My Civil Service PT(Interview Transcript)
#Disclaimer: No two interviews are the same and hence, this isn’t a template. My only strategy that day was to be honest and genuine throughout my replies, without losing a middle ground between a gentle smile, Humility and Confidence. Ideas were also borrowed from many of my mentors.
21 Feb 2018. 2.30pm-3.10pm.
I was the first person from the after noon slot.
I asked ‘May I come In sir’ and the chairman called me in. There were five people in total, 4 men and a woman sitting at the other end of a horse shoe shaped table, while I sat at the centre, almost at arm’s length from them.
They were all busy reading my Detailed Application Form they had in hand and some were writing some questions down on a notepad.
After I wished everyone (First Chairman PK Joshi (whom I did not recognize) then from left to right), I sat on the seat they offered and thanked the chairman.
Chairman: So you are from NIT Calicut. Why not Kozhikode?
Anjali: Sir, Kozhikode is the regional name of the place, but the institute was named after the old, anglicized one.
C: Tell us about Kozhikode
A: (Points I mentioned): Coastal town in northern Kerala — Famous for its cuisine and culture for tourists — Ports like Beypore, which is also my where I come from, is famous for construction of large wooden boats which were exported to Arabian nations, Mesopotamia etc — It also has a cultural milieu that comes from equal number of Hindus and Muslims from its demography. There is also an annual fest called Calicut fest where thousands come together with music, dance etc — There are institute of higher learning like Indian Institute of Management- Calicut, NIT- Calicut, Indian institute of spices research etc. Several literary luminaries like SK Pottekad, Vaikkom Muhammed Basheer also hail from Kozhikode.
With Zamorin rule and there after Vascodagama landing at Kozhikode our historical view also shows a mixture of cultures.
C: What do you mean by ‘Illusion(he was pronouncing this as something else) is the greatest problem in communication’?
A: I don’t know sir. (I tried thinking for a few seconds, but had no idea)
C: Leave it then, tell me this. Why is Kerala known as God’s own country?
A: There are multiple reasons, sir (before I could complete, C interrupted)
C: tell us 5 reasons
A: One is the geographical location that has given us a salubrious climate (which he didn’t seem wanting to hear at all, no idea why)
Second would be the Kerala model that indicates high social development, recently even topping the health index by NITI Aayog,
Third would be the presence of backwaters and ecological spots of value
Fourth would be an internationally identifiable culture like Kathakali and Mohiniyattam that stands out
Fifth would be the high standard of living and practices like Ayurveda and Yoga with its own cultural brand
He nudged the second member to ask.
Member 2: So, you are an electronics and communication student, tell me a few disruptive technologies from electronics
A: Artificial Intelligence, Internet Of Things, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Robotics etc are disruptive technologies, Sir.
M4 (jumps in): Tell me the difference between electrical and electronics
A: Electrical designs the flow of current in any device/ circuit, while electronics incorporate some decision making into these circuits by various forms of logic implementation.
M4: Have you heard of GPS and GIS? Tell us what it is.
A: I defined GPS, GIS and gave two examples.
(back to) M2: You are working at Deloitte and performing well there too. Why do you want to be in the civil services?
A: Sir, as I started looking inward I realized that, my motivation to work hard has always been two.
One is my sense of curiosity to continuously learn.
The other my sense of purpose derived from meaningful work that benefits the world I live in.
My present career keeps me very happy in terms of my first motivation, but with forty years of work ahead, I realized that civil services would offer me an opportunity to derive meaning and a long term impact from my work on retrospect.
Hence, I kept trying for civil services along with my career.
M2: What is your response to the American President’s view that Indians are taking away American jobs?
(I started talking about some other stuff, I don’t remember, when the member reiterated the question and asked me to say only my response, it was when the question hit me :P)
A: Sir, the reason why Indians are valued in the knowledge industry internationally is due to their higher level of skill and intellect in terms of technology. But, yet Mr. Donald Trump’s move is a regressive step from globalization to moving backwards to a protectionist world, that wouldn’t benefit other nations like India. Hence, it is quite unfortunate. But it would also be difficult to believe that Indian skills in niche areas are replaceable.
M2: The second most spoken language in middle east is Malayalam….What are the reasons for so much unrest in Middle east nations?
A: (I listed a couple.) One is the inherent Sunni Shia conflict spread across middle east, another- terrorism and radicalization like ISIS, third is that all are oil driven economies and hence highly dependent on oil prices, fourth is the changing Israel Palestine dynamics that causes responses in Middle east Arab nations too. (I couldn’t give a lot of examples somehow)
M3: Tell me, what is blue ocean strategy?
A: I don’t know sir. (I was confused between the Blue Ocean economy or the one in Management about markets or the security aspects of Indian Ocean)
M3: Its about the Indian Ocean region and its influence in our policy formulation. Could you explain?
A: (I wasn’t answering sharply to the question and spoke about some things he didn’t seem to be happy with) Sir, Indian Ocean region, especially with IORARC( whose full form I had forgotten and couldn’t complete) is becoming more important due to our economic, security and strategic interests… There is a need for protection from terrorism.. Anything that happens in any nation of IOR can have a huge impact on India’s trade, security, economy and geopolitical placing. An example would be Sri Lanka or Maldives(Here, he corrected again)
M3: I meant policy formulation within India, Do you think Maldives has any importance in internal policy formulation?
A: Not in our internal policy sir. (Smiling realizing my mistake)
But IOR, and its security is vital for us since we have more than 7000km in coastline. Port led development (forgot the name Sagarmala :| ) is also in our agenda. (He didn’t seem happy).
M4: Tell me the difference between Astronomy and astrology
A: Astronomy is the field of science that deals with celestial objects and their origin and interactions. But, Astrology deals with the influence of these celestial objects on human life.
M4( smile): Do you think that astrology is a science?
A: Its often known as a pseudo science, but I don’t know enough about astrology to comment on it. (I was intentionally trying to be neutral here)
M4: If I tell you that today is not a Wednesday, but it’s a Saturday, what will you tell me? (Everyone was looking at each other surprised, since it really was a Wednesday)
A: Sir, I would like us to check a calendar and then decide. It is possible that I am wrong, though I think today is a Wednesday. (He was expecting some funny answer, like ‘Im glad it’s a holiday’ I guess)
M4: What if the calendar is wrong?
A: Sir, then perhaps each of us in this can room can be asked to check a different calendar, verify the fact and reach a consensus which is right. We are likely to find the wrongly marked calendar this way.
M4: Just because its written in a calendar, do we have to accept it?
A: Sir, since we have all accepted the standardization from the Gregorian calendar introduced by Pope Gregory the 14th (I have no idea why I said this, that too from a novel I had read a long while ago) for ease of use, we have seven days a week.
M3(interrupting): Is truth the average of a consensus?
A(smiling, realizing my mistake): No sir it is not.
M3: So you understand that the calendar is a manifestation of an external truth and not otherwise?
A: Yes sir, I do.
M4: Do you think that we are heading towards destruction? I can give you an example of misuse of environment.
A: Sir, human beings have a way of misusing out of greed whatever resources we have, like environment or resources.. But over time, humanity has displayed and developed abilities to self correct. For example, we have Sustainable Development Goals of the UN to promote sustainable development as a response to the destruction caused on the environment. Hence, I don’t think we are unidirectionally heading towards destruction.
M4: Do you think happiness is measurable?
A: Sir, happiness is a subjective term and hence can mean very different things to you and me. But for each of us to pursue our own ideas of happiness, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs speaks of the basic necessities needed for any man- Like shelter, food, safety etc, without which happiness cannot exist. In that sense, happiness can be measured, but each of our personal happiness cannot be measured.
M4: There is a state where they have a separate notion of happiness as progress. Can you tell us about that?
A (I was confused if he was asking for MP or Bhutan): Sir, did you mean the happiness index of Bhutan?
M4: Yes. What are the elements of their index?
A: Environment, Culture, sense of community and I do not know the rest, Sir..(I din’t know the rest)
M4( smile): They are not progressing in other metrics. Do you think they invented this index to feel good because they aren’t performing well in other metrics?
A: Sir, each nation, based on their own philosophy of life and culture can have different definitions for their happiness. Hence, Bhutan’s index may not work for India and US. But it is for each nation to define what progress and happiness can mean to them based on their belief system and values.
M4: Have you visited or stayed in any village?
A: yes sir, my mother hails from a small village from Palakkad where I used to stay during my summer holidays every year.
M4: Do you think that they are happier than people in cities?
A: Yes sir, I do think they are.
M4: Tell me why you think so.
A: Sir, their happiness is connected to the ambitions and wants that are far more simpler than urban populace. Since, its more achievable than others keeping them closer to being happy. They also have a strong sense of community. In my mom’s village people know up-close others who live in a 2km perimeter and hence has a strong sense of togetherness which makes life more happy and meaningful.
M4: So you think smaller ambitions are the reason for their happiness?
A: Sir, I did not mean that any ambition is smaller, only that, they are different from each other.
M4: So theirs is simpler than the urban population?
A: Yes sir. One can say that it is simpler, less complicated, but not smaller.
M5(Woman member): Do you think that our values are eroding, like not respecting elders etc?
A: In some ways yes madam, our crime records show steady increase towards women and vulnerable communities despite all the development. We also see tendencies like showing no respect for elders etc.
M5(Woman member): Why do you think this is happening?
A: Nuclear family, loss of traditions, individualistic pursuits instead of collective pursuits like earlier, Westernization, influx of technology leading to an alienation from a sense of community could all be reasons for this, Madam.
M5(Woman member): Tell me how can we correct these.
A: I think that we should begin the development of responsible individuals from family which is the first place we are our authentic selves. And there after, in schools too.
M5(Woman member): Have you ever studied sociology? (she was searching in my DAF)
A: No Ma’sm, I haven’t.
M5(Woman member): What are some other ways an individuals values are from?
A: Ma’am, education, society also instill values.
M5(Woman member): Do you think that religion has a part to play in it?
A: Yes ma’am, religions do inculcate certain value systems, but it can depend on a person’s exposure to it. For example, Buddhism inculcates a tradition of peace, Hinduism, as ancient as it is, has evolved a set of values that can influence individuals from very young and so do the other religions.But, this depends on how much of an exposure the individual has, through family or social set up.
M5(Woman member): So you agree religion has a role?
A: Yes ma’am.
M4: Can you tell me a religion that points to desire as a bad thing?
A: Yes sir, Buddhism preaches that Desire is the cause of all misery.
M5(Woman member): Decision making is critical in any field. Do you think so?
A: Yes ma’am, it is.
M3(jumping in): Did you ever have to choose between two options? How would you decide something above the other?
A: Sir, I would first think of the pros and cons for each choice. In case there are other stakeholders who might be impacted, I will look at the cost benefit of that too. Further, I will read up more about that particular area of knowledge from books, consult experts if possible and then make a decision.
M3: Are you very sure of your career choice? Have you made that decision?
A: Yes sir, I have.
M3: Was that how you decided on civil service? A lot of people come here for an illusion of what it is.
A: Yes sir. I happened to read up about the opportunities in the service, speak to a few civil servants and read works of diplomats as well which is also why I gave my first preference as IFS. (here he said very good.. etc etc)
M5(Woman member): Why did you keep IFS as a first option?
A: Ma’am, since young I have been reading books and authors from different cultures and nations. So early on, I developed an interest in other cultures and nations thereby leading to an interest in international affairs as I grew up.
I realized that the largest problems that my generation face like inequality, poverty, climate change etc are not problems that India faces alone. They are faced by many countries together and global problems need global solutions to be implemented. It would be a prestige and honor to defend India’s interest in international platforms and stand together to move forward. I like traveling too, hence the lifestyle will not be a bane on me.
M5(Woman member): Where all have you travelled? Have you traveled abroad?
A: Ma’am, I have only traveled around a few places within India.
M5: Imagine a scenario where you have two choices, You believe for sure that one is right. But your team is completely against it. What will you do?
A: Ma’am, I would first try to communicate and understand what are the reasons behind their choice over a round table.
Then, I would compare the pros and cons for both. The short term and long term impact will also be analyzed. If I think that their choice is a better alternative than mine after this process, then I would go by that.
M5: Wont your ego come into play and make you stick on to your decision?
A: Definitely not, ma’am. Humility will only make me a better leader by setting an example and making me more approachable to them.
C: Your interview is over, You can leave.
I thanked everyone, kept the chair back and left.
Over all, they were cordial, but not extremely enthusiastic and friendly as well. The chairman was writing something looking down except when he was asking me questions and seemed very indifferent, but not antagonistic. I felt that the questions were extremely random due to which I had to drive them to topics once a while eg: mentioning IFS is my first option in some other answer. There were no questions on literature as my optional/ hobbies/ interests etc from the Application Form I had submitted.
I couldn’t also gauge if my answers were satisfactory from their response. And a feeling of randomness is the only remnant feeling on retrospect.
My score for the interview was 182, which is a reasonably decent score for interview this year.
This is one out of a series of articles I am planning to write on my civil service preparation and journey.
The Original article is here: https://medium.com/@anjalibonafide/the-sense-of-a-new-beginning-3ff4082086ac
I will attach details to each one and Post it on Medium whenever I get time.
If you may have questions on any of these, you may use the comments section below the articles, as a forum, to ask me questions or use it to share your ideas with fellow aspirants who may benefit from your understanding of it.