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Interview Preparation : Preparing for UPSC Civil Services Personality Test


ias upsc interview tips


Civil Service Personality Test (or Interview) is the final effort a candidate makes in order to convert himself / herself from a civil service aspirant to a civil servant. After qualifying the preliminary and main examination, the dream of becoming an officer is right there in front of the eyes of the aspirant.


However, he/she has to contain his nerves and be fully prepared for the interview. It is his/ her final test before a complete change in his/ her life style can take place. A candidate needs to maintain his calm and composure and be extra alert to the things around.

As stated by UPSC, the purpose of the interview is to “assess the personal suitability of the candidate for a career in public service.” It follows from this that the interview process is geared towards judging the personal suitability of the candidate for civil services. The process judges the candidate on qualities like his/ her bent of mind, ability to analyze a situation from all angles, awareness of current issues, ethical values, coherence in views, mental alertness, balance of judgment, integrity, objectivity and concern for the weaker sections of the society.

The Civil Service Personality Test is an unstructured discussion in which the interviewers allow a natural course to be followed. They provide an environment in which the candidate can give his/ her views in a calm manner. They do not allow the session to become a mere question-answer session, but they try to bring out a session where a high level of intellectual discussion takes place. For this to make happen, they try to focus on issues on which the candidate has a higher amount of hold. A candidate should also allow the panel to create such an environment by not giving stereotype answers to their questions.

What an IAS Interview is not:

  1. IAS interview is not a knowledge testing session. UPSC has already tested the knowledge of a candidate in the preliminary and the main examination. They don’t want to test knowledge again in the personality test.
  2. The interview is not a grilling session in which the board members want to humiliate the candidate over his lack of knowledge and experience.
  • It is also not a rapid fire question and answer session.

What an IAS Interview is:

  1. IAS Interview is a friendly discussion session having a cordial and healthy environment.
  2. It is a calm and composed session where the members are willing to listen to what the candidate speaks. They don’t show signs of impatience and irritation over the answers of the candidate.
  • It is a session to test the ethics, values, integrity and coherence in the views of a candidate.
  1. It is a session to extract the views of the candidate on vital issues.
  2. It is aimed at testing the candidate on aspects known to him /her rather than on aspects unknown to him/ her.

Feeling of Nervousness Before the Interview

It is often seen that candidates feel nervous before entering the interview room in UPSC. It is a natural feeling and a candidate should not be afraid of it. Rather, he/ she should accept that feeling as being natural. You would be amazed to know that even the Board Members feel nervous while taking interview of the candidates. We are all part of one Supreme Soul and there is no need to have fear of any person whosoever. And we need to accept the fear of success/ failure attached with the interview process. A candidate should not let nervousness overpower him/ her but let it remain under his/ her nerves.

UPSC Interview Board

There are 8-9 separate UPSC interview boards. Each board consists of a chairman and four members. The chairman is a UPSC member. The other four members are external members invited by UPSC. They are bureaucrats, academicians, scientists, armed forces officers etc. They all are very experienced, seasoned persons with wide exposure in public life. This gives them the ability to frame very diverse questions and evaluate your responses accurately. It should be noted that there is no professional psychologist sitting among the members.

Preparation for the Civil Service Personality Test

Preparation for the civil service personality test requires a candidate to recollect the learning of his/ her life time, mainly the knowledge gained during his/ her civil service exam preparation. A general, and not detailed, recollection is required. Moreover, a grooming of the personality and his/ her thinking process is required. It required some amount of hard work and preparation.

  1. Etiquettes to be Maintained in the Interview

The following manners and etiquettes needs to be maintained in the personality test:

  • Candidate should be polite and respectful.
  • He/ she should greet the members with warmth.
  • He/ she should wear a decent, sober dress.
  • He/ she should not interrupt a member while he/ she is asking a question or explaining a point.
  • He/ she should maintain an agreeable voice with the right pitch.
  • He/ she should avoid frequent hand movement or neck movement while responding.
  • He/ she should keep a body language which transmits self-confidence, resolve, determination under the frame of humility.
  1. Preparation from the Detailed Application Form (DAF)

A candidate needs to seriously prepare on the different aspects of his/ her DAF. If a question on any aspect of the DAF is unanswered by the candidate, it is taken in a serious manner by the board. Thus, candidates need to show utmost seriousness while preparing on the different issues covered in his/ her DAF. He/ she prepare on the following aspects:

  • His/ her place of residence, place of education and place of work.
  • His/ her hobbies, achievements and awards received.
  • His/ her previous contributions to the society, country, and so on.
  • His/ her family background.
  • His/ her service and cadre preferences.
  • Knowledge of his/ her subjects in graduation and post graduation (if applicable). He/ she should also possess advanced research knowledge on these subjects. If any of the topics is under recent debates, the candidate should have information on it. For example, I have done my B.Tech and M.Tech in Material Science and Technology. I was asked questions on advanced topics like the use of Zinc Oxide Nanorods in the electricity generation and the use of Carbon Nanotubes in water purification, and so on.
  1. Covering Expected Current Issues

Being a civil service aspirant, a candidate is expected to have knowledge about current issues of debate. For this, he/ she thoroughly read 2-3 newspapers daily after he/ she gets an interview call. Moreover, he/ she should listen to TV debates on programmes like “The Big Picture” on the Rajya Sabha channel. More such good debates are available on the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Channel. A candidate should avoid TV debates covering the news items in a sensational manner.

  1. Study of the Home State and other Places of Residence

A candidate needs to know about the developmental and other regular details about the places in which he/ she has resided. It is not an easy task to know about the details of these locations. For this he/ she should do the following things:

  • Read the State Development Report of the State.
  • Read the Detailed Project Report of a city is available.
  • Read the Master Plan of a city is available.
  • Try to search for any other government report on that city or town and read it.
  • Visit the local district authorities and try to know the problems and good things about that place. These authorities will be more than happy to help a civil service aspirant appearing for the personality test.
  • If a candidate belongs to a village, he/ she should visit the Gram Panchayat office and understand the administrative structure over there, and also understand the problems and good things about the village.
  1. Hobbies Mentioned in the DAF

As already mentioned, UPSC gave an opportunity to write whatever a candidate wants to write in his/ her DAF. Thus, UPSC expects a candidate to be genuine and answer all the questions on his/ her DAF. Hobbies are also mentioned in the DAF. Thus, it is advisable that a candidate should write genuine hobbies only. While preparing for hobbies, a candidate should know the history about that hobby, rules and regulations related to it, contribution of India and the recent developments in it. For example, if playing cricket is a hobby, a candidate should know about the history of world and Indian cricket. He/ she should know about all the rules of cricket, the contribution of India in cricket, and the recent developments in cricket. He/ she also know the name of the cricketers from his/ her home state and locality. He/ she should also know the names of retired cricketers now serving in parliament and state legislative assemblies.

Don’ts of the Interview

  1. A candidate should not appear in more than 4 mock interviews. By appearing in higher number of mock interviews, a candidate learns to give stereotype answers to questions. However, the board members get frustrated on hearing the same stereotype answers.
  2. A candidate should not try and memorize a lot of information before the interview. It should be remembered that interview is not a test of knowledge but a test of character.

Dos of the Interview

  1. A candidate should try to present his normal, authentic self before the interview board. He/ she does not needs to wear a mask and does not need to lie about his/ her achievements. UPSC does not want an extra ordinary person but a genuine person who wants to do extra ordinary work for the nation. Any gap between ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’ is views seriously by the board.
  2. He/ she needs to be realistic and honest before the board. One should give pragmatic answer. They may ask case studies to which realistic answers are to be given. I will discuss some realistic answers to 4 case studies in this article.
  3. A candidate should avoid superlative and stereotype answers. One should practice to give honest answers at least 2-3 months before the interview, so that all the answers are given in an honest manner. Otherwise, in today’s time we are in a habit of bluffing and projecting a larger self of ourselves.
  4. Candidates should form a group of 3-4 people. They should have a regular discussion among themselves on key issues. They should also take mock interviews of each other. This activity should be done regularly. Candidates can also take the help of their family and friends in this regard.

Interview Case Studies Related to Internal Security

In the Civil Service Personality Test, the board often gives a case to the candidate and asks how the candidate would react in the situation. I am providing four such cases relating to Internal Security. I am also providing practical answers to them. Candidates are advised to avoid theoretical and impractical answers.

Case1: A case of fake encounter

There was a gruesome naxalite murder of a landlord on the night of December 12, 1980 in the limits of Police Station X in the district Gadchiroli of Maharashtra State. Very soon, news spread and there was scare in the village and neighbouring villages. The deceased landlord happened to be a close relative of a senior police officer who was occupying a key position in PHQ. The reputation of the deceased in the village was not good.  In fact, he was hated by most of the villagers particularly belonging to working class, as he was known to be exploiting the labourers and manipulating cases to be registered in the Police Station against those who were not amenable to him.  Pressure was brought on the SP of the district by the senior police officer for immediate arrest of the accused. Within about 2 months of his taking charge clues to the identity of the accused could be gathered through sustained collection of intelligence and interrogation of suspects, etc. Very soon one of the main accused was arrested.

On telling this information to the senior officer, the senior officer asked to bump off the accused. He told that the accused is a hardcore naxalite and committed a gruesome murder and should be taught a lesson. But the SP wants to take him on police remand, interrogate him and maybe recover the weapons used in the offence. Moreover his arrest was known to the public in the village and bumping him is not possible according to the SP.

Home Minister also called the SP in this regard. He said, “I heard that the naxalite is arrested. You know that the people of the village were very much scared of the naxalites and you have to restore confidence of the people by teaching a lesson to the naxalites. Our party people will give you full support. Take deterrent action.”

  1. Imagine yourself as the SP. Analyse the case thoroughly, with particular reference to the pressures from various quarters, against which you have to act. Do you think you have an ethical dilemma? What are the factors guiding your decision? What decision will you take? Would you like to become a public hero by killing the hard core naxalite or follow the course of law?

Practical Answer: Naxalite is already arrested. SP can do good investigation and make sure that Naxalite gets appropriate punishment. This will support the rule of law. Accused may have not committed the murder (it will only come out after proper investigation). Fake encounter may provide an opportunity to naxalites to create propaganda around police excesses. Career progression should be done by lawful means.

Case 2: Torture or not?

You are ACP of Mumbai city. Your Commissioner gave you an intelligence input that bombs have been planted in various places in the city. Late in the night at 2:00 am, after receiving the information, you went out with your team to search for the terrorists. After putting in to strenuous hard work you raided a house in Mahim area of Mumbai, where you found two people with 2 kg of explosives and IED devices. You immediately arrested them and brought them into the police station.

Now you think that these people must know about where the bombs have been planted. When you asked them about the whereabouts of the bombs and their plans, they directly said that they have no information. In this situation, you have an option of committing torture techniques on them. These torture techniques are said to give results in case of new criminals. You also have another option to do more hard work and search for the bombs in the city. Moreover, using torture and third degree is against human rights law. This torture may also lead to the death of those people.

  1. Analyse the ethical dilemma you are in. What course of action will you take? Can you justify the use of torture techniques? How will you save the city from major bomb attacks? Build an argument for use or not use of torture.

Practical Answer:

Often police officer resorts to torture techniques in order to extract crucial information. But, being an IPS officer I would like to see whether torture is helpful or not. This can be understood by initially analyzing the situation. If there is no other option, torture has to be done on the suspected criminal. Following are the arguments in favor and against torture.

Arguments in favour of torture:

  • Due to lack of time and requirement of swift action, torture can be justified (Ticking Bomb Theory).
  • It can be used to gain information to save thousands of life.
  • It serves as a medium of reciprocity to terrorism.
  • It is a necessity in the time of terrorism.
  • Terrorists are not regular criminal. They are an enemy of the state. Thus, torture should be legalised against them.

Arguments against Torture:

  • Torture violates the intrinsic dignity of the human being.
  • Torture mistreats the vulnerable and thus violates the demands of   public justice.
  • Authorizing any form of torture trusts government too much.
  • Torture erodes the character of the nation that tortures.
  • The ticking bomb theory is based on probability and is unrealistic. Allowing torture will act as a slippery slope and may lead to extra judicial executions.
  • Legalising torture will provide a license to use torture against every person suspected, without confirmation.

Case 3: Conflict resolution for communal harmony

You are the District Collector of a village where 4 murders took place previous week. 16 persons were arrested as a result. This led to increase in communal tensions. The 4 persons of one caste were murdered by the person of another caste. Actually, the issue was that cattle of one party went into the field bunds of another party in order to reach a pasture land along the borders of the village. The second party got furious because it was afraid that the cattle will damage their crops. This led to conflict and murder of 4 people. However, the customary rights of the villagers permitted people to use filed bunds to move around. There is also a possibility of retaliation and increase in communal violence.

  1. How will you prevent communal violence? What steps will you take to eliminate the root cause of the problem?

Practical Answer: As a District Collector, I will take the following steps:

  • Conduct Peace Committee Meeting with both the parties.
  • Development of a separate road to the pasture lands.
  • Ensure with the SP, that FIR is registered on each and every complaint from both the sides. Ensure that all the FIRs are investigated properly.
  • Both the communities should get a feeling that the district administration is working in a fair manner.
  • The intelligence network should be enhanced so that any issue of conflict between the communities should be arrested at its bud only.

Case 4: How to deal with radicalised youth?

You are the ACP of a sub division in Mumbai. During the course of your investigation, you came across a young man “Ashraf Tayal” who seemed to be radicalised by the online propaganda of the terrorist group Islamic State (IS). He was involved in sharing the gruesome videos and photographs on social networking sites. He also motivated others to go to Syria and join IS. He wrote derogatory remarks against the Indian state on social networking sites and openly supported the activities of IS. According to evidences, he has also received flight tickets and certain amount of money to travel to Syria.

However, you got timely information and you arrested him and prevented him from going to Syria. Your senior asks you to book him under UAPA. However, you understand that he is just a radicalised youth who has not perpetrated any terrorist act. Booking him under UAPA would ruin his whole life and his family will fall into poverty. This may also impact the feelings of the community to which he belong.

How will you handle such radicalised youth? Would you strictly go by law or take a middle path to save his life and also prevent any terrorist act?

Practical Answer: We have to be very sensitive while dealing with radicalized youth. Strict measures of law should not be applied on them. If a youth has committed any serious crime, proper investigation should be done. However, if a youth is radicalized and is planning to commit a terrorist act, he should be dealt in a careful manner. He is radicalized because of the difficulties he has faced in his life. Dealing strictly with him will further radicalize him. Thus, the support of local leaders should be taken to convince and rehabilitate him. His mentality should be understood and the local leaders should look for some alternative employment opportunity for him.


Please discuss this case with your friends and look for more solutions.


This Article is a part of a series of Articles on Internal Security and Disaster Management by Lohit Matani. You can check his future Articles by visiting this page. The Articles would come every Sunday.


Lohit Matani is an Indian Police Service (IPS) Officer, serving in Maharastra Cadre. He has deep interest in, and specializes in Internal Security & Disaster Management. He is a published author and a blogger. You can reach him on Facebook or on his blog here or buy his book on Internal Secuity by clicking here.
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