In the modern world, due to the steep mismatch between the number of vacancies and the number of aspirants, a multi-stage selection process is mandatory for job recruitments. A preliminary screening consisting a written examination followed by group discussions and interview is common, especially for higher managerial posts. Mostly candidates are less worried about the written part of examination as there is a fixed syllabus, materials to study and previous questions to practice. But when it comes to facing an interview board and expressing one’s thoughts, many people worry a lot and become gullible enough to believe anything which is told to them.
When it comes to civil service, people perceive a lot of glamour thanks to the way officers are portrayed in popular media, particularly in movies. The good looking, sharp-witted and courageous heroes and heroines belonging to the Indian bureaucracy as shown in the movies can create a sense of inferiority among the average aspirants. So, to match them, at least when it comes to speaking, people tend to alter the way they normally talk.
The other role models whom the civil service aspirants are advised to follow are the news readers and presenters of television who speak in a measured and articulated way. The final round of questions in the beauty pageants also sometimes becomes a point of reference for the interview. Here, one could often see the contestant repeating the questions buying time to think.
Almost a decade ago, I interviewed a candidate who eventually made it into the civil service. The reason why I still remember the person is because of his first mock interview. There, for every question, he took 40 seconds to almost a minute to respond. We do cut in when people speak at length, but this situation where we had to wait patiently for the answer was a totally new kind of experience. He was afraid of making any mistakes and wanted to give the best possible answers to each question. So, the long pause to construct the perfect response. He was also asking about how many seconds one should pause before answering. Once he understood the basics, his transformation was remarkable.
All this happened because the candidate has not read and understood the description of personality test in the civil service examination notification properly. It clearly describes the whole process as a “purposive conversation”. The whole questions and answers do not follow the pattern of a cross-examination or interrogation. The chairperson starts the process by asking a random question. It could be a simple ice-breaker or a serious one. The candidate responds to it and then the other four members join one by one in the conversation asking about different areas. The content of the conversation is, as described by UPSC is “matters of general interest”. So, the topics covered during the process will be current happenings in India and the world. Since they want to assess the personal suitability of the candidate, the background and interests of the candidate also will be covered during the process.
Since the whole process happens as a conversation, the questions are generated on the spot. The candidate needs to think and respond naturally. During a conversation, nobody thinks too much before speaking. The reactions will be at the normal pace. Ideally, one will listen carefully and respond with the help of available information. In a conversation, one need not articulate too much or hesitate to admit one’s ignorance. One should stick to the way one normally speaks. In short, one is expected to behave not perform.
Some people tend to speak a bit fast, especially in English, to show off their fluency and command over words. But during an interview, the board should clearly understand your ideas. Speak clearly so that the other person can follow. You need not slow down too much if you speak clearly. Similarly, do not pause unnecessarily before answering. Maintain a normal reaction time.
In a conversation, your body language and manners are equally important. So, rather than thinking about the reaction time and perfection of the answers, behave normally with courtesy and react appropriately so that the five elders of the board appreciate you.
(The author is a former IPS officer and a trainer for civil service aspirants)