Shubham Gupta scored the 6th all India rank in the UPSC civil services exam 2018. Let’s have a look at the interview session with the super talented Shubham Gupta and check out his expert tips for the IAS interview round.
Interview with AIR 6 Shubham Gupta
How has the Experience been of being a Civil Servant for One Year?
So we started the training, training is something we wanted to be in LBSNAA, we always wanted to experience the kind of life that we all used to see in Youtube videos, photos there. So we went there, enjoyed a lot, studied a lot also. So overall it was an enriching time for us and good joyful time for all of us.
Then corona time started, we came to our district. Like Maharashtra people we all drove from Mussoorie to respective districts in Maharashtra, it took us three days. Then our attachments started. So attachments were relatively not so strenuous. We used to have a lot of time to ourselves to get accustomed to the city, to the place we are posted and understand different aspects of the administration.
So we were attached from police to forest to judiciary, to every other aspect of the administration that you can think of. Just because overall everything is brought together
In the job of an IAS officer and now since the last two weeks, I am posted as the chief officer.
Now I feel the responsibility to run the office so I can feel the challenges that I always wanted. So it’s been pretty adventurous the last two weeks- dealing with the politicians, staff, the inertia that exists. Even the inertia from the people who you’re trying to help. So all those things really come into play at the same time and that’s a really interesting turn of events.
That’s Great! I believe, because of COVID Your Responsibilities and the Work-Life must have been Modified a Lot
Actually. Our schedule was also modified. We could not do our training in the state academy at Pune. Our training was impacted a lot. All of us who are outsiders in the state of Maharashtra face a lot of difficulty with the language right now. We are not trained wholesomely in this language. We’re trying to pick it up on the go. Apart from that, basically, the development of the work has been hampered because we have a lack of funds and also a lot of staff is engaged in corona work. Everything is not very well organized right now but we have to manage with what we have.
I hope Everything becomes Normal Soon. Now Coming Back to the Original Agenda of the Interview; Shubham, what was Your Interview Score?
So I have given two interviews. One was 124 and the next was 184.
In Your Opinion, When They Take an Interview, What Exactly are They Looking for in the Personality Test?
From what I have experienced in the two interviews, I gave, I think there are 2-3 major qualities that they are looking at. They are not looking for knowledge, that is the thing that one has to understand from the beginning because they have already tested your knowledge in mains. So they don’t want you to know anything and everything. So when you are in the interview panel and saying that ‘ok I don’t know this answer’ is not bad at all, you need to be very comfortable telling them that ‘I don’t know this’. This is the first thing.
And what they are looking for is somebody who is willing to learn. So somebody who is sincere enough, innocent enough who can be moulded, moulded in a sense that he/ she can understand and mould themselves into according to what is existing. Because in the administrative job that we are in, there are a lot of challenges that you need to be very practical, you need to be on the go, you know you have to think on your feet, you have to innovate, you have to be flexible. So all these things come into the picture only when you are willing to learn. So they are looking at those qualities which are very basic but those become very important when you are in a challenging job like civil services.
When did you Actively Start Preparing for the Interview? Did You do Anything before the Mains or Your Interview Preparation Started Exclusively after Your Mains were Over?
Exclusively after the mains were over. Dedicated studying or preparing for the interview started only after the mains.
How did You Plan for the Interview?
So the process actually starts before the mains, because you fill your detailed application form before the mains and that is absolutely a crucial stage for the entry personality test because most of the key questions are likely to be asked, from your detailed application form. And that is why you need to be absolutely careful in filling your detailed application form. I was smarter in my second attempt to be more careful in filling out my application form and I think that also helped me out in improving my score in the second attempt. So that is the first stage. You need to be very very clear into ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ you put on that form. That will really help you out when the interview comes.
I was not sure about the results. So I did not immediately start after the mains. But I did was, well here I will talk about the second attempt because I was more strategically oriented in the second attempt so in this I was already working in audited accounts so I knew that if at all I get through the mains exam and get the interview call, some of the questions are most likely to be asked from audited accounts and I need to get a good hold of what has happened in audited accounts. What are the controversial reports or topics I can be asked about? Why did I want to switch from audited accounts to IAS? That’s the key question which you may not be asked but you have to always prepare for. And so those were the things which I always was thinking right from the time I gave mains that if the interview call comes I should at least be handy enough with some of the knowledge that is needed for the current job that I‘m doing and maybe I can think about the detailed application form later. So for me, the deep study of the detailed application form started after the results of mains and that still gave me 2.5 months to prepare. So if somebody is pretty sure about the mains result then they might start the preparation right away because not everybody is lucky to get 2.5 months.
So now once you start preparing for the interview. The first thing you have to do is study your detailed application form absolutely diligently. What you need to do is pick up keywords from everything and anything that is written by you. It may include your name, your birthplace, school, your father’s birth and workplace etc.
For example, my school name is Shree Swami Narayan Gurukul and I was asked what kind of a school is gurukul. And from there they took residential schools in India to Navodaya Vidyalaya so you need to be very thorough about whatever is being put, what is the background of it, and how it is linked to the current situation of India. Then move to college, what you did in college. I was asked a lot of questions about economics. I think 80% of my interview was economic-based. Despite my opted subject being law, I was asked more about economics than law. Then your hobby; you need to be very very thorough about what you have written there. Your extracurriculars are very important. So basically what I’m trying to say is every word that is being put to that detailed application form becomes absolutely key because they will definitely pick up something from there and link it with current events and start asking questions.
What were the Changes in Your DAF that You Implemented from the First to the Second Time?
Majorly the area where something can be changed in a digital application form is two places one is extracurricular in which you have to put what all positions you have held, what all sports you have played and another key area are your hobbies. Those are the two key areas where you can innovate on your own end and try to get the interviewers to ask you questions from there.
So in the first attempt, I tried to be very basic, I tried to play very safely. For extracurricular I wrote I organized a college fest, I was part of the UGC sponsored innovation project. And the second thing which I did was I filled up a lot. So in the hobby list, I put three hobbies, in sports, I put three sports, in my extracurricular I put 5 activities which really built up a lot of material for me to study/ prepare. In the next attempt when I was filling out the form, I had realized what mistake I had made.
So I had done a project on courtesan culture of India mythology. That is something which no one has heard and I had the honour of co-authoring a book too.
Imagine yourself as the interviewer, so are you not inclined about asking questions on that? You will be. And I know you will ask me and I am prepared. So you also have to be smart enough to understand the psyche of the interviewer to put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer and then fill your application form accordingly but be smart and don’t give them too much information about yourself.
If you put that I play cricket, football, tennis now how many sports can you prepare about, read about? In this attempt, while I was writing about my hobbies I put up a very very specific hobby. I wrote reading non-fiction so I was very well prepared about non-fiction. One I was being very honest and second, I tried to be a little smart about my detailed application form.
And if you have done something unique then be courageous enough and put it there and be rest assured that 90% chances are you will be asked a question on that.
So You Mentioned that the Majority of Questions were on Economics, is that Usually the Case? What Was Your Reaction to Your Subject related Questions?
Being asked questions about the graduation background is the common thing to be done by the interviewers. So you have to know the basics. For example, I cannot go in the interview and tell them that I don’t know the law of demand and supply, that won’t work like that. They are not looking for you to be super smart but not super stupid either. So you need to know the basics, rest if you don’t know you can go ahead and tell ‘sir, I am not able to recall right now’.
It’s a Very Common Concern that People have that ‘How Many Times Can You Safely Say I don’t know?’ What is Your Opinion on that?
There is absolutely no limit in saying a number of nos that you can say in the interview but also remember if you start saying a string of nos the interviewer understands it. He/ she doesn’t want to listen ‘no’ from you, so they may modify questions accordingly. So there will never be a time when you have to say no 10 times to them. It will be like two-three times and then they will ask you something else.
Second, always learn to say no three-four different ways. One can be ‘sorry sir I don’t remember it’, ‘sorry sir I can’t recall it right now, I will go home and read more about it’, ‘I had read about it but can’t recall now’, so there can be different ways of saying no.
Can You Describe the Ambience of the Interview Room? What Exactly does it Look Like? Would you Just Describe the Experience?
You get called to sit outside and that is the most difficult time. Even inside the interview panel, you will not feel so much scared compared to sitting on that chair outside the room.
Now you move inside and you see a big table as large as a dining table for about 8 people. Two people on the right, two people on the left and you are made to sit right in front of that chair with a slight gap between the table and the chair because they want to see how comfortable you are.
For the first time it might be a little intimidating, from what I have faced and heard from other people they do not try to grill you, they are very nice people generally.
What is the Ideal Dress code? Whether One Should Wear a Tie or Not?
If you can wear a suit that is the best. If you can’t then wear a tie, a good white shirt and a good trouser. But keep in mind that anything you wear it has to be smart. Don’t wear a shirt that is not ironed properly, don’t wear shabby shoes, be decent enough. Look like an officer. Otherwise, there are no hard rules regarding that in the dress code. But I think wearing a tie is necessary at least for guys.
What was Going Through Your Mind before the Interview?
Ans: In the first time I had no idea I was completely blank. I had no idea what would happen. So even sitting outside the room, I was thinking if I am looking nice not looking nice. Is it decent? What is the situation inside? The second time, I got accustomed to all that. Nothing was new to me. I had seen the room from inside.
What was going on in my mind the night before and even sitting on that chair were the mistakes I had made last time. I didn’t want to repeat myself. I kept reminding myself don’t do this. And what were the mistakes I will tell you – not walking in properly, walking out properly and not saying good morning.
This does not matter to the board members as such but this matters to your own confidence. So this is the first 10 full seconds of your interview. Walk-in properly, sit properly and say good mornings properly you’re good to go. If you are confident enough and walk out they will observe you by the way you walk out so you need to walk out properly, walk-in properly and you need to be confident in your good mornings. That is absolutely important, even thank you for that matter.
What kind of Books/ Materials were You Referring to When You were Preparing for the Interview?
In my interview phase, I switched the newspaper from the Hindu to the Indian express because I liked their views much better. Apart from that, I was reading non-fiction books which is my hobby so I wanted to be current with whatever I was doing. I wanted to make notes out of it.
Third, I made a list of topics which I had to research and try to do one topic every day and make notes out of it. And meanwhile, I was very comfortable with economics so I was not reading much on economics as such. But if you are really not sure about your background subject then you need to cover it.
Was there any Memorable Incident during the Interview which You Remember?
Actually, there were two really interesting questions that were asked.
A lady was sitting, she started asking me about my hobby. I expected the interviewer to ask me which book I am reading, who is your favourite author and that’s it. But mam really started asking me to have you read this book? I said no mam. Because I had not. Now she gave me another take. Have you read this book? I said no mam. But I know that it is written by Siddharta Mukherjee. So she says ok have you read it? I said no mam. So this is two crosses so probably the last chance I get in the interview. So now she named the third book which is for economics so fortunately, she did not ask me the author because I did not know the name of the author. She directly asked me what is it about?
Again, fortunately, I had read only one chapter of the book, not the entire book but I told her I had read it and I explained that one chapter and she got really happy. So probably that particular question really helped me out.
Then the chair came and he did a really interesting thing, he does this to a lot of people. He picked up my photo and showed it to me and asked me if this is you and put it down nothing else.
While being in the Interview does this Thought Keep Running through Your Mind that You are Average or You are doing Good?
Ans: No not really my interview was 25 minutes and I was asked 50 questions so there is no time to think about anything apart from the questions. But the mind is a fantastic thing, there is subconscious, in subconscious you know you did not answer the question properly so overall the mind is accessing the situation.
What Tips would You give to Candidates Starting their UPSC Preparation? What would be Your Advice?
My advice is never to do your school/ college from correspondence. Secondly never take your school/ college lightly. Always take it absolutely seriously because those are the years where your personality gets trained. So those are the first few good steps you have to take.
When you read things, try to form a perspective about whatever event is happening in your mind. International or national event politics for that matter. I was asked a lot of political questions. You need to have a balanced brim of mind.
So you read the Hindu, Times of India but combine it all and put it in just one single narrative that you want to tell anybody who asks you questions on that particular topic so that wholesomely will help you out in terms of building up your personality and last thing which I would like to say always have one extra circular hobby throughout your UPSC journey that will really help you out in the interview, mains, prelims.
Why did You Choose Law instead of Economics?
Choosing law was not a very smart decision but sticking to the law was a well-thought decision. I chose law because I was told that law is a very scoring subject as compared to economics but I found out that this is not true, economics is any day much scoring that law. But after I took the law, I started enjoying it.
While choosing the optional subject, one should keep in mind that the subject should be scoring as well as interesting. Even though law was not scoring much, I found it interesting.
So this was an inspiring interview session with AIR 6 Shubham Gupta. Hopefully, this inspiring interview with Shubham will motivate many aspirants to work harder and achieve their goal. Best of luck!
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