Sunday, May 27, 2012

My IAS Interview

My Interview happened on Wednesday, 25th April in the morning 09:00 – 12:00 am slot. I arrived exactly at 09:00 am at the UPSC gate, but surprisingly found myself to be the last in the queue of the candidates going inside the premises. For a change, people were early. But this is UPSC IAS Exam interview, undoubtedly the toughest exam in India, and probably in the world. I was reminded immediately about the monstrosity of it, which I had tried to avoid till then.

After the usual security check, I was ushered inside a big hall which was the waiting room for the candidates. All the candidates were seated in groups of six around a table, marked for each group. After the initial certificates’ verification, I had a first look of the call order. I was slotted in the 4th place, which I roughly calculated to be after 1.5 hours (approx. 30 mins for each candidate) from the start. Our Board’s Chairman was Mr Venkatraman Reddy.

Flipping through the various newspapers, I tried to calm myself, as some sort of occasion-consciousness had started creeping in. However, as the time approached, I was surprisingly relaxed. So, when the peon ushered me to sit outside Mr Reddy’s room to await my turn, I was like an uber-cool dude, all ready to blast in and make my presence felt.

So, when my turn came, I knocked and asked, “May I come in, sir?”

Entering the room, I greeted them, and after I was asked to sit, I took the chair confidently.

They were 5 in number: the Chairman in the centre, flanked by two persons on either side. The Chairman took my file in hand, and started browsing through it. That was the start of my make-or-break session (which I came to know it indeed was).

Chairman: I see that you have graduated from Atal Bihari Vajpayee-IIITM, Gwalior.

Me: Yes sir ( I came to know instantly that he knows about my institute, as no one will pronounce its full name just like that)

Chairman: So, you know who was the first Director of your institute?

Me: Yes sir. Prof. D P Agrawal.

Chairman: Where is he at present?

Me: He is currently the Chairman of UPSC (There was a flicker of smile across all the members)

Chairman: Who is the current director of your institute?

Me: (I was stumped. How could have I missed checking that beforehand?) Sorry sir, I don’t know.
Chairman: You don’t follow your Alma-Mater? (He got crossed at my answer. Not an auspicious start)

Me:  I used to follow for 2-3 years after I passed out. But since then, I have lost touch a bit. ( I petered out some answer. Thankfully, he didn’t pursue it further, and gestured to the member sitting to his right)

(Later on I came to know that Mr Reddy was himself a faculty from IIT Delhi, and so knew his colleague Prof DP Agrawal very well. Ah! People somehow pick their destined apples)

M1: You have done your post-graduation in Information Technology. So, can you tell something about mouse? OK, tell me the full form of mouse.

Me:  (I was a bit amused about the triviality of question. Mouse? But the reality was I didn’t know the answer). Sorry sir, I don’t know the answer.

M1: OK, tell me how does an OMR work?

Me:  OMR?

M1: Yes, the one on which you mark your answers during an examination.

Me:  (I blurted) OMR ac…tua..lly…

Chairman: (He interrupted) OK, tell the full form of OMR

Me:  (I felt like, Not Again..full form. However, the reality was that I should have known this answer, and I was not sure. So, I asked the member) Sir, may I take a guess?

M5: You will have to do it on your risk. (And every member started laughing)

Me:  Sir, I don’t want to say anything which I am not sure about. OMR is ‘Objective Marking Response’ (Chairman said immediately, No…I realized, what a pathetic answer. Later on, I came to know, it was Optical Mark Reader)

M1: How does face-recognition software work?

Me: (Determined to answer, anything, this time, I said) It works on biometrics, where there is software to detect the specific body parts.

M1: Can you tell the specific technology?
Me: Sir, Digital Image Processing

M1: Just that, or anything else too?

Me: Sir, I know this much only.

M1: OK, and gestured to the second member to take over

M2: So Prabhakar, you must have heard about several scams. Can you tell which is the biggest scam till date, and what is the total money in question for all scams?

Me: (I thought for a while. As the Coal Scam was reported to be the baap of all scams by CAG recently, at least in media, I said) Sir, the recent Coal Scam reported by CAG, though it is not official yet.

M2: What is the total sum of all the scams?

Me: Sir, should be around 10 lakh crores

M2: You know about Telecom Scam? What is the figure in that?

Me: (This I was sure about. Finally something concrete. I smiled) Yes sir, 1.76 lakh crore rupees.

M2: OK. So, do you think it was really a scam? They took less money from the operators, and passed on to the common people, which ultimately benefitted them. So, isn’t it like doing a service?

Me: Sir, this is not service. Common people got benefitted, but the government lost precious money from its coffers, which could have been utilised for some other purpose.

M2: But still wasn’t it a service? OK, can corruption ever be eliminated?

Me: Yes sir, if each one of us do our job correctly and honestly ( And I segued into the sermon seamlessly)

M2: But again, how can it be eliminated, if it is associated with everyone. Do you believe it is synonymous with Bhrastachaar?

Me: Yes sir

M2: How come? Bhrastachaar is ‘Bhrast + Acchar’, which is wrong behaviour. And, each indiviual has wrong behaviour, so how can corruption be eliminated?

Me: ( At this point, I was driven mad, as this discussion was going nowhere. I thought probably he is a psychologist. Gathering myself, I answered) Yes sir, to minute level, corruption tendencies will remain inside each individual, however we need to make individual efforts to correct the situation. We can’t just let it go unchecked.

M2: ( I don’t know why, he again came back to telecom scam, and asked me to justify why it is a scam)

Me: (Coolly though, I answered the same stuff, though differently J ) Sir, it can’t be equated with service, as it was corruption, based on the false premise of First Come First Service, favouring a few specific players.

Satisfied with this answer, he ended the barrage of questions suddenly, which was a bit of relief and surprise. The turn moved on to the third member.

M3: You are working in a software company. What is this ‘Subject Matter Expert’? Are you really experts?

Me: Sir, this is the designation provided by the company to all its employees, as they want to believe that they are experts in their domain, and can do their jobs efficiently.

M3: (He smiled) So, is it a credit to the company or the employee?

Me: ( Now, I had got integrated quite well with the session, so I replied with a smile) Probably to both.

M3: But basically you are a computer programmer?

Me: Yes sir

M3: You also mentioned that learning Greek is your hobby. Is it because you had stayed in Cyprus?

Me: Yes sir, I stayed in Cyprus for 3 years and a half, and since Greek is the national language there, I picked up the language.

M3: So, why did you leave Cyprus and come to India?

Me: Sir, I left my company and came to India to prepare for the Civil Services

M3: But, you are working in the same company. So, I don’t understand how is it like leaving the company?

Me: Sir, when I had left, I had put a rider that I can join the company back.

M3: (He still wasn’t convinced, as my resume showed the same company Amdocs, though at different places of Pune, Limassol and Gurgaon. So, I explained) Sir, I had to resign from the company, and when I had to join back, I enquired again in my parent company whether they are willing to take me back.

At this point, he relented. Probably, he noted the gap year in my resume. On hindsight, I could have mentioned about my drop year earlier only.Finally, he moved on to other parts.

M3: You are from Gaya? What is the significance of Gaya?

Me: Sir, it is the holy town for both the Buddhists and the Hindus.

M3: Do you know the controversy between them. There is a famous temple there, related to both of them.

Me: ( I was a bit confused. Unwittingly, I said) Vishnupad Temple

M3: He nodded (It was surprising, as the answer should have been Mahabodhi Temple, which I realised later on when the conversation became clearer)

Me: So, what is the fight between them?

M3:  ( Now, I realised what he was talking about) Yes sir, both the communities lay claim on Buddha legacy, as the Hindus consider Lord Buddha as the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. So, there have been many fights and controversies over the temples.

M3: OK, tell me how is Gaya now? Has it improved?

Me: ( A bit unusual question) Yes sir, it has improved. There are better infrastructure facilities, more employment, more development etc

M3: And also dirtier? Isn’t it what it is famous for too?

Me: ( I replied back with smile) Sir, I won’t definitely call that something to be famous for.

M3: ( He smiled) There was a recent statement from Press Council of India Chairman about Bihar. Can you tell what was that?

M3: Yes sir, PCI Chairman Mr Markendya Katju recently lamented that press don’t have freedom in Bihar to write anything bad about the Nitish Kumar government.

M3: So, do you think it is true?

Me: ( After some pause) No sir, I don’t buy this statement fully, as the govt has done some really good work. Most importantly, he has worked on the fundamentals of the economy and society which has brought out more development.

At that point, I stopped a bit. Seeing there was no reaction from the members, probably they wanted more elaboration. I continued.

For example, on social front, he has worked on women empowerment. Schemes like Balika Cycle Yojana, Balika Poshak Yojana etc have been landmark programmes, as they have not only brought literacy but have also boosted the girls’ confidence immensely. On economic front, he has worked on building the roads. Similarly, on political front, he has cracked down on law and order, corruption problems. So, he has tried to prepare the groundwork for further development.

This was the best answer I gave in the whole interview, and could be gauged by the attentive moods of the members at that time. Admittedly a part of it was prepared beforehand J
Then, the interviewing session moved on to the 4th member.

M4: You have listed Blogging as one of your hobbies? How many blog hits you have?

Me: Sir, not many. As I mostly write for myself, I haven’t advertised it to others.

M4: (He didn’t feel quite at ease with my answer,and I knew instantly why). Sir, it is around 100 hits per month ( I should have answered that straight)

M4: What topics you write on?

Me: I write on a plethora of topics.

M4: He was involved and repeated, plethora of topics. What are those?

Me: Sir, I write on my Personal Life, Cricket, Cinema, Literature, Business and International Relations. Actually, I maintain a seven-part blog, covering all the topics.

M4: How frequently you write?

Me: At least weekly

M4: What was the last topic you wrote on?

Me: It was on Nagorno-Karabakh region’s relations with Kosovo. I had read an article in The Economist, that Kagorno Karabakh region wants Kosovo to recognise its independence in return for their recognition. So, I vented my feelings on how international diplomacy work.

M4: Tell me more about Nagorno-Karabakh.

Me: Sir, it is a seceded region of Ajerbaijan.

M4: (He interrupted) So, is it the only problem with it?

Me: It is actually physically separated from Ajerbaijan by Armenia. So, there is no direct contact between them.

M4: Isn’t there another problem of religion there?

Me: (I knew where he wanted me to drag into) Yes sir, in Ajerbaijan, Islam is the main religion, and in Armenia, Christianity.

M4: So, why don’t Muslim and Christians live together happily?

Me: (I wanted to get over this conversation quickly) Probably, they don’t reconcile with each others’ viewpoints and ideas.

Thankfully, he let go of this topic, and moved to my Cyprus connections.

M4: You have worked in Cyprus. So, are you aware of its history?

Me: Yes sir

M4: Can you tell us something about it?

Me: ( I was a bit confused at that time, whether he wanted the full history or the recent one). Sir, you want to know the ancient or recent one?

M4: Recent one, say after 1947.

Me: Sir, Cyprus got indpendence from England in 1961.

M4: (He interrrupted at that time, before I could move further) Who was the first president of Cyprus?

Me: President Makarios

M4: Who was he?

Me: He was the Archbishop

M4: ( He nodded) Also tell about the Cyprus problem

Me: At the time of independence, there were two communities: Greek and Turkish. There was an agreement that both the communities will be given appropriate rights and representations. However a few Greeks wanted enosis (union) with the Greek mainland, and so they revolted against the govt in 1974. In retaliation, Turkish govt invaded the island and captured 37% part of it.

M4: Was Makarios responsible for it partly?

Me: ( I thought for a while, and could find an answer) Yes sir, partly, as he was later blamed to be a bit weak, as he could have taken steps to suppress the revolt in its infancy.

Chairman: Was there any tragedy?

M4: Yes sir, there was a great loss of human lives and tragedy. People had to move from their original homes to the other part.

M4: So, is it violent still?

Me: No sir, it is very calm there, as people have access to each others region, and there is no usage of arms.

M4: Is there any lesson for India then?

Me: Definitely sir. Kashmir problem can be thought of as a similar problem, even though bigger in scale. We can allow free movement of peope across the border, as the Cypriots have done. This will not only help economy, society etc, but also help melt the ice between the people. ( And I don’t why, I elaborated a tad to much on it)

Chairman: Have you gone to President Makrios graveyard?

Me: No sir

Chairman: There are still two guards patrolling that. It is a nice place. Finally, I don’t think there is still cross-movement of people between both the regions. And if I remember correctly, there is still only 1 entry.

At that time, I was literally swept. I had spoken confidently about cross-movement of people, but hadn’t read it anywhere. Plus when he told about only 1 entry, I realised probably he has been to Cyprus, and knows a lot about it.
He continued his arguments.

Chairman: How long back you were in Cyprus.

Me: (Probably for the first time, I showed some signs of nervousness.) M3 then replied, he was there as recently as 2009. I gathered myself though, and said, we were allowed entries into North Cyprus, though we had to get visa approvals and other stuff.

Chairman: (He wasn’t amused though) Finally, tell me is the problem because of religion too?

Me: Why religion again. But I relented, yes sir, it is because of religion too.

Chairman: You may leave now

The end was so aprupt, that I thought I heard it wrongly. But gradually, I pulled myself up, wished them and marched out. Before leaving the door, I glanced back, and saw all of them nodding in unison.
That was the last part of my interview, and it was then over to self-rumination.


After leaving the hall, I felt it was a good interview. However, since there was no expression on the Chairman’s face throughout the interview( which I came to know from other candidates that it was natural for him), I felt ,may be, my bloppers at the beginnig and end have done in my chances. The redeeming thing though was the nods of approval by all the members in the end. But again, I had no way to tell whether they were agreeing on my good performance or my bluffing/poor answers/lack of knowledge etc

However, the best part was that I had been totally confident, without showing any signs of nervousness ( barring briefly at the end), even when I was grilled or wasn’t able to answer a few questions. Plus I think I spoke my best English at that time (as my spoken English has never matched my written one). Also, the choice of some of the words were apt and impressive. The gestures and expressions, and style of answering too were good, at least on hindsight.

So, based on the experience/feedback of the people, that this is a Personality Test and not a Knowledge One, I expected a medium range number (say 150 – 170 out of 300). However, I was also worried that Mr Reddy’s impressions might have gone wrong, and he would award me just 120 marks.
In the end though, the experienced ones were right. I got 202, which is an excellent score (as less than 10% interviewees get above 200). Upon seeing my MarkSheet later on, I realised that it was my Interview Marks only that catapulted me not only to the final list, but also to a decent rank.

It was all credit to my confidence during the interview, and good luck ( as I later came to know that Mr Reddy generally provides more marks than other Chairmen).
In the end though, the whole Interview experience was a unique one, which apart from landing me into the Hall of Fame, also taught me a lot about myself …. 


Wisdom Seeker said...

It was really informative and i really came to know more about the environment inside the interview room. Congrats

abby said...

if you really want to crack IAS exam then you really need to work hard and you need a better coaching from others thats the way you will outshine
Then you must go to
They will guide you from beginning that which course or subject you should opt for according to your interest
They have different video tutorials for Mains and Prelims
Wish you all the best

Unknown said...


Soul Solicitude said...

Hi! This entire post is just the right thing I needed at this moment. I plan to sit for the civils and take up the coaching pretty soon. Every now and then, I feel maybe I am not upto the mark to compete with so many intellectual buds around. But after reading this, I want to achieve it. I want to feel that moment of pride when you know all the hardwork has paid off. As of today, maybe my IQ is not even as half as yours,knowing about so much about almost everything. But I hope, someday even I can write a post on my blog about my success story! It was a great boost! Thanks and congratulations:)

Unknown said...

I lyk ur post and it was quite good and infomative also. congrats, but is there and the beat part is that u shared ur interview part . bro can u
help me in a ny form regarding studies and all....
all the best for ur future

Unknown said...

congrats sir

anni said...

deep hearted congratulations for your success. and thanx for writting this blog which was very much informative.

but i am a beginner so for the time being all i need is a guideline for commerce & accountancy. please do provide me if you can. or please suggest some useful site for this. dont have this.
thank you

Ranjithps said...

Wonderful interview.. Congrats man!

Unknown said...

hello sir, i m going 2 write mains this year with geography optional..but sir i hvnt done much practice for mapping....plz suggest me some strategy so that i can get decent grip over it.. in this limited time left
plzzzz plzzz help me out plllzzz



Garav said...

Hi Prabhakar,

It was a very nice Interview description and analysis.

I am also a software Engineer working in Germany and aspiring to crack CSE. If I can contact you it would be of great help to me.


Unknown said...

really inspired by and PM Modi your intervied motivated me for thinking at least for preapring

Unknown said...

My best wishes for your success. Yet many aspirants are awaiting for perfect guidance, if you share many of your experience will motivate them much more. Also students looking for your guest lecture at our place.

Unknown said...

Good to know the atmosphere in the room where panel is really knowledgeable and no fake pretense...congrats man.

Kalam Training Academy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kalam Training Academy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Motivation Blog said...

Beautifully explained , its so much helpful n informative 😊I felt on some questions as it was my interview ,I am too a blogger and thinking to prepare for upsc .