The quality of ongoing CSS interviews

Daily: Competitive Weekly
Date: 21.01.19

The kind of questions asked offers an insight into the quality of the interview panel
(comprising five interviewers including the Chairman) conducting ongoing interviews of the
candidates who had passed the written portion of the Competitive Superior Services (CSS)
examination held by the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) in 2018.

Before 1989, the emphasis of the then interview panel used to be on asking questions
meant for assessing the ability of a candidate to reproduce the gathered and collated
information. This was the time when most candidates were from linguistic background.
Master’s in English was a conduit to success. At that time, a CSS candidate was supposed
to be a know-all person. The practice of assessing the ability of a candidate to regurgitate
the collected information had a downside. The practice deprived the candidates of the
analytical ability. Young civil servants were roving encyclopedias but they were deficient in
analytical knacks. They were trained cognitively to look at events superficially, and not
deeply. The FPSC, however, realized (rightly so) that the country did not need
encyclopedias.

Subsequently (around 1991), the practice of asking questions exploring the depth of
knowledge of the candidates began, though the “Nelaam-Ghar” type questions also
accompanied the opinion-seeking questions. During the interviews, the candidates were
asked to speak up their areas of interest, and questions were asked from the claimed area.
The rationale was that candidates having a grip of vast knowledge and understanding over
an area of interest possessed a propensity for taking their assumed or assigned tasks
attentively, and not perfunctorily. The practice was a palpable shift from asking questions to
assess superficial knowledge to asking questions to assess deep knowledge. Unfortunately,
this is now an abandoned practice.

In 2019, the incumbent interview panel is no more interested in knowing and exploring
candidates in their areas of interest. The main reason for abandoning the practice could be
that the interview panel does not come up with its homework done. That is, the interview
panel is ill prepared on the art and purpose of asking questions. The panel takes refuge in
asking questions related to optional subjects of candidates. This may be acceptable as a
new trend but the answers that are given remain a product of academic parroting – and not
on the spot analysis. Resultantly, the correlation of a given concept with a current (or
practical) situation remains both underemphasized and undervalued. Underemphasized
because answers already given in the books are given, and undervalued because
candidates do not feel a need to reflect analytically on the current happenings. The
candidate who can regurgitate better articulates the semblance of a better candidate. The
interview panel gets satisfied with the knowledge parroted before it.

A problem with the practice engenders a problem with the outcome. Candidates who have
developed better analytical abilities find themselves hard-pressed between aping and
creating knowledge. If questions exploring their analytical ability are not asked, they cannot
express themselves analytically. Instead, the candidates competent in the technique of
regurgitation can masquerade as more brilliant. The ability to regurgitate knowledge is
essentially an academic one as a key to academic success, but the tyranny is that
regurgitation suppresses creativity. The mind remains engrossed in catching and retaining
information to reproduce it, and not focused on catching and processing information to
create new bits of knowledge.

Within the context of asking questions, there has surfaced another issue. The FPSC is
demanding from the candidates to mention on a paper (during the psychological test) the
books meant for the moral uplift of the youth. That is, candidates are supposed to write
down the titles of books (two or three in number) they have read recently on the topics
related to the moral hoist of the youth. This kind of instruction is a deviation from the past
practice when the candidates used to mention books of their own choice expressing their
intellectual expanse and disposition. The FPSC has not conveyed it to the candidates the
reason for such a shift in preference, which presumes that the youth of today are afflicted
with decadence and hence is in need of a moral uplift (or any sort of edification). Similarly,
the FPSC has not conveyed it to the candidates the reason for not focusing on the books
challenging their cognitive makeup and enhancing their intellectual orientation. Apparently,
valuing the intellectual depth and assessing the intellectual positioning of the candidates
are the features seem to have been missing from the priorities of the incumbent interview
panel.

To brave this challenge, as an adaptive species, most candidates are responding in two
ways: either they are mentioning novels distilling a moral lesson or they are mentioning
books available at the self-help shelves of bookshops. It is still a secret what has prompted
the interview panel to look for prospective civil servants from the stock of candidates well-
read on any moral uplift project. Nevertheless, the new pro-moral amelioration strategy has
liberated the interview panel from reading the summaries of books (provided by the FPSC)
on current geo-political and socio-economic developments to fathom the cognitive depth of
the candidates appearing before them.

This time another feature also draws attention. The FPSC has permitted the interview panel
to oversee the command task performed by the candidates. That is, a group of candidates
performs the command task in front of the interview panel each day before the
commencement of the interview session. In the past, the task was performed before
psychologists who used to compile a comprehensive psychology report of each candidate.
Assessing the psychological bend of the candidates is important for many reasons
including to differentiate between those fit for certain administrative posts and those misfit
for the posts.

To meet the challenge, most candidates construct a personality (or at least make a display)
impervious to probing questions. This is a strategy of survival in a competitive world. It is
also a secret what has prompted the FPSC (or the interview panel) to supervise the
psychological part of assessment.

In short, the kind of questions being asked bespeaks an apparent deterioration in the
quality of the interview panel. The FPSC has overlooked the fact that any viva voce is not a
one-way process. The kind of questions asked reveals the thinking pattern of the
interviewer. The choice of questions and the way of framing questions also indicate the
level of preparedness of the interview panel. Presently, the quality of the panel is
substandard. The FPSC has to make more investment in the intellectual build-up of the
interview panel that it rolls out for assessing CSS candidates.

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