Thank you once again for your overwhelming responses all this while. It was really heartening to see how the blog-posts on prelims strategy were found to be helpful by aspirants, giving a sense of fulfillment bigger than anything else! I would be making a detailed plan for IFS Mains exam too in days to come. Today, I am sharing my maiden interview experience at UPSC – the be-it-all place for civil servants and aspirants in India! It was an interview (Personality Test) to remember for several reasons, one of them indeed being scoring 204, one of the highest marks this year, other being this was the longest interview I faced till now. Here we go with the transcript 🙂
Board: Shri Arvind Saxena
Date: 27th February , 2017
Time: 9 am Morning Slot
Duration: 45 minutes , 1st candidate to be interviewed
Background: MBA (IB) IIFT Delhi, Chemistry (H) St. Stephen’s
Hobbies: Poetry writing, Blogging, Travelling
It was a warm but breezy morning, and I was the last person to reach among the 10 candidates! After the formalities viz documentation, we were told our respective boards (there were two) and sequence of interview. Barely five minutes of waiting, was called by the attendant to sit outside the ‘interview’ room. A loud ring soon followed, breaking the multitude of thoughts running across my mind and I walked inside. There were 5 people including the Chairman sitting around a pentagon-shaped table. Wished each one of them cheerfully and approached closer. (PS: A constant pleasant expression helps to pass through 45 long minutes fairly well!)
Chairman: Please sit.
(Read out my qualifications aloud for all members. I could feel the intense gaze of all other members but soon got into the groove. One of the members sitting next to Chair was probably a psychologist, who didn’t ask one question in the entire session but did not distract his gaze from me either :P)
Q 1.Why bureaucracy after corporate sector?
Three reasons sir. One is the scale and scope of impact I would be able to make directly. Second is the motivation for public service wherein I can do well and do good for people at the same time. Third, the work diversity offered in government administration is unparalleled.
Q 2. How comfortable will you be with the pay cut?
Thoroughly comfortable. It was an understanding right from the days of MBA, that money cannot be the sole motivation for a fulfilling long-term career. I was in fact amused how people were judged based on the ‘packages’ they received, and not necessarily their personal merit and capabilities! (Chairman Smiles)
Q 3. Why Indian Forest Service?
This service allows me to be a part of the momentous churn taking place today as an interplay between environment and development. Going forward, balancing this will only gain more importance both nationally and internationally, and as a student of science and management I wish to be a part of this narrative. The service also offers to work closely for improving forest dwellers’ and tribal people’s livelihoods who have been most often denied the fruits of development. Finally, I draw my close affinity to and understanding of nature through my growing-up years in Mussoorie and as an IFS both my personal and professional ambitions would be fulfilled.
Q 4. Fair enough. But I see you have crossed bridges often since your college days. Any specific reason?
Yes sir, I agree. I am a firm believer of the adage ‘Variety is the Spice of Life’!
Q 5. Ok well, what was your role at VMock ?
I was working as a Client Relations Manager. My organization provides an analytics-based career-development platform for Ivy League B-school graduates and university students globally. As a CRM, I was handling end-to-end post-sales processes for our clients.
Q 6. Who were your clients, the students?
No, it was the administration side of those institutions. In the West, they have dedicated career service centers who help students in their placement processes. But we did help out students directly if they reached out to us.
Q 7. Ok. And what was your internship at Cipla about?
It was a Market Research project based out of Delhi, wherein through doctors’ and patients’ interviews, an evaluation of practices/outcomes in asthma care was to be done and recommendations be made. (Couple of follow-up questions here. Told.)
Q 8. Have you heard about the Club of Rome?
(Took a pause after the sudden change of topic) Yes sir, it was one of the earliest groups to have raised the issue of environmental consciousness and explosive human growth, way back in 1960s.
Q 9.When was “Limits to Growth” report released?
I am not very sure, but Club of Rome released it in 1972, around the same time as Stockholm Declaration. (Avoid hazarding guesses though ! )
Q 10. Yes. What is your take on GM (Genetically Modified) crops, should we have them?
We have seen the benefits of GM crops in the past, with improved yields and more resistance. They are the prime solutions to the crisis of food security that will occur as world population inches northward. (Chair intervenes)
Q 11. Then what is the problem? How can we make GM crops more viable in India?
Silo working. Our scientists are not having enough conversations with the common public and NGO groups who raise valid concerns about the threats of GM crops as was seen with Bt Brinjal and now Mustard. To increase viability, government must step in to facilitate reasoned discussions among all stakeholders, and bring more transparency and rapidity in the approval processes.
Q 12. Ok. What do you think about the future of Paris Agreement now that new US administration is here?
We cannot let a repeat of Kyoto happen. US as the biggest polluter owes most accountability for climate change problem, and the world community must ensure it becomes part of the solution as well. A safe future is not the prerogative of one nation alone.
Chairman nods approvingly, and asks the lady member to shoot 😀
Q 13.Figures on Forest cover in India and the target?
Close to 22% for forest, 24% for forest and tree cover combined. Our stated policy is to reach 33% of the total land area.
Q 14. What strategies to reach 33 % target cover?
There are two strands to it. One would be at the scientific level i.e. regeneration of degraded land, afforestation and reforestation etc. The other at a social and community level basis agroforestry, joint forest management, social and urban forestry. Awareness would be necessary to drive the second strand.
Q 15. Why do you say awareness? Can it really help?
In my view, it can. Einstein stressed on nature conservation’s vitality, when he said if bees vanished from the face of Earth, man would have exactly four more years of survival. The simple fact that if there are no forests, there is no oxygen and no life needs to become a part of the common man’s psyche. Our forefathers saw forests as the genesis of development and livelihood but today they are seen as a hindrance, that mindset needs to change. For that awareness is key, which can generate bottom-up pressure building tactics for governments to act seriously.
Q 16. Let us hope that happens Aishwarya. Heard of exotic species, what are they?
Ma’am, they are species that are not indigenous to the place of growth, but brought from outside land. When they turn invasive, problem begins.
Q 17. Give an example of how exotics spoiling the environment.
Lantana creepers have engulfed much of the forest land in North India, leading to loss of native species and increase in monoculture and pest attacks.
Q 18. Any other example v/s native species?
In Mussoorie, and most of mid-latitude Western Himalayas evergreen robust species like Oak and Deodars are losing out to exotic pine cultivation. The commercial aspects of pine have unfortunately overpowered the threats of pine needles leading to forest fires, loss of biodiversity and moisture regeneration that Oak trees provide.
(Round 2 over here)
Member 3 : (Most affable and smiling among all 🙂 )
Q 19. Number of Wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in India.
(Blurted out excitedly I just read it last night and all members had a little laugh. Face-palm.) 103 National Parks and 537 WLS sir.
Q 20. Precise! What is the difference between Wildlife sanctuaries and national parks difference from legal point of view?
Explained the core area and buffer difference between the two.
Q 21. Under which Act are they covered?
They are both part of the protected area network under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Q 22.Research forestry in India, what is your view on it?
From what I could gather, there are some excellent institutions like FRI, WRI etc. Then there are also CSIR labs working on associated NTFP like CFTRI, Mysore. But the issues plaguing here are similar to the ones that the whole research industry faces in our country – less academia-industry partnerships, funding issues and low university involvement. We still have a long way to go.
Q 23. Ok. Where are rainforests found in India?
(Took 5 seconds or so to recollect, I was a little exhausted and took a glass of water.) Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Western Ghats and North East region.
Q 24.Chemistry role and its importance in environment studies.
I think sir Chemistry is at the very heart of environmental matters. The understanding about how a compound can be a nutrient at one level, and become a pollutant at another comes through Chemistry. Same is the case with Greenhouse gases today, the causes for climate change. The subject is useful for understanding biogeochemical cycles, ethno-botany and traditional knowledge studies among other areas.
Q 25.Can you explain Chemistry use in bamboo cultivation?
I am not aware of that sir, probably in seed quality enhancement and pest control measures?
Q 26.You should look that up. And how will your MBA degree be of use in Indian Forest Service?
Sir, forests are the most crucial resources that need prudent scientific management today. As a manager and administrator, I would be better equipped basis citizen-centricity, co-creation and service-delivery for people in remote areas so as to ensure their support in environment conservation and fight against poachers. Also, a major work in progress is creating the right platform for more open-communication and collaboration between IFS and citizens, through my marketing skills I would facilitate that. Eco-tourism management is another area to work on.
(Round 3 over)
Member 4 (His canvas of questions were wider than the previous two)
Q 27. Who are your favourite poets?
Robert Frost, Gurudev Tagore and William Wordsworth. I also enjoy Ruskin Bond’s poetry collections on nature.
(Was excitedly expecting more questions to follow, but none came up :/)
Q 28. That is nice. Ok, tell me do you think globalization is under threat today?
Going by the developments in US, Europe and Brexit, a shift towards protectionism has definitely started, consequently the threat of anti-globalization. But I feel the world is too integrated today to realize its backward journey.
Q 29. What should be done then if the threat is real?
Today we have new champions of free trade and movement in China and India. So we ought to take the lead in fighting protectionist forces. Multilateral platforms like WTO and UN need to be utilized vociferously for this cause.
Q30. Ok. What are the most visible impacts of climate change, not the entire list?
For starters sir, it is a warm February morning today unlike the cold Delhi nip of previous years. More eccentric weather, extreme events, increased frequency of droughts followed by floods have also become a reality. These are most visible impacts in addition to glacier melts and climate refugee crisis.
Q 31.Right. Which island first to submerge due to climate crisis?
Don’t know sir, won’t hazard a guess now !
Q 32.No problem. Tell me this, why are we Indians hypocrites, on one hand we worship and then pollute rivers and nature?
It is about our notions and strong traditional belief systems sir, which have passed on since the ages. Where river Ganga’s water is the life-giver upon death, howsoever polluted it itself be. More than being hypocritical, it is these notions that need to change for which education is the only panacea. And to drive across the point that polluting resources would eventually come back to haunt human beings alone in a myriad ways, from diseases to droughts.
Q 33. You are right. But how will you bring behavioral change with respect to this environmental consciousness among people?
We have to do away with ‘one size fits all approach’ in the first place. To convince people to change their notions, we will have to classify them into segments and do our targeting appropriately. For example, at village level involving religious leaders, Gram Panchayats and Sarpanches would be more impactful than us simply sticking posters or doing TV commercials, since they are the thought leaders/influencers there. The government will have to ensure support of NGOs, civil society and enlightened citizens in carrying forward this cause, as seen with the success of Swachch Bharat. Finally, ‘practice before you preach’ has to be our motto at all times.
Q 34. Why civil servants need to be more ethical than other citizens?
Sir as the name suggests, civil servants are there to serve the interests of people. At the end of the day, they are looked upto by citizens especially the less-fortunate ones to provide them services and resources, a sort of role-model. So it becomes imperative for civil servants to be all the more ethical and empathetic in their conduct and behavior. They are there to drive change in society, but as Gandhiji said “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Only when they keep rooted to their ethical and moral values can they hope to be change-makers in the larger context.
Q 35.Ok, one final question. There is another statement by Gandhiji about Earth being enough for our needs but not for our greed. You agree?
Yes sir. He had rightly captured this vantage viewpoint years ago, but we are realizing it now. His statement is the fountainhead of Sustainable Development Goals today, and the world has come to realize it at last. Only when environment and our needs find a common ground and the conversation shifts to inclusive development where the poorest is taken care for, can we expect a future worth living.
(I was happy to see everyone nod)
Chairman: Thank you Aishwarya, your interview is over.
Thanked everybody and came out.
Phew. That was it! Thank you for the very patient reading.
Some pointers here for folks in future:
1) Board is as cordial as cordial can be, so please do not worry or fret much.
2) As written in the Gazette Notification, this is a test of your ‘Personality’, not knowledge. You can see my “Don’t knows”. Neither did they bother much!
3) Take a stand. It is good to choose the middle path, but when you have a strong conviction about something, do express it politely.
4) Peace begins with a smile. So should your interview, and so should the end 🙂
5) Dressing formally does no harm. Please stick to that.
6) Self-talk before entering the room. And it works wonders!
7) UPSC interview is a ‘directed, purposive’ conversation. So don’t assume the futility of a particular question that may seem out of place!
8) Take pauses before answering to collect your thoughts. But don’t do that for every question.
9) Random guesses are best kept for MCQs, not interviews 😉
Find my interview on Forumias.com