Interview: Keerthi Vasan (Civil – 2016)

Hello Keerthi, could you tell us what influenced you to pursue civil services?
Civil services gives you the opportunity to work at three levels: personal, professional and societal. This wholesome experience could not be achieved in any other field. That is one of the major reasons. Moreover my parents always motivated me and gave me the freedom to choose between civil services, job or higher studies. I was also the Chairperson of Pragyan in my final year, and I was also actively engaged in the Golden Jubilee Celebrations, when the honourable President of India had come down. During these activities I had a lot of interaction with the top level administration of Trichy – IAS and IPS officers. All these factors motivated me to join the civil services.

In what way did college shape you towards your goal?
College definitely played a major role in shaping my approach towards civil services. The amount of information I had was very limited before college. Only in college I came to know about the potential of civil services. Moreover, my seniors were also a major source of inspiration throughout my preparation. To name a few, Mr. Vishnu Nair IAS and Mr. Ajay Yeshwanth IA&AS.

What should one keep in mind while preparing for civil services?
It is always good to take advice from people. But it is also important to remember that all advice may not suit everyone. You should understand which advice will suit your own interests. Another thing is the availability of study materials. There is a lot of material available online, but the exam does not require an aspirant to read through hundreds of books. One should be smart enough to identify the requirements of the exam and prepare accordingly.

Regarding the preparation, joining a coaching centre will give one a direction but a lot of self effort has to go in at the preparation stage. During the first three months, an aspirant is bound to make a lot mistakes. He or she might read a lot of content, follow a lot of advice that may be irrelevant to the exam. But during this period of trial and error, an aspirant finally understands what all is required and what is not. For example, solving a past history question paper will give you an idea of what kind of questions to prepare for. Revision is also key here. A wholesome process of revisions supplemented with taking mock tests will give the aspirant an idea of how to go ahead with their preparation. Perseverance along with self motivation will definitely help you achieve greater heights.

When should students start preparing for UPSC?
Considering the number of applicants who apply for this exam, one year of independent preparation is necessary for this examination. This one year could be during the college days, or even after graduation. I started a little early, we had a tie up with a coaching centre in college which would hold classes during the weekend. If a person has an idea of pursuing civil services right from college, they can start with the newspaper. Cultivating the habit of reading the newspaper is very important. Because if you don’t develop that in college, a candidate may waste a lot of time during the transition stage. Apart from that, reading basic NCERT textbooks for History and Geography are recommended. Familiar subjects can be covered during college, while subjects like Economics and Political Science can be covered after graduation.

What skills can one pick at college to pursue a career in this field?
From my college days, I built a lot of soft skills which helped me during the interviews. As the chairperson of Pragyan I had a lot of interactions with the college administration, which gave me a good idea on how to present myself in front of important people and during the interview. Apart from that, one needs to develop a lot of discipline during the preparation stage, plan out short term and long term goals etc. Developing discipline and habits like reading the newspaper everyday will go a long way in making the transition from engineering to civil services much smoother.

What soft skills does the interview panel expect in a candidate?
In the interview, they assess your personality – from your hand gestures to your confidence to how you dress up. Whether your ideas are revolutionary, whether you are someone who is progressive, your body language and confidence while speaking. During college people should engage in a lot of team activities, that help them be a good team member and team leader.

What kind of internships can students undertake in civil services?
I’m not sure about the kind of internships but being in an engineering college one should be perfect in their subject knowledge. I would sincerely advise aspirants to maintain a good grade point average, because it reflects your personality. So while in college one should maintain a balance between their academic and extracurricular activities. There’s no particular internship that I’d suggest. Any good technical internship is beneficial.

What other opportunities are there in civil services?
During the initial years, one might be posted at the level of programme implementation. The conversion ratio of your ideation at the ground level is very high here. In any other job profile, you may have an idea but you might face opposition in implementing it. Even here you face a lot of hurdles, but you have the scope to implement some good ideas and effect some real change in the society,

Is it advisable to sit for UPSC after working for a few years or months?
I would recommend going for civil services as early as possible. The earlier you are inside the more flexible you are. Moreover, I don’t think keeping civil services as an alternative is very effective. I would also advise aspirants to consult with their family members and keep a backup option, as the uncertainty associated with this exam is very high. Or it could create an additional pressure on one. At the same time, there is maturity that comes with experience in other fields, which could also help one in the services.

What would you like to tell your alma mater?
You are a fortunate lot for getting the opportunity to study at NIT Trichy. It is important to realise that you have a huge responsibility to contribute something back for the welfare of the society, be it in any domain – technical, managerial or administrative. With respect to civil services, I’d say that don’t let the numbers or the competition daunt you. All you require is one seat in the top hundred. And all you have to do is focus on that seat.

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