IAS Interview – Preparation Tips Golden Rules for Success

Being called for IAS interview is one of the greatest joy for any civil services aspirant. As it brings one closer to getting dreams fulfilled which at some point of time looked like a distant reality. When I got called for the IAS interview in my first attempt itself, I literally felt to be at top of the world.

It feels like you have already conquered your dreams. And hereon many take the UPSC interview casually thinking that now they are unstoppable. But that is a blunder most of us commit. Because reaching the interview stage is no guarantee, selection but just that you have reached closer. Only one of three candidates called for interview gets a place in the elusive merit list.

It really feels devastated to not find a place in the divine list after having reached this far. It takes years of efforts for several aspirants to crack mains and then somehow miss out on the final hurdle i.e. IAS interview. So, believe me, it is not as easy as it seems. The real neck to neck competition can be found at interview stage where the margin of qualitative difference between candidates is quite less. As it comes to IAS interview the nerve starts building and there is a palpable fear among the aspirants due to obvious reasons.

Related Article: 25 Best IAS Interview Questions & Answers

The objective of Personality Test

The UPSC interview, as called in layman terms is officially called as Personality Test by UPSC which holds tremendous significance in deciding the overall rank of a candidate. The objective of the interview is to assess the personal suitability of the candidate for a career in public service by a board of competent and unbiased observers.

The test is intended to evaluate the mental caliber of a candidate. In broad terms, this is really an assessment of not only a candidate’s intellectual qualities but also social traits and interest in current affairs. Some of the qualities to be judged are mental alertness, critical powers of assimilation, clear and logical exposition, the balance of judgment, variety, and depth of interest, the ability for social cohesion and leadership, and intellectual and moral integrity.

The technique of the IAS interview is not that of a strict cross-examination, but of a natural, though directed and purposive conversation that is intended to reveal the mental qualities of the candidate. The interview is not intended to be a test either of the specialized or general knowledge of the candidate, which has been already tested through written papers. 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 all well-educated youth.

Above guidelines are issued by UPSC to the aspirants called for the personality test. Every keyword used above such as Mental alertness, social traits, logical exposition etc. should be strictly adhered to and focus should be on inculcating those qualities by the candidate. It is very important to understand those words comprehensively to realize what is expected from the aspirant in the IAS interview. That would enable one score well in the final hurdle of the examination. Now let us see what all topics need to be prepared for personality test.

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Detailed Application Form (DAF)

Every student who clears the prelims exam has to fill DAF after the result of prelims. DAF requires the basic information about the candidate such as Name, Date of Birth, Address, community, optional subject, parent’s occupation & income, educational qualifications, achievements in sports, extra-curricular, NCC, leadership at university/national level, home state etc. DAF also requires the service preferences and cadre preferences of the candidate.

Thus, DAF extracting the basic information is the document which gives an introduction about the candidate even before one enters the UPSC interview room. This enables the experts to test the candidate as per the mentioned information.

One must be highly prepared to answer questions from his background, hobbies, home state, etc. as per entries in DAF. Not answering DAF based questions do portray the candidate in a bad light. One should be very careful while filling the DAF form because it is going to be asked and verified through counter questions in an interview. And if a candidate fails to answer a basic question about his hobbies mentioned in DAF, then it does not help the candidate at all.

Hence DAF should be taken with uttermost seriousness, every single mark in an interview matters a lot in not just deciding selection but in getting a good rank. Given the increasing level of competition in the examination, the interview is turning out to be a make or break type of an event and must be prepared sincerely and extensively. And DAF is the beginning of preparation for the personality test. (Note: Elite IAS help candidates in DAF analysis – you can contact via email: info@eliteias.in)

Related Article: Top 10 Tips for Students to Prepare for IAS Exam while in College

DAF Preparation

Every entry mentioned in the UPSC DAF should be prepared separately and comprehensively to the extent possible. No scope should be left on our part for raising a question which makes us uncomfortable during the IAS interview. Brief research should be done on every keywords from the UPSC DAF. Several questions should be framed on each entry. So that one should be ready with several hundred questions from the entire DAF and then should prepare answers for each questions. The fact of the matter is that the more you prepare in detail, the better you come to know yourselves and can handle any question raised during the interview with confidence in an intelligent way. That reflects your personality sending a message to the board about your suitability for civil services. Prepare all entries from DAF as following.

  • Name: One should start with his/her name and frame related questions. What is the meaning of your name? Why parents gave this name (if based on some celebrity name)? Name some renowned persons with same name. Such questions may be asked.
  • Date of Birth: Research about the important events from the year of birth. e.g. my birth year being 1991, I read briefly about events in India & world such as 1991 economic reforms, the assassination of PM Rajiv Gandhi, USSR disintegration etc. Also check if any important day comes around your birth date e.g. Gandhi Jayanti, Environment day, Population day, International Women day etc.
  • Address: You should be well aware about the address filled in UPSC DAF. You may be asked about the neighbouring districts, states, panchayat etc. Sometimes the question may not be just to test you but to push beyond the comfort zone. Nothing to worry about if unable to answer a factual question. Say politely, “Sorry sir, I don’t know”. I will check it later. There is no shame in saying “I don’t know”. But you should know when and how to use it.
  • Community: If you come from OBC/SC/ST, then be prepared to face some questions related to community. I was asked “How do you define OBC?” you may be asked related to constitutional provisions, problems faced by the community, welfare schemes launched or opinion on any controversial issue such as reservation related matters. Take a balanced opinion which is legally right and in the wider interest of, country.
  • Optional Subject: This is an area most of the candidates get few questions being asked. However, it is not required to prepare the subject in as depth as during mains. Now you should look at subject from a broader perspective, how the knowledge gained can be useful in civil services? Some of the common questions asked are, Why did you choose particular subject (say Sociology) given your engineering background? How will you use your Public Administration knowledge in civil service? Do you think that your literature knowledge would be of any significance in administration? Also, you may be asked basic concepts of the subject, definitions, about some thinkers, some differences etc. to test the basic of subjects. Some application-based questions may be asked. E.g being a sociology student, I was asked about social capital and its importance in Indian society. So, some preparation for the subject would be required given that one tends to forget things after 2-3 months of mains examination.
  • Parent’s profession: It is advisable to prepare a bit about parent’s profession. My father being a farmer, I was well prepared to face questions from agriculture such as problems faced, farmer’s suicide, indebtedness, declining productivity, irrigation issues, agri-marketing, Swaminathan committee recommendations etc. Bottom line is that you should not get blank when questions are raised from your DAF related entries.
  • District/State: In IAS interview Questions may be asked based on historical, geographical, cultural, tourism significance of your place. My native place being Gaya (Place of high tourism significance), questions were asked about tourism potential, historical significance (part of Magadha dynasty) etc. You should raise questions while preparing such as, what are the 5 major problems faced by your district or state? How will you resolve them? Why your state is less developed compared to others? You should prepare about economy of state, various sectors contribution, challenges & potential related to demographic dividend, agricultural aspects, infrastructure, urbanization, industrialization etc. You may be asked to choose some priority areas (education, health etc.) where you would like to contribute as an IAS. You should think about problems and subsequent solutions from a holistic angle.
  • Educational qualifications: Generally, few IAS interview questions are asked from graduation subject/discipline. You are expected to know about your area of specialization. Technical and in-depth questions are definitely asked and one is expected to know the concepts if not remember the facts. This should be taken seriously and quality time should be devoted to be well prepared with this part. It should be reflected that having studied a particular subject at length (3-4 years) one is able to do justice to the degree subject. In my first and second interview, numerous IAS interview questions were asked from Chemical engineering. You should prepare some questions at a broader level, say why are engineers getting increasingly inclined towards civil services? Being an engineer/doctor, now you are coming to civil services, is this not wastage of resources since the country is already facing the shortage of skilled engineers/doctors? Be prepared for such tricky questions asked in IAS interview. Being an engineer how would it help you do better as an IAS? How will you use your engineering/medical/management etc. knowledge in rural development? Think more questions on this line and prepare a balanced answer. The more you can predict what may be asked, the more you can avoid surprises during the interview.
  • Employment status: If you were employed before then you must be prepared with a lot of details such as your work profile, company issues etc. You may be asked technical questions specific to your profession. E.g. if your employer is NTPC, then you may be asked about power sector in India, issues of power production & transmission, rural electrification, power consumption in India, the transition to renewable energy etc. Try to broaden scope of every topics to be prepared to cover possible questions framed around.
  • Hobbies/sports/NCC/Leadership: I want to caution the aspirant that this would be too important – as a lot of IAS interview questions may be asked from this part. So be very serious and sincere while filling these details. You must not put false details as this could be disastrous during the IAS interview. If the experts happen to find out that hobbies are not genuine but for sake of it, then you may face the consequences in terms of score. So please never try to bluff the Interview board, they are far too experienced to take a risk at this stage. Hobbies could be anything such as adventure activities, cooking, yoga, gardening, reading, sleeping, watching cricket, photography, spending time with pets etc. There is no dearth of hobbies but you should have a genuine interest and should be passionate about that. Be prepared with the basics. Some questions may be asked related to your leadership skills, about if you took any good initiative in life. Some situation, reaction IAS interview questions may be asked to test your leadership skills that how you react in the situation of adversity. Don’t be in a hurry to answer, take your time, think and reply confidently.

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Current Affairs- Ignorance is no bliss

Any IAS interview is generally based around two pillars. First being DAF, Second has to be the Current Affairs. You must be completely aware with the happenings in India and world. You are expected to know the current state of economy, polity, society and so on. Questions may be related to any current issues such as Section 377, Article 35 ‘A’, reservation agitations, agricultural issues, mob lynching, simultaneous elections etc. One must have a bird’s eye view over the recent happenings especially in last month of the interview period. It really feels awkward not to be aware about any current affairs based IAS interview question asked.

That shows ignorance on part of candidate. And one should not pass the opinion based question related to current issues raised. One has to take some stand, either in favour or against or a balanced one. Try to justify your stand with arguments backed by constitution, morality, national interest, human rights etc. More than the stand, the thought process behind that matters. Interviewers want to test the thinking process of candidate, that how one assimilates different perspectives, articulates, and reaches to a conclusion. This is what civil servants are expected to do in service, taking decisions after due considerations, deliberations in the best interest of public and the nation.

For preparation, one should read at least two newspapers in the last month of UPSC interview to be fully aware of the happenings. Ignorance is not bliss in IAS interview. You should also think about the current issues, how solutions can be found. E.g. during my interview days, a lot was covered in newspapers related to unemployment. So, I was asked, “what are the ways to generate jobs to address such huge unemployment in the country”? Better be prepared with some creative steps to address the problems. Because the question would be asked expecting you to have a policy bent of mind. Ultimately a civil servant takes decisions and makes policies for the betterment of Centre-State country. Thinking out of the box solutions would be definitely rewarded so don’t be scared to think innovatively. The crux is that show them that you have it in you to take a decision, think holistically and creatively.

Related Article: Things which one should look upon before enrolling in an IAS preparation course

Before UPSC interview, you should revise the basics of interviews constitution. Go through the important articles such as Fundamental rights, DPSP, Fundamental duties, Centre- State relations, provisions for weaker sections etc. Try to remember the preamble and understand the essence of it. You may be thrown a surprise by asking some factual question from Polity. Not remembering the basics of makes constitution may go against you so don’t take a chance with it. Also, follow the economy closely in days of interview. In IAS interview question may be asked, “What is the state of Indian economy“? Why Rupee is falling to a new low? Be prepared with basic facts such GDP growth rate, sector wise contribution, inflation rate etc. With close following of newspapers, you would be able to do well with current affairs.

In the above part, I have explained the topics to be prepared for the IAS interview. Remember, it is personality test and not just IAS interview questions and answers. It is not about the knowledge you possess. Neither it is about which educational background you come from. Nothing comes to rescue if you don’t have the personality suitable for civil services. The whole purpose is to select the candidate who can take decisions in adverse of situations. Civil services is not a bed of roses as it may seems to an outsider, challenges are numerous and at every walk of career. Hence the requirement is to select those tough characters who can contribute towards strengthening that steel frame of civil service. You must change yourself to fit into the structural demand of the service.

Related Article: Eligibility for UPSC Civil Services Exam

After the mains

Once you have appeared into the mains, there are two ways forward for you. There is no need to jump into IAS interview preparation.  There is no point in wasting time after mains. Start improving your communication skills which becomes life and blood of any interview process. Start preparing DAF and touch every entry framing related questions and answers. Practice speaking in front of a mirror and talk to yourselves. It’s important to know ourselves to do well in the personality test. The more we spend time introspecting, the better we come to know ourselves.

We must get to look within to know about our strengths, weaknesses and type of person we are. No one else can tell you that, everyone else judges us based on their perceptions, temporary influences and outer appearances, the individual is the best person to know self but it requires spending time with self. The experts in the IAS interview board possess the skills and experience to know the inside out of the candidate. The aspirant cannot hide himself from them. One’s true nature and character would be in a glass ceiling in board room visible to all so please don’t think you can bluff and manipulate the board. Instead, put all efforts in improving as a person.

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During the IAS interview

As your turn comes for interview, take permission to enter the board room. Walk in gently with a pleasant smile without showing any sign of nervousness or anxiety (the little bit is natural). Focus on your body language, maintain a relaxed posture but a confident one. Let them begin the conversation, don’t jump into answers straightaway. Take a brief few seconds pause and answer calmly. That would ease the nerves and radiate confidence.

Get straight to the main points with answers, don’t try to be too long and too short. Be crisp, concise and answer what is asked without beating around the bush. Try to take a balanced stand on the controversial issues, don’t be on extremes. Once taken a stand, justify with logical arguments, try to hold your stand but don’t be too rigid as well. Show them you are flexible and willing to learn new things. Don’t lie at all, that is a blunder. If you don’t know, say “sorry sir, I don’t Know. I will check it later”. Don’t panic, keep calm. Your emotional intelligence matters.

No one knows everything under the sun. UPSC board obviously knows that. But you should try to understand the essence of the question. Every question asked has a purpose behind, if you get that then can hit the bull’s eye. Your answer should reflect a sense of optimism, positive outlook and confidence. You are going to work in challenging circumstances, so must possess the right attitude to make things happen. Never ever compromise with your moral integrity. Howsoever easy bribery may make the administrative functioning smooth, but that is illegal and unethical. Never compromise with ideals and principles. This is eventually a test of your character and overall personality. Always remember that, you must present the real you before the IAS interview board. Don’t try to change your personality overnight being a fake person going for personality test. That is disastrous at this point of time having come so far.

During the IAS interview preparation phase, you should be highly motivated. Never ever let the fear of results and any negativity creep into your mind. Always think on positive lines. Think about your journey and its purpose. Try thinking why are you here, what has motivated you to prepare for civil services. Why do you want to become an IAS? This is one question which can change your interview altogether. Always keep thinking about it from the core of your heart.

If you can make an impact on the board with an answer to this question, you are halfway through. But you must own this answer. Try to think about things which has motivated you in this journey. Think about the millions of poor you are going to serve being an IAS. You should reflect upon the difficulties you overcame to reach so far. It was not an easy journey but you made it.

The more you remain positive and self-motivated, things would get easier. Avoid negative, sceptical, cynical people during the interview period. Maintain distance from distant relatives. Try to spend that time with yourselves to know better. This phase will enable you a rediscover yourself. Irrespective of success/failure, you will emerge stronger and as a better person. That is more important in life to become a better person today than what we were yesterday. Self improvement is what will take you far away in life. Chase that progress, not perfection. Eventually, success will be yours. Most important point is, ENJOY THE JOURNEY. Rest will take care of itself.

Always remember, “Mind is Everything, What We Think, We Become”. You must have that self confidence and self belief, “I have the potential, I can do it, and I will do it”.


[Written by Rohit Kumar – IRS officer 2016 Batch. Alumnus: IIT, Delhi (B.Tech)]

Note: Elite IAS help candidates in DAF analysis – you can contact via email: info@eliteias.in

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