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Interview Tips – Anudeep Durishetty, Rank – 1, CSE-2017, Interview Marks – 204 & 176

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Civilsdaily Root <hello@civilsdaily.com> Thu 31 Jan, 2019 at 9:34 PM


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Interview Tips – Anudeep Durishetty, Rank – 1, CSE-2017,


Interview Marks – 204 & 176
UPSC Interview: The Final Frontier
That morning I woke up earlier than usual. Not because my alarm went off, but
that my subconscious was acutely aware that something special awaited me: It
was the day of my UPSC interview.

I got out of bed, freshened up, did some push-ups and sit-ups to get the heart
rate pumping. After the workout, soaking in that stillness, I meditated for 10
minutes. Exercise and meditation are such wonder drugs. They instantly put me
in a state of focus and unshakeable clarity.

In 2014, when I first visited Dholpur House (seat of UPSC office) for my maiden
Civil Service interview, the experience was contrasting. I was much younger
back then, and understandably, less mature, and more anxious. But having
scored 204 that year, it helped me face this second interview with confidence
and poise. Also, nothing like age and experience to teach you how to handle
your nerves.

This time I was neither excited nor anxious. I only told myself this: “No matter
what questions they ask, or how much they grill you, give the best answer you
can in that moment. Your best is the best possible outcome. That’s a win.”

The day also happened to be my mother’s birthday. When I called to wish her,
she was already at a temple, breaking coconuts by the dozen and seeking God’s
blessings for me. Like all mothers, she was more tensed than I.

After the call, I sat down for a couple of hours to revise my notes, mentally
reviewing my profile and some of my accomplishments which I wanted to
convey to the interview board. I also went through the day’s newspapers before
heading toward UPSC.
At UPSC, after the security checks, we were ushered into a large waiting hall. As
we took our respective seats, an officer with a smiling face walked into the hall
to address all the interviewees. With a wide grin, he briefly explained us the
procedure and the guidelines. He even cracked a couple of jokes in between,
which only drew light murmurs. The tension in the room was palpable, but he
did his best to ease the nerves. Towards the end he wished us good luck.

Those wishes felt genuine. How ironical, I thought. As an aspirant, all that the
word UPSC reminded me was an imposing concrete building, separated from
the rest of us by an iron curtain. No one really knew what happened inside. So it
was nice see someone from the institution who smiled, joked and genuinely
wished us well.

After the document verification and paperwork, we were told that we will be
interviewed by Retd Air Marshal Ajit Bhonsle. My interview began at around
3:00 PM and went on for 35 minutes. I was asked on a diverse set of topics:
Aryan migration, hate crimes, meditation, Artificial Intelligence, Swachh Bharat
and why I want to get into the IAS. I had anticipated and prepared for some of
those questions apriori, so I could answer them well. After the interview, I was
glad with how I did.

*******

When the final marks were declared, I was slightly disappointed that my
interview score of 176 was 15-20 marks less than what I had expected. I
protested with a friend. He turned towards me and said, “Man, are you serious?
You might have gotten more marks than you deserve in some Mains paper. Stop
complaining. If you whine even after getting this rank, aspirants would come find
you and punch you in the face.”
I think he had a point. Regardless of my interview marks, I still believe it was the
best I could do. I guess that’s how it works, no? Sometimes the results are
beyond your expectations (for instance, my mains score), and sometimes
underwhelming (interview marks). But when you strive to give your best each
and every time, on the whole it evens out.

So if I were to give the interview this year, I’d probably polish a few areas, but
the overall strategy would be the same. I am indebted to my friend Rishanth
Reddy (IPS 2015). Most of what I learnt about the interview preparation is from
his personal advice and this video of his.

Before I dive into the preparation strategy, I must tell you something important.
I’m not an authority on UPSC interview. No one really is. The following points
and tips merely reflect my learnings from the two interviews I had given. If you
feel what I suggest here isn’t right, or that I’m not making sense, ignore the
advice.

Having said that, I really hope that the following suggestions and notes add
value to your interview preparation, and you take home something useful.

Tips for the Interview

The content of your answers matters more than your looks and
demeanour. In mock interviews, panel members put undue importance on
attire, colour of your suit, manner of your walking etc. But in reality, they
don’t matter much. Just be presentable and let your answers tell the
board the kind of a person you are.
When the opportunity presents itself, don’t be afraid to tell about yourself.
The board members are really there to know about you. So take each
question as an opportunity to convey about yourself. And the board tries
to judge your personality not by the answers themselves, but your
reasoning, beliefs that led you to such an answer.

For instance, for a question like: “Do think our country needs smaller states for
better governance?” When you say a simple yes or no, it doesn’t say much
about you. What led you to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is paramount.

My answer would have been:

“Yes, ma’am. I feel that smaller states are easier to govern because it brings
administration closer to the people. For example in my own state, previously,
districts and mandals were so huge that the Collector didn’t have much time to
physically visit and oversee developmental works in my mandal. Now with a
smaller state and smaller districts,  projects are expedited because Collector can
come visit regularly and monitor projects better. Grievance redressal is also faster
now. So from my experience, I believe smaller states and smaller districts are
better for the country.”

(This answer conveys to the board that: first, you have a reasoned opinion, and
second, you are aware of how administration is working in your native place.
This is how interview answers are different from Mains. In Mains, you state the
opinion of some committee or ARC or some expert to argue a point. But in
interview, your answers must be more personal. It’s your opinion and reasoning
that counts.)

Remove every strand of inferiority and insecurity you may have because,
say, you are 30+ or that you aren’t from a good college or you haven’t
worked at a reputable company. I know of friends who had done
graduation from IITs, interned at MNCs with good extra-curriculars. Yet
year after year, many such people fail to get exceptional marks.
Remember that the interview board rarely gets impressed by what’s on
paper. Rather they are more interested in knowing you and what you
speak in those 30 minutes. So whatever be your background, face the
interview with confidence.

When we watch a movie, we don’t memorise the all minute details such as the
dialogues, the locations, and the names of the characters etc. But when we
come out of the movie hall, we have an overall sense of how the movie was—
 terrible, decent, excellent and so on.

From the panel’s point of view, it’s something similar. When you come of the
room, they will not remember each and every answer you uttered, but they will
have an overall perception of you. Irrespective of your background, if you can
have a good intellectual conversation and convince them that you are fit for the
job, you’ll certainly score well.

Have no preconceived notions about any particular interview board.


Tackle each question on its merit; the asker or the board is not important
here. Also, statistics such as average marks given by a particular board
etc. are not only irrelevant but also counter productive.
The hyper-conscious among us have this habit of self evaluation even as
the interview goes on. It’ll keep you stuck on something you may have
uttered at the beginning of the interview. Inevitably, you’ll feel nervous and
unable to focus on the present question being asked. Don’t be too
conscious of your words or your presence. Be your natural self, and at
ease.
Answers should be neither brisk, nor too protracted. When they ask
opinionated questions, ideally you must state your opinion upfront and
then give a brief reasoning of why you think so. There’s no ideal duration
for an answer, because it varies from question to question. But try not to
belabour your point unnecessarily. If they want to know further, they’ll
anyway ask follow up questions.
This point is straight from the video I shared at the beginning of the post.
Sometimes the panel asks you flat questions such as “What are the
problems with politics in India?” Instead of giving a standard mains
answer such as criminalisation of politics, money power etc you can
choose to elevate the discussion.  For instance in this case, you can
say “Sir the problem with Indian politics is that capturing power has become
an end in itself, rather than a means to do greater good.” It might lead to
further discussion on ethics and politics etc. Hence such provocative
statements lead to follow up questions and engaging conversations.
Choose your moment wisely and elevate the discussion when they ask
flat questions.
Take a moment to think after they ask a question. It exudes calmness and
also helps you collect your thoughts. I’ve observed that the board
members are patient listeners. Only when you are rambling or belabouring
your point, they’ll cut you short. For some questions you can even use
pencil to write down.
If I have to summarise in one word what they look for in a candidate, I’d
say ‘balance’. Don’t get carried away if they are jovial, or flattering. And
don’t lose your footing if they are confrontational. Stay calm. Balance
must reflect in answers too.

Let’s say if they ask about Aadhar debate, my answer would have been:

“Sir I believe Aadhar and privacy is not a zero-sum game. We need both Aadhar
and protection of individual privacy (my opinion stated upfront). Currently the
debate is skewed either as only Aadhar or complete privacy. But we need more
nuance.”

And from here, if they want, they might ask follow up questions on data
breaches, benefits of Aadhar, privacy law etc. which you must be comfortable
with. So for contentious topics that are in news, prepare such balanced
opinions.

Prepare a question bank of most probable questions from your DAF. Your
goal must be to pre-empt as many questions as possible. If you prepare
well for the expected questions, it’ll give you the confidence to tackle
unexpected questions.
Don’t lie to the panel. Their experience in public life is more than your age.
They can easily tell.
Go with an open mind, but have a clear strategy for the interview. By this I
mean you must have definite things about you that you want the board to
know. It may be some academic project or some professional
achievement. They may or may not ask the question directly. But when
they ask a question related to that area, you should deftly bring in your
strong point naturally as part of the conversation. Experiment this in your
mocks. For instance, let’s say you have won an award for being part of a
project in your college or at your workplace. So when they ask- “What are
the qualities of a good leader?” Instead of giving a bookish answer, you
can talk about your project, and the traits that helped you successfully
lead and complete it.

After writing Mains, we tend to get into a habit of throwing around jargon
such as ‘participative approach’, ‘multi-stakeholder model of governance’,
‘women empowerment’, ‘disenfranchisement of the marginalised’ etc. In
the interview, instead of such complex phrases, use simple words.

Eg: To a question of what must be done to tackle gender bias, don’t say ‘Sir, we
need women empowerment, inclusive growth and a participative approach’. All
this mumbo-jumbo doesn’t mean anything.

Instead, say ‘Sir, we need to provide good education to the girl child, strengthen
our policing to ensure women safety, encourage more women in politics— from
panchayats to the parliament, and support women SHGs in a big way. These are
some of the few steps we can take to build a gender just society” From here they
can branch off to either of the sub-points you had mentioned.

Simplicity is clarity.

Think deeply why you want to join the civil service. When they ask this
question, it’s a good opportunity to convey about yourself—  your life story,
your beliefs and core values. Instead of cliched phrases such as ‘job
diversity’, ‘work satisfaction’, ‘public service’, ‘varied challenges’ etc., make
the conversation lively by telling about yourself. If you can convince the
board with a good, honest answer, your job is half done. Also, if you are
already working, your answer must focus on the positives that you see in
the civil service that excites and brings you here, rather than talking about
what you find lacking in your current job. Avoid negativity.
It’s absolutely fine to say ‘I do not know’ to some questions. But there’s a
slight catch here. If it is a factual question—  say, the share of thermal
power in India’s energy basket— and if you say you don’t know, it’s okay.
But let’s say the question is from your DAF. For instance, I had mentioned
‘Reading about Artificial Intelligence’ as one of my hobbies. Now when
asked, if I cannot tell the difference between AI and machine learning and
deep learning, I was either lying on my DAF or that I’m just plain
incompetent. Either way, it’s a serious indictment of me and I fall in the
eyes of the panel. So prepare well for your DAF related questions.
I’d suggest you to take 4-5 mocks depending on the time available. If your
last mock before the interview goes disastrous, seriously affecting your
morale, take another one to boost your confidence. The point is to go into
the actual interview with high morale. Sometimes you might receive
contrasting feedbacks from different mock interviews. Don’t get
confused. When in doubt, go with your gut feeling of what is right and
what is not. I was in Hyderabad through out my preparation, and took all
my mocks here, so I can’t comment on institutes at Delhi. The following
are the institutes I had taken mock interviews at:a. Officers IAS Academy-
Skype session (average)
b. Lakshmiah Institute (didn’t find it useful)
c. RC Reddy (good)
d. Feynman IAS Institute (personal discussion with Venkata Mohan sir
was helpful)
e. Hyderabad Study Circle (Excellent)

Finally, don’t let the weight of the aforementioned advice burden you.
Don’t treat them as cagey rules that you must follow to the last word, but
only as a mere compass that helps you navigate through your interview
preparation.

My Notes and Reading Material

Go through these notes and customise the questions according to your profile.
You may need to update some of the statistics in my notes, wherever
necessary.

1. Home state (Telangana) & Home district (Jagtial/Karimnagar)


Internet
Book on Telangana Economy
Latest Socio Economic Outlook of the State

2. Graduation (Electronics and Instrumentation): Notes

3. College (Birlas, BITS Pilani, Rajasthan): Notes

4. Hobbies (AI, Meditation) : Notes

5. Leadership positions (Football, Creative Activities Club, Project): Notes

6. Work Experience (Google, IRS, GST): Notes

7. Innovative Solutions: Notes

8. Compilation of Most Probable Questions from my Profile: Notes

9. Optional (Anthropology) : Notes

10. My Interview Transcript: Download

Interview preparation really forces us to know about ourselves deeply. It also


gives us a rare opportunity to walk through the hallowed portals of UPSC, and
to have an intellectual conversation with a distinguished panel of members. So
cherish the occasion.

I really enjoyed preparing for the interview. In fact, after the results, I took my
parents to UPSC, showed them the main building and the museum, explaining
the interview process and the rich history of this eminent institution.

The following pictures are some of my favourites.


Beaming with pride 

 
With my parents at the UPSC notice board, where the Civil Services final results
were still intact. Mom excitedly looks on, and says that all those coconuts and
early morning poojas haven’t gone in vain 

It’s only a matter of time before you find your name in the list, too. As you face
this final frontier, I will not wish you good luck. Luck is something not in our
hands and it presupposes a sense of lack of control. So I wish you what I told
myself on the day of my interview.

Do your best. That’s a win.

Read more on UPSC Exam preparation at: https://anudeepdurishetty.in

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