Mastering the UPSC Interview: Strategies to Conquer Tricky Questions asked in the UPSC Interview

IAS Interview Tricky Questions

There are some tricky questions asked in the UPSC Interview that are quite unsettling for most of the candidates. If one wants to ace the UPSC Interview, one must prepare concise and convincing answers to such questions.

This article of NEXT IAS discusses the 3 most tricky questions asked in the UPSC Interview and strategies to tackle them.

Justifying Career Gap due to UPSC Preparation or Long Years of Preparation

2-3 years of career gap is very common among the candidates appearing for the UPSC Interview. However, for many, this gap may be large enough to prompt the Interview Board to pose a question on this. Since such unsettling questions might disturb the composure during the interview, a candidate must prepare a concise and convincing answer to this question.

Here are some pointers which can help one frame a good response to this question:

1. Be Honest and Truthful: The Interview Board has before it the record of your career. Thus, any attempt to fabricate the fact might backfire and tarnish your image before the board. So, it’s better to admit the gap at the outset.

  • One interview board, generally, consists of a Chairman and 4 other Members. Taking the average years of public life experience of one member as a modest 20 years, the cumulative experience of the interview board amounts to 20 x 5 = 100 years. The candidate must understand that you cannot fake before the interview board and get away with it.

2. Highlight Your Development: Once you have admitted the gap, you need to justify it smartly. The best way to do this is to explain how you have improved yourself as a person by gaining more knowledge. You can choose to quote specific examples to make this sound more authentic and convincing. 

3. Express Your Commitment to Your Goal: It is an obvious fact that one’s career gap has occurred because of one’s engagement in the UPSC preparation. This fact needs to be told to the interview board in a way to your benefit. One smart way of doing this could be to explain your commitment to your goal of entering into civil services. 

4. Stay Confident: One mustn’t lose one’s confidence while answering such questions. You don’t have to be apologetic for your career gap. Just put forward your honest response and move on confidently with the interview. 

5. Stay Prepared for a Follow-up Question: Usually, any response to such questions does invite some follow-up questions. This is more so if you were employed in the past or have some professional degree such as engineering, medicine etc. One should prepare for such follow-up questions as well. 

The overall approach to tackling this question is to be honest and put an emphasis on the constructive use of the gap period. Moreover, focus on convincing the interview panel that you are a worthy candidate for being chosen as a civil servant. 

Backup Plans if you don’t clear the UPSC Civil Services Exam

This question, though appears very simple at the outset, is actually a double-edged sword. If your response to this question leans heavily toward the Backup Plan, it reflects that you are not very serious about your Civil Services dream. On the other hand, if you outrightly deny having any Plan B, it might be interpreted as you not being serious about your career. Thus, one has to present a very balanced response to this question.

Here are some pointers that can help one frame a balanced response to this question:

1. Express Your Commitment to Your Goal: One should start one’s response to this question by re-affirming one’s commitment to Plan A i.e. Civil Services. However, to not sound overly optimistic, one can mention that one is aware of the high level of competition.  

2. Discuss Your Long-Term Goal: Once you have admitted that there are uncertainties on the way to your current goal, you need to also emphasize your pragmatism. This is the time to discuss your long-term career goals as well as your determination to succeed in life. You should put this thought in a way that reflects your forward-thinking approach. 

3. Quote Some Alternate Career Options: Your response won’t sound convincing unless you quote some alternate career options to be chosen in case of failure. It should be noted that the alternate career options so quoted must align with your long-term goals. 

4. Showcase Your Positive Values: Such questions, though sound a little unsettling, do present opportunities to showcase your positive qualities. For example, some of the values that are desirable in a future civil servant can be weaved in the response to this question, such as flexibility, forward-thinking, etc. 

5. Stay Prepared for a Follow-up Question: Usually, any response to such questions does invite some follow-up questions. The follow-up questions will depend on your response. Hence, along with a good response to this question, you should prepare a balanced response for them as well. 

The key is to demonstrate your dedication to the civil services dream while also indicating your pragmatism. 

Justifying the Optional Subject being different from the Graduation Subject

Several factors mean that choosing an Optional Subject which is different from the Graduation Subject is a common practice among the UPSC aspirants. As is common this practice, so is a question in the UPSC interview based on a change of the subject. So, it’s better to prepare a balanced and convincing response to this question beforehand.

Here are some pointers which can help one frame a convincing response to this question:

1. Acknowledge the Shift: At the very outset, you must acknowledge that you have made this shift knowingly and thoughtfully. 

2. Explain the Reason: Now that you have acknowledged the shift, you must provide a convincing reason for the same. If the Optional Subject has some relevance to the General Studies papers of the Mains syllabus, it could be chosen as a reason. Otherwise, one can quote some other good reasons such as one’s interest in the Optional Subject, easy availability of study materials, etc. 

3. Justify the Shift: Apart from giving a good reason for the shift, one should justify the shift. This could be done by explaining how the knowledge of Graduation Subjects as well as Optional Subjects could be useful in civil services. 

4. Link the Shift to Your Long-Term Goal: The justification for the shift can be continued by linking the knowledge of the chosen Optional Subject to your long-term career goals. This point could be articulated in a way to showcase that you have a forward-thinking approach. 

5. Stay Confident: It is possible that the Interview Board will not be convinced by the reasons and justifications furnished by you. In such a situation, one mustn’t get into guilt mode. One should, rather, stay confident and stick to one’s stand. After all, the UPSC itself allows one to choose any subject as the Optional Subject!

The overall approach should be to convince the interview board that your decision is well-informed. Also, an indication is to be dropped that you are not wasting knowledge of your Graduation Subject. 

By following the strategies as explained above, one can present a balanced response to these and similar other tricky questions asked in the UPSC Interview. Overall, the key is to maintain confidence and composure while presenting convincing reasoning to justify your response.

We wish you all the best for your UPSC Interview!


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