proper case against the offenders and promise proper investigation and time bound arrest of criminals…..”
You may not realize it yet, but there is a sea of difference between the two answers.
Sudha Kar is the son of a farmer. When answering such a question, he immediately associated himself with the victim. And if you, Sir, own a car or ever travel by a car, – a majority of you will see that traffic jam is the primary problem in this case.
In reality, it is merely the symptom of the problem.
And the primary problem is – victims such as in the case above – have a nightmare getting a proper FIR registered even in heinous cases like these!
So when you answer questions, analyze well. Don;t show your English education- 3-years-TCS/corporate -work-exp-and-middle -class-urban-Indian upbringing-in-it.
Also, the country is lucky to have Sudhar Kar selected in the IAS.
#3 Communication Skills are NOT the key.
I have invariably seen people with good,call center smart English not getting usually good marks in the Interview. And people – often – with poor English and low confidence – getting better marks.
You can bank on my observation. I would know at least least a few hundred people in the academy over the past few years. In fact, I have interviewed a few hundred people by now.
The truth is – what you say and how you say is the key.
Smart and fluent English does not get you anything. Being simple, straightforward and honest does. Both in UPSC. And the Government of India.
#4 Why IAS?
I am not going to answer this question here but let me tell you a secret.
In the past few years , over the few hundred people I have met, I am yet to meet someone – who got selected for what he said when he was asked – Why IAS?
On the contrary, I have met a few hundred people who have solely been rejected for what they said in the Why IAS question.
“Why IAS?” is not your Oscar speech. It is not and should not even be the magnum opus of your life! It is neither an emotional outburst to express the millions of dreams who have had for this job.
It cannot be a secret answer which you hide from everyone, even the mock interviews, and keep it only for the board.
I am not going to pass judgments on it, but here is the golden rule.
If it is too embarrassing to answer “Why IAS” before a bunch of people, it is also too embarrassing to say it before a few old men either.
Your answer cannot be based on lack of job satisfaction in your current profile or something like that.
Trust me, the simpler the answer the better it is.
#5 People Improve.
If you have appeared for Interview before and if you have scored low marks in the Interview, you are invariably likely to continue to score low marks ( marginal/delta increments wont get you anywhere ).
Unless you decide to make radical changes.
I am going to share a video with you which I did last winter for Interview Appearing candidates. Back then, I had a bunch of friends for whom I did it – one of them being Priyank, who was probably appearing for his fourth or fifth interview – and had had a streak of bad luck all throughout. ( I have called out his name in the video )
We worked on it, and he did secure around 205 in the Interview last year . And made it to the final list. So if you have scored high marks before, I want you to know that you can improve. If you decide to be a little open minded and if you are willing to listen. This is not easy, as with increasing attempts, you are less likely to be mold-able, and more likely to be rigid.
#6 If this is your first Interview, this is your best chance.
Take this as an emotional plea, but if you are at all casual about Interview, you may be in for serious disappointment. We all have friends who have done exceptionally well, without visibly working for it. But thats not how you plan life.
( The guy/officer who designed the ForumIAS Logo also got 207 and 219 in the Interview. When asked what will be his course of action in case of a stampede in a temple, he said – Sir, If I may ask – Who am “I” in this scenario? The board smiled and replied – you are a devotee )
If you still think its a personality test that requires no preparation, watch the video at the end of this blog post.
( Do not hesitate to seek help from anyone, and trust me , the best people to help you are first, your parents, senior or even mid-senior officers, preferably IAS, and your mentors in your journey. )
And to practice, nothing beats a good peer group.
Click here to watch now ( LIMITED PERIOD)
Until Next time,
* The function random chooses x values from the subset, depending on the value of x, just before the bracket closes. In this case the value is 2