‘First impression is the last impression’ is probably one of the most used proverbs in English language. Even its variants like ‘It is the lasting impression’ are also quite popular. But when it comes to UPSC and CAT interviews, it is a totally different ball game. Though some might argue it is still a game of perceptions, what has to emerge eventually is your self-awareness, your command over the subjects mentioned in your resume and your approach to the questions. It is the honest projection of your complete persona that stays with the committee.
Like it is said very wisely by someone, ‘An interview is not a test of your knowledge. It is a test of using your knowledge at the right time’. So before we get into the technicalities of how to prepare for a UPSC or CAT interview, it is important to understand what your mentality should be at the time of the interview. While words like ‘confidence’ and ‘poise’ are overused, it is important that your belief in yourself, in that particular half an hour, should be intact.
Further, it is important that instead of diving into unnecessary anxieties, you should immerse yourself complete into the process. Listen to each question carefully (without anticipating any suggestiveness), keep your mind active when the question is being asked and decide in which direction and manner your answer will open and then deliver the complete answerconsidering all the aspects of the issue in question. It is extremely important to sound natural, conversational and honest. The moment you look like you’re giving a rehearsed answer, you create and impression of falseness on your part.
So the general approach is to study hard but not carry any weight on your shoulders when you enter the interview room. When you begin at that mental point, the rest of the things mentioned here, come easy.
Understand the Terminology
Terminology is important because its meaning is carried into the process (at least in UPSC and CAT interviews). So when you are preparing for the UPSC interview, understand that it is a Personality Test. As said above, the committee is looking for your approach, attitude and your ability to be a public servant. For CAT, it is a Personal Interview, which is on similar lines. But here, the committee will expect you to be proficient in relevant subjects and might check your knowledge more rigorously. Another important term one should understand is the Detailed Application Form (DAF) or your resume.
Go Through Your DAF or Resume
Detailed Application Form (DAF) for UPSC and resume for CAT are of utmost importance. Remember that in both the cases, the committees go through this carefully.So when you fill it up, you need to be perfectly honest and clear. Whatever you mention in the resume has to be one, factual and two, something about which you have sufficient knowledge. For example, if you mention Dramatics as one of your area of interest, you need to be aware of the history, the current scenario and the eminent playwrights in India. Your special subjects in graduation, your post-graduation subjects and your optional subjects in UPSC Mains must be revised thoroughly.
It is extremely important to understand yourself on two levels – the factual details attached to you and your inner strengths and weaknesses. By factual details, we mean the place of your birth, your state, your family background etc. This is often a conversation starter, where you’re asked about your district, the current problems there, its history and other minute details. Again, the point here is to check your perception of the place and your awareness of your surroundings. Your inner strengths and weaknesses are obviously soft points upon which you can work and improve. Your knowledge of them proves instrumental in your handling of the interview. For instance, if you know you’re poor at starting a conversation, you can be more cautious in that part. But when you know you’re good once you get into the details of a topic, you can score more in that part. As said in the beginning, remember that it is the complete 30 minutes that matter, not just the first impression.
Be Smart, Be Honest
UPSC and CAT interviews are famous for their tricky questions. There are many anecdotes (true and false) doing round of the internet about this topic. But again, do not think of these as abrupt or weird questions. These can be as simple as ‘what is the most important news in today’s newspaper’. The expectation here is that you should never (even after becoming a public servant) stop being updated about current affairs.So you should be smart enough to keep your eyes open to everything around you, The second part, of being honest, is when you reach a dead end. It is of course understood that you do not know everything. In such case, you must say that you are not aware of the topic and express whatever little perspective you have about it. Obviously, this cannot be done for every second question.
There is no doubt that you have to study hard for the written exams as well as for the interview. But it is also important to understand that there is the risk of you getting into a sort of mould – a mould of all the expected questions, the perfect answers, academic terms, your subject knowledge etc. While all this is important, you have to remember that be it the IIMs or the UPSC, the eventual aim of these bodies is to apply knowledge in practical life. And this skill is built only with common sense and awareness of the situation. The interviews are kind of a microcosm of this larger idea. If your personality is revealed in its full strength during the interaction, if your natural and honest self takes over and if all this is coupled with knowledge, it is more certain than not that you will crack the interview.